Five Favorites From The 1980s

1986 Ford Taurus Design Concepts
Photo by Randy Stern

In April of 1980, a dream finally came true.

At the State of California's Department of Motor Vehicles office in Canoga Park, I became a licensed driver. It took that second time to do it, but it was complete. Thanks to the California Driving School and the help of a 1977 Datsun B210 sedan, this history I embody had a real genesis.

The past few Five Favorites pieces focused on speculation of which vehicles I would drive had I been alive as a legal adult driver during a particular decade. Now, we have a reference point – and an actual list of Five Favorites that I have driven during the 1980s.

Believe me, I drove a lot of vehicles. However, if I had choose five of the best during my first decade behind the wheel, they would be these…

1987 FORD TAURUS: It not only defined the 1980s automobile-wise – it was a benchmark for everything I would drive since. Last month, you read how the coming of a 2013 model to review was dictated by two 1987 GL sedans driven 25 years ago. You also read how its design and driving dynamics were stunning and influential personally. What could I say about the original Bull?

1984-87 TOYOTA COROLLA: The first front-drive Corolla changed my perspective of Toyota’s best selling vehicle ever. I found Corollas to be boring, but reliable machines. That is, of course, you favored the coupes and liftbacks on the rear-drive platform. When Corolla switched over the driveline, it practically changed everything. The sedans were fine – roomy, had plenty of go and well built. Then, came the hatchbacks. These were mainly U.S. market three-doors based on the sedan and they had plenty of practicality. But, if you chose the 16-valve engine, you found another side of the Corolla. Granted the rear-drive coupes were kings of drift culture, but the FX16 became Toyota's answer to the Volkswagen GTI. The FX16 was one hot hatch I had no qualms enjoying.

1987 HONDA CIVIC: I never had a chance to drive my brother’s 1984 DX hatchback. A 1987 DX sedan popped up some time later for me to find out why the Civic was still one of the benchmarks amongst compacts in this market at the time. Civic sedans were beginning to take root amongst Honda fans. The second-generation three-box model expanded the qualities of the third generation Civic with decent trunk space and equal the room as in the Corolla of the same era. Because it was a sedan did not mean it was less of a Civic. That was where the Civic stole my heart – a revvy machine that had no qualms entertaining you when you least expected it. This was why we put the Civic on a high pedestal when a new model comes out.

1985 VOLVO 740: This would be my first European car I ever took the wheel of. Yes, a Volvo. Why? Renting cars was what I did when my usual daily driver would fail me. I got lucky one Thanksgiving week and scored the 740. It was nice – leather interior, sunroof and plenty of luxury touches. It was fancy for a guy like me, but it did open a few doors in terms of which automobiles I might enjoy the most. The Volvo did exude luxury, but I was keenly aware of its safety leadership. Luckily, I never got the chance to try it out. As they always say – you never forget your first European.

1989 NISSAN MAXIMA: Nissans were always reliable and mechanically sound. During the 1980s, most often you looked at a Nissan and turned away for a moment. Nice looking was not good enough. For 1989, Nissan decided to add some panache to two of their most powerful models – the 200SX and Maxima. All it took was a different skin and a larger interior to finally get the Maxima right. The design itself was a vast improvement upon every Nissan since the early 1970s. If you drove the SE model, you truly got the advertised "Four Door Sports Car" with its five-speed manual gearbox connected to an uprated 3.0litre V6. At the end of the decade, the Maxima showed that the Japanese can play the game – alongside Acura.

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