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Car trends of the 80s and 90s

The first questionable decision from the 1980s is the two different options of alloy wheel, either spindle spoke wheel typically seen on luxury vehicles like Jaguar’s and BMW and cheaper manufacturers producing minimal design wheel trims or allow wheels including Ford, Lancia and Rover. The design of alloy wheels has changed significantly with two-tone, painted alloy and much bigger and lower profile wheel rims being made available. Alloy wheels have replaced steel rims on all but the cheapest cars available in the UK as standard.


Turbo everything was a phase in the late '80s early '90s that give road cars the unicorn power of a race car. The development of engines and the need for fuel economy without losing power resulted in turbo induction. The craze of turbo resulted in everything getting a turbo option or sticker regardless of the car being fitted with a turbo (often fitted after sale). Other turbo products during this era included aftershave, razors, kitchen appliances and power tools. Today the Turbo has become a staple for economy and power and is often reduced to just a T in an acronym of engine letter.


Sunroofs are currently making a come back in the form of panoramic windshields and roofs, some are power assisted but all are leagues away from the hand opened or electric powered rectangles of glass that came in the form of a roof cut out on many models of the vehicle from the 1980s through to the early 2000s. These glass portholes were ineffective for releasing heat in a car, made breaking into them easily and were a danger if the car rolled on to its roof. The humble sunroof is a trend we’re glad as gone.

Yellow Bulbs

Yellow Halogen bulbs, due to the technology available at the time, the most energy efficient and brightest bulbs commonly available for vehicles headlights and side lights was a halogen construction that due to the cars limited battery capacity due to a lower voltage and producing a warm yellow glow, this made it difficult to see on country lanes and resulted in our next forgotten trend.

1990s Rally Spec

There was a popular trend in the early to mid 90s with the rise in popularity of the Japanese rally cars with the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, fitting rally headlights either at the factory or aftermarket was a popular trend, ensuring that your new lights had adequate stone and bug protection with your branded Rally Art headlight covers. Along with unnecessary headlights was the trend to fit all cars with mud flaps, this prevented stones from firing out on loose tarmac or water spray when it rained, however cheaper mud flaps fell apart quickly, many manufacturers now only offer them as an optional extra. Although we agree cheap and nasty should never have a place on a new car, well made and fitted mud flaps can prevent a sandblasting effect on the lower sill as well as reduce road spray making the roads safer for everyone.

Another headlight style from this period of automotive history was the pop up headlights, iconic of the time and fitted to every sports car for “maximum aerodynamic efficiency”. The only sad part about these headlights was the tendency to fail was quite high which resulted in most drivers having no headlights at all. As a result, the life of pop up headlights was short lived to our dismay, this style of headlight should make a return on a retro remake of the Mazda MX-5.

'80s & '90s Car Doors

While the '80’s was about being different the '90s was more about making a statement and the adaptation of how you get in and out of a car needed to be changed to. Along came the scissor doors that hinged at a 90-degree angle up to unveil the driver or passenger, a new take on the Mercedes-Benz gull wing design. Another option was the suicide door, named for its immediate exposure of the occupant to oncoming traffic and its lack of visibility of traffic coming from behind, the suicide door opens the opposite direction to regular doors. As is still available today on Rolls Royce and some 2+2 seat sports cars.

90s Bonnet Features

Other external features from the 1980s and 1990s missing today are bonnet ornaments, often mistakenly removed due to some EU law involving their ability to impale pedestrians during traffic accidents in reality a rise in the number of bonnet ornaments being stolen was on the rise and so manufacturers made a decision to adapt their emblem in to a flat image. The ornaments were typically installed on vehicles with a long front such as Jaguars and Mercedes-Benz this gave the driver a focal point on which they can judge the distance and length of the cars front end from objects such as walls.

Other bonnet features popular as a result of the World Rally Championship craze of the 1990s cars developed bonnet scoops, these were often functional air inlets that allowed a faster flow of air that passed over a small radiator the faster the car was going, eventually the need for a bonnet scoop became unnecessary as these daily drivers were not going fast enough to require extra cooling, as a result, the radiator was removed and the scoop sealed underneath leaving only a cosmetic lump that would eventually become the butt of the joke once people realised it was only for the look.

Plastic bumpers

Just a few decades ago plastic was still a new and versatile material and it was cheap to mould or cast as a result cheaper models and manufactures loved to make large parts of the car that were designed to take the brunt of an impact or scuff with plastic. Although plastic is still used on cars today, the grey paint free and textured bumpers in the 1990s is a trend we’re glad has been left behind. Plastic was also used for vehicle interiors with cars designed and produced in the '80s preferring to have a luxury feel with walnut veneer or a variety of wooden dash options.

Cloths Seats

Another internal feature of the '80s and early '90s was the use of patterned cloth seats, phased out towards the later part of the decade, crazy pattern seats were rife in base models nationwide, often used for their ability to hide dirt and dust the unique pattern style are still visible on public transport that gets reupholstered after approximately 100,000 people or more have sat on the same seat. Thankfully manufacturer’s have moved away from the use of garish patterns for a simple solid colour on the base models like the new Nissan Micra.

Extending Aerials

Cutting edge technology has always been in vehicles since their inception and the 1990s and 1980s saw the installation of electric powered extendable radio aerials these were fitted to a large number of German and Japanese vehicles. Other technology included the installation of rear spoilers, originally used on supercars and race cars to give more downforce to the rear end, spoilers were adopted by the car modifier of the decade and resulted in Max Power poster cars with rear wings so big that the weight, angle and size of the rear fin reduced the cars overall performance.

Supercar features

Supercars from the motoring wonder years had two distinct features, first was a gated gear shifter this allowed the driver to see the shifter arms slot in to gear while driving, today this is replaced with the shift knob gaiter after a faux or real leather piece of textile designed to hide the selector mechanics and stop dust and other foreign objects from getting in to the mechanism. The other popular trend is the use of rear window louvres, these were slats across the window that reduces glare and sunlight while also restricting visibility, some were formed as the rear window allowing mid-engined supercars the ability to vent rising heat.

'80s body shape

The general shape of cars from the era was square with straight edges, from the Ford’s and Vauxhall’s from the time as well as the iconic Volvo estate, this straight cut was easy to manufacture with simple body panel bends. This simple body design also gave rise to flat wheel arches, many of which were simple panels bolted to the vehicle, compared to the flared arches and curved body shapes of today’s Honda H-RV. Tyres during 1980 - 1999 were slimmer and smaller than those typically used on vehicles now, the larger wheels and wider tyres require larger spaces to not hinder the turning circle.

Bull Bars & Windo Vinyl

The final two trends worthy of a mention from the '80s and '90s is the addition from stock and aftermarket of bull bars, now commonly known as nudge bars these steel guards were intended to prevent front or rear end damage to the vehicle, however, the solid structure reduced the effectiveness of crumple zones and resulted in vehicles being fitted causing excessive damage in the event of an accident. An after sale feature slowly making a come back is the use of windscreen vinyl often used to market a brand while also protecting the driver from sun blinding, drivers would have customer Mr & Mrs or names printed on the vinyl. Today the development of tinted and reflective glass reduces the need for additional sunblock, however, that hasn’t stopped drivers fitting vinyl to promote their favourite performance part brand or tuning house.

As cars develop and trends change we are sure that we will be questioning, some of the trends from the last twenty years, and with more electric vehicles being produced the changes to the aesthetics of the vehicles similar to the removal of the front grille on new cars like the BMW i3.