What’s So Special About The ’80s & ’90s Anyway?
Let’s Get Rad

On the whole, the 1980s and 1990s represent an era of major automotive disappointment. Smaller, less powerful motors further crippled by strict emissions guidelines. An ever-worsening driving experience and a continued shift away from a proper transmission. Heavier cars which were styled more and more like potatoes. The list goes on…

Wait a second, was this just in America? Judging by the wild turnout at RADwood NorCal last weekend I think it might have been. Keiron will soon be giving you a proper tour around the show at Oyster Point, but I want to investigate the lackluster American market for a moment.

While American carmakers had their hands a bit tied by regulation, it’s almost like many didn’t even try. Cheaper materials and atrocious reliability as a result of attempting to squeeze profit out of thin air left a bad taste in the mouths of consumers and enthusiasts alike. The stigma is finally wearing off, but it’s taken my entire lifetime to turn things around.


Besides a few anomalies, American automakers completely dropped the ball during these decades as they were caught up and passed by the entire rest of the world. At the same time, many argue that all of this innovation elsewhere caused motorsport to peak, and that it’s been worse ever since.


Arguments about how boring Formula 1 is aside (I actually think it’s quite interesting), what’s for certain is that we’ll never, ever really get the same aesthetic back. We can dress up and have a good time as much as we like, but these days are behind us.


To further drive home this point, automakers will never, ever again (for better or for worse) make cars the way they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It just won’t happen.

The Grass Is Greener

Depending on the market you look at, this is either a shame or a blessing. Thinking about this, it seems like it might be as simple as a ‘grass is greener’ sort of situation. In Japan, old school American muscle cars are possibly more coveted than here at home. Meanwhile, these ‘80s and ‘90s Euro-stars and JDM survivors are in huge demand here in the United States.


It seems almost too soon to revel in the glory of the ‘90s, but we always want what we can’t have. But on this note, you actually can have the performance cars of yesterday, which still make great canyon carvers today.


Furthermore, people carriers and utility vehicles alike from back in the day are a blank canvas when it comes to modification. The sky’s the limit, but what is it about this time period that’s specifically nostalgic for you?


In relation to RADwood, it’d personally be the car I had as a Hot Wheels when I was a kid: this championship-winning Duracell Trans Am Camaro racer hiding behind an ’80s Z28.


If I could take home any car from the show, this would be it. So, as much as American cars from the era were a disappointment, I’d still have one. Typical American.


There are plenty of things we miss from years past, but what is it about the ‘80s and ‘90s that was special to you?


Post a photo of whatever it is below. So long as it’s something fast.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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when you took MSG as a vitamins




Meet the new officer in charge of this operation, Major Air.




Doesn't GET MUCH FASTER THAN THIS testament to excess!



Master of Muppets

Honda NSeX


Even the American "muscle" cars of the era have great build potential thanks to the aftermarket of today, lol. I'd love to go all 'pro touring' on a 3rd gen Camaro or Fox body Mustang notchback. Too many Japanese cars to list, and that E36 photo has me badly craving one.

Love the Gameboy, by the way. I keep a Super Nintendo hooked up to the TV at all times!


Oh for sure, both of those are great cars. I've actually poached a couple Foxbody motors. But overall, German sports cars and Japanese commuter/performance cars just destroyed us.


Initial D came out in 1995 as well.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

The 80s and 90s were the time when Japanese manufacturers build their cars without much budget restrictions. That's what made the era so insane!

Oh, and let's not forget the short-lived but mind-blowing Group B of rallying. How can you not be grateful for mid-engined hatchbacks?


The main thing I miss from the 90's is my wonderful Nick Carter hair... time is a cruel mistress

As far as cars go, Group A rally really hit its stride, the BTCC was the best racing ever, F1 was pushing the boundaries of technology and speed cameras were a rarity. Good times. Also my hair.


+1 for the hair


Why were the 80s special?

Because that was the last decade when High Tech was still magical, and the future was still going to be awesome.



Master of Muppets

And really, really good music.

Rouz Caballero

My yellow canary... Ducati 748

Rouz Caballero

My Ducati 748 ...


Kids of 80's and 90's getting older and richer. So they want to materialize their childish dreams.


