6 of the best ways to relive the excess of the 1980s

Photograph Courtesy Broad Arrow Auctions

How to best experience the days of MTV, big hair and transferring money from one perception to another without a time machine? How about one of these '80s icons?

Lamborghini Countach

Sun peeking out from behind the hills.

A long ribbon of asphalt.

And a menacing, black Lamborghini Countach LP400 S–fully decked out with all the day’s wings, scoops and flares–playing cat and mouse with Nevada Highway Patrol. 

The opening scene of 1981’s “The Cannonball Run” helped set the tone for the decade’s decadence: me, me, me, along with a healthy disregard for both consequences and speed limits. 

Another big ’80s Hollywood opener featuring that same famed Italian: Tom Cruise’s troubles getting four Countachs to pass EPA regs sets “Rain Man” in motion. 

If one car captured the mood of the times–those living at the top and the rest of us who wished to play there–it had to be the Countach.

Need a car for a “Miami Vice” bad guy? Countach.

What car to pair with a leggy blond in a poster aimed at the dorm room crowd? Again, a Countach. 

Countach production predates the ’80s, of course, with Marcello Gandini’s masterpiece debuting for 1974: clean bodywork, no tacked-on extras. The LP400 S, released in 1978, added the frills so associated with the ’80s. And as the decade wore on, later releases only got wilder and wilder.

Sold: 1989 Lamborghini Countach 25th Anniversary
$555,000 • Broad Arrow Auctions
Lamborghini celebrated its silver jubilee with this 25th anniversary edition. While mechanically similar to the 5000 QV, this one received the side stakes so in vogue in those days.


Lamborghini Jalpa

Countach too bougie for you? How about a Jalpa instead? Its place among the fast-living element was cemented by its 1985 “Miami Vice” appearance.

That Jalpa wasn’t driven by a forgettable thug, either, as it was paired with Phil Collins, at the time dominating the charts around the world. (If it helps you sleep better at night, he only portrayed a simple conman, not a ruthless killer or anything like that.)

Jalpa production spanned from 1981 through 1988 and, like the more expensive Countach, its V8 engine was placed in the middle. With just 410 units produced, though, the Jalpa might be the rarer sight these days.

Sold: 1984 Lamborghini Jalpa
$115,500 • Mecum
Not a lot changed during the Jalpa’s production run, with the biggie being a switch from black to body-colored bumpers for 1984. 


Ferrari 512 BBi

Did the era’s 55 mph speed limit crush your groove? Were you upset that you couldn’t get your car out of second gear? Sammy Hagar felt your pain and channeled that angst into one of the day’s biggest rock anthems, “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The video for this 1984 stadium classic featured Hagar–pre-Van Halen but already a star–sliding around the now-shuttered Saugus Speedway in his own Ferrari 512 BBi. Claudio Zampolli, who at one point attempted to put his own V16-powered supercar on the market, dialed in Hagar’s trackside setup, adjusting the camber and caster while correcting the tire pressures. 

Ferraris were everywhere during the ’80s. All the beautiful people seemed to have one, from wisecracking priests and video game heroes to Hawaii’s favorite private eye. So how about something that’s less expected? You want to roll up and be noticed, right? That’s where the 512 BBi can come in today. 

Like many good things from the ’80s–“The Love Boat,” etc.–this one also has roots in the preceding decade. The 512 BBi lineage dates to the 1973 introduction of the 365 GT4 BB, the brand’s first road car powered by a mid-mounted flat-12. By the time production of this chassis ended in 1984, displacement had increased from 4.4 to 4.9 liters while the engine gained fuel injection.

Sold: 1981 Ferrari 512 BBi
£258,125 • RM Sotheby’s
Just 1007 copies were built during the 1981-’84 Ferrari 512 BBi run, with this one bringing in about $325,000 in U.S. dollars.


Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer

Faster than a Ferrari. And more exclusive, too. 

