Most people probably would have forgotten all about the DeLorean if it hadn’t been converted into a time machine and co-starred in the 1985 sci-fi comedy Back to the Future. The 1980s had plenty of funky automobiles that Doc Brown and Marty McFly didn’t drive in the movie, however, and they actually were forgotten.
Here are a few gems that Michael J. Fox’s character could have learned how to drive in.
Decades before SUVs, crossovers, and the Subaru Outback invaded our streets, there was the AMC Eagle 4×4. It was available as a coupe, sedan, or wagon and introduced in 1980. It survived seven model years and was discontinued in 1987 when Chrysler bought the American Motors Corporation. The rugged little four-wheeler was based on a raised AMC Concord and had the heart of a Hornet with plenty of Spirit and Gremlin genes. The Eagle packed a 4.2-liter inline-six that was mated to a three-speed automatic transmission when it first rolled out. Later versions offered a 2.5-liter inline-four variant mated to 4- or 5-speed manual transmission. The lifted car inspired many of the crossovers we see today. Is that a bad thing? It depends on who you ask.
The Audi 5000 was a cool sedan with a number of powertrain variants during the mid-Eighties, but my favorite was the 2.2-liter turbo inline-5 that was good for 162 horsepower. Unfortunately, the 5000 had a serious PR problem and several recalls between 1983-1987. Newshounds at 60 Minutes included the 5000 in its “Out of Control” report linked to incidents of alleged sudden unintended acceleration in several vehicles. The problems were fixed but sales declined due to more recalls and a failed class action lawsuit. A total bummer.
The original Chevrolet Chevy II/Nova of the sixties and seventies was a great ride. I owned a Chevy II with practically no miles and a straight-six that I bought from the original owner. I later sold it to a friend and he, unfortunately, wrecked it. However, the Nova was reborn in 1985 in a joint venture with Toyota but it was actually a rebadged Toyota Sprinter related to the U.S.-market Corolla. The new Nova was assembled in Fremont, California at the NUMMI GM-Toyota joint venture factory (now owned by Tesla) until 1988 and it looked nothing like an original, but it was a solid little hatchback with front-wheel drive. My younger brother Kelly owned a white one with a 1.6-liter four with a whopping 74 horsepower and a 5-speed manual transmission. It was the most reliable Chevy we ever owned—until he totaled it. Nice work, bro.
OMG. This two-door ute looks awesome and is totally Eighties, too. I mean how could it not with a name like Rampage back in 1982? Plymouth rolled out its version called the Scamp the next year, but the Rampage is my jam. It looks like some wizards at Chrysler mated a Chevy El Camino with a Subaru Brat. The Rampage packed a 2.2-liter inline-four that’s good for 96 horsepower and it was offered with a five-speed manual transmission—hallelujah! My neighbor had one parked on his lawn for a while and I should have offered him $500 and it could be sitting in my garage right now. Most people have forgotten it by now, but I wish I’d bought one when I had the chance.
A buddy of mine owned one of these odd-looking Ford EXP cars back in the day. He didn’t keep it too long and eventually traded it for a Nissan Maxima. The two-seater, front-wheel-drive hatchback was made by the Blue Oval between 1982 to 1988 and shared a lot of bits including a 1.6-liter inline-four with the best-selling Escort. An EXP Turbo Coupe was offered in 1984 that raised power to 120 horses, up from the non-turbo’s 80 hp. Add a 5-speed manual and you are good to go. The EXP has aged pretty well, but not as well as the contemporary Fox-body Mustang.
If you squint your eyes you might remember the Mitsubishi Starion as a rebadged Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth Conquest. The sporty two-door, four-seat hatch was sold here between 1982 and 1989. Under the hood, it packed either a 2.0-liter or 2.6-liter turbo inline-four that produced 150 or 197 horsepower. The I-4 was mated to a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. Very cool, but it ain’t no DeLorean.
Nissan Pulsar NX
The Nissan Pulsar NX was sold in the U.S. between 1983 and 1990, in two generations. I remember looking at one of the first-generation ones new at a dealership and it looked like a tin can with the most bargain-basement interior ever. It didn’t have carpet—it looked more like felt that was glued to the floor. There was even a funky Sportback mini-wagon version offered for the second generation. The first-generation cars packed a 1.5-liter inline-four with and without a turbo—and the turbo was the way to go if you were unlucky enough to learn how to drive in one. Later ones got a choice between two non-turbo fours, a 1.6- and a 1.8-liter, neither of which were powerhouses.