Welcome to the 1980s – Everyone’s Favorite Bad Hair Decade

I’m pretty sure that everyone who loves cars or freedom will have breathed a huge sigh of relief when December 31, 1979 rolled into January 1, 1980. The decade of ignorant knee-jerk overregulation was over. Sure, the regulation was still on the books but engineers are smarter than regulators, so now that the frenzy was past, they could start making cars better and faster again.

(Ironically, the July 1980 cover below proves that they didn’t always get it right, and few wheeled objects have ever been as ugly as the Aston Martin Bulldog).

Fittingly, April 1980 Road & Track had a huge article describing the evolution of the 1970s emissions and safety regs. The irony was that they still didn’t know that the regs forced in during the 70s were going to destroy the US car industry while simultaneously making the emissions of greenhouse gases much worse than they would have been otherwise (CO2 was not identified as problematic until later). This one made for really interesting reading, as it showed how government can be easily prodded by a few motivated bureaucrats looking to extend their own power, guided by a few special interest groups (any resemblance to today’s world is not coincidental).

The other memorable article was a Henry Manney piece about a Land Speed Record attempt by a Budweiser-sponsored jet car. Entertaining stuff.

The July issue was the one with the Bulldog… and despite the awfulness of the cover car, this was a good issue. Plenty of racing and vintage stuff to balance out the industry news and road tests. Best article, though, had to be the story by Rob Walker talking about the cars and motorcycles he had in the war years, in between doing some truly dangerous stuff. Seeing the way he glosses over his war activities makes you realize why no one was too concerned about the dangers of auto racing in the postwar era: these were men who’d been exposed to much greater risks than just the chance of wrapping your Ferrari around a tree at the Ring.

On a sad note, the Grand Prix coverage showed us the end of Clay Regazzoni’s career, as this includes the Long Beach GP where he was paralyzed. This was a driver that was with us all through the 1970s, and we’ll miss him going forward (weirdly, he was killed in a road crash in 2006 while driving at a considerably slower speed than the crash he survived in 1980).

Anyway, we’re well into the 80s now, and enjoying it. Any moment now, Reagan will be elected, MTV will launch, Miami Vice will go on the air, and we’ll have the true power of that decade giving rise to bewinged Lamborghini Countachs and stockbrokers driving Porsche’s looking to kick some commie butt. While good taste was only marginally more present than in the awful 1970s, at least the bad taste was brash and in your face, with no pretense or toleration for do-goody activism. And though we thought it was all in awful taste back then, a little bit of that attitude would make today’s world a much more interesting place, because we’ve gone completely off the other end… and it’s just as bad, if not worse.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is called Lost Island Rampage. And just like it says on the tin, it’s about a tropical paradise infested with monsters. Even the waters around them are infested with monsters… so you have to survive the sea gauntlet if you want the land monsters to kill you. You can check it out here.

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