Suave flava on this post. Thnx for the ❤️

The poor French Carguy

Well, powerless and unreliable cars in the 80's and 90's, that is the French cars market in a nutshell. Yet, some of the greatest French cars ever made...
if I had to pick something from this era, it would be an all original, stock Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI, the ultimate hot hatch. If even Chris Harris himself compared the 205 (in its Rallye Version, which is the same chassis but with a smaller less powerful engine) with the latest 911R and said he would pick the old hatchback, that says something ! (if you want to check this out : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfDHULZZjpQ).
If however I had to pick anything that is not from my homeland, I'd go for a R33 GT-R, one of my dreamcars. But French cars from this era, despite being sometimes as unreliable as it can get, are still some of greatest cars you can drive (or so I was told, and not just by French people).


Damn, this 205 Rallye is so hard to find now... and this one came from right next door to me (07 plate... Ardèche).

Master of Muppets

Dream bigger...please.


I'd take a supercinq GT turbo myself, but wouldn't say no to the GTi either :)


I would like to disagree that 1990s American cars were horrible; my first cars was a 1993 Pontiac Sunbird and it's my favorite car to this day. Who cares about the poor interior materials, that thing felt genuinely quick (even if mine wasn't), sounded about a million times better than the common I4, that mooshy urethane steering wheel had the best grip in the world, and it was practically unkillable (until I put too much oil in the engine like a blithering idiot). It won't win many points with the Internet Car Intelligentsia (you know, the ones who think the Honda Civic is the one and only compact car by which all others are measured), but that just makes me love it more.

As for why the (late) 80s and 90s in general are so special, I know exactly why. Technology had advanced far enough to bring some reasonably exciting horsepower back and combine it with decent handling too, but not far enough to push FWD compact sedans to 3000+ pounds of ugly, bloated, over-insulated, displacement-downsized eco-turbo awfulness, and certainly not far enough to make BEVs look like an attractive idea to much of anyone. And going off that, turbocharging was still the marker of a high-performance special, not a boring hunk of garbage optimized for commuting to the exclusion of everything else. Automatic transmissions were still super trash and sequential/dual-clutch setups weren't really mature, so manual-transmission versions of ordinary cars still had a reason to exist. Pedestrain safety hadn't really become a concern, allowing lower, sleeker designs (especially at the front end). Feature & luxury creep hadn't yet shown their true ugliness, so cars didn't weigh as much as houses. Crossovers pretty much didn't exist, except for the Jeep Cherokee, which was a crossover done right and should still be the example all the others aspire to. Cable-actuated throttle was still the most common type, which meant the engine was chained to your foot and had no choice but to obey - no rev-hang on upshifts, no trollsy half-second delays that try to get you T-boned when pulling out into traffic, no nothing.

In short, we were outrunning the regulations and still probing uncharted waters, allowing the "old" styles of car building to mix with new technology, creating low-slung, sleek, lightweight cars that had just the right amount of power from just the right amount of displacement, with plenty of tuning headroom to boot (and in some cases, you could still access this headroom by going to a junkyard and scavenging parts off more powerful cars).

Meanwhile, on the sanctioned racing front, technology was advancing rapidly and production-relevance was still a thing in some areas - thus, "Balance of Performance" was used mainly to stop runaway winners rather than to make everyone theoretically equal and thereby destroy the incentive to innovate. Decent natural-terrain courses, with flowing corners and intact scenery, were still the order of the day at the top levels of racing. On top of which, vinyl garbage hadn't yet shoved actual paint out of the mainstream, so simple yet striking liveries were still plentiful.

Now look around, Project car base material is getting extremely hard to find on the new-car market, because ordinary cars are getting too big, too heavy, and too full of tech. Station wagons and minivans are barely holding on to life as clumsy crossovers hammer them in the market, manuals are on the way out in mainstream cars (and high-performance cars too), the combination of pedestrian-safety and fuel-economy regulations have done horrific damage to automotive styling, and cars are loading up with more and more driver assists, some of which are becoming mandatory, or at least universally expected, but which can't always be fully defeated (even highly intrusive and dubiously trustworthy assists like auto-braking are gaining ground in some parts of the world). [Input]-by-wire is becoming more and more common (are there even any new cable-throttle cars out there at this point?), giving the cars, and by extension the engineers that design them, more and more infuriating ways of second-guessing the driver. With fuel-economy and emissions regulations constantly getting tighter, displacement is going down, resulting in borderline-untuneable eco-turbo engines. In short, the modern "normal" car is too thoroughly optimized for people who don't care about driving, at the expense of people who do. Look at Ford's turbo three-cylinders - in order to reduce the outside dimensions of the engine, they cast the cylinder head and exhaust manifold in one piece, and just like that, a header went from being a beginner-level upgrade to something you pretty much can't do unless you build engines for a living and have the equipment to go with. Meanwhile, in racing, BoP has replaced production-relevance and innovation, remaining attempts at production-relevance all kowtow to the climate alarmists, overwrought vinyl liveries (in particular, photorealistic anything on a race car should be banned) have replaced painted classics, and top-level tracks get square corners and miles of paved runoff area.

