A few weeks ago, we bid a fond happy 40th anniversary to the automotive dark ages of 1973-84 that have come to be known as "The Malaise Era" – the performance ice-age when 160 horsepower was a lot and a 0-60 time of under 10 seconds was remarkable. Like music in the 1980s, everything in automobiledom didn't suck, however. There were a few bright spots. Here are five of our favorites:

1976-79 Porsche 930, aka 911 Turbo Carrera (above)
Photo Credit: Dorotheum

While Chevrolet beat them by a decade with the turbocharged Corvair Corsa, the Germans more fully developed turbocharging through racing where General Motors couldn't. Early Porsche 930s (known technically as 911 Turbo Carreras) were a bit crude, with turbo lag that could be measured with an egg timer. They lacked an intercooler as well as brakes that were up to the task, but performance was sensational, with the buff books reporting 0-60 times of anywhere from 4.9 to 5.8 seconds and quarter-mile times of under 14 seconds. This was '60s muscle car performance at the height of the Malaise Era. Sadly, the 930 cost about six times as much as your average muscle car did.


Rob Sass is the Publisher of Hagerty Classic Cars magazine. He is a regular contributor to the automotive section of the New York Times and is the author of "Ran When Parked, Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting."




1983-86 Audi Quattro Coupe

Audi Quattro Coupe - Ur-Quattro - live on show stand
Photo Credit: Audi

The Germans apparently didn't get the secret memo outlining a gentlemen's agreement within the auto industry that "everything shall be substandard until further notice." The Ur-Quattro, as the car became known, was quite possibly the most significant car of the entire Malaise Era. While it wasn't the first GT with all-wheel drive (Britain's Jensen FF claimed that honor), it took the Germans to get it right and popularize it by dominating rallying.



1976 Chevrolet Corvette L-82

1976 Chevy Corvette L-82 coupe - front three-quarter view
Photo Credit: Mecum Auto Auctions

Malaise-era Corvettes get dumped on mercilessly by Corvette people. The plastic Vega-sourced steering wheel may have been an atrocity, but in reality, there was more good than bad. General Motors did an excellent job of meeting 5-mph bumper requirements, the slotted aluminum wheels introduced during this time were handsome, and quality remained good at the St. Louis plant. Performance was also quite respectable. Road & Track got their four-speed 210-hp L-82 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and called it the best-built Corvette they had ever tested.



1981-83 Datsun 280ZX Turbo

1981-1983 Datsun 280ZX Turbo - front three-quarter view, red
Photo Credit: FotoSleuth

Datsun had apparently had enough of the "soft discomobile" derision directed towards the 240/260/280Z successor, the 280ZX. The 280ZX Turbo with 180 hp and a five-speed transmission silenced all but the most vociferous critics. With a 0-60 time about a second quicker than the 1970 240Z, it was the most sporting Z car since the 1970s and (hint, hint) enormously underappreciated by collectors to this day.



1975-81 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9

 1975-1981 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 - rear three-quarter view
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

In much the same way that buying a Duesenberg in 1933 was the equivalent of sticking up your middle finger at the Depression, the 6.9 was the Germans' way of flipping the bird to the Malaise Era. Even with its 6.9-liter V8 in less powerful emission-controlled Federal trim – though still producing 250 hp and 360 pound-feet of torque – the car was capable of at least 140 mph (150 mph in the hands of journalist Brock Yates at Road Atlanta if you believe the stories). Even more impressive was the fact that it was a long-wheelbase, four-door sedan that weighed well over two tons.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 66 Comments
      jbm0866
      • 1 Year Ago
      That 930 is exactly what pops into my head when someone mentions "Porsche 911"....and that color is awesome. Incidentally, about 20 years ago I had a 78 Datsun 280Z painted that color...as in exactly that color. My dad was friends with a guy that owned an import shop, and when I bought an old Z with faded blue paint, he offered to paint it "Porsche blue" with some paint he had left over from a previous job. Looked great and got it for just the cost of labor!
      icemilkcoffee
      • 1 Year Ago
      How about the 1st generation Scirocco? It came out around 78 right? The 1st gen RX-7 came around that same time too. The Fiat X19 was similarly a bright light in that era. The Alfa GT with the Spica injected 4 cylinder wasn't bad neither.
        MichaelC
        • 1 Year Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        I was surprised the RX-7 didn't make this list, too. That first gen was pretty sweet.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      Somehow this writer misses the De Tomaso Pantera? Even only making 250HP in this era it stuck out. How can you ignore a 351 Cleveland amongst the watered-down competition of the era?
        no1bondfan
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        Good call on the Pantera. It was a beautiful car with a fantastic name.
      turbomonkey2k
      • 1 Year Ago
      I seem to remember the fastest car you could buy in the USA in 1984 being the Porsche 928... Just saying.
        Teleny411
        • 1 Year Ago
        @turbomonkey2k
        What an under valued car that is.., If I had some more room I'd love to pick one up.
      Aaron
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Porsche 944 was fast by "malaise era" cars with a 0-60 of around 8 seconds. That's amazing since the Kia Forté can easily best that today. I remember a friend getting an IROC-Z Camaro and was amazed it could "chirp" its tires in second. My how times have changed.
        Dane Grant
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Aaron
        Prices are starting to rise on the good old Audi Built Porsche 944.... ! Beautiful Car! and over built!
          A P
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Dane Grant
          Over built???? Except the insanely terrible electrical system in ANY Porsches from back then, Hardly "overbuilt"
        Richard Nygaard
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Aaron
        So true!! Anything automatic that could bark second was fast in my day. IROC-Z 350, Monte Carlo SS and a GN were some of the cars I was ridding in around that time that could pull off the "feat".
      Seriously
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ferrari 512 BB? Talk about a rocket ship (back in the day) .... 0-60 times in the 5's? Whoa
      svntsvn
      • 1 Year Ago
      UR QUATTRO..... Hands down.
      JJ
      • 1 Year Ago
      What about the XJ12?
      Xedicon
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd like to add the Little Red Express to the list, Dodge's clever way of getting around most the smog requirements by putting go fast goodness in a truck and not a car.
      biopsea
      • 1 Year Ago
      granted im a porsche fan, but i find that 930 gorgeous.
        Mr E
        • 1 Year Ago
        @biopsea
        same here, and i'm just a casual porsche fan. it has that perfect 911 look and still retains the classic rawness and deadliness
      Mr E
      • 1 Year Ago
      Is this right?... "Road & Track got their four-speed 210-hp L-82 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds". That seems pretty quick for 210hp.
      Teleny411
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Vettes of the Malaise era: I hate the down turned tail. Even though they weren't all that fast, in its day the C3 looked the bizness! One thing those cars had was durability (forgetting the rust problem for a minute). I had a 72 Dodge Dart 225 slant six as a first car, and that car was a heck of a runner- numb, loose steering be darned!
        Chris
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Teleny411
        Growing up, the Corvettes from that era were always some of my favorites, from an aesthetic standpoint. I must say that I always did prefer the looks of the 68'-72', with the chrome bumpers and upturned tail though.
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