80s Classics That Still Won't Break The Bank
Updated: Mar 15
All classic cars, with few exceptions, go through the same value curve: they lose value for 20 years, they plateau for 10 years and after 30 years we all want one. Just look at values of classic Fords like the Capri, XR3 and Escort.
But there are exceptions. We've collected together 10 1980s classics that, so far, have not nudged the rev-counter of value in quite the way you might expect. That doesn't mean they're bad cars - just ones that tend to be overlooked or are not quite discovered. Hidden gems, if you will.
Here's our top 10 undiscovered gems.
1. Saab 900 LPT
When Saab created the 900 by elongating the ancient 99 it stumbled on a winner. Everybody wanted the quirky saloon with the big turbocharger.
Except not everyone could afford it. Or actually wanted the tyre-scrubbing performance of the 175 bhp Turbo. So Saab offered the 'LPT' aka Low Pressure Turbo. It looked exactly the same as the Turbo, it drove pretty much the same but you only got 145 bhp at the front wheels.
If you can live with the 30 bhp power deficit and the absence of Turbo badges on the front, back and sides then you'll bag a bargain. Because the LPT is to all intents and purposes identical to the full pressure version. You get the same turbo rush, the same quirky interior, the same seats even.
Values for Full Pressure Turbos are £5,000 and upwards. You'll pay around half that for a serviceable LPT. Pop over to ebay, buy a few Turbo badges and nobody will know.
2. VW Golf Mk2
Surprisingly, the boat has not quite sailed if you want a good Mk2 Golf GTI for sensible money. And you do.
The original Golf GTI was a bit of an after-thought - VW built and launched the car then decided to create a sporty version. Consequently the GTI had to make do with underpinnings that were less than ideal.
Not so with the Mk2. Nearly 10% of all Mk1 Golfs sold were GTIs so when it came to replacing the model, a sporty version was always envisaged and was built into the car's DNA. The result is a GTI that feels more grown up and with deeper reserves of ability than the original.
Values have so far stayed low because there are so many about. The best, however, are getting expensive - which is a sure sign that the rest will follow. Expect to pay at east £3,000 for a solid, useable example, over £10,000 for the best.
3. Fiat X1/9
It's not immediately clear why a car that ticks so many classic car boxes remains so undervalued. The X1/9 looks good, it handles brilliantly and it's got the right badge. And yet...
Some of the answer probably lies in that badge. Although most 1980s X1/9s were actually built by Bertone, the Fiat name doesn't exactly endow the car with the promise of durability and reliability. And then there's the complexity - it's a small car but a low volume, mid-engined one and it's prone to rot.
And there's no denying that all of those things should worry any would-be X1/9 buyer. But most if not all those concerns can be assuaged by thoroughly checking any car you buy. And you should buy one, because they are an absolute hoot to drive. Like many sports cars of the 1980s, there's power, but not enough to get you into trouble, which means you can really drive the x1/9 on the doorhandles. All that and it's a sort of convertible too.
X1/9s are now rare to find, but they are out there. Your search will be mostly limited to the final mid to late 1980s cars rather than the earlier and arguably prettier cars. Expect to pay £3,500 upwards - cheaper than a MGB and so much better.
4. Rover 800 Vitesse
Austin Rover's habit in the late 1980s of nailing the Rover trident to anything on four wheels played havoc with an already tarnished brand. Which perhaps explains why nearly 35 years after the first cars left the factory. the Rover 800 still isn't valued as an aspirational classic.
Which is a shame, because the 800 Vitesse, which used the proven Honda 2.7 litre V6, was a great executive express. Better built, better to drive and more reliable than the SD1 it replaced, the 800 was the first fruits of the Rover-Honda alliance and it was a good one. Perhaps it was less lary and brutal than the SD1 Vitesse, but that meant it was more relaxing to drive and, above all, more comfortable.
The Vitesse represents the high water mark of Britain's dalliance with high performance executive cars. Rivals from BMW, Ford and Mercedes may have been quicker, but the Rover 800, like its upmarket XJ40 rival, retained a certain charm and character that those cars lacked.
You can pick up an 800 Vitesse for under £2,000, although it's worth seeking out a low mileage, well maintained example for around twice that.
5. TVR 350
In the 1980s TVR went through something of a renaissance. And that rebirth was wedge shaped. Top of its chisel-shaped model tree was the 350 which, as the name subtly implies, was equipped with the Rover 3.5 litre V8.
What the 350 lacked in on-road finesse and the conventional notion of build quality - where one panel meets another in alignment - it more than made up for with sheer grunt. The glassfibre body meant that it was light so the V8's 190 bhp catapulted it to 60 in a shade over 6 seconds. Heady stuff for 1982.
Despite this, the 350 seems to have languished in the classic car doldrums thanks to a reputation for dodgy electrics - actually well deserved - and the usual alarm bells associated with the TVR initials. Consequently you can pick up a good 350 for less than the cost of a MGB - £6,000.
Should you? Well there's no getting away from the reliability worries or finding a specialist willing to sort them when they do go pop. But for that kind of money you're getting a true British low volume V8 sports car with a gorgeous soundtrack. And any car that's nearly 40 years old will already have had its electrical gremlins - mostly - ironed out. Sometimes in life, it's worth taking a risk.