In other words, the time period from about 1987 through 2007 was the sweet spot for everything, though the last few years less so than the others, and to this day I wish it could have gone on that way forever.


Man, loads of good points in there. But still, don't you think everyone else (i.e. Japan, Germany) was doing the same thing, just better? Anyhow, maybe you should write my next story. Thanks in advance.


I never said they weren't doing the same thing, but I won't necessarily say they were better. They did have some very nice cars, but due to differing culture a lot of their base models (especially the ones sold in their home markets) were horrifyingly slow even compared to the true disposa-cars of the US market. Remember how everyone laughed at cars like the Geo Metro and Ford Festiva? Japan had and still has an entire, very popular due to regulatory trollery, class of car with similar (at best) performance but several times uglier. Lancia made Deltas with the same displacement as the better Metros, but much heavier, plus then a 1.1-liter Greek-market special with 60 horsepower. And so on.


Graduated high school in Michigan (where by the way American muscle cars (old and new) still rule.) in 1993. I was lucky enough to start my driving history (thanks dad) on a Mazda Protege 323, Honda Civic VX and a Nissan Sentra SE R. All manual transmission cars.
Now it's 2018, I'm over 40 and driving a Focus ST, still love the hot hatches, and rowing my own gears.


To reply to my own comment: Three pedal for life.
or my knees can't take it no more. Getting old sucks kids.
Take care of your self.


I miss my mates dads scrap yard , i miss mk1 escort mexicos for £20 and renault 5 turbos for £100 , i miss the lack of health and safety .


I want that Honda jacket.



Me too


Well the 90s are pretty special to me because that is when I was made


Long nose coupes and the Toyota JZ platforms. The future has been very bright for them.


My Conquest TSi, never let it go, it's sitting in my garage in all it's original beauty right now! I grew up with it at my buddies house, his Mom bought it new, begged for it throughout high school, it went to prom, raced around local roads and highways, did COUNTLESS burn outs.... regrets on that now, and finally made it's way to me 12 years ago. Now I take my 3 year old to car shows in it...full circle....

Master of Muppets

Those are endearing, but the turbo plus the short wheelbase make it tricky in the hooligan twisty maneuvers. Kinda wish I still had mine.

Take care of her so she doesn’t leave you for a tree.


The honesty and simplicity is what I miss the most about 90s cars designs. That and the friendliness of yesteryear's cars (as opposed to the angry look every modern car (and even bikes) seems to have).

On a side note, that black 993 is to die for.

Master of Muppets

Ummmm, I’d be nostalgic about the old, friendly designs if it weren’t for the Dodge Neons, the Bubbly Ford Taurus and practically everything Buick.

You just have to ignore the angry cars now. They’re overcompensating and their owners have nothing to prove within their side curtain air-bagged, cocoons. It’s all a bluff.

Angry BIKES on the other hand...those mothaf##kers are crazy!


The assortment of JDM cars in the 90s was wild. Mirrored the 60's with US muscle. Would love to see it repeated but highly doubt it. R33 GTR and a turbo Supra would be the ultimate. Fox body Mustang might not be pretty - but is pretty effective in running a fast quarter and would have one anyday.


For me, Speedhunters was actually pretty critical when I made the choice to sell my 60s VW and get into an 80s bit of J-tin (Z31). RADwood just amped that whole feeling up. I was 4 to 24 during the 80s and 90s and there's a ton of nostalgia and life-shaping stuff that happened for me during that era. My brother and I touch on a lot of it on our podcast If Memory Serves (shameless plug). I think (or would like to think) that folks are just re-living that bit of nostalgia. There won't be another 80s like the 80s we lived through, but much in the way some folks never want the 50s to die, there are those who don't want this era to die.
I'm clearly rambling now. But I'm stoked Speedhunters is giving RADwood some coverage. And yes, I'll totally confess to hunting down some 80s gear and old cassettes on eBay thanks to this show.


