LISTS: Top 5 European Cars of the 1980s

We're starting our countdown to Back To The 80s here at MNCEC, we aren't hosting the event but we've been helping the guys at BTT80s out and we are extremely excited for the event. With our countdown we will be doing weekly posts with an 80s theme and debuting a new category for the site, Lists, because who doesn't like counting down the coolest stuff.

Our first list is the Top 5 European Cars of the 1980s. Although Europe has always made excellent cars throughout the history of the automobile, European cars of the 80s were down right rad. With Group B rally during most of the decade, Formula 1 at it's height, various power wars, and the economic excess of the era, European brands had more demand than ever. The demand was only amplified when you include that America was recovering from their malaise of the 1970s and Japanese sports cars weren't yet mainstream.

With so many great cars to choose from we made a poll on the Minnesota Car Enthusiast Club Facebook group and asked you, the reader, what your favorite cars were. We've kept the poll open so you guys can hash it out on there but here were the results at time of writing.

HONORABLE MENTION: Mercedes Benz 190E

This is the most underrated car on this list, actually I will extend that to most underrated car period. The standard Mercedes Benz 190 was a compact luxury car on par with a E30 3-series. If you can think of a engine configuration, this car probably had it from carbureted or fuel injected petrol L4's and L6's to 5 cylinder turbodiesels. The most desirable model however is the Cosworth DOHC 2.5L 16 valve powered Evolution model. Unfortunately, that was never made available in America, the best model we received was the 190E 2.3L-16, which was still a kicker. Today a 2.3L-16 can still be found under $20,000 but they're highly speculated to balloon in price in the very close future. 

With $778,980,000 stuck into the production of this car, Mercedes was so upside down it almost bankrupted the company. The car was originally so obscenely over-engineered because they were planning to enter it into various rally classes. Unfortunately, after the Quattro came out and that idea was nixed. In lieu of rally, Mercedes put the car into Touring Car racing where it was quite successful. Of course with Touring Car comes homologation models and the 2.3L-16 and Evo models were the homologation models for the series. Although they didn't boast extreme power numbers, they did have the lowest drag coefficients of any sedan from the 80s. The car ended up being the main competitor to the E30 M3 but it never developed the mainstream popularity of the Bimmer.

 

5. BMW M3 E30

While the E30 3-series has been venerated as the best BMW chassis since it was released. If you want arguably the best bang for your buck track car, look no further than a 325i. The E30 M3 is not the same car as your E30 325i though, in fact minus the basic body shell, only the bonnet and the hood are shared. Of course that's not to say the standard E30 is a bad car by any means, but why drink Stella Artois when a Bauhaus Wonderstuff is available?  Like all of the non-supercars on this list, the car started life to sate the requirements of homologation rules, Group A Touring Car to be exact. While, no this doesn't have wild levels of horsepower, this is the car for the driver. It is absolutely surgical levels of precise and, despite being underpowered in stock form, when driven properly will give you a bigger smile on your face than any other car. Erik Berger's car shown has sorted out that whole underpowered issue, perhaps we will have more on that later.

The E30 was the main competitor to our Honorable Mention 190E 2.3-16. While the 2.3-16 faded into obscurity until only recently, the E30 M3 has always been beloved by enthusiasts. As much as I love the W201 Mercedes chassis, this makes sense as to why this is more popular. Those large box flares, the squared off trunk and wing, the front splitter and slight rake all make the car look much more impressive. On top of that, it's racing pedigree could fill this entire post. 18 championship wins and 25 endurance racing wins are the main claims to fame, that's not getting into it's rally pedigree or accolades from just about everywhere on earth. Needless to say, the BMW E30 M3 is one of the Best Cars of the 1980s.

4.) Lamborghini Countach

Nothing says I hate my septum more than this vehicle, it is pure uncut cocaine in automotive form.  The original design dates back to 1974 after god himself, Marcello Gandini, was commissioned to design a replacement for the outgoing Lamborghini Miura. The car was so far into the ridiculous side of the spectrum that all the other super car brands gave up on being the most outlandish and it sent Lamborghini into bankruptcy. The Countach is the only Lamborghini flagship car to date that is not named after a bullfighting reference, rather it is an italian slang term who's American English equivalent would be "Oh Shit". The name was also a commonly uttered term as drivers could easily kill themselves in a moment's notice due to the car being overpowered and extremely under braked.

