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A look back at the auto class of 1989, now 25 years later

By Larry Printz
The Virginian-Pilot

It happens every year: A fresh batch of cars turns 25 years old, making them eligible for antique status under bylaws of the Antique Automobile Club of America. This year, that means 1989 model-year cars and trucks are considered antiques. Here are some of the significant new models from that year.

Get ready. You’re about to feel a little older.

• BMW 5-Series: Fourteen years after its introduction, BMW redesigned the 5-Series. The new body was 3.2 inches shorter and two inches wider than the 1988 model, but sported a wheelbase that was 5.4 inches longer. Two models were offered: the 168-horsepower 525i and the 209-horsepower 535i. A five-speed manual transmission was standard.

• Buick Riviera: In effort to rekindle slumping sales, Buick restyled the Riviera, adding 11 inches to its length. Despite being longer than the full-size Electra, the redesigned Riviera didn’t add any passenger space. While the restyle did recall the earlier 1979-85 Riviera, the new looks were too baroque for most buyers.

• Cadillac DeVille/Fleetwood: In reaction to a disastrous downsizing in 1985, the DeVille and Fleetwood lines were lengthened and restyled to appeal to buyers who still equated size with luxury. Coupes gained 5.8 inches in length; sedans added 8.8 inches. Leg room and trunk space increased as well. Buyers also got revised interiors. A 155-horsepower V-8, four-speed automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes were standard.

• Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1: Dubbed the “King of the Hill,” the limited-edition ZR-1 helped re-establish the Corvette’s performance credentials with its all-aluminum, double-overhead cam 5.7-liter LT5 V-8 developed with Group Lotus, the British car company then owned by General Motors. The ZR-1’s V-8 produced 375 horsepower, 125 horsepower more than the standard Corvette, and could reach 60 mph in about four seconds.

• Ford Probe: Ford designed the front-wheel-drive Probe as a replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Ford Mustang. When word leaked out on Ford’s plans, Mustang fans’ indignation saved the pony car and the Mazda-powered, Ford-designed Probe was sold alongside it. With four-cylinder engines delivering a mere 110 or 145 horsepower, it was clearly no match for the muscular Mustang.

• Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar: Ford’s personal luxury coupes received a sophisticated redesign while retaining their rear-wheel-drive layout. Power came from a 140-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 or a 210-horsepower supercharged 3.8-liter V6 matched to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. These coupes were clearly superior to General Motors’ front-wheel-drive coupes.

• Hyundai Sonata: Having debuted in 1985 with the Excel, Hyundai added the Sonata to its lineup in 1989. Unlike the Excel, which was built from Mitsubishi parts, the Sonata was largely engineered in-house. Its bland styling was penned by noted Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro, who also designed the Excel. A 116-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine was standard; a 142-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 was optional.

• Nissan 240SX: Offered as a notchback or hatchback, the 200SX returned for the new model year with a larger 2.4-liter engine and stunning good looks. While its name was meant to evoke the classic 240Z sports cars of the 1970s, the 240SX had much to recommend it, including rear-wheel drive, 140 horsepower and such options as a head-up display, which projected the car’s speed onto the windshield.

• Nissan Maxima: Nissan’s most luxurious model saw its boxy looks replaced by new aerodynamic styling. Six inches longer than the 1988 model, the Maxima was now considered a midsize car. Front-wheel drive and a 160-horsepower V-6 from the 300ZX sports car were standard. A head-up display, which projected the car’s speed onto the windshield, was optional.

• Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am: Too often, automakers pretty up cars with paint and trim and offer it in a limited edition model. And while this Pontiac had its share of special trim, including white paint and tan-colored seating, it also got a special engine under the hood: the 250-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 previously used in the Buick Regal Grand National. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard. A mere 1,500 were built.

• Toyota Cressida: With Lexus still two model years away, the restyled Cressida was Toyota’s most luxurious model in the United States. The rear-wheel-drive sedan was powered by the 190-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 used in the Supra sports car. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard; anti-lock brakes and a CD player were optional.

• Other new or face-lifted models: Buick Century, Dodge Colt, Dodge Spirit, Eagle Summit, Mazda MPV, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, Plymouth Acclaim and Pontiac Grand Am.


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