Planned US legislation threatened to outlaw convertibles—which meant almost all sports cars—but the expected new laws were never implemented. By the 1980s sports cars still in production were antiquated, but a few survived and adopted new engines and running gear to compete with a whole new generation of sports cars aiming to take their place. Most adopted the traditional front-engine, rear-drive layout but there were mid-engined cars, experiments with front-wheel drive, and even some that eschewed the open roadster body for a compact, fixed-roof shape. It was a renaissance for the sports car.
BMW Z1, 1986
|2,494 cc, straight-six
|140 mph (225 km/h)
BMW’s first two-seater roadster since the 507 of the 1950s had a novel steel platform with plastic outer panels that were easily removable, and drop-down doors. Suspension was from the E30 3 series at the front, with a new multilink rear. The company sold 8,000 cars.
BMW front-ends featured twin nostrils, known as “kidneys”, from prewar days. For the Z1 the intakes were sunk into the plastic nose, bumper, or air dam moulding. Despite the shovel-nose shape, the headlamps were not pop-up units.
BMWs became well-known for the carefully considered ergonomics of their interiors, with well-placed controls. The Z1’s occupants also benefited from wraparound sports seats that kept them securely located during hard cornering.
Marcos Mantula, 1984
|3,947 cc, V8
|150 mph (241 km/h)
The classic Marcos of the 1960s sprang back to life in the 1980s as the Mantula. The biggest change was the adoption of a gutsy Rover V8 engine, which increased power and at the same time reduced overall weight. Later there was a convertible Spyder version.
Toyota MR2, 1984
|1,587 cc, straight-four
|120 mph (193 km/h)
The MR2 may not have been the first affordable mid-motor sports car, but it was certainly the best yet. A smooth and revvy 16-valve engine, pin-sharp handling, plus a decent ride and Toyota’s usual reliability made the MR2 an
Lotus Elan, 1989
|1,588 cc, straight-four
|136 mph (219 km/h)
Lotus’s only front-wheel-drive sports car—and the company’s first roadster since the 1970s this short-lived Elan was exciting to drive. Styling was by Peter Stevens, who had previously restyled the Esprit. The car’s Isuzu-built engine was usually turbocharged, though there was also a rare non-turbo model.
Mazda MX-5, 1989
|1,597 cc, straight-four
|114 mph (183 km/h)
Inspired by the 1960s’ Lotus Elan, Mazda reintroduced the world to traditional open roadster fun with the MX-5, which was more comfortable and reliable than traditional open roadsters ever were. The car was a huge success and was known as the Miata in the US and the Eunos in Japan.
It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016