EVENTS: Back To The 80's 2017

On a regular basis I hear the comment of "the 80's were terrible for cars" which couldn't be any farther from the truth. People give the era as a whole a bad wrap, sure the 90's arguably had some better platforms but the 1980's were nothing to scoff at. As much as I can wax poetic about the beautiful excess and technological optimism of the 1980's, there is no better evidence than an all 80's car show to prove my point. Minnesota Fieros Forever recently held their Back To The 80's event for all 1980's era cars and we are here with coverage.

Despite competing with 3 other shows and Proving Grounds the same day, they still were able to pack the lot space they reserved at the The National Sports Center in Blaine, MN to near capacity. A soundtrack of Van Halen and Blondie filled the airspace between cars and there was even a costume contest. 

We're going to start coverage of BTT80's with Mustangs from the era, the first is a Ford Mustang Cobra II and the second is an early 80's Foxbody Mercury Capri (Mustang). The Mustang II was plagued with negative stereotypes because of it's Pinto roots and tragic emissions choked engine. Luckily this isn't all bad, the Mustang II is, to date, the lightest Mustang chassis and, once the emissions equipment is removed, the engine is still a 302 Windsor V8.

Come 1979 Ford released the Foxbody based Mustang, it got off to a rocky start but would evolve to one of the most influential pony cars ever made and started the renaissance of the modern muscle car. The foxbody platform featured a number of cars but the closest to the Mustang was Mercury's Capri, thus where the Capri above fits into all of this.

The 1980s saw Japan take it's performance offerings in the United States a lot more seriously. This AW11 MR2 is a perfect example of how Toyota took a powerplant otherwise seen in a Corolla and parts bin engineered one of the best sports cars of the era. Having owned one of these, I will say they're a blast and, second to an NA Miata, is the best handling car I've ever driven.

We've all seen Miguel's Colt RS but his girlfriend Alex has her own Colt, except this one is really clean. I believe she is going to keep it stock and try to clean it up a bit but it's a really cool example of what the early 80's equivalent to a modern Mitsubishi Mirage is.

There were some cool options for this car too, like the twin stick transmission which creates essentially an 8 speed manual transmission. If you wanted the car to be wildly under braked, there was also a rare turbocharged variant available as well.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

Prior to Japanese cars gaining popularity in street racing in the later half of the decade, air cooled VWs were proven to be quick cars when modified. With the rear engine configuration, it made launching from a stop naturally gain traction.

This particular car is a later model beetle. Judging from the black strip on the bumper, I believe this may be imported from South America where production continued until 2003.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

As it was Minnesota Fieros Forever that hosted this, it would only be fitting that there was a completely separate section dedicated to Pontiac's mid-engined sports car. Although these had quite the following in the 80's and 90's, it seems to have dropped off the radar lately. A lot of people have written them off as a poor-man's MR2, present company included, but they're actually pretty cool. While the C4 Corvette was the point where GM came out of The Malaise, the Fiero was the icing on the cake for them and this was a very capable car for the era.

Smokey Yunick of NASCAR fame famously built a Fiero to get 50 MPG and get a 5 second 0-60 time back in 1984. By modern standards that's impressive, much less during a time when the Corvette struggled to kick out 205 HP.

Speaking of Corvettes, this Trans Am 350 GTA shared the L98 5.7L V8 with the C4 Corvette. The biggest difference between the two is the iron cylinder heads but these are still tunable for the enterprising individual. Most people looking for bigger power either go with carburetor swaps, or if they have the money an LS swap. These look so awesome though, it is worth the extra effort to make them do fun stuff.


On the topic of fun stuff, this Saleen Mustang is case and point of how totally radical 80's cars were. Unfortunately, it's not the Vanilla Ice-spec white-on-red Saleen convertible but any Saleen is better than no Saleen.

The 5.0L 200 HP V8 was met with tubular headers and a full exhaust treatment then delivered through a manual Borg Warner 5-speed tranny, but the secret of the Saleen was much more apparent in the handling department. While the 140 MPH top speed was cool, the 0.88 G skid pad result was one of the better results of any 80's era sports car. In a time where the traditional V8 powered sports car's relevancy was being questioned, the Saleen Mustang was the solution.

Whether you wanted six cylinders in a straight line or in a V shape or just wanted no cylinders at all, options were aplenty for the Japanese sports cars of the 80's. Each of these cars have their own racing pedigrees and stories about why they're cool. These are the collector cars of tomorrow and the Celica Supra, RX7 and 300ZX all wear the wedge shape proudly.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

Of the Japanese sports cars mentioned above, the Z31 300ZX was the most infamous. During the 80's there was a massive burst of sports cars coming from the Japanese auto manufacturers due to the bubble economy they were experiencing. Each model was building more power than it's competitors until the 300ZX came out. While by modern standards it's fairly tame, the car so greatly outperformed the tire and safety technology of the era the Japanese government mandated a maximum horsepower of 280 HP. That rule would stand until the R35 GT-R was released.


This ST165 Celica GT-Four was robbed of it's spotlight next to the DeLoreans next to it. At any other show JDM geeks would have mobbing around this car. The turbocharged DOHC 3S-GTE was mated to Toyota's All-Trac AWD system for this homologation rally car which features a racing pedigree as long as your arm.

David Chang had indisputably the cleanest E70 Corolla in the state of Minnesota there as well. Even by California standards this would be in the top running. Under the hood, those with a keen eye would notice that the 2T engine was chucked in lieu of a S2000 sourced F20C.

Minitrucks from all ages were in attendance. From the era correct long bed convertible Mazda to the C1500 with a detroit diesel swap and an chopped roof. One truck that a lot of people walked by was the Nissan 720 on TE27s. It was flawlessly clean and even had the extended cab with sideways facing back seats.

