It was morning on Woodward Avenue again.

Like the first post-9/11 Saturday Night Live in which Lorne Michaels famously asked New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani if it was it OK to be funny again, at some point in the early 1980s, car manufacturers asked the question "Is it OK to be fast again?" The memory of the second energy crisis was receding, the dreaded "double nickel" (the national 55 mph speed limit) was on its last legs, and idiotic 85-mph speedometers went away. It didn't hurt that the wonders of electronic fuel injection and oxygen sensors helped horsepower and clean tail pipes coexist. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, it was morning on Woodward Avenue again. Here are some of the cars that drove a stake through the heart of the Malaise Era:

1984 Buick Grand National (above)

At first glance, the Regal seemed like an unlikely platform for the second coming of Buick muscle. It was a bit upright compared to the fastback Skylark of the early 1970s, but it was relatively light, and in all-black trim it looked suitably menacing. One of the first American performance cars since the start of the Malaise Era (other than the Corvette) to break the 200-net-horsepower barrier, the Buick did it with a turbo V6 rather than traditional V8 power. It mattered little. Performance out of the box was excellent and the car took to modifications quite with over 400 hp possible before things started grenading.


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."



Check out our other Malaise Era features:
Happy 40th to the Malaise Era
Malaise Era All-Stars

1985 Ford Mustang 5.0

1985 Ford Mustang 5.0

The Fox platform 5.0 Mustang was probably the car most responsible for ending the Malaise Era.

Although the four-cylinder, turbocharged SVO Mustang of 1984 added a new level of sophistication (and a credible 175 hp) to the Mustang, it was never going to be a volume seller. The 5.0-liter V8 of 1985, with its better-breathing cylinder heads, new Holley four-barrel carb and more aggressive camshaft (in manual transmission cars) made 210 hp and threatened offerings from Chevy, Porsche and even Ferrari that cost thousands more. The Fox platform 5.0 Mustang was probably the car most responsible for ending the Malaise Era and bringing V8 American performance back to the masses. Someone should build a life-sized bronze statue of the damn thing. The LX model if you don't mind.



1985 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

1985 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Its tuned port injected LB9 305 V8 was rated at 215 hp (automatic only, sadly).

The second generation Camaro had an extraordinarily long production life, but by 1981 the car that had looked so fresh in 1970 (in spite of the fact that it shamelessly stole from the 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB) was looking tired indeed. The third generation Camaro was a fine effort that simply lacked performance when it was introduced for the 1982 model year. Chevy took care of that in 1985 when the tuned port injected LB9 305 V8 was rated at 215 hp (automatic only, sadly). Gone were the dark days of 1976 when a Mustang and Camaro could meet at a stop light and duke it out without anyone actually realizing that they were racing.



1986 Mitsubishi Starion/Chrysler Conquest TSi

1986 Mitsubishi Starion/Chrysler Conquest TSi

The Japanese also got the memo that it was OK to be fast again.

The Japanese also got the memo that it was OK to be fast again. The Starion and its captive import twin the Conquest were pleasant enough sport coupes from a company that really hadn't produced a world-beater since the A6M2 Zero fighter plane. The addition of Porsche 944-esque fender bulges plus a hot 2.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced about 175 hp made the lightweight and slippery Starion an unwelcome sight to Porsche 944 drivers. Too bad Starions and Conquests are on the automotive endangered species list.



1986 Dodge Omni (Shelby) GLHS

1986 Dodge Omni (Shelby) GLHS

In true Shelby bravado, GLHS stands for "goes like hell s'more."

The Dodge Omni was a rather unassuming front-driver designed by Chrysler's then-European arm Simca. Prime competition in the US was the Volkswagen Rabbit. And while it must have been tempting for Shelby to stuff a small block V8 into it, that clearly wasn't going to happen. No matter. Shelby's people managed to coax 175 hp and 175 pound-feet of torque out of the intercooled 2.2-liter Chrysler Turbo II. Mission accomplished. PR-savvy Shelby (who had no love for Ford by this time) participated in a famous Hot Rod magazine story that pitted a '66 Shelby GT350 Mustang against a GLHS at Willow Springs Raceway. The Omni wound up two seconds quicker in a lap and, unbelievably, a second quicker in the ¼ mile. In true Shelby bravado, GLHS stands for "goes like hell s'more" to distinguish it from the more common GLH model.



