If you’re a Gen-X car nut, then you were just coming into your automotive enthusiasm when the Eighties rolled around. Like the pop songs of your youth, the cars from that time were burned into your brain.
And so it doesn’t matter how lackluster those Malaise Era cars were; they still strike a chord. Here are 13 fun ones from 1981, for better or for worse.
Model year 1981 was a tough one all around. Car manufacturers were in another recession year of slumping sales, and the buyers who could afford to buy faced double-digit car loan interest rates. American-car quality was in the toilet, the Japanese imports were on the march, and German cars were getting a lock on image prestige.
This W123 generation of mid-sized Mercedes has a style that combines flowing lines with a sturdy and utilitarian structure. Rare to find a gas-powered one among all the diesels.
Mercedes diesels are plentiful, which reflects their durability. These 240Ds are painfully slow, but maybe you’d have a shot at keeping up with traffic with a manual transmission.
Check out this tricked-out Lorinser coupe – you know this cost a pretty penny back in the day.
All that extra Lorinser trim befouls the W123’s clean lines, which were said to have influenced the Chevrolet Malibu coupes of the period. That Malibu’s own brand of straight-edge cleanliness always appeals.
The Malibu’s lines translated nicely into the El Camino’s car-pickup form.
No 1981 search would be complete without a Caprice Classic in the mix. This one looks tired but still serviceable.
If I had a garage big enough for it, I’d snap up this Coupe DeVille Diesel and convert that diesel engine to run on veggie oil for guilt-free luxury.
More diesels in the Toyota trucks. Here’s where California’s forgiving climate preserves the models that typically rusted and rotted away – the thin metal on these compact pickups quickly degraded in snowy climes.
Only 65K on this gas-powered truck! It is poised for a continued long life.
Looks like this Starlet project got away from the seller. Toyota’s answer to the Chevy Chevette is rarely found in stock form, as the Starlet is valued in modification circles for its rear-wheel drive and rarity. Its short length and black foam rubber bumpers would make it perfect for parking in SF.
On the other end of the serviceability scale are these package-deal Imperials, probably with their troublesome fuel injection systems still intact. Whomever owns them apparently likes giant personal-luxury coupes; in the lead photo, the car next to the pictured Imp is an equally dusty Lincoln Mark V.
One thing that’s missed from that period are the colorful monochrome interiors. This little-driven ‘Vette is drenched in Chevy’s “Cinnabar” redenss…
…and a similar shade decks out the innards of this Trans Am, although color variation over time has led some parts to look swollen and infected. Is there a cream for that?
Nineteen-eighty-one hasn’t seen the last of us, as its cars continue to live on in our hearts. Tell us in the comments – which of these would you want in your driveway?