Alternatively, there was this Toyota pickup with a tilt bed, KC Daylighters and a HUGE lift. Nathan couldn't even get the whole thing in shot without walking across the room it was in.

Here is another look at that Cabriolet we mentioned back during our coverage of Ignition. It really is perfectly clean and is entirely era correct minus the more modern 2.0L engine.

Every G-body in the state of Minnesota was at Back to the 80's, these are just a few of the highlights. That white Monte Carlo was a really awesome Pro Mod build that might need some more light shed onto it. A centrifical supercharger was among it's highlights along with 4 wheel disc brakes.

How do you improve a Mercur XR4Ti? Increase the size of the turbo. How do you further improve that? Increase the number of V8s under the hood from 0 to 1. That's what this owner did, and I approve full heartedly.

As we mentioned before in our coverage of the Ignition show, Americans are masters of making boring cars into awesome cars. Each of these are relatively rare high performance models of otherwise boring cars. Each of these FWD American vehicles have been graced with an exhaust driven forced induction system, aka a turbocharger.

The Shelby Charger GLHS offered the same ludicrous powerplant as the Omni GLHS but this time in sports car guise. The Pontiac Grand Prix McLaren Turbo gets a trophy for being the first W-body I've ever seen where I legitimately said "That's F***ing cool!" It had so many buttons on the steering wheel people thought they were a weird looking air bag. Add that McLaren put a single turbo onto it for 200 HP and you have 1 of the 749 rowdiest of the first gen W-bodies ever produced. The final car is a strange little American Dodge ute called a Rampage, Dodge are masters of awesome car names. This particular ute is a Rampage Shelby, a vanilla Rampage with some Shelby turbocharged love under the hood, just to upset literally everyone on earth.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

This may not be the prettiest car that was at the show but it is definitely noteworthy. The first generation of Dodge Caravan had two really awesome options, the first of which was a manual transmission but the second was a 2.2L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine seen from other Chrysler products like the MOPARs above. All of that makes for a really hilariously fast sleeper if you can find one that's still around.

Soooo regularrrr...

Really though, this might be the world's cleanest Chevette. Who preserves this sort of thing? I mean, I would. Fun fact about this car is that it was rear wheel drive and had variants around the world as far away as in Japan.

Despite the RWD factor, the Chevette we got totally blew. However, there was a variant of this chassis in Japan that was quite the opposite. The Isuzu version called the Gemini ZZ featured Isuzu's G180W 1.8L DOHC L4 fuel injected engine that made 130 HP at 6400 RPM. That was complimented by a short throw shifter for the 5-speed transmission and a LSD. I imagine transplanting all of the Gemini ZZ goodies to a Chevette chassis probably can't be terribly difficult.

HERE is a link to a Wasabi Cars spotlight on the Gemini ZZ mentioned above if you want to get an idea of what a Gemini is.

If I wanted a Gemini ZZ I would contact Brian from International Vehicle Importers who brought out this absurdly clean single owner R32 GT-R. While it looks like any other R32 in pictures, it stands out in person. Nearly no paint imperfections, not a spot of rust or even wear on the interior can be found. This is the closest you can get to having a brand new R32 of your own. Contact Brian Jannusch regarding purchasing it.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

The 1980's were really the rise of the hot hatch as we know it. While in America we got the odd hot hatch trickling in, Europe was thick with them. The blue Golf seen above is a homologation AWD Golf Rally. The car received factory box flares, body kit and that awesome front grill, in addition to it's AWD system.

The car to the left is a Honda Civic Wagovan. The Honda Civic had a wagon variant for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations it was in America. While all of them are loved by Honda otakus around the country, the most iconic Civic wagon would be the 4th generation Civic Wagovan. It's most well known for it's optional RT4WD system and super low SH gear. The one pictured above is a FWD model with an Integra LS engine swap. The owner bought this car made of rust and had enough dents for a Titleist sponsorship but through love and a ton of man hours, he has brought this car to better than new condition.

Does anyone remember the TV show called Taxi with Andy Kaufman and Danny DeVito from the early 80's? The Checker Marathon was a mainstay of taxi cab companies during it's 22 year production run, these cars are absolute beasts dwarfing the E30 behind it and the Firebird next to it. Part of me wants to make a clone of Ernest Borgnine's Checker from Escape from New York too.

Speaking of movie cars, two DeLoreans were in show. Surprisingly neither were Back to the Future clones but references were abundant in their displays.

K.I.T.T. from Night Rider was in show too, this might have been a better K.I.T.T. than the ones you saw in the TV show even. The owners attention to detail is second to none. The only bummer was a total lack of David Hasselhoff being there.

Photo Courtesy of  Shaun Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Shaun Erickson

Who you gonna call? The Ghostbusters! ECTO-1 was present and so were all of the Ghostbusters. This car was mobbed all day with kids taking pictures with the Ghostbusters so we're surprised that Shaun could get a picture without a crowd.

We finish off coverage with these twin 3rd gens. These really are the American car that comes to mind when you think of the 80's. It was an awesome time where cars consistently improved throughout the decade. They didn't have any of this, improve for a year or two then get ruined with a CVT transmission or axe the performance variant because of insurance issues. We forget a lot of the cool cars that existed from back then and then we get the era mixed up with the left overs from the late 70's that were being phased out.

If there is a decade other than the 1950's that necessitates it's own show, it would be the 1980's. It was such an optimistic time, people were coming out of the malaise that the 70's left over and there was so much new technology.  The music was better, computers were entering the household and the cars were reflecting this in every way.

Back to the 80's was a great show and had a really good turn out for it's first year. I can't wait to see this event grow and see all of the other dope rides we have around the state from the era.