The following cars – albeit small ones – transformed the motor industry in a big way, changing peoples’ views in what they wanted and expected from their cars. Performance was now something that could be found in a family hatchback – with disk brakes, bucket seats, racy trim and tweaked engines you no longer needed Porsche money to have a little automotive fun.
Listed below are the original old school hot hatches, the makes and models that stood out in style and performance. They are the cars targeted and desired by car thieves, cars that bumped up insurance premiums, cars that are now considered highly sought after classics.
Mk I Golf GTI
Ask any true petrol head under 30 what their first fast car was and chances are they’ll give you the name of a hot hatch – anyone having bought theirs in the early 70s would give a different answer as the hot hatch was yet to be invented.
‘The fastest Volkswagen ever’ made its debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show, their Golf given a chin spoiler, black ‘go faster’ stripes, black plastic wheel arch extensions and a red pinstripe around the grille – this gave the little car a filled-out look, more muscular. The interior featured tartan upholstery and black headlining.
The car also donned new badges bearing the initials GTI. The ‘GT’ stood for gran turismo, and the ‘I’ stood for injection. Engine modifications such as larger inlet valves and a higher compression ratio enabled the 1.6-litre engine to produce 108-bhp at 6100-rpm and 103-lb ft at 5000-rpm. With a kerb weight of just 810-kg, the lightweight golf could get to 60-mph in 9 seconds and hit a top speed of 110-mph – not blistering by today’s standards, but consider these stats nearly 40 years ago.
Renault 5 GT
In 1985, Renault launched their ‘pocket-rocket’ 5 GT Turbo, offering the public a real performance package from such a small car. The brand new 5 was designed by the Lamborghini Countach designer Marcello Gandini – this becomes apparent when you take in the little car’s wide-grilled bumpers, thick arch extensions, and the fake cooling slats ahead of the rear wheels.
I knew someone who had one of these when I was in my teens and just starting to drive. I remember being blown away by the sudden surge of power and actually feeling unsafe as the car was so small.
The power came from the engine from a Renault 11, a 1.4-litre unit fitted with a Garrett T2 turbo and an air-to-air intercooler. This resulted in 115-bhp and 121-lb ft. In a modern context this might sound pretty tame, but in 1985, in a car weighing just 853-kg, it was scarily good fun.
Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI
I also knew someone with one of these, the mighty 205 1.9 GTI. Before Peugeot released this model, they were considered a bit of a boring brand. When they launched the 205 in 1983, opinion quickly changed, especially a year later when the 1.6-litre GTI was launched.
This package come with stiffened suspension, a 105-bhp engine and a sporty look that helped it compete with its rivals. In 1987, they upped the ante with the introduction of the 1.9-litre GTI. Now the punchy little hot hatch had more attitude, with significantly more power than before. Some preferred the smaller 1.6 because it drove on the edge better, whilst others argue that the 1.9 had a lot more power.
Having being in both models, I’d take the 1.9 thanks.
Renault Clio Williams Edition
When the Clio Williams was launched 1993, Renault only built 3,800 cars – its popularity became so immense, they had to release a Clio Williams Two and Three model to meet the demands. I loved the combination of deep blue paint and gold alloy wheels and remember it being a little out of my price range, even a few years after its release. The Clio Williams also claimed top-dog status as one of the best hatchbacks on the market with its 0-60-mph in just 7.8 seconds. Due to its chassis and suspension setup, it handled like it was on rails too. If you were to buy a Clio Williams today, it may suffer from the minor problems older cars do, but it will still easily compete with many of its modern counterparts.
Ford Fiesta XR2
The Fiesta XR2 was launched in 1981, five years after the ultra-popular standard fiesta. Before the XR2, Ford had actually experimented with a faster edition with the Fiesta Supersport, and despite the only thing about it being sporty was the name, they are seriously in demand today by collectors.
The first XR2 featured a larger, tuned engine under the bonnet, stiffer suspension and cosmetic upgrades. The engine was a 1.6-litre Crossflow Kent engine, and the cosmetic treatment consisted of stripes, spoilers, round headlamps and spotlights. Black plastic trim decorated the interior and exterior, and the true signature of this model was the added edition of ‘pepperpot’ alloy wheels.
It was short-lived, the XR2 receiving a few facelifts; however, the XR2 sold extremely well and was responsible for 50% of the Fiesta’s sales.