It’s safe to say Stranger Things is a pop culture phenomenon. Thanks to its addicting plot lines, an incredible cast of familiar actors and newcomers, and so many cliffhangers, it’s one of the easiest shows to binge on Netflix. But the biggest appeal of the show is the off-the-charts level of nostalgia. If you’re between the ages of 35 and 50, you remember when the world looked like this — well, the real world, not the Upside Down.
For younger people, the show feels familiar thanks to its callbacks to E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stand by Me, Red Dawn, and any number of adventure-themed ’80s movies that were played constantly on TV in the ’90s. Drawing from these major pop culture references, Stranger Things is that rare show where people of all ages can come together, fall in love with it, and all say “Hey, I remember that!”
And with its pitch-perfect set design, the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, is heaven for car spotters. Unlike most period pieces, the car casting is nearly perfect. Aside from a few minor details (which we’ll highlight), Hawkins’ roads offer a perfect cross section of cars that really could’ve resided in any hardscrabble Midwestern town in the early ’80s. Often, these rides are an important part of the story, becoming an extension of the character that drives them. So if you’re ready for another blast of nostalgia, here’s a look at 10 of the most prominent cars from Stranger Things‘ first two seasons.
1. Hopper’s 1980 Chevy K5 Blazer
Between Seasons 1 and 2, few cars get as much screen time as Chief Jim Hopper’s 1980 Chevy Blazer. Despite Hopper’s truck’s one-year-only 1980 front fascia, these full-size 4x4s were a staple for rural law enforcement communities from their introduction in 1973 to well past their discontinuation in 1991. For a cop like Hopper, this rugged truck perfectly fits the bill.
2. Joyce Byers’ 1976 Ford Pinto
You might not know why, but most fans of the show would agree that Joyce’s green late-model Pinto is the perfect car for the character. Ford built over 3 million entry-level Pintos between 1970 and 1980. But by 1983 to 1984, they wouldn’t have been easy to sell, thanks to the Pinto’s propensity to explode in rear-end collisions and the resulting scandal. (One of the landmark lawsuits against Ford was filed in 1980 by the state of Indiana, which undoubtedly would’ve made the news in Hawkins.) This would’ve made them dirt cheap, mostly reliable transportation, ideal for a cash-strapped single mother like Joyce.
3. Jonathan Byers’ 1971 Ford Galaxie 500
Think back to your first car. How old was it when you got it? If you said 10 to 12 years old, you’re in the same boat as Jonathan Byers. His trusty 1971 Ford LTD gets plenty of screen time over these two seasons. It’s just out of date and beat up enough to be believable as a teen’s first beater. Poll a room of 50-years-olds about their first car, and chances are more than a few of them had an early ’70s land yacht like Jonathan’s.
4. Steve Harrington’s 1980-ish BMW 733i
Nancy Wheeler’s boyfriend and aspiring yuppie Steve redeemed himself in a big way at the end of Season 1, and he’s back on the right side of things for Season 2. But his car is a bit of a head-scratcher. Built from 1977 to 1986, BMW’s E23 7 Series was its expensive, tech-laden flagship sedan. While it’s undoubtedly cool, it isn’t the car that would’ve appealed to a Midwestern high schooler circa 1984. What’s more, there’s no chance in hell any kid could afford one. We originally assumed it’s his father’s car. But in the second season, it seems to be all his. Considering that a 1980 model would’ve cost $28,945, or about $83,000 today, this is one of the least believable cars in Hawkins.
5. Barb’s Volkswagen Cabrio
This could be the biggest automotive discrepancy in Stranger Things’ otherwise spot-on car casting. Like Steve and Nancy, the criminally underutilized but annoyingly overhyped Barb is part of Hawkins’ upper-middle class. As such, her car, a Volkswagen Cabrio, is almost spot on. Sold in the U.S. from 1980 to 1993, the Golf-based convertible was a staple in high school and college parking lots for decades. But Barb’s car benefits from a post-1985 facelift. Because we don’t see it clearly from the front until after she disappears, could it be possible that the Upside Down has something to do with this mix-up? We might never know.
6. Lonny Byers’ 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
Showing up for just four episodes in Season 1, Jonathan and Will’s dad, Lonny Byers, is an almost cartoonish boor of an abusive ex-husband and deadbeat dad. And his car matches the character perfectly. Lonny’s 1972 Olds 442 would make muscle car fans drool today. But back in 1983, it just would’ve been another loud, gas-guzzling, 11-year-old coupe, only cool to high school kids and aging guys trying to cling on to their glory days.
7. Ford Crown Victorias
A highlight of Season 1 was an E.T.-esque chase from government agents driving — what else — Ford Crown Victorias. Since they were introduced for 1979, Ford’s long-serving full-size sedan has served as the ubiquitous cop car on hundreds of TV shows and movies. The fact that the cars were tapped to appear in Stranger Things proves that Crown Vics will continue to endure in popular culture the as quintessential ’80s-era cop car.
8. Bob Newby’s 1984 Toyota Camry Liftback
A new arrival for Season 2, Bob “the Brain” Newby is Joyce’s nerdy, painfully dorky boyfriend. And at the outset, he drives an equally dorky car: a 1984 Toyota Camry Liftback. But there’s more to Bob’s car than meets the eye. In 1984, Japanese cars would’ve been just starting to gain acceptance in places like rural Midwestern towns. No longer weird enough to be sales-proof but still uncommon enough to stand out, Bob’s car captures that brief moment in time just before Americans started ditching the Big Three en masse and embracing Japanese cars.
9. Billy’s 1979-ish Chevrolet Camaro
With Steve fighting the good fight in Season 2, Hawkins High needed another self-absorbed bully. So that job falls to Billy, a mullet-headed jerk who drives a loud late-’70s Camaro. Internet forums are uncertain as to which model year it is. (There’s evidence it’s a base car made up to look like a Z/28, but different cues suggest different model years.) Either way, its overwrought styling, loud exhaust, and tastelessness sum up Billy to a T.
10. The Wheeler’s Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park
We only see Mike and Nancy’s parents car here and there in Season 1, but like Bob’s Toyota, their Mercury Colony Park wagon is a perfect snapshot-in-time car. Because it’s the only car of theirs we see, they could be holdouts of the old-fashioned single car family: Dad drives it to work during the day, while mom has room for the kids and groceries on the weekends. It’s also important to note that in 1984, Chrysler launched the Dodge Caravan, single-handedly kick-starting the minivan revolution. Within 10 years, full-size station wagons like these would be all but extinct, replaced by armies of minivans.
There’s also a minor discrepancy here too: The Wheeler’s car has a third brake light, or Center Hi-Mounted Stop Light. While the Mercury’s body style was largely unchanged from 1979 to 1986, the CHMSL wasn’t introduced until late 1985, when they were federally mandated. That makes this car another visitor from the future in Hawkins.
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