Any period piece involves a great deal of world-building, and for auto enthusiasts, nothing breaks the fourth wall faster than seeing a vehicle that simply doesn’t fit the era flit across the screen.
The Netflix series Stranger Things has done an admirable job of populating its streets, high school parking lots, and expanses of strip mall asphalt with all manner of early 1980s metal, but here at AutoGuide.com, this attention to detail has done nothing but depress us with memories of just how terrible it was to be a gearhead in 1984, smack dab in the middle of the malaise that gripped the entire industry and put a boot on the neck of both performance and style.
Check out seven of the saddest Strangest Things cars and relive the funk of just how awful the early ’80s were for anyone behind the wheel with a pulse.
All pictures sourced from the Internet Movie Car Database
1. 1976 Ford Pinto
Winona Ryder’s character of Joyce Byers illustrates what Stranger Things gets right about first half of the Me Decade: most people were still plodding along in the driver’s seat of some mid-’70s clunker. Her 1976 Ford Pinto coupe is a car it’s almost completely impossible to get nostalgic about. Produced in response to the flood of affordable imports crossing the Pacific from Japan, the Pinto revealed that the Big Three really had no idea how to build a small, efficient vehicle that wasn’t also a complete penalty box.
The target of infamous lawsuits related to the dangers posed by its fuel tank design (a flaw still hotly debated in automotive circles) and utterly joyless to drive, there’s a strong chance this would have been your first car if you were flipping burgers for minimum wage in high school when this show takes place. It’s equally likely that you would have pushed it off a cliff the first chance you got and gone back to your BMX instead.
2. 1974 AMC Gremlin
There are a couple of Gremlins lurking in the background in both seasons of Stranger Things, including a burned-out hulk, which we feel is probably the most appropriate way to celebrate this contemporary of the Pinto. AMC really didn’t have a lot of money to develop new platforms by the time the ’70s rolled around and the Gremlin was living proof, riding on the Hornet platform with the rear third just sliced off by accountants. Its one saving grace was an engine bay big enough to accommodate a huge eight-cylinder motor, making it popular with the drag racing crowd, but until they make Stranger Things: Hot Indiana Nights, we’re pretty sure every one we’ve seen on-screen hails from Sadtown, USA.
3. 1978 Chevrolet Camaro
What’s cooler than a small-block Chevy V8 that makes 120 horsepower and gets seven miles per gallon? Pretty much every other “performance” coupe that’s ever been built before or after the later ’70s/early ’80s. This Camaro is the car your local bully drove to work at the bowling alley after giving your best friend a wet willy in the gym locker room. At least it’s loud enough to serve as
a dog whistle for hormonal monsters with anger issues fair warning to anyone who’s not a total douchebag.
4. 1984 Dodge Diplomat Police Cars
The Dodge Diplomat was without a doubt the worst TV and film police car of all time. Motivated by either an anemic 318 or emissions-choked 360-cubic-inch V8 and boasting a suspension engineered for that paragon of handling prowess, the Dodge Aspen, the Diplomat was responsible for nearly every bad guy getting away from the boys in blue during its decade-long black mark in local law enforcement fleets. It’s no surprise that the small Indiana town that Stranger Things is set in can only afford Diplomats as cruisers after blowing all its cash on the chief’s badass K5 Blazer.
5. 1984 Toyota Camry Liftback
This is the car your dad buys after working all night to set up a complicated Lotus Notes spreadsheet on his TRS-80 personal computer that takes into account gas mileage, depreciation, interest payments, repair costs, and initial purchase price. Not considered: fun.
6. 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity
By the mid-’80s, General Motors had a legitimate shot at breaking free of the culture of mediocrity that had dogged the company for over a decade, causing it to lose copious amounts of market share to the Japanese while hemorrhaging both money and jobs into the abyss of financial failure. Instead, it built cars like the Chevrolet Celebrity, which is the automotive equivalent of being punched in the face by a smiling executive in a suit while a street urchin picks your pocket. This one isn’t even the Eurosport model, perhaps the most cynical square-shaped sedan to have ever left a GM factory.
7. 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon
Do we really need to explain how bad the Pacer was? Although rose-colored glasses and Wayne’s World sequels have done much to burnish the image of the compact hatchback that represented AMC’s dying gift to the world, the Pacer was strange even when it was released. Almost half of the car was glass, the passenger door was larger than the driver’s side door (to make it easier to access the back seat), and despite its smallish size, it drank fuel at a rate that would have made mid-’70s land yacht proud. Dubbed the “fish bowl,” you’d think that the Pacer would be one of those cars that’s too weird to die, but we challenge you to find one in the wild today.