As the market for all things '80s continues to rise, hot hatches have moved from being cheap entertainment to valuable collectibles.
The likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI have become the default choice for anyone that wants to experience the thrill of nimble hot hatches quite unlike their bloated modern counterparts. But there's more to the hot hatch than just the GTI and the 205.
Their popularity led to a whole range of them being introduced, many of which continue to be lazily overlooked more than 30 years later.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, check out one of these 10 forgotten hot hatches.
Fiat Strada 130TC Abarth
Trust the Italians to do things differently. At a time when everyone else was wholeheartedly embracing fuel injection, the hottest version of the Strada came along in 1981 with twin carburettors.
They were bolted to the twin-cam two-litre ‘four’ from the Fiat 131, giving the distinctive little hatch an appeal that lay far more in sheer performance than in refinement.
By no means as well put together as Volkswagen’s class-leading Golf, for a short period of time the Strada was at least quicker – 8.2 seconds to 60mph and on to 118mph – and the Abarth name evoked a long history of competition success.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £150 with an excess of £150
Ford Escort RS1600i
Homologation requirements have given us some great cars over the years, including the Escort’s big brother, the Sierra Cosworth.
The RS1600i was another of those, built in a limited run in order to qualify for Group A competition. Offered only through Rallye Sport dealerships, it came with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, 115bhp – plus the ability to unlock more – adjustable dampers, a lower ride height and fatter tyres.
It sprinted to 60mph in 8.7 seconds but was much more expensive than the ‘softer’ XR3, which in 1983 also received fuel injection to become the XR3i.
Its rarity now makes it an expensive choice, even by the already-elevated standards of fast Fords from the '80s.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £185 with an excess of £150
Vauxhall Nova Sport
During the 1980s, Vauxhall was still a force to be reckoned with in motor racing. The little Nova Sport was the result of its desire to remain competitive in rallying’s 1300cc class.
Only 502 road cars were built, which arrived at dealerships with the SR’s wheels, interior, engine and five-speed gearbox. Once there, the Sport kit was fitted, consisting of twin Weber carbs on an Irmscher inlet manifold, a bigger exhaust and the option of a hotter camshaft that upped power to 93bhp.
It was enough to do the job in rallying terms – any car driven by both Colin McRae and Ayrton Senna gets our vote.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £175 with an excess of £150
VW Golf Mk2 Rallye
Everyone knows about the Mk2 Golf GTI, which – particularly in 16-valve form – long sat at the top of the hot-hatch tree, but few beyond the cognoscenti will be familiar with its much rarer sibling, the Rallye.
Another product of Group A homologation requirements, it was intended to rival the dominant Lancia Integrale in the World Rally Championship.
The 1763cc ‘four’ gained a supercharger that boosted power to 158bhp, plus a four-wheel-drive system that was heavy enough to negate any performance advantage. Volkswagen later addressed that with the even rarer 210bhp G60 Limited, which featured a supercharged version of the 16-valve engine.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £135 with an excess of £150
Chrysler Sunbeam 1800ti
No, not the Sunbeam Lotus – the rally legend that was driven by the likes of Henri Toivonen and Tony Pond – this is the 1800ti, Chrysler’s first attempt at a hot hatch.
Launched in late 1978, it used the 1.6-litre engine from the Avenger Tiger. With twin Weber carburettors, it developed 100bhp and came with the advantage of rear-wheel drive plus some minor visual titivation.
In August 1979, all Chrysler models were rebadged as Talbots following the takeover by the PSA Group, and the 1800ti’s Lotus-engined sibling would use that name when it arrived that year.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £120 with an excess of £150
MG Maestro Turbo
The standard Maestro has long been an object of ridicule, but the turbocharged MG variant is a different kettle of fish.
Launched in October 1988, the range-topper’s most obvious tweak was the lairy Tickford bodykit, but beneath the bonnet lay the two-litre engine that could also be found in the Montego Turbo.
It produced 150bhp, which was enough to push the hatchback to 132mph. Even more remarkably, it could go from 0-60mph in just 6.7 seconds, which is fast today and ridiculously rapid by the standards of the time.
Just over 500 were built, but sadly few good ones remain.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £125 with an excess of £150
Mazda 323 4WD
Turbo Mazda was serious about motorsport in the late 1980s and early ’90s – it won the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours, for example, with the shrieking rotary-engined 787B.
It never reached those heights in the World Rally Championship, but in 1989 the 323 was driven by, among others, Hannu Mikkola and Timo Salonen.
There are very few roadgoing examples left, but with 149bhp from its turbocharged 1.6-litre ‘four’ it could get to 60mph in less than eight seconds and go on to a top speed of 134mph. And, as you’d expect of a car that was intended for the special stage, there’s a full-time four-wheel-drive system too.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £200 with an excess of £200
Daihatsu Charade GTti
To the wider public, ‘Daihatsu’ is not a byword for performance, but to those who remember it, the name immediately brings to mind the bonkers little GTti.
Admittedly, it wasn’t bonkers to look at – it could easily be confused with a common-or-garden Charade – but the engine was an extreme piece of kit.
With turbocharging very much in vogue in the '80s, the GTti had a forced-induction, twin-cam, three-cylinder 993cc engine that produced 100bhp. In the little (and light) Charade that was enough for a frantic 0-60mph sprint in eight seconds.
If there was ever a car that deserved the ‘pocket rocket’ tag, this is surely it.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £200 with an excess of £200
Rover 200 BRM
The link between Rover and BRM went all the way back to the 1960s and the famous gas-turbine racer that twice competed at Le Mans.
When, 30 years later, Rover decided that it needed to boost its performance credentials, it made sense for it to evoke that connection via BRM’s famous green livery with orange nose.
Inside, there was quilted red leather trim and red carpets, which was slightly at odds with the black plastic used elsewhere.
Largely dismissed as a marketing exercise, it was a better car than it’s given credit for, its blend of 143bhp and lowered, stiffened suspension making it surprisingly entertaining.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £245 with an excess of £200
Simca 1204 Special
The quirky Simca is now exceptionally rare, but its October 1970 introduction to the UK (well ahead of the Mk1 Golf GTI) means that it can lay claim to being the first hot hatch.
That said, with 75bhp on offer, it does rather depend on your definition of ‘hot’. It was definitely marketed in the same way, a sports car for the family man, and it did have a pair of twin-choke Webers to help set it apart from its humble brethren.
Without doubt, the Simca something a little bit different – a link between hopped-up 1960s models and the next generation of hot hatches – and for that it deserves to be remembered.
Adrian Flux annual insurance quote estimate: £145 with an excess of £150
Terms and Conditions
The prices quoted in this article are rough estimates based on a 30-year-old driver, the car being rated as second in the household, in a PE postcode, with an annual mileage of 3000.
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