The seventies brought us futuristic visions of wedge-shaped supercars with pop-up headlamps. The eighties took things to the next level, with the forward-looking computer-aided vehicles going up against arguably purer machines which but the driver completely in control of their own destiny, leaving lap times (and, occasionally, survival) down to a measure of sheer talent vs technology.

Words: Jack Matthews



Many see this as the absolutely definitive Ferrari. Mid-engine, 2.9-litre V8, rear wheel drive, and with both regular AND pop up headlamps, the F40 absolutely defined the notion of the supercar.

478bhp launched the last Ferrari signed off on by Enzo Ferrari from a standstill to 60mph in around 4.2 seconds, and on to a smug top speed of 201mph – 6mph more than Porsche’s then-record holder, the 959 – but those figures only tell part of the tale. Thanks to a body constructed from Kevlar, carbon fibre and aluminium, the F40 weighed just 1,369kg, bestowing it with go-kart-like handling characteristics.

Ferrari had started out with the intention of building just 400 cars. By the end of its production run, over 1,300 had been built. In addition, Ferrari went on to produce racing versions for sports car racing championships. This sparked customer demand for a performance-focused Competizione iteration, which drew production out through to 1996.

Even looking at this legendary supercar it’s hard to imagine that it’s 30 years old, but in 2017 that anniversary comes around for the F40. Few of us will get the chance to experience an F40 for ourselves, but there’s a strange pride that glows simply knowing we live in a world where it exists.


The Countach entered the fray in the seventies, searing its sharp angles on the conscience of car fans the world over. Lamborghini knew they were on to something special, and carried on producing the Countach in various forms all the way until 1990.

Lamborghini played with the formula throughout the eighties, upping the V12s size and power in an attempt to keep pace with the competition. 1982 saw the LP500 S, which sported the bodywork of the seventies’ LP 400 S car which hid an uprated 4.7-litre V12.

1985 saw the introduction of the Counach 5000 Quattrovalvole, powered by an even bigger 5.2-litre V12 capable of producing up to 455bhp, though thanks to restrictive emissions regulations leading to a change in injector setup, US-spec cars were sold significantly down on power to their European counterparts.

The Countach’s swan song came along in 1988, with the 25th anniversary edition, celebrating the supercar company’s silver anniversary in style. This run-out for the Miura-successor featured details added and tweaked by Horacio Pagani, refining the cacophony of visual impact from the supercar poster of the 1980s.


The antithesis to almost everything the F40 stood for (apart from the pursuit for ultimate performance), the Porsche 959 drove car technology forward, teaming four-wheel-drive with banks of computers to create a driving machine far ahead of its time. Initially designed to be a group B rally car, much like the F40’s predecessor the 288GTO, the 959 was the fastest street-legal production car when it was introduced in 1986, with a top speed of 195mph – though shortly after it was bested by the aforementioned Ferrari F40.

That record-breaking top speed came courtesy of a twin-turbo flat-six mounted in the rear of the car, which put 444bhp through a 6-speed gearbox and all four wheels. Even more impressive was the 959’s 0-60 time, a staggering 3.6 seconds in Sport trim, and a time which would bother some of the cream of supercar royalty even today.

The looks were very forward looking for their time too – the lines were traditional Porsche, but with a DTM-aping bodykit attached bringing them up to date as well as providing excellent aerodynamics necessary for such extraordinary performance.


After the Berlinetta Boxer there came the Testarossa, Ferrari’s mid-engined V12 supercar for the eighties. 390bhp was sent to the rear wheels from the 4.9-litre powerplant mounted just behind the drivers’ head. Pininfarina also designed in numerous solutions for the problems experienced with the BB, including cabin heating thanks to poorly placed plumbing systems.

Fans of arcade machines will remember the Spider variant most fondly as the star of the game; in reality, only a single drop-top Testarossa was produced, meant as a gift for the head of Fiat at the time, Gianni Agnelli.

While its 180bhp top speed is undoubtedly fast, it’s still some way off the top end of this eighties roundup, and its 0-60 sprint time of 5.2 seconds is bested by many others of its day, including a Ford Escort variant still to come on this list…. Performance shortfalls aside, the Testarossa still holds a fond place in many car fans’ hearts however, thanks to its swooping lines and place in pop culture, it’s sure to remain an icon for years to come.


Porsche weren’t the only manufacturer working to perfect Porsche supercars throughout the eighties. In 1987, RUF joined the fray with their iconic CTR, based on the 911 of the era but with an enlarged 3.4-litre version of Porsche’s 3.2 flat-six.

Aerodynamics were a key focus of this 469bhp machine, dubbed Yellowbird for obvious reasons. Ruf took the slimline body from the 3.2 Carrera and shaved off guttering and seam-welded to give it its lithe shape, before adding an aluminium roll cage – lightweight and super-stiff.

It was thanks to this that a Ruf Yellowbird monstered several much-more established supercars in the speed stakes, including Porsche’s own 959 for a period. The Yellowbird topped out at 211mph, which for context is faster than many modern offerings from Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini.

Ruf are so proud of what they achieved with the Yellowbird that they reintroduced it at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, albeit this time with 700bhp and a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, the first rear-engine car to utilize this. Ruf have stuck to their original lightweight, aerodynamic formula, weighing 1200kg and running retractable door handles a la Jaguar F-Type.