Many cars from the 1960s are considered timeless classics. Rad 1980s–1990s vehicles, meanwhile, are undergoing a renaissance with collectors. The period between those two eras? It’s best left forgotten. The “Malaise Era,” generally considered the decade of cars that stretched from 1973 to 1983, was perhaps the single worst period for automotive manufacturing. Oil crises and new environmental regulations melded with industry inertia and a shortage of imagination to realize 10 years of cars that were, for the most part, bloated, underpowered, and uninspired. (One sad example: here’s what that era’s Ford Mustang looked like.)
The Malaise Era, however, was not wholly bleak. The era saw some bold designs hit the streets. We also saw the progenitors of some of our favorite, brand-defining vehicles of the 1980s and beyond arrive.
Below are 12 great cars that bucked the trend and managed to be great. And not just ironically great in retrospect, like the Subaru BRAT.
Lancia Stratos (1973)
As stunning to behold as it was successful at rallying. (And thankfully, not quite as nutso and Cybertruck-like as the Stratos Zero.)
Volvo 240 (1974)
The Brooklyn-chic and bulletproof Volvo 240 stayed in production for 19 years after going on sale towards at the end of the Nixon Administration.
Ferrari 308 GTS (1975)
Designed by Pininfarina. Driven by Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.
Mercedes Benz W123 (1975)
This Mercedes was virtually indestructible, and helped solidify the brand’s reputation for making such cars. John Lennon used one as his daily driver in his post-Beatles years, too.
Porsche 930 (1975)
The Porsche 930 was the first-ever 911 Turbo. Both its poster-friendly aesthetics and mind-bending performance left a permanent mark on the 911 lineage.
Volkswagen Mk1 GTI (1975)
Often imitated, never equaled. The racing Golf set a template VW has stuck with for nearly 50 years.
Jeep CJ7 (1976)
The CJ7 kept the goodness of earlier generations of Jeep, but made the product safer and more practical, thanks to a longer wheelbase and full doors.
Lotus Espirit S1 (1976)
A wedge-shaped work of art — and, of course, one of the most memorable Bond cars of all-time.
Alfa Romeo GTV 6 2.5 (1980)
This Alfa may be the owner of the best-sounding six-cylinder of all-time. Alas, it can’t be cool, because Jeremy Clarkson once owned one.
Renault 5 Turbo (1980)
A mid-engine alignment and crazy fender flares turned the dumpy Renault 5 into a performance icon. Driving a Renault 5 Turbo has been the undoubted highlight of Daniel Ricciardo’s time with the Renault F1 team.
Toyota FJ60 Land Cruiser (1980)
The first and best-looking Land Cruiser of the present wagon era. Even well-worn examples are still kicking around (and coveted).
BMW E30 3 Series (1982)
The E21 3 Series was good, but it was the second generation that established the 3 Series as perhaps the iconic BMW for decades to come.
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