The Hammer, produced before AMG’s official merger with Mercedes-Benz, followed a favorite recipe: big engine, small car. In this case, the melding involved the midsize W124 Benz sedan along with the brand’s V8. AMG expanded displacement from 5.6 liters to an even 6.0 while fitting four-valve, twin-cam heads to produce close to 400 horsepower. 

Depending on the source, top speed sat somewhere around 180 mph–or maybe even faster. A 1987 Road & Track test has the first one in the States reaching 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. Then add in the visual cues, handling upgrades and comfort extras. It was the total package, down to the sticky Pirellis. 

Just 13 were said to be sent stateside with another 10 or 12 dispatched to the rest of the world. Turnkey price was listed at $161,422, which would be north of $425,000 today.

Sold: 1987 Mercedes-Benz AMG “Hammer” Sedan
$775,000 • Broad Arrow Auctions
File this under “cars that rarely, if ever, come up for sale,” with recent service records for this U.S.-market example totaling $79,000.


Porsche 911

If cameras were rolling in the ’80s, odds are strong that a 911 was nearby. Didn’t matter the occasion, either: crime drama, whodunit, race from sea to shining sea. If the scene needed to have aspirational tones, they’d just cue the Porsches.

What should L.A. lawyer Corbin Bernsen drive? What else but a Turbo-look Cabriolet. 

Rich kid Adam Storke in “Mystic Pizza,” 1988’s feel-good romantic comedy-drama? Hey, another 911 Cab–which, at one point, a jealous Julia Roberts fills with fish. 

An appropriate ride for aging football player Jeff Bridges in “Against All Odds”? How about a red Cab? (Super bonus: While Phil Collins’ title song from this 1984 release brought home the Grammy, the movie’s chase between Bridges and Ferrari 308 driver James Woods remains criminally underrated.)

Charlie Sheen’s “No Man’s Land” even gave us a Hollywood thriller centered around a car theft ring that specifically preys on 911 owners, with this 1987 release slotting between his blockbusters “Wall Street” and “Young Guns.” 

Some of the day’s biggest MTV stars flocked to this chassis, too, with the roster of 911 Turbo owners including  John Oates, Eddie Van Halen, Rod Stewart and Nile Rodgers plus Judas Priest’s sizzling guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. Despite being a bit common by exotic standards, the 911 still sets the tone and remains welcome anywhere.

Sold: 1979 Porsche 911 Turbo
$103,600 • Broad Arrow Auctions
When looking for an ’80s-appropriate 911, it’s hard to bypass a Turbo. Depending on year and condition, the first number in the price will likely be a one, a two or higher.


Porsche 928

When Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay need to outrun Guido the killer pimp, it’s in a Porsche 928. When Michelle Pfeiffer tells Tony Montana to trade up, they wind up looking at a new Porsche 928. And when Kelly LeBrock conjures up a dream car for Anthony Michael Hall, it’s a Porsche 928. 

What does Bruce Wayne drive before becoming Batman? According to “Batman: Year One,” 1987’s account of his metamorphosis from a young billionaire into the Caped Crusader, it’s a 928. Black. No gadgets. 

A missed opportunity, though, with the 928: “Magnum, P.I.” helped put the Ferrari 308 on the map, but the producers originally pictured the series star driving something different–a Porsche 928.

Sold: 1980 Porsche 928S
$100,800 • RM Sotheby’s
In 1980, George Harrison bought a new 928–this very 928, in fact–and drove it for nearly four years and some 11,000 miles. Found beneath the driver’s seat during a recent restoration: a 1980 cassette copy of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”


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gsarahs New Reader
11/16/23 4:58 p.m.

So, the entry point to this club is a $100,000? I think not.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/17/23 9:47 a.m.
gsarahs said:

So, the entry point to this club is a $100,000? I think not.

It was just one editorial exercise of cars that truly defined the excess. Let’s hear your list–always open to hearing everyone’s take on a subject. 

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