More coverage of this event! More coverage on film! More Porsche’s!


For me what was most notable (beyond as mentioned, the UNBELIEVABLY crappy 80's-90's US auto market) was Nissan really coming into their stride with so many interesting vehicles. As a young adult I was faced with a decision on what to buy for a car, and to me there were VERY few options that weren't Japanese and the 300ZX at the time was top of the heap. I never thought I'd own one, but the auto market has this little ability for the average guy to get his chance when the cars become old...and yes, I've owned two Z32's now and drive the current one daily- all 400+ HP and tastefully modified.
THAT will not be the same experience in the future as today's kids peruse the classifieds looking for a quality old car to rejuvenate, which is a shame and why the auto market today lacks a future they once had....back in the 80's.

Shotgun Chuck

This is what I keep saying to people and they just don't care. I keep saying that everything from the current crop of over-optimized commute turds, through electric cars, to AVs is going to kill the project car market once all the older cars are gone. I keep saying that these things are going to kill the car hobby, maybe not now, but in 15-20 years when all the currently-plentiful base material has been spoken for or left to rust, leaving only overweight eco-turbos and BEVs with dead batteries for the young could-have-been enthusiast to start out in. We're already running on fumes; hot rod culture is being kept alive mainly by people who have more years behind them than ahead of them, Honda tuning is still centered, from what I've seen, around most of the same cars and engines that were hot 10 years ago, and the cars that competed against those Hondas on the new-car market, even if they had a brief moment of popularity during the ricer fad of the mid-2000s, are now barely hanging on to small & dwindling communities.

As much as I dislike the current overexposure of JDM culture, I also can't shake the feeling that it might be the last wave of true car culture; once it gets to where hot rodding is now, with most of the participants being old enough to have seen (or fought in) multiple wars and rich enough to trade cars back and forth for six-digit prices at big-name auctions, the BEV enthusiasts are going to take over. And once the cycle repeats itself with them, you're left with only autonomous cars, and I don't see much culture developing around those. This is assuming that governments don't get tired of the long goodbye and just legislate us all straight into the AVs. Thus not with a roar, but with a whimper, will this once-great institution we call car culture fade out. We are racing towards oblivion (or, considering the massive road safety kick that mainstream car culture seems to be on right now, maybe I should say "doing the speed limit towards oblivion") and yet, no one cares. All anyone has to do is blow a dog whistle like safety, the environment, or peak oil and we all just lay down and roll over.

I've had people on another forum think I was an omnicidal maniac because I accelerate quickly away from lights, and later because I wanted a radar detector before I went looking for curvy roads. I've seen people say that 80 horsepower is enough for a 2800+ pound bloatmobile, and that 160 is "hilariously overpowered" for the same car. I've seen them say that since most people aren't car enthusiasts, normal cars can and should be boring. I've seen a new car that had less power in top trim than even the oldest base trim of the previous model, and a lot of extra weight to boot, be called an improvement because the interior was more comfortable and made with better materials. A lot even even still believe the hoax that "climate change" is man-caused and going to kill us all. Whatever is left of car culture, its current participants by and large don't seem interested in preserving it.


I love how cheap some of these great cars are now. Just need to find the right ones at the right time before collector mania jacks the prices back up -_-


I personally miss the 90's touring car era of racing. The cars looked amazing as they were more closer to their street counterparts than ever on their looks. THe racing in the BTCC was crazy and here in America a silly car that I owned, a 1998 Dodge Stratus, was winning the SuperTouring ranks. It was interesting to say the least. All those touring cars from all parts of the world looked great and I miss them. I plan on owning a 90's BMW 325i or M3 and making it look as close to those touring cars as I can.

Also, Rally racing in the 90's was some of the greatest. Group B rally will always be number 1 but right behind it I always have Group A with full loving support. One of my favourite classes was Group A.


The 80's and 90's was styling wise the perfect ratio of boxy hard lines and blubus and expressive curves, couple that with some insane racing, dress with some electronics improving the analogue systems, and you get legendary cars. rather than what we have now which is a digital cars with analogue parts that are sidelined, for economy or dull feeling performance. their was still the ability to do well by driving the car, not being a flawed component in the digital system of the car. The classic cyborg vs terminator, one is an enhancement of what is there, the other is pretending to be human.


Visions in my head of the 90s potatoes (Ford mustangs).


