When you bring up Cars in the ’80s, some might first think of the band of that name or possibly the song by Gary Numan. We’re not talking about Ric Ocasek and those Cars or any music for that matter. Vehicles can certainly play integral parts in both television and movies sometimes even becoming as important as the human characters. TV shows and movies in the ’80s had no shortage of automobiles playing prominent roles and many hold a special place in our hearts still to this day. In fact, though it didn’t make the list, I cannot hear the word AUTOMOBILE without hearing “Donger” say it in Sixteen Candles…
Some of these automobiles made this list because of their iconic nature, fundamental role, memorable scene or they just looked pretty awesome. They are not ranked in order based on desire to own or drive, but weighted more on subjective ’80s pop culture significance. To qualify for the list, the automobile had to be featured in a film or television series originally released or airing between 1980-1989. For the purposes of this list, I decided that no animated vehicles or aircraft/spacecraft would be included on the official list. But I did also add some honorable mentions in that realm for good measure.
So without further ado, here are my TOP AUTOMOBILES FROM ’80s TV OR MOVIES…
Honorable Mention #1: The Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo – Though originating back in 1969 on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, new shows and many re-runs were still being shown regularly on Saturday mornings and after-school during the ’80s. I decided to not include any of the many animated vehicles from the decade, but I felt this van was so iconic and would make a solid representative for all of our Saturday morning favorites. Despite being a cartoon and not being strictly ’80s, The Mystery Machine still receives an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention #2: Optimus Prime from The Transformers (1984-1987) – Also an animated cartoon, the leader of the Autobots is actually a robot that transforms into a semi-truck. He is a true icon of the decade and there was at least a couple years where there wasn’t anything more popular than The Transformers, so I thought he was well deserving of at least an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention #3: Lone Starr’s “Eagle 5” Winnebago RV from Spaceballs (1987) – It is sort of a tribute to the Millennium Falcon, but part of the humor is that it is a RV and even has a bumper sticker that reads, “I love Uranus”. This is really more of a spaceship than car, but since it is made out of a Winnebago I thought it certainly deserved at least an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention #4: Centauri’s Starcar from The Last Starfighter (1984) – Along those same lines, Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest) is taken for a ride in a car which turns out to be a spacecraft. He is recruited/abducted by Centauri to fight in a battle between other worlds and taken there in the Starcar featuring gull-wing doors, rocket boosters and a 1984 California license plate that says RYLOS. A bit of trivia is that the Starcar makes a cameo appearance in the year 2015 Hill Valley in the movie Back to the Future, Part 2. Again, even though it looks like a car, it only qualifies for an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention #5: Tron Light Cycles from Tron (1982) – Though they resemble motorcycles, I don’t think the Light Cycle quite qualifies for this list. On the Grid, they move in straight lines, only turn in 90 degree angles and don’t seem to have brakes. Even though Flynn figures out how to escape the Grid with them and they are my favorite part of the Tron arcade game, I believe the Light Cycle only deserves honorable mention for this list.
Honorable Mention #6: ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” 1933 Ford coupe – The car appears on the cover of the band’s 1983 album Eliminator. It was also featured in several music videos from the album including “Legs”, “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man” so it was on TV even though it wasn’t necessarily on a TV series. I saw the car when I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I felt it at least deserved honorable mention.
50. Jefferson’s 1979 Chevy Camaro Z28 from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Charles Jefferson (played by Forrest Whitaker) is the star football player. Spicoli and Jefferson’s little brother take the car out and wreck it. After that, there is an exchange that takes place which I have always found to be hilarious ending with Spicoli saying, “Relax, all right? My old man is a television repairman, he’s got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.” They come up with the idea of making it look like the car was damaged by rival Lincoln High motivating Ridgemont to win the big game.
49. Rick’s 1979 Dodge Power Wagon from Simon & Simon (1981-1989) – This truck featured a menacing “wrecker” bumper as well as the “Macho Package”, which included a roll bar, big tires and a trick paint scheme. His brother A.J. was Rick’s opposite in many respects including car preference choosing to drive a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible, and later, a customized Chevrolet Camaro Z28.
48. Les’ grandfather’s 1972 Cadillac Sedan DeVille from License to Drive (1988) – It is understandable that Corey Haim’s character sneaks his grandfather’s prized Cadillac even though he doesn’t even have his driver’s license since he does it to spend the night with Mercedes Lane (played by Heather Graham).
47. California Highway Patrol Kawasaki KZP motorcycles from CHiPs (1977-1983) – Ponch and Jon drove these as they kept the California highways safe. You can find out more about the motorcycle riding and stunts in my interview with Larry Wilcox.
46. Spenser’s 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback from Spenser: For Hire (1985-1988) – He starts the series driving an ivy green ’66 Ford Mustang (likely a nod to Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt) which is destroyed at the beginning of the second season. He had a new 1987 Mustang 5.0 GT for a few episodes, but later ends up driving this restored maroon 1967 GT.
45. Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor from The Wraith (1986) – Charlie Sheen plays a teen who mysteriously returns from the dead as a supernatural street-racer driving this invulnerable supercar to take revenge on the gang who murdered him. The original car from the film is actually located at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan.