1989 Nissan Maxima

My grandfather had purchased a couple of Maximas over the years. When the new and much sportier 1989 version was announced, I (firmly convinced of my twenty year old hipness) just assumed that he would not go for it. I was wrong: within a year, my grandfather was driving a new Winter Blue Metallic Maxima. A somewhat instructive lesson for this young man.

“Big enough to hold a meeting. Fast enough to keep it short.”

New for 1989, the third-generation Nissan Maxima was a big change toward a more sporty image and reality, with attractive new styling and an independent rear suspension. Nissan named it the “4-Door Sports Car” (even putting 4DSC decals on the car), but I remember wondering if they had moved too far away from their previous conservative designs for their market. They hadn’t—the 1989 Maxima sold quite well, despite the fact that the station wagon version had been eliminated.

The Maxima’s engine, a version of Nissan’s VG30E 3.0 liter multi-port fuel injected V6 (closely related to the standard engine in the Nissan 300ZX), was slightly upgraded for 1989 to 160 bhp and 182 lb.ft of torque.

As they had in previous years, Nissan sold two differentiated Maxima models for 1989: the luxury-oriented GXE and the significantly more sporty SE.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment for the $17,499 (about $33,100 in today’s dollars) GXE included rack and pinion steering, keyless entry (a GXE-only feature), and 205/65R15 tires on 15-inch alloy wheels. Inside, you got air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, and a rear window defogger. Fuel economy with the standard four speed automatic transmission was decent at 19 mpg city/26 highway by the standards of the day on premium gasoline (17/24 by today’s standards).

Moving to the $18,549 SE added a five speed manual transmission (the four speed automatic was optional on the SE), four wheel disc brakes, wider wheels, and a spoiler, along with stiffer springs and sway bars. Inside, a moonroof, a Bose stereo, leather steering wheel, and white-faced gauges with black markings were all included. With the five speed, 0-60 mph came in a little under 9 seconds and fuel economy (also on premium gasoline) was 20 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (18/24 by today’s standards).

Options available for the Maxima included a sonar suspension system that adjusted damping based on road conditions, a fairly primitive heads-up display, and anti-lock brakes (SE only).

People seem to remember these cars with affection and I (and others) think the exterior styling has aged rather well, but I don’t see a lot of collecting, at least not yet. Nissan Maximas of this era only occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—you do see them a little more often on eBay Motors. Make mine my grandfather’s Winter Blue Metallic, please.

1986 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta

“Elegance With a Technical Touch.”

1986 was the last year for the Berlinetta semi-luxury version of Chevrolet’s Camaro, and they were by far the rarest of the three Camaros. With only 4,579 Berlinettas built in 1986, Chevrolet sold more than eleven times as many IROC-Zs alone.

The base powertrain for the Berlinetta was the 135 bhp LB8 2.8 liter multi-port fuel injected V6 with a five-speed manual transmission. Optional power was the $750 155 bhp LG4 5.0 liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor which was paired with a $465 four-speed automatic transmission (the five-speed manual was not available with the V8 on the Berlinetta). Fuel economy with base power combination was 17 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (15/24 by modern standards). Moving up to the V8 dropped mileage ratings only slightly—to 17/25.

Your $11,902 base price (about $25,500 in today’s dollars) bought standard mechanical and exterior equipment including power brakes, power steering, dual horns, and Berlinetta-specific wheel covers. Inside, a custom interior, intermittent windshield wipers, a roof console, a locking rear storage cover, and an AM/FM stereo radio with clock and four speakers were included.

Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.
Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.

Of course, the notable interior component for the Berlinetta was the “Welcome aboard Starship Camaro.” (yes, that was a real advertisement) cluster with dual adjustable control pods, a vacuum-florescent digital speedometer, and a bar graph tachometer. To an aspiring young audiophile, the killer feature of this interior was the optional (an extra $242) AM/FM stereo on a swivel with a “proper” upright (no slot) cassette deck and a five-band graphic equalizer. For 1986 only, the stereo had substantially improved backlighting.

Exterior and mechanical options included four-wheel disc brakes ($179), t-tops ($846—ouch!), a rear spoiler ($69), halogen headlamps ($25), rear window defogger ($145), and nice looking Berlinetta-specific aluminum finned wheels ($225). Inside, you could add cruise control ($175) and Berlinetta-specific electronically-controlled air conditioning ($750).

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1986 Berlinetta in (rare) #1 condition is $13,400, with a more normal #3 condition car going for $6,200. In general, third-generation Camaros have good club support and are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, but Berlinettas of any year are rarely seen. Make mine Black, please.

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1986 Ford Taurus

“An automobile that evolved from a new way of thinking.”

Ford’s 1986 Taurus marked an almost unbelievable change from the Fox-platform LTD that it replaced. Gone was the rear wheel drive and squarish looks, replaced by something front wheel drive with Jack Telnack’s completely different design.

The Taurus definitely looked different on the road, especially for a Ford. Getting beyond the looks, the base engine on the Taurus was the central fuel injected (CFI—otherwise known as throttle-body injection) 90 bhp HSC 2.5 liter inline four cylinder. Optional was the fuel injected 140 bhp Vulcan 3.0 liter V6. Mileage with the base engine and the standard three speed automatic transmission was 20 city/27 highway by the standards of the day (18/24 by 2014 standards). Mileage with the top of the line V6 and four speed automatic transmission combination was rated at 20 city/28 highway.

Standard equipment on the $9,645 (about $20,700 in today’s dollars) base Taurus L was … fairly basic. Mechanical features include halogen headlamps, power steering, and power brakes. Inside, cloth seats (either bench or bucket) were standard, along with a rear window defroster and an AM radio with two speakers.

Intended to be the sportiest Taurus, the Taurus MT5 ended up being quite rare. It added a five speed manual transmission with a floor console but paired that with the base engine. Power mirrors, intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, bucket seats, a tachometer, and AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers were also included.

The Taurus GL was the usual step up from the L and included the Vulcan V6 and the four speed automatic as standard equipment. With a GL, you also got power mirrors, intermittent wipers, and an AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers.

The top of the line for 1986 was the Taurus LX (there was as yet no SHO). Beyond all the GL features, every LX included lower body cladding (you’ll have to believe me that it was at least a little hip at the time) and front cornering lamps. Inside, the LX came with air conditioning, power windows, and tilt steering wheel.

Optional exterior and mechanical equipment available for every Taurus included 15-inch aluminum wheels, power antenna, power moonroof, keyless entry system, and an engine block heater. Inside, you could upgrade to six way power seats, cruise control, and the Premium Sound System. An interesting option was the extended range fuel tank, which added 2.5 gallons to the standard 13.3 gallon tank—perhaps another 55 miles of range in the real world.

Options only available on the upmarket GL and LX models included an electronic air conditioner and leather seating surfaces (LX only).

A car that could have killed (or at least badly wounded) Ford if it had failed, the first generation Taurus was instead very successful. Over 230,000 were sold in the 1986 model year alone and the Taurus made Car and Driver‘s “10 Best” in 1986 in addition to being Motor Trend‘s “Car of the Year” (one of the few choices that MT made in the 1980s that hasn’t  ended up being embarrassing).

Make mine Silver Clearcoat Metallic, please. If (as many claimed) the Taurus was imitating the Audi 5000, we might as well go all the way and use a proper German color.

1980 Pontiac Sunbird

“Sunbird offers new thrills for the thrifty.”

1980 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Pontiac Sunbird, Pontiac’s version of Chevrolet’s Monza. Initially available in base coupe, sport coupe, and sport hatch (a base hatch was added mid-year, but the wagon was permanently gone), the Sunbird received few changes for 1980.

The standard engine was the LX8 Iron Duke 2.5 liter inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor, making all of 86 bhp. Optional was the LD5 110 bhp 3.8 liter V6, also with a two-barrel carburetor. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual, with an optional three-speed automatic available.

Mileage with the inline four and four-speed manual was a pretty impressive: 22 city/35 highway by the standards of the day (19/32 by today’s standards). Getting decadent by spending $545 for the three-speed automatic and the V6 combination took mileage down to 20 city/27 highway.

Not much came standard for the $4,623 base price (approximately $13,100 in 2014 dollars), especially to our 2014 eyes. Feature highlights for a base Sunbird included bright grill with park and signal lamps, whitewall tires, custom wheel covers, and “Sunbird external identification.” Inside, base Sunbirds included tinted windows, vinyl bucket seats, and a Delco AM radio.

Moving up to the sport coupe ($4,885) or the sport hatch ($4,996) added body color mirrors, “custom” vinyl bucket seats, and various moldings, but was still fairly austere. Luxury trim ($195) added cloth seats along with snazzier carpeting and door trim.

Available only with the sport hatch, the rare (only 1% of production) and expensive ($674, or about $1,900 in today’s dollars) Formula Package added a front air dam and rear spoiler, along with blacked-out grille, rally wheels with trim rings, and white lettered tires. It wasn’t all bark and no bite: the Rally Handling Package was included, with larger front and rear stabilizer bars. Inside, a tachometer and other rally gauges were included.

1980 Sunbird Sport Hatch with the Formula package, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Mechanical options included variable-ratio power steering (the most popular option and required with the V6) and power front disc brakes. Inside, you could add air conditioning ($531), a tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo cassette player (two different 8-track radios were also still available). A removable sunroof was also available for $193.

The rear wheel drive Sunbird sold well even in its final year, partially because the model year was extended. Almost 188,000 were sold with over 100,000 being the base coupe, making the Sunbird the best-selling of all the 1980 H-bodies. Make mine Agate Red, please.

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1987 Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera

“The Classic Porsche”

For 1987, the Carrera version of Porsche’s evergreen 911 continued with the Bosch fuel injected 3.2 liter/193 cubic inch flat six-cylinder engine in use since 1984, but with a new fuel mapping that increased horsepower slightly to 214 bhp. With the standard Getrag G50 five-speed manual transmission (also new for 1987), you could expect to hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, with a top speed of 149 mph in the 2,750 pound Carrera (the 2014 911 Carrera is about 3,050 pounds). Fuel mileage was 18 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (16/23 by today’s standards) with premium gas.

The 911 was certainly not an entry level Porsche: in 1987 that was left to the 924S (starting at $19,900) and the 944 ($25,500). For your 911’s $40,425 base price (about $80,200 in 2014 dollars) you got four-wheel vented disc brakes (but no ABS) and an engine oil cooler. The exterior included forged alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, fog lights, and tinted glass. Inside, power windows, air conditioning, fold-down rear seats, and Blaupunkt’s  AM/FM stereo cassette (either Charleston or Portland) with four speakers were all standard.

By 1987, Porsche had figured out that the real money was in the options—a behavior that continues to this day. They included the Turbo-Look 911 Turbo body components ($12,593!), limited slip differential ($741), sport shock absorbers ($247), and front and rear spoilers ($1,604). Inside, you could add cruise control ($365), power door locks ($334), heated seats ($164 each), an alarm system ($240), and Blaupunkt’s upmarket Reno AM/FM stereo cassette ($133).

Things hadn’t gotten that comfortable, though—that would wait for the 1990s. There was as yet no automatic transmission option, and many (including Car and Driver) mentioned that the ergonomics still showed their 1960s origins when compared to the 928 or 944.

911 Carreras from the 1980s have held their values fairly well. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1987 Porsche  911 3.2 Carrera coupe in #1 condition is $42,900. A cabriolet can fetch up to $47,500 while a targa can get up to $45,100.

Porsche 911 3.2 Carreras have (of course) great club support from many sources and are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds. As I write this in March 2014, a black 1987 coupe with 104,000 miles is for sale for $33,900. Make mine Silver Metallic, please.

1981 Plymouth Reliant

I don’t know if he was serious, but one of the folks on Corvette Guru asked me when I was going to do a write-up on the K cars. So, here’s the Plymouth version.

“right for the times we drive in”

The 1981 Plymouth Reliant (along with its sibling the Dodge Aries) are the K-body cars often (and reasonably) credited with saving Chrysler in the early 1980s.

The first K cars were basic transportation, famously (like the GM X cars a year before) with no roll-down rear windows and just barely mid-size by the EPA’s classification. For $5,880 (about $16,900 in 2015 dollars), you got a Reliant coupe with rack and pinion steering and a front vinyl bench seat. Base tires were P175/75R13—a size that basically doesn’t exist any more. The upmarket tire was a P165/75R14—a size that fit the mid-90s Plymouth Neon compact just fine.

