8th May 2024

Star cars of 1984

Some years in the automotive world are notable for the arrival of era-defining models, but 1984 was a year that saw a whole new class of car created. With the launch of the Renault Espace and Plymouth Voyager, the people carrier or MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) burst on to the scene and made a huge impact on how families thought and bought. 


Boxy brilliance - the MPV arrives

Known as a minivan in its homeland of the US, the Plymouth was generously sized and spawned the Chrysler Voyager that was to make its way to Europe as a full-size rival to the likes of the Ford Galaxy and Volkswagen Sharan in time. In the meantime and for all of 1984, the Renault Espace had the field to itself as a practical family car alternative to a traditional estate. It could be ordered with five or seven seats, and these could be configured by sliding and turning them around to create a sociable room when the car was parked. 

What helped to make the Espace so radical, aside from its plastic body panels, was that it occupied no more road space than a family hatch or estate. The clever design pushed the engine as far forward as possible and used front-wheel drive to maximise cabin room, while the monobox styling did its bit to further this goal. It proved a big hit with anyone looking for a versatile and stylish way to cart the kids and dog about and Renault even added an all-wheel drive version called the Quadra for yet more versatility. 


Sweden ups the stakes

While the world was wowed by the Espace in 1984, it was still a long way from giving up on normal estate cars. Volvo knew its buyers like few others and launched the 740 this year as a more affordable version of the 760 estate and its saloon sister model. At a stroke, Volvo upped its sales and the 740 became the default choice for anyone looking to lug plenty of kit while still travelling in comfort and with a dash of premium style. 

Yet the Volvo 740 wasn’t the only new car to appear from Sweden in 1984. Saab unveiled its brilliant new 9000 saloon, which was arguably the most stylish member of the collaboration between itself, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia. In true Saab fashion, its take on the joint large car theme came with far greater safety kit as standard, and it also used mostly turbocharged four-cylinder engines, though there was also a 3.0 V6. 


Luxury – fast or even faster

However, if you wanted the pinnacle of luxury, you would have been looking toward the UK and Bentley in 1984 with the arrival of the new Eight model. While billed as a more affordable route into Bentley ownership, the Eight was still expensive and exclusive, but its detail changes such as the mesh grille gave it a dapper sporting feel that helped pave the way for Bentley resurgence and reemergence from under the shadow of Rolls-Royce. 

Credit - Classic World

For those looking for something more overtly sporting, 1984 was a good year to go new model hunting. Ferrari unleashed its amazing homologation special 288 GTO with turbocharged V8 engine and gym-pumped bodywork. It was a worthy successor to the GTO name and led to the F40. With only 272 made, the 288 GTO would always be rare, but Ferrari buyers could also look to the new Testarossa that also revived a name from the company’s history. This mid-engined, flat 12-powered supercar kept Maranello on terms with the Lamborghini Countach and was an elegant way to drive as quickly as 180mph. A starring role in Miami Vice cemented this car’s place in 1980s culture. 

American supercars, off-roaders, and something in between

The Corvette C4 also easily found its spot with buyers when launched in 1984, and enjoyed regular prime time exposure on shows like The A-Team. A much more advanced machine than the one it replaced, the C4 Corvette was sleek, fast and affordable, doubling down on its hold as the sports car of US enthusiasts. 

Ford didn’t have a direct answer to the Corvette in the US in 1984, but it did launch its new Bronco SUV to give it a strong hold over the ever-growing 4x4 sector. Yet it was another four-wheel drive model that provided Ford with its much-wanted headlines – the RS200. Late to the Group B rally party, Ford went all out with its bespoke rally machine that had a mid-engined turbo motor and performance to put it at the front on rally stage or as a road car. However, changes to rally regulation meant the RS200’s effective life as a competition car for rallying was cut short, though it did go on to enjoy much success in rallycross. 

Sportscars for all budgets

Other sports cars to make themselves known in 1984 included the brilliant Toyota MR-2, that nailed the affordable mid-engine design. Much simpler in approach was the Reliant SS1 that deserved more success but never made the impression that its Scimitar GTE predecessor had. Of course, if money was no barrier to your choice, then the Isdera Imperator might have been on your radar. It made a Ferrari Testarossa look a bit bland by comparison and performance from its Mercedes V8 engines was formidable. 

Credit - Broad Arrow Auctions

Mercedes at its impressive best

Yet, the most important car launched in 1984 was much less dramatic, but powered by Mercedes engines. The W124 saloon, which later became known as the E-Class, was a four-door Merc that summed up everything brilliant about this German car company. Superb build, refinement, quality, and maybe a bit short on standard kit. At a stroke, the W124 made every other executive saloon seem dated and a bit underwhelming on the build front. As Mercedes added to the range with an estate, coupe, and convertible, the W124’s reputation only grew more desirable to the point where it was a legend in its own lifetime. All of that combined to make it the most notable and influential car of its launch year, and it makes 1984 one of the all-time best for new car arrivals. 

Which car would be your pick for car of 1984? Let us know in the comments below.