We looks at the original hot hatchbacks of the 80’s
The hatchback was an innovative concept brought in during the 1970’s and fully developed by the eighties into performance hot hatchbacks. Light and practical, the hatchback was ideal for families and the younger driver.
This era brought out the best out in manufacturers, who were competing with each other to produce a best seller.
Crowned as the original hot hatchback, Volkswagen proved with the Golf GTI that speed and performance were both great sellers back in the late seventies. The theme continued right through the eighties with everybody wanting this hot hatchback. A total of 1,573 cars were sold in 1979, a number that would triple within two years. In 1984 the VW Golf GTI continued as the Mk II, with further revisions being made to the next evolution of performance Golfs. With a new chassis structure, a 1781cc engine and increased performance developing 112bhp. This gave a 0-60mph time of just 8.5 seconds, which was impressive back in 1984.
The Volkswagen Golf has seen its way through five decades now and is still going strong with over 1.7 million sold since its launch in the UK. It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Audi’s brand new rally car was produced out of homologation. Originally, just 400 were built for regulation purposes. This all-wheel drive, turbocharged monster was a rally champion through the early eighties, with the competition unable to catch this new innovative design. Okay, strictly it’s a coupe by name, but in reality it’s a hatchback and the first to combine four-wheel drive with a turbocharged engine.
The Quattro’s production peaked at 11,452 from 1980 to 1991, and in that period very little changed in its appearance. In 1989, a 2226cc 20v engine producing 217bhp replaced the original 2144cc 10v version. The Quattro was the king of rally and without this spectacular feats of engineering, the Subaru Impreza WRX wouldn’t have ever existed.
Lancias HF Integrale is a World Rally dominator. It swept the first three places of the 1988 driver standing and retained the manufacturer title in 1988 and 1989. After the group B era, the manufacturers were struggling to establish group A examples based on mass produced models to fit the bill. Lancia had the perfect solution with the Delta. Sales kept accumulating with 10,000 units in two years, doubling homologation requirements for the time.
There are four models manufactured between 1986 and 1994, from the original 165bhp up to the 215bhp Evo II. As time caught up with the Delta it has become a legend in its own right with 40,000 units sold, making it one of the top ten classic hatchbacks.
The Ford Escort XR3i was the car the eighties was waiting for. Ford had always been prolific at designing fast family cars, going right back to the Lotus Cortina Mk I. However the eighties had Ford repeating history with the XR models. These performance versions of mass-produced hatchbacks of the time were what Ford excelled at.
The Ford Escort XR3i was the next evolution of Fords XR3 model. With added power thanks to its Bosch K- Jetronic fuel injection system, plus ride and handling improvements, the XR3i was a massive success inspiring other performance Escorts of the era. Slightly newer models such as the RS 1600i and the RS Turbo are still highly sorted after as modern classic cars, as is the XR3i.
In 1976, the Ford Fiesta XR2 rolled of Fords Special Vehicle Engineering plant at Dunton in Essex. The first hot hatchback launched by Ford was the second car off the Essex based engineering plant, the first being the Ford Capri 2.8 V6.
The Ford Fiesta was the perfect vehicle to base the new hot hatchback on. It was light, cheap and easy enough to upgrade to XR standard. It was an instant hit for Ford and sold approximately 20,000 units by the time the Mk II was introduced in 1984. The Ford Fiesta XR2 used the 1600cc Kent engine with a 32/34 Weber DFT carburettor and a mildly up-rated 4 speed manual gearbox. A brakes upgrade using vented discs at the front and lowered suspension were crucial changes. Front spot lights and over-riders gave the XR2 a more aggressive look. The now famous “pepper pot” alloys with wider tyres also added to the overall appearance.
For extreme power-to-weight ratio there was nothing quite like the Renault 5 GT Turbo. The tiny 1397cc engine was as old as the hills. But together with a Garrett T2 turbo and air to air intercooler to maintain efficiency, it was the original pocket rocket of the era.
Renault had done this before with the Renault 5 Gordini. This new hot hatchback, however, was stylish and quick, and ready to compete with all the rest had to offer. Not only did it compete with its rivals, it beat them with a stunning 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds and a XR3i beating 120bhp. With looks to die for including a body kit and lowered suspension, the Renault 5 GT Turbo was going to be tough to beat.
This homologation special saw the Escort and the RS name team up again in 1981, this time with a new front wheel drive hatchback. Based on the XR3 but with fuel injection, the race-prepped RS1600i was inspired. It had front and rear spoilers unique to the RS, giving it a completely different look to its brother the XR3. 5,000 cars were planned to be built but as sales were so good, Ford made 8,659 to accommodate.
The RS1600i was a genuine nod back to the Escort’s glory days as a real motorsport champion in the seventies. It just shows that the Ford Escort was not done yet, in fact with more to come it was just the beginning.
With flared arches and aggressive-looking skirts and spoilers, the Vauxhall Astra GTE meant business. With a 1.8 litre 115bhp engine under the bonnet it delivered too, overshadowing many of its rivals.
The Vauxhall Astra GTE handled like it was on rails and its 0-60mph time was impressive at just 8.5 seconds. Class-leading for the day, the Vauxhall Astra got better with the Mk II version. Sporting excellent aerodynamics and a 130mph 2.0 litre engine, it was soon to be outgunned by the ultimate GTE. The Vauxhall Astra GTE 16V was the top of the range hot hatchback boasting 150bhp from its Cosworth developed XE20 red top twin cam engine. Today the Astra GTE is a true classic hatchback of the era.
Regarded by many as the best ever hot hatchback, the Peugeot 205 GTI set new standards in chassis dynamics. Overall balance is very much based on throttle control; to avoid under-steer lift-off demands expertise from the driver. A less experienced driver will find this car a real handful.
The 1.9 GTI version had a reputation in its day, with improved straight line speed being part of its appeal. The Peugeot 205 GTI ran for 10 years in production giving it a firm following in the UK. Now it’s a sought after model from the past. Values are on the increase as these little French icons get more and more precious.
The 1980’s was without doubt the heyday of the hot hatchback; every manufacturer wanted the quickest and best car that could be produced, and this soon led to a battle for those who were brave enough to compete.
We are now left with some fine examples of what was produced with the engineering excellence of the time, and with the era now gone these hatchbacks are becoming more rare.
Insure Your Classic Car With Heritage
Get a quote from us for your classic vehicles. Send us a message below or phone us on 0121 248 9229.