Being a millennial, there's nothing that I miss from the 1980s, mainly because I wasn't born yet. However, ever since I discovered Buzzfeed, I developed a nostalgia for that decade. This has involved watching Cosby Show reruns and any John Hughes movie, as well as hoping that Eastern European geography would be simpler. But the decade of Reagan, Walkmans, and Eddie Murphy starring in watchable movies had its good moments when it comes to cars.
There was the F40, which made speculating on hearing aid futures necessary. The Audi Quattro, a car which would make its driver the next rally champion, as long as there were immense turbos on the engine. And the Buick Grand National, which was promptly snapped up by individuals who steadfastly believe their cars are collector items and refuse to sell them under $20,000 even if they have 100,000 miles. But most importantly, there were affordable sporty commuter cars.
Cars like the front-drive Nissan NX and Honda CRX, front-drive and zippy in town, but most importantly, there were mid-engine, rear-drive cars called the Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero. And they were under $20,000 (though that's maybe around $30K adjusted for inflation), meaning any yuppie, or more likely, any middle-class IBMer/GM car enthusiast/Pan Am employee could have a fun car.
For this list, affordable meant under $30,000. So that took out the Acura NSX, Ferrari 355, and the Noble M400, all very good cars in their own right, but not inexpensive enough to be Miata alternatives, which will be to the chagrin of most Jalopnik readers.
Author's Note: Buick Grand National owners, I mean no harm to your cars' monetary values. I'm sure millennials will eventually pick them up. Of course, this will be after the prices have dropped to $15,000, which'll be $10K below what you paid for them (and a bad investment). What can I say? Generation Y doesn't have that kind of money to spend on a 1980s GM vehicle.
Personally, I've never found the MR2 all that fun. In fact, I forget the MR2 exists more than I'd like to admit. But keep in mind that this is a Toyota from the 1980s, so maintaining it isn't much of an issue, and a good one can be had for under $7K. And one with high mileage and a ridiculous amount of mods can definitely be under $5K. It can also be used as a basis for a Ferrari replica. (This will become a common theme with MR cars on this list.)
In the end, the MR2 is a fine choice. Be aware that it may be difficult to find a first or second generation one in pristine condition (many of them have had a turbocharger slapped on or a more powerful engine swapped in), but I personally wouldn't hold the modifications against them, mainly because more power does make these cars more fun. Just don't even think about entering one in LeMons.
There are many nice Elises for $30K. But I will discuss the downsides first. People will think it's a lot more expensive than it actually is. They may approach you at the gas station simply to talk about Colin Chapman for a long period of time. The interior has no storage space. Making a quick getaway will be impossible with the top on. Also, be aware, these cars do snap at the absolute limit with little warning.
On the bright side, there is a Toyota engine, meaning engine maintenance costs will be reasonable, unlike, say, an Esprit Turbo, with its lethal combination of a high-pressure turbocharger and Lucas electrics. There's thankfully no Ferrari replica conversion kit readily available. And if I haven't convinced you by now, allow Doug DeMuro to. Air your grievances to him if you disagree with this choice on the list.
Porsche Boxster/Cayman (987)
I'll be honest. I'm a 911 person through and through and will probably never consider buying a Boxster/Cayman. But they're both excellent sports cars and even better for the money when a good used one is under $30K. Most importantly, the engine isn't hanging out at the back, so instead of spinning out on a winding road, you'll knock over a few cones at the autocross course.
So why not the even more affordable (read: under $10K) 986 Boxster (the one with the exact front end of the late 1990s 911)? Google "IMS/RMS failure" and you'll promptly understand that those cars are a money pit. Especially when the cure is buying a brand-new engine at half the car's value. In that case, unless you wish to be part of a class-action lawsuit against Porsche Cars North America, stay away from those Boxsters.
Believe it or not, General Motors did listen to car guys in the 1980s. Justified to the public (or more likely, the bean counters) as a mid-engined "economy" car with added sportiness, the Fiero was meant to show that GM under Roger Smith had a soul. There's no other way to explain the stereo speakers in the headrests. The Fiero also ended up being a godsend for Ferrari replica makers of the 1990s.
Add to that the fact that finding part is never a problem because of the numerous 1980s GM vehicles in junkyards across America and you have a winner. And that Fiero forum guys (and gals) are among the most helpful people on Earth. They will talk you through the cooling system issues and how to properly maintain your mid-engined, GM parts bin MR sports car. Honestly, the Chinese should recreate these cars.
Admittedly, the owner of a Mondial won't have fun of the driving experience sort. This is because these cars can easily be beaten on any track by a new Honda Civic. Fast Ferraris like a 348 (it's fast relative to a Mondial) or 355 go for much more money. So all of you Ferrari fans can get ignore me from here, because the fun I'm about to propose will perhaps not be to your liking. (I suggest sending letters of encouragement to Stefano Domenicali.)
Instead, you'll have an in with the local Ferrari crowd who need to showcase their cars at every Ferrari owner event, every Concours d'Elegance, and every local upscale shopping center parking lot. It'll be fun parking next to that Enzo and insisting you're as much in favor with the factory as the Enzo owner. Bragging to the 355 owner about how you got a Ferrari for under $30K. And most importantly, telling the F40 owner that your Mondial is a better car because no passenger has ever requested a hearing aid afterwards, lowering your cost of ownership. Who needs Ferrari replicas?
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.
All images courtesy respective manufacturers.