In the Rearview Mirror: Feeling Rad

July 1, 2022

It’s a truism of life that when you’re too close to something, you sometimes can’t really see it.

I think that’s the case for cars of the 1980s and ’90s. Until recently, both decades got little respect from automotive enthusiasts, certainly not in comparison to the ’50s and ’60s, when manufacturers weren’t yet fettered by fuel economy and safety standards that profoundly influenced later designs.

No disrespect to those heralded decades, but it is awfully nice that collectors and car fans today are catching on to the fact that the “rad” ’80s and the “bodacious” ’90s really did, in hindsight, produce a lot of fantastic, fun-to-drive vehicles. There are signs aplenty that they are finally getting their due—including RADwood, which hosts popular events all over the country celebrating the cars, bikes, clothes, and music of that era.

The real proof is in the values. According to the Hagerty Price Guide, vehicles launched in the 1980s and 1990s have appreciated faster the past year (+22–23 percent) than those of any other decade. Maybe that’s not surprising. Demand is a driver of price, and 1980 was 42 years ago, meaning the people born back then are now in their prime car collecting years. And they, like all collectors, want the vehicles of their youth. (I certainly do—more on that in a minute.)

From the ’80s, among the cars that are appreciating the fastest are the ’79–85 Mazda RX-7; the ’86–92 Jeep Comanche pickup; the ’87–92 Ferrari F40; the ’83–92 Lincoln Continental Mk VII; and the ’84–89 Toyota pickup.

From the ’90s, it’s the ’91–95 Bugatti EB110; the ’95–98 Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R; the ’93–95 Ford SVT Lightning pickup; the ’90–93 Chevrolet 454 SS pickup; and the ’94–99 Ferrari F355. Look closely at this list and you can see several trends that are reshaping the hobby today, including the rise of interest in Japanese cars and the now-booming popularity of pickup trucks and SUVs.

Not bad for a couple of previously underestimated decades, right? There’s a lesson there, I think. There really are no “lost” decades or even lost years. Every year, every era, will inevitably produce cars worthy of our love, and who’s to say otherwise? Beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder, and life is short. Buy what you like and drive what you want—unapologetically.

Which brings me to the 1980s car that still has a hold on my heart—the Ford Mustang GT that my parents bought me my junior year, circa 1989, after I made good grades. At the time, I was attending Pepperdine University, and Dad (may he rest in peace) said I needed a convertible in Southern California. What a time that was! My hair was big. My mixtapes were metal—Van Halen, Night Ranger, and Guns N’ Roses, in particular. And when I wasn’t studying, I was driving that wonderful Mustang, top perpetually down, on Malibu Canyon Road, Tuna Canyon Road, and Mulholland Drive. I went through three sets of tires that year. Man, I loved that car.

Unfortunately, like my hair and my youth, it wasn’t meant to last. After I graduated, we sold the Mustang, and I moved on to a new phase of life and different cars. I still miss it, though, and every now and then I think, “Maybe I should see if I can find it and buy it again.” That would be pretty darned awesome.

Or should I say that would be “totally rad”?