Spending another $500 or so moved you up to Custom trim, which added halogen headlights, a cloth front bench seat, a cigarette lighter, a color-keyed steering wheel, a digital clock, and an AM radio. Custom wagons also got power brakes.

The top-of the line Special Edition (SE) Reliants added power steering, power brakes, dual horns, deluxe wheel covers, and a snazzier steering wheel. An option only available to the SE was cloth bucket seats.

1981PlymouthReliant
1981 Plymouth Reliant two door coupe, scan courtesy of Alden Jewell

All levels of trim were sold as four door sedans and two door coupes, but station wagons were only available in Custom and SE trims. In 1981, the 151,000 buyers split almost evenly between the three trim levels.

Options included air conditioning (which required tinted glass and power brakes—things were tightly engineered in the early 1980s), cruise control, power door locks, power front seats (said to be quite rare), along with a variety of radios.

Standard engine was a 84 bhp 2.2 liter inline 4 with two-barrel carburetor—a Mitsubishi built 92 bhp 2.6 liter inline 4 was optional. The standard transmission was a four speed manual, with a three speed automatic optional. Gas mileage with the standard combination was rated at 29 city/41 highway by the standards of the day.

Motor Trend managed to get a 2.2 liter with the automatic to do 0-60 in 12.5 seconds—they tried with another Reliant running the same combination and it took 14.0 (oog) seconds. Top speed (if you could call it that) ranged from 88 to 96 mph.

Thanks to the crazy folks at Allpar for much of the source material for this post.

1985 Buick Somerset Regal

I saw a fairly original Buick Somerset Regal with Dark Gray Metallic paint on a side road in Philadelphia about a week ago. It was the first one I’d seen in many years.

“There has never been a Buick quite like the Somerset Regal”

Buick’s Somerset Regal was a new model for 1985. Available initially in coupe form only, Buick’s version of the N-body (Oldsmobile had the Calais and Pontiac had the Grand Am) was designed to at least partially replace the Skylark. It failed miserably, only surviving for three years before being subsumed into the Skylark product line.

1985BuickSomersetRegalExterior
1985 Buick Somerset Regal Limited, courtesy of the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

The Somerset Regal was not a big car by today’s standards. With 180 inches of length and a 103.4 inch wheelbase, it is within shouting distance of a 2014 Honda Civic coupe, which is 177.9 inches long and has 103.2 inch wheelbase. Of course, cars in general have gotten a lot bigger in these thirty years—the Somerset Regal was notably larger than the 1985 Honda Accord.

The standard powertrain was a 92 bhp Tech IV 2.5 liter inline 4 with throttle body fuel injection (a slightly upgraded Iron Duke) paired with a five-speed manual transmission, but I believe most buyers went with the optional ($425) three-speed automatic instead. The hot set-up (if you could call it that) was the optional ($560) 125 bhp LN7 3.0 liter multi-port fuel injected V6, only available with the automatic.

Mileage for the inline 4 and five-speed manual combination was an impressive 24 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (21/31 by 2014 standards). Choosing the more realistic three-speed automatic cost 2 mpg while upgrading to the V6 dropped you all the way down to 20 city/26 highway.

For the Somerset Regal’s $8,857 base price (about $20,300 in today’s dollars), standard equipment included power brakes, power steering, tungsten-halogen headlights, and body-colored bumpers. The interior included bucket seats and electronic digital instrumentation (somewhat upmarket at the time). Moving up to the Limited trim added dual horns, chrome bumpers, and courtesy lamps, along with snazzier seats and steering wheel.

1985BuickSomersetRegal
1985 Buick Somerset Regal interior, courtesy of the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Standard features that date the Somerset Regal included the Delco Freedom II Plus battery, front and rear ashtrays in the console, and the P185/80R13 tires (now considered a trailer size).

Options included the $645 air conditioning (in the mid-1980s not yet standard on most cars), cruise control ($175), leather seats ($275 and only available with the Limited), power door locks ($130), power windows ($195), Vista-Vent sunroof, Delco GM/Bose Music System AM/FM stereo cassette ($995!), cast aluminum wheels ($229), and a Gran Touring suspension ($27).