Check out our other Malaise Era features:
Happy 40th to the Malaise Era
Malaise Era All-Stars


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 35 Comments
      Jeff Dance
      • 1 Year Ago
      Had a GLHS with a 75 shot of nitrous and a Conquest TSI with a 100 shot of nitrous,all slant nose 911 turbos GNX'S and ZR1'S in florida were easy pickings. Even Shaq in his XL M-B got his ass handed to him in downtown Orlando one night.
      carnut0913
      • 1 Year Ago
      Love this article. These all came out when I turned 16 and all were darlings of the ball at the time. I can hardly find anyone who remembers the Starion, so glad to see it mentioned here! Poor Porsche- between the Starion in the 80's and then the second gen RX-7, the 924/944 had a challenge from the bang for a buck with the same looks. Compared to today, sure these are almost dogs but like the article mentions, you had cars to desire again and that was no small thing.
      ngiotta
      • 1 Year Ago
      A Fox is the only era of Mustang I've never owned (not including the Mustang II). I've always wanted one and they're so inexpensive. Hmmmm.... Maybe I'll get one for my kiddo when he turns 16 and live vicariously through him. Better yet, I'll get him an SVO. I almost forgot that I'll be footing his gas bill...
        bullitt2605
        • 1 Year Ago
        @ngiotta
        There is a guy driving a silver SVO around town here I see it when I drop my kids off at school. They were an interesting car.
      Paul D
      • 1 Year Ago
      Love the Mustang SVO, The later 1985.5 version made 205hp and is Quite Quick. I have a 92 hatch with an Turbocoupe motor in it and it is a blast to drive, Its considerably quicker than a stock V8
      oRenj9
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hell yeah, an article on AB that is actually interesting!
      Richard Nygaard
      • 1 Year Ago
      My parents had a Conquest, I destroyed the tires in one donut session on a gravel parking lot. My brothers best friends had a Conquest one year newer than my moms (was the year they upped the HP and put the different headrests in), a 1986 Mustang GT, a Monte Carlo SS, and a Buick GN. My best friend had a Ford T-Bird Turbo Coupe while another friend had the 350 IROC. I may have had the slowest car but I think it was the coolest, 1970 Triumph TR-6.
      Chayil
      • 1 Year Ago
      All of these cars were game changers. I was a teenager during the muscle car wars of the 1960s. Then, the horrible seventies came around and all cars seemed to have been emasculated by 1975 with their super restrictive catalytic converters and lean tunes. So, the emphasis was on styling like the Firebird Trans Am with big super chickens on the hood. That changed in the mid 80's when fuel injection and better tunes started to re-establish performance again I remember all these cars very well. Each in its own right got high performance back on track. By the end of the 1980s, serious performance cars became the norm and today, we are living in the golden age of performance. The one thing though that separates performance cars of 1985 from today is price. A Mustang or Camaro were actually affordable to the average working person. Today, they are almost beyond that. They are prohibitively expensive unless some wheeling and dealing take place.
        GLHS837
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Chayil
        Well, to be fair, it's true the top end of the cars that have survived have gone through the roof ($65K Mustang, I'm looking at you) but in reality, cars that would match or better any of these cars these machines are available at working man prices. A lowly V6 Mustang gets around 5.2 0-60, and a 13.9 1/4 mile time while hitting .91 on the skidpad for under 25K. The mentioned 85 Mustang 5.0 got 14.9, 0-60 was 6.4, and roadholding was a dismal .79.
      mktnb
      • 1 Year Ago
      Omni a Rabbit nemesis? Hardly, the Dodge even launched with VW Rabbit engines sans fuel-injection.
        carnut0913
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mktnb
        the base 1.7L engine and 4Sp transmission were VW sourced, but for this article, the GLH and GLHS never saw a VW part unless it was covering it in its dust.
      hadskeath
      • 1 Year Ago
      My first car in 85 was a 78 Regal Sport Coupe with 3.8 turbo and four barrel. Factory was 175 hp. With the emissions ripped out I figured it was 185-190. Big deal for the time. I painted it black to look like the new GN's. Followed it with a brand new 90 LX 5.0.
      SPcamert
      • 1 Year Ago
      In response to "Too bad Starions and Conquests are on the automotive endangered species list." That may be the case but there's a guy down the street from me who is repairing a silver example of this car after a nasty accident that toasted the front-driver's side of the car. At least there's still one.
      dukeisduke
      • 1 Year Ago
      The GN and GNX cars were amazing (search YouTube for the famous old video of the GN blowing the doors off a C4). The V6 growl combined with the turbo whistle is addictive.
        pmurray63
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dukeisduke
        I still remember going to the auto show in Detroit and seeing one on display with an "I brake for Corvettes" bumper sticker.
        methos1999
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dukeisduke
        Not to mention they looked Bad-a$$ with the black paint and blacked out grille - made for a great ad: "Lord Vader, your car is ready."
      csgill75
      • 1 Year Ago
      That Buick is just awesome. I think I remember that it was faster than the Corvette in the 1/4 mile back when they were new.
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