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Classic 1980s Hot Hatches: Top 10

Classic 1980s Hot Hatches: Top 10 Classic and Performance Car

The Peugeot 205 GTI, VW Golf GTI Mk2 and Renault 5 GT Turbo were some of the best hot hatches to come out of the 1980s. Here's our top ten of all the classic hot hatches

What is a hot hatch? Three or five doors, a suitably warmed-up engine and more often than not, a rather unsubtle bodykit. The formula was pretty much perfected by the Mk1 Golf GTI in 1975, but the 1980s was a breeding ground for the hot hatch revolution – effectively killing off the traditional two-seater sportscar in the process. Practicality, affordability and running costs were acceptable, while many could run rings around more traditional performance cars down a twisty lane.
By that reasoning we’ve decided not to include homologation specials, like the Group A Lancia Delta Integrale, or larger three-door ‘hatchback’ Coupes like the Scirocco and Saab 900 Turbo. 
We’ve started with the odds on favourites, but as the list develops, there are a few of the the 1980s hatches that have become forgotten over the years. Without no further delay, here are ten of the best hot hatches of the ‘80s.

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Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

Perhaps the most notorious hot hatch of the decade, the 205 GTI offered sharp-edged B-road performance with understated and classy looks. Its reputation for ‘dangerous’ lift-off oversteer was largely overplayed, and is still often regurgitated to this day. With a set of (good) modern tyres, you shouldn’t have any problems and to many it's actually a huge part of its appeal. Build quality was actually rather good, and in this regard the 205 is far from the worst in this list… 
Should you go for a 1.6 or 1.9? Early 1.6 cars came with 105bhp, although these are pretty rare today, while the cater cars were upgraded to 115bhp. These smaller-engined cars have shorter gearing, and are in many ways the more fun to drive. The 130bhp 1.9 cars are of course the most sought after, and offer more grown up performance.  
Collectors are snapping up rare low mileage examples too, and even keen enthusiasts in the USA have started to import the Peugeot GTI they were cruelly denied when it was new. Project and well cared for examples are still plentiful and affordable though. A lot of cars have been modified to some degree, so tread with caution. 

VW Golf GTI Mk2

When Volkswagen launched the Mk2 GTI, it moved the Golf firmly into the 1980s. Despite losing the delicate Giugiaro lines of the Mk1, it bettered it in most other ways. The 1.8-litre 8-valve engine lacked a bit of sparkle, but this was remedied by the introduction of a 16-valve 136bhp version in 1986. Currently more popular than ever, the Mk2 Golf GTI is possible the most sensible retro hot hatch on the market. Spares are well catered for, and the reliable hatch is generally pretty rust resistant if kept in good shape. 

Renault 5 GT Turbo

The first of three turbocharged cars here, the Renault 5 GT Turbo produced some fantastic performance figures thanks to its low weight. Renault took inspiration from its F1 car, and strapped a Turbocharger onto the 1.4-litre pushrod four-cylinder engine in the earlier Gordini, but it wasn’t until the 1985 ‘Supercinq’ facelift, the even more impressive GT Turbo really made a mark. With 115bhp and health 121lb ft of torque on tap, the baby Renault could hit 0-60mph in 7.1secs, and top out at 123bhp. And that’s before the turbo was inevitably tweaked. 
Today, the 5 GT Turbo is rare and increasingly expensive, with good cars costing upwards of £6000, with some of the best selling for more than £10k. More than a few people actually rate this as a better car to drive than the 205, and with far fewer left in existence these prices are unlikely change any time soon.

Vauxhall Astra GTE 16v

There‘s one truly great thing about the Astra GTE 16v, and that’s the engine. Its twin-cam 16-valve C20XE engine (known as the Redtop in Vauxhall circles) became so widely recognised thanks to the Cosworth-designed cylinder head, which made this one of the fastest naturally aspirated cars hatches of its day. To say the rest of the car isn’t great might be a little unfair, but the chassis development certainly failed to keep pace with Cosworth’s engine. 
Thanks to the pedigree of that engine though, the Astra was a bit motorsport hit. As well as winning various touring car races in the BTCC, it was a major force (in Opel Kadett form) in Germany’s DTM series. It wasn’t a bad rally car either.

Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC

Appearing in 1984, Fiat decided to launch a hotted up version of the Strada (or Ritmo as it was known in Europe). Not following every other manufacturer’s lead, fuel injection or forced induction wasn’t the answer. A 2.0-litre engine fitted with a pair of juicy Weber carburettors was. It was a hit with the road testers at the time, but only a handful were ever sold in the UK. Shame. 

Fiat Uno Turbo ie

Our second turbocharged entry, this time from Fiat. In a straight up fight with the 205 GTI, the Uno has the straight-line speed, but like the Astra above, lacked the overall finesse of its French rivals. Fiat did a lot better with this in the UK than the Strada, but few remain on the road today. 

Ford Escort XR3i

With the introduction of the Golf-rivalling front-wheel drive Escort XR3 of 1981 Ford was onto a winner. When it was given fuel injection in ’83, that all-important ‘I’ badge meant that Ford’s hot hatch sold in droves. The simple, and somewhat unimpressive CVH engine was never going to set the world alight, but the sporty alloy wheels and spoilers made this a boy racer favourite. Handling was fun, and most owners seeking more performance could always upgrade to the RS Turbo... 

MG Maestro Turbo

MG Maestro Turbo

If you like torque steer, then look no further. In 1988 MG produced a limited run of 505 Maestro Turbos. With a special bodykit courtesy of Tickford, the MG offered genuinely blistering mid-range performance. With 0-60mph coming up in 6.7secs, it really was entering supercar territory, but only in a straight line… It was also one of the UK’s most stolen cars at one point – thanks to very little in the way of security features. 

Citroen AX GT

Citroen AX GT

Weighing in at just 720kg, the Citroen AX GT makes 85bhp feel like a lot. Drive one today, and you can feel that there is absolutely no flab, fantastic handling balance and steering feel that is almost unheard of this side of a Lotus. Citroen considered every last kilo when it developed the AX, making use of three-stud wheels, thin metal in non structural areas of the body, as well as composite body panels to make the car as efficient as possible. Finding a nice Mk1 is getting difficult today, and it’s these early cars that are really sought after today.

Peugeot 309 GTI

Peugeot 309 GTI

Having started the list with a hot Peugeot, ending with another should reinforce just how far ahead of the competition they were in the late 1980s. The 309 shared a large amount of its mechanicals with the smaller 205, but the slightly longer wheelbase and wider rear track made the dynamics ever so slightly better resolved. Left-hand drive markets also got the ultimate 160bhp 16v version, which was sadly never sold in the UK.


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