For those old enough to remember, the 1980s weren’t frivolous and decadent like often portrayed, but highly significant in more ways than one. Not the least of all, the Reagan years marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union as a whole. On the lighter side of world politics however, by the mid-‘80s, another conflict that had been somewhat dormant for a good ten years was definitely heating-up-known as the Pony Car wars, it rages on to this day.
By the early part of the decade, Ford’s Fox-Body Mustang and GMs F-Body cousins, the Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro were at each other’s throats again, but lacking a comparable combatant, Chrysler had to sit this one out. The hostilities opened with low-output carbureted engines leading the struggle, while by decades end, high-output motors with electronic fuel-injection (EFI), headed the charge.
By 1986, two iterations of Fox-Body “Stang” had become veritable street/track legends, the winged and skirted GT model and the more sedate-styled, yet equally powered and lighter LX. Both pony’s could be equipped with the famous “5.0” L 302-cid small block Ford motor. In actuality it was a 4.9L and change, but paired with a T-5 five-speed tranny, it’s 200-225-hp/300-lb-ft made it hard to beat.
As for the General’s dynamic duo, both corporate cousins, the Camaro/Firebird shared under-hood weaponry, with their top dog EFI 5.0L V8 topping-out at 205-hp/275-lb-ft, mated to a five-speed stick or four-speed auto. Although the F-bodies packed more heft than the Fox, they more than made-up for it in the wind-cheating department and better suspensions in the higher models. The lighter and less ground-effect-clad Formula Firebird often became the 5.0 Stang’s arch nemesis on the street/track, especially in soon-available Formula 350 guise.
For 1987, GMs sloped siblings could now have the C4 Corvette’s L98 5.7L 350-cid V8 with tuned-port-injection (TPI), standard in the new GTA and optional on Formula/TA and for Chevy’s IROC-Z -the big mill was good for 225-hp/330-lb-ft, definitely enough to raise the Fox’s ears.
All three pony soldiers were involved in road racing, SCCA, IMSA, Payers Challenge-racking-up victories for their respective sides and testing new components for their street-driven brethren. They were predominant on the drag strip as well, with your author taking-in the action at English Town N.J. Raceway Park through much of my late teens and early 20’s, watching stock and highly modified versions of each ‘80s icon roast their Goodyear’s or BFG’s and soar down the 1320-ft.
Towards the end of the ‘80s, special editions from accomplished racers turned tuner shop owners, like Saleen, Steeda and Roush all had a hand in creating all out performance versions of Ford’s blue oval pony, while names like SLP, Lingenfelter, DRM and Mecham, began their efforts in forming formidable F-bodies.
As the decade came to a close, the Berlin Wall was coming down and the Cold War was taking it’s place in the annals of history, but the pony car wars were blazing hotter and more violent than ever. For 1989, Pontiac’s 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am, equipped with a more hopped-up version of the Buick Grand National’s 3.8L turbocharged/intercooled V6, was seen as an ultimate weapon in the long fight against Ford’s famed Fox-body, but with only 1550-produced, their boosted dominance didn’t spell victory in the war, only triumph in the decades final battle.
With our beloved Firebird flown into the sunset of automotive history since 2002, we now have 707-hp Dodge Charger/Challenger Hellcats and 650+-horse Camaros and Mustangs continuing their confrontation of power and technology on roads and tracks all over the country. Even with all the bad blood since the 1960’s, it was The Battle Of The ’80s that has brought us to this place. With that said, let’s hope Detroit keeps-up the fight and remember-everybody has to pick sides.