On top of being terrifyingly overpowered, it is famously uncomfortable in almost every aspect. Something as simple as getting into the car nearly requires getting on all fours, it's almost as if Marcello Gandini was playing a practical joke on the wealthy. The driving position was terrible, the AC sucked, the windows rolled down maybe 3 inches, if you rolled it onto it's roof you couldn't get out and would die in a fire. Despite all of this, it was still adored. The Countach was aesthetic expression at it's finest, gracing nearly every teenager of the 1980s wall at some point. Everything from performance to driver comfort came second to the look of the car. Despite being wildly non-aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of 0.42, comparatively a Chevrolet Astro van is 0.40, this car also happened to be the World's Fastest Car twice. It orginally got the title in 1974 at 179 mph and beat it's own record again in 1982 by going 182. One more claim to fame is that it was the last carbureted car to hold a production land speed record.

 Photo Credit: Jeremy Cliff

Photo Credit: Jeremy Cliff

3.  Porsche "911" 930

Back in the 1980s, the Porsche 911 was the super car to have. It was comfortable enough to drive and was relatively reliable especially when compared to it's Italian competition. While the 911 has been around since the 1960s, the 80s really saw the air-cooled Porsche in it's heyday. Although the vanilla naturally aspirated 911 is a brilliant car, the car to aspire to have was the 930 Turbo. It was a homologation model that featured a 3.3L flat six with a large turbo and a fantastic amount of turbo lag. This resulted in a huge rush of power that would catch unprepared drivers off guard causing them to lose control. Of course having such an overpowered car be relatively attainable for successful yuppies meant that a lot of these resulted in turbo lag induced fiery wrecks. By the end of it's production run the 930 Turbo was second to Pablo Escobar for total body count.

Even more radical than the normal 930 was the Flachbau option, which added a 935 style flat nose with flip up headlights, creating the most 80s looking Porsche ever. Even today, the Flachbau 930 is synonymous with 80s car design and regularly can be found in 80s styled art work. Throughout the 1980s the 930 was the fastest German car on the market eventually having a top speed of 173 mph. Prior to a few years ago, the 930 was relatively affordable, $60,000 for a good quality example, but has since hit the well known Porsche Bubble and hit a peak north of $200,000 in 2015. We can still dream right?

 

 Photo Credit: Hagerty

Photo Credit: Hagerty

2. Audi Quattro Coupe

Relative to racing pedigree, the Audi Quattro Coupe is one of the most attainable cars on this list. Of course, when I say attainable, I speak of the 160 HP base model. The mega-rare later era Group B homologation Turbo Sport in perfect condition goes for the same price as decent house in Edina, north of $450,000. The standard Audi Quattro Coupe we got in America usually stays below $40,000 but can reach as high as $68,000 in flawless condition.

This car is famous for having spent the Group B racing years kicking ass and taking names. The model was the first rally car to make use of AWD, which is now a prerequisite for rally cars today, but back in 1981 had just been legalized for use by the WRC. It was a huge advancement in technology for rally racing on scale with the Lotus 049 successfully using a spoiler in F1 for the first time twenty years prior. Once the technology was there we never looked back. As we mentioned with the 190E, it forced other manufacturers to question if they wanted to rally their 2WD cars. Once other manufacturers did adapt to using AWD, Group B got very competitive and the cars became insanely fast. The problem was that safety wasn't on par with the power and people were dying, not just drivers but spectators too. Unfortunately by 1987 the series was disbanded.

 Photo Credit: Car and Driver

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

1. Ferrari F40

The Ferrari F40 was the ultimate Ferrari. It was a race car for the road. A lot of cars claim that, but this was so far into the race car side of the scale it would never pass muster today.  The single-mindedness of this car would shock a modern car buyer, no carpet, no fancy leather seats, even the door handles were just drawstrings. Did you fool yourself into thinking those seats were tweed? You'd be wrong, it was Nomex. The car was known for having exposed green sealer where the chassis was bonded together. When Ferrari engineered the F40, it was engineered to break 200 MPH and it did it in the most visceral way possible.

While the Lamborghini Countach was a far right extremist for aesthetics, the Ferrari F40 is it's counter for out-right performance. All of that performance came at a premium as well, the sticker price was over $400,000 in 1987. By comparison the Countach was $100,000. The car was born out of a competition for the world's fastest car with the Porsche 959 and in result rewrote the rulebook for what a Supercar could be. It would end up being the last car to get Enzo Ferrari's seal of approval, add to that a racing pedigree that rivals the venerated 250 GTO and it all begins to make sense why it won the popular vote for Best European Car of the 1980's by a landslide.