The Malaise Era is often thought of as the worst time period for cars. This is generally accurate. But what car from that era is legitimately worth owning today?
Here is why I ask. At Friday night’s Jalopnik F1 meetup in Austin, the conversation among a group of gearheads turned, as it often does, to MotorWeek. I make no secret about how much I love MotorWeek. Host John Davis is a gentleman, a true enthusiast and gearhead, and a friend of this website.
Here’s the thing about MotorWeek: it’s been around since 1981 now, which means that America’s longest running car show started during the most terrible time for cars there was.
Go back and watch the first episode. Look at the cars in their report. The Ford Escort. The Fiat Strada. Exciting previews of the Buick and Oldsmobile J-body cars.
Choked by emissions regulations and styled by blind people who regarded aerodynamics as a pseudoscience, nothing looked good and nothing drove good either. It’s incredible MotorWeek lasted as long as it has, given that’s what they had to start with.
Anyway. This gaggle of car enthusiasts all struggled, longer than any of us expected, to come up with examples of truly good, desirable cars from the early 1980s.
A Porsche 911? Sure, that’s the obvious choice. And while it may not be as desirable as the ones that came after or before, the way air-cooled 911s have been rising in value, now’s a fine time to jump on one if you can find it.
A Mazda RX-7? I wouldn’t kick one of those out of my garage. A BMW E21? The weird self-loathing side of me says yes, logic (and everyone else I know) says no. A Datsun from them probably wouldn’t be too bad either.
No, ultimately I think the car from that era I’d like to own the most is a Saab 900 Turbo. Weird, well-built, fast (for its time), Swedish, and complex enough to destroy my bank account. Perfect. Everything I require in a vehicle.
What early 1980s car would you want to own the most?