We'll, I'm American and looking back, the '80s and 90's style was shit. 1984 was probably the single best year for MTV, music hits and epic movies. Van Halen, Back II the Future, Purple Rain, Vans shoes, Huntington Beach on the weekends, Doritos and Levis, that the 80's to me. The 90s sucked, but OJ made it exciting for like a minute...then Marine Recruit training made it REAL exciting!

Master of Muppets

Did OJ make it exciting during the low-speed car chase??? The trial meant nothing to me after that. He obviously wasn’t running because he was innocent.

Now, the Monica Lewinsky scandal; that was exciting...albeit, hard to swallow.


I wasn't talking about the OJ trial. I was outside when the pursuit came on the news, and remember my family yelling outside to come in and watch the TV. It was unbelievable, not OJ! Nowadays, we've been exposed to so much weirdness, things don't really have the impact on society like they used to. Every once in a while his name pops up, or the glove parody is used in comedy. Regardless of what he did in football, with Hertz rent a car, or Naked Gun, he'll be remembered for that murder case.

By the way, your Lewinsky pun sucked...


At this point, I'm pretty sure that because 1984 was one of my formative years and Knight Rider, The A-Team, Airwolf and The Dukes of Hazzard were my Must See TV at the time WARPED THE HELL out my perceptions of what Technology, Reckless Driving and Awesome were supposed to be.


Colin McRae driving for Subaru


Is it still driving when you don't have any wheels in contact with the earth?

Master of Muppets

No, it’s transcendence.


I t was balance between power, aero, and suspension when everything was good enough but at the same time simple to DIY (relatively). Today cars are better from the product line but it's complicated, cost effective, and lot of restraints to bypass. No need to mention that the cars were build to last now they're intended to be outdated next year of its production (Example BMW E30 M3 and the new 2 series, M2, M2 comp, and now talking about M2 CS or CSL all in a couple of years).

From costumer side: the trending media was TV, you had to win on Sunday to sell on Monday and all the coverage was for free (F1,WRC,FIFA WC,Moto GP, Porsche Cup,....) now i don't even know who's covering WRC.

Rapee Leepraditwan

That time, Sport car is just a race car on road.


Well nothing is more 90s, quirky and american than the Dodge and Plymouth Neon ! It doesn't take much to make them awesome AutoX, lapping or even oval racing cars. Great power to weight ratio, super simple and reliable if you take care about it even if just a bit. Sure, interior has it's rattles (even more with almost solid motor mounts as my Nitro yellow green ACR here) and the body is not the best assembly in the world but I've been driving Neons for 10 years and don't regret a thing.

PS : I know it's sacrilegious to post a Neon picture here (since I've been following Speedhunters in 2010 I never even saw a picture or a comment on one) because people say they are the worst pieces of shit ever made (because their uncle's uncle had one blow up on them because they didn't take care of it like they would with a Corolla), but being a kid of the 90s... I will love these cars for all my life probably.

PSS : I would rock a ton of cars from the 80s and 90s : JDM legends, US muscles (3rd and 4th gen Camaro or Fox body), 90s Hondas, MkII GTi, E30 or E36s, Turbo Dodges (Omni for example), DSMs (Eagle Talon TSi AWD anybody ?), etc etc.


These little 2.0 engines were very good for their time ... Maybe not refined or fancy as a VTEC powerhouse of the day but definitely more torque in them


More recent picture of said Nitro-yellow green ACR


I was pretty lucky being born in 1980 and growing up in Australia...I was influenced by the 70's offerings of the time, then fortunate enough to own 80's and 90's cars. As a child the cars that were most memorable in my household in no particular order .. Ford XC Coupe / Mazda 1200 Coupe / Holden Gemini Coupe (aka Isuzu Opel Kadett) / Mini Clubman Van / TD Ford Cortina / Fiat 124 Sport Coupe / Suzuki LJ20 (one of the original Jimnys) / Toyota Corona. The Fiat made me appreciate the particularity and detail in cars (Benzina-Olio-Acqua!). This era had left a lasting impression on an impressionable kid. I'll be a gear-head till my final days because of it. Even if I can't afford the best, most interesting cars.


Love me my FC3S.

Ivor The Engine Driver

Did ya forget to clean your lens, Trevor?


Oh thats why


Men were men, instead of whining instagram kids. Thats the main difference..


Ah, the 90s

Her, and the R34...


My GTR..........a more mechanical time..........