We love the '80s and not just for Rick Astley, Members Only jackets and New Coke. All that's well and good, but what we really love can be described in one italicized, chromed plastic-emblemed word: TURBO. The 80's economy forced automakers to use weaker and smaller engines, so to boost power we all turned to MacGyver-rigged turbochargers. With all that super turbo potential out there, it was hard for us to come up with a top ten list of the most totally awesome turbocharged American cars from the 1980s — but nonetheless, we did. Ogle the 80's heart-action, then tell us which is your favorite in the poll below.
Chevrolet Corvette B2K Callaway Twin-Turbo
We all know about the legendary "Sledgehammer" pictured here. With over 880 HP and a top speed of 254 MPH, it was the poster child for Callaway's Twin-Turbo systems. If you wanted your own, you could actually order a similar package by checking the box for option B2K when ordering a Corvette at your Chevrolet dealership. Granted, the price of the twin-turbo system cost nearly as much as the car itself, but you did get 382 HP and a monstrous 562 lb-ft of torque from your 5.7-liter V8.
The ultimate evolution of the Buick Grand National, the GNX is pure badass. An intercooled, specially-made T3 turbo put up to 15 PSI of boost into the 3.8-liter V6. The official rating from the General was 276 HP. In reality, an unmodified GNX would make about 300 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Combine that with trick underpinnings, and the all-black Buick would go 0-60 in well under five seconds. We like it so much that there's one of the 547 examples in our Jalopnik Fantasy Garage.
Pontiac Firebird Turbo Trans-Am
For 1989, Pontiac created a special 20th-Anniversary Turbo Trans-Am. Affectionately known as the "TTA", this wasn't just some tape-stripe go-faster package. Power came from the Buick-sourced 3.8-liter V6, with the intercooled turbocharger pumping out up to 16.5 PSI. The conservative rating from GM was 250 HP and 340 lb-ft of torque, but some people think the TTA was nearly as powerful as the Buick GNX. Basically, the TTA was KITT-style turbo boost with a white paint job— and not autonomous.
Ford Mustang SVO
Ford Special Vehicle Operations' alternative to big-displacement pony cars was the Mustang SVO. The 2.3-liter inline-four was force-fed by an intercooled turbo that boosted output up to 200 HP and 240 lb-ft of torque. It was a fairly civilized package, but overwhelming favor of simpleton V8 models eventually killed the SVO.
Based heavily on the European Ford Sierra, the Merkur has a distinctly German flavor. Powered by a 2.3-liter inline-four with a T3 pushing up to 14 PSI, it was a similar setup to the Mustang SVO. The lack of an intercooler meant power was down to 175 HP and 200 lb-ft of torque. Though if you had access to Euro-spec parts, it was possible to swap in an AWD drivetrain.
Shelby GLHS Dodge Omni
It's no secret we love the Shelby GLHS. A 2.2-liter inline-four combined with a intercooled turbocharger made 175 HP and 175 lb-ft of torque. Max boost of 12 PSI helped the Omni run 0-60 in about 6.5-seconds. For a 5-door hatch in that decade, it indeed Goes Like Hell - Somemore. Only 500 blacked-out examples were available, making it a true sleeper.
Shelby CSX-VNT Dodge Shadow
Some see the CSX as just a gaudy Dodge Shadow. If you know your stuff however, the CSX-VNT is quite special. VNT stood for "Variable Nozzle Turbo", meaning that these 500 examples were the first ever production cars to utilize a version of what we now call a "variable geometry turbo." These variable nozzles meant there was no need for a wastegate. The setup provided up to 15 PSI of boost, which meant torque from the 2.2-liter inline-four was up to 205 lb-ft, though power was still rated at 175 HP.
Pontiac Grand Prix McLaren Turbo
No, the Grand Prix Turbo was not designed by Gordan Murray. But it did have a 3.1-liter V6 with an intercooled turbo that made 205 HP and 225 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, the turbo Grand Prix was FWD and only came with a 4-speed slushbox. So despite the "Grand Prix" and "McLaren" emblems, this was no Formula One racer.
Chrysler TC by Maserati
Not merely an expensive LeBaron, Chrysler's TC by Maserati often gets overlooked for its performance. A joint venture sparked by Lee Iacocca's friendship with Maserati's owner, Alejandro DeTomaso, the TC was multinational and had little in common with other K-cars. Despite looking alot like any other Chrylser, the body was unique and built in Italy. The 2.2-liter engine had special pistons made in Germany. A 16-valve head made by Cosworth in England replaced the standard 8-valve Chrysler unit. The IHI turbocharger came from Japan and was connected to an intercooler, helping the engine produce 200 HP and 220 lb-ft of torque. This was the most powerful version yet of Chrysler's 2.2 turbo, but it would only be offered on the 500 '89 models paired with a 5-speed manual transmission.
Chrysler Conquest TSi
Ok, so the Conquest is essentially a re-badged Mitsubishi Starion, but who cares? After all, re-badging a Japanese car as with an American brand is quintessentially '80s. Actually, the American models were a bit different than their JDM counterparts. The Conquest TSi came with a 2.6-liter inline-four that made 188 HP thanks to an intercooled turbo. That power was sent to the rear wheels for Japanese-style drift-o action.