6. Lancia Beta Coupe, Spider & HPE
In the 1980s the Lancia name was the automotive equivalent of the Corona Virus. The firm's relationship with rust was so deeply interwoven that it had to exit the UK market entirely in 1993.
And yet it built cars like the Beta Coupe, an achingly beautiful, petite sports car that was more enjoyable to drive than a Capri and faster than a Golf GTI. It was available as a coupe, a strange pseudo drop-top Spyder and the Scimitar-bating HPE estate. Plus there was the Volumex, the 2 litre supercharged version that could eat the Capri 2.8 for breakfast.
Today there are very few Beta coupes about, mainly due to the ravages of rust. But find a good one and enjoy one of Italy's best cars of the last 40 years. Thanks to that reputation, Beta values are still much lower than those Capris and Golf GTIs - expect to pay £5,000 for one with a MOT, £10,000 for a very good one.
Just in case you weren't aware, Princess Anne had a Scimitar. Well, actually several. Which may not have done the car's image all that good.
And image is really the only reason that the Scimitar is on this list. Because it should be so much more valued: it's practical, it looks good, it goes well with its V6 Ford engine and it's a rare old thing but with proven, simple mechanicals.
But somehow emerging from the same factory that foisted the Reliant Robin and Rialto on the world has done nothing to help the poor old Scimitar. It probably doesn't help either that it's made of glassfibre - and generally not very well - and the interior is a bit of a styling hit and miss. Mostly miss.
If you can look past the links to minor Royalty and the fact that everyone calls it a Reliant when it's actually not a Reliant at all, then you'll enjoy a distinctive, practical classic that is surprisingly easy to own. Because everything under the bonnet is off-the-shelf and widely available. And there's a good owners club too (don't forget to remind them about the Princess Anne thing).
Ropey Scimitars start under £1,000 but MOT'd roadworthy cars are £3,000 upwards. The Scimitar had a very long production run so make sure you check the different specifications and find the right one for you.
8. Lotus Excel SE
In the 1970s Lotus went a bit bonkers. This manifested itself in the launch of several different models, including the Eclat and Elite, all seemingly aimed at a market for high quality GT and sports cars that Lotus was uniquely unsuited to service. Because high quality and reliability, particularly in the 1970s, were definitely not part of the Lotus brand architecture.
Realising its mistake Lotus struck a deal to source parts from Toyota, which was at the opposite end of the reliability spectrum. The result was the Excel, a reworked Eclat that sported lots of Toyota parts and running gear mated to Lotus' 2.2 litre slant four engine. Which by 1982 - and with some Toyota input - the firm was managing to make fairly reliable.
So the Excel is the Lotus you can buy without burning a hole in your pocket. No, it really is. During its production run Toyota took over Lotus and introduced significant improvements in quality and reliability. So while the Excel is not quite as reliable as an actual Toyota, it's light years better than the 1970s cars that begat it.
However, Lotus' reputation dogs the car and suppresses values. The Excel is also bedevelled by Porsche 928 syndrome - in other words its not the car most people associate with the company in the 1980s. Ie The Esprit.
So you can pick up a good Excel for less than £10,000. You'll get a car that should really be two or three times that because it is a genuinely excellent drive. And it looks good too. If you're into one-upping everyone at the local car meet without breaking the bank, the Excel is for you.
9. Jaguar XJS
Our enthusiasm for the XJS is well documented (we've got one on our hire fleet.), but the car makes it onto this list purely on merit. Right now we can't think of a 1980s car that is as undervalued as the humble XJS.
Consider the facts. It's the world's only mass production V12 engined car. It was built to scare Ferrari, out-GTing the firm's new 400 model. And you can pick one up for £5,000. Or less if you're happy to go with a 6 cylinder model. And there is a 1980s XJS for everyone - cabriolet, convertible or coupe, auto or manual, 6 or 12 cylinder.
XJS values have remained depressed for so long because it's not an E Type and its styling is out of step with what most people think a Jaguar should look like. But that is changing. Values are nudging up and rare early cars are beginning to command significant premiums.
The XJS is easy to own, cheap to run - thanks to good parts supply - and reliable. And that's before you drive one - thanks to the XJ saloon running gear they rival Rolls Royces for smooth, unruffled progress.
10. Opel Manta GT/E
No list of 1980s classics could be complete without that most 80s of 80s cars: the coupe. Sadly we're a few years too late to grab a bargain on the daddy of all coupes, the Capri, but fear not. There's still the Manta.
Vauxhall has always played second fiddle to its more desirable rival, Ford. And so it was with the Manta, the car that outshone the Capri on rally stages but never managed the same trick in the showroom.
That badge is probably the reason why. Although sold in the UK as an Opel, we all knew it was just a posh Vauxhall Cavalier. And in the Cavalier vs Cortina wars, everyone really wanted the Ford. Even though the Vauxhall was actually better.
And so it was with Manta versus Capri. The Manta - whisper it - was the better car. Available as a 'sports hatch' hatchback or svelte booted coupe, the Manta handled as well as you'd expect a car proven on rally stages to do and it had the power to match.
Today, while Capri prices are north of £10,000, you can buy a good Manta for around 40% less than a comparable Ford. It really is a bargain.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days, 01527 893733