Our Favourite Six Hot Hatches of the 80’s

Everyone loves a hot hatch. There’s nothing better than a car that you can use for shopping and then take for a spin down a country road on your way back home. We have so many these days, however the eighties was really where the fun began. Here’s our top Six from the 1980’s.

Peugeot 205 GTI

Credit: Kieran White

The Peugeot 205 GTI always seems to make its way onto these sort of lists, and for good reason. Peugeot’s 205 GTI was the epitome of a 80’s hot hatch from France: Bodywork that was made from cardboard rather than metal, cornering ability of a go kart, just enough power to get you into situations you shouldn’t be in, and an interior that falls apart in your hand. My Dad actually had one of these and when he went through a car wash all the paint fell off. Negatives aside, the 205 GTI was full of character and full of life when it came to tight twisty roads.

Arriving in 1984, the 205 GTI came with a peppy 105bhp 1.6 engine, but it wasn’t until 1986 when the 130 hp version came out, did the 205 GTI really take off. A good condition 1.9 is fast becoming a collectors piece and enthusiasts in the USA are now starting to import 205 GTI’s that they were cruelly denied when they were new.

The 205 GTI really turned Peugeot’s fortunes round. The car remained in production for 10 years and we think the French car company has really come up with anything quite so special since.

VW Golf GTI Mk2

Credit: Vauxford

Volkswagen’s original Golf GTI showed the world that a car didn’t have to be boring to do the shopping run. The Gold GTI Mk1 is really the big daddy of the hot hatch world, however it was the second generation that really shot the Golf GTI to stardom. It improved on the first generation in almost every single way, although the 1.8-litre 8-valve engine lacked a bit of sparkle that many of the other hot hatches at the time achieved. Nevertheless, VW launched some other engine packages for the GTI, with a 16-valve, 1.8-litre, 137 hp coming in 1986.

The Gold GTI Mk2 is really the sensible hot hatch option of the time. While French and Italian manufacturers were obsessed with creating pocket rockets, the Golf GTI brought down the madness factor for a bit more practically, reliability and safety. Still, the Golf GTI is one of the most respected cars of all time and the fact that they are still making them gives a testament to how great the Mk2 and Mk1 must have been.

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Credit: Joost J. Bakker

One of only two turbocharged hot hatches on our list, the Renault 5 GT had some serious ‘get up and go’ thanks to its incredibly low weight and that turbo goodness. Renault had experience with fitting turbo’s to their F1 cars at the time and the predecessor to the GT Turbo, the Gordini, showed that the French manufacture knew how to make a fast hatch.

Launching in 1985, the GT Turbo featured a modified four, cylinder eight valve engine that actually dated back to 1962. While the engine wasn’t exactly refined, the combination of the added turbocharger producing 133 hp and an incredibly low weight figure of just 850kg meant that the GT Turbo could go from 0 to 60 mph in 1.5 seconds.

GT Turbo’s are now becoming a huge collectors piece with some fetching upwards of £10k in the UK. The GT Turbo was one of the most exciting hot hatches of the eighties and with so few produced, we can totally understand why the little French car commands such a premium.

Fiat Uno Turbo

Credit: Jas racing

The Fiat Uno Turbo is our second turbo charged hot hatch on this list and it was a real screamer in a straight line. Despite Fiat’s claims that the engine was uniquely developed for turbocharging, it was actually a Strada-derived 1.3 128-series engine with multi-point fuel ignition. A water-cooled turbocharger and intercooler were then fitted, which let the Uno Turbo produce 105 hp.

Fiat’s Uno Turbo made its debut in 1985 and thanks to weighing only 845kg, the Uno was capable of reaching 124 mph. Production models were run at 0.6 bar, but tuners regularly upped that to 1.0 bar and more to greatly improve performance.

Peugeot 309 GTI

Credit: RL GNZLZ

Peugeot really did make some gems in the 80’s and the 309 GTI was another one of them. Sharing many of its mechanicals with the 205 GTI, the 309 GTI was bound to be a success and it showed just how far ahead Peugeot was against its rivals.

Coming with a 1.9-litre engine the GTI was certainly no slouch, but it wasn’t until the 16-valve came along did the 309 GTI reach legendary status. Producing 158 hp and weighing a mere 975kg, the 309 GTI had some serious performance that left many of its competitors in the dust. Upgraded suspension and the low weight made for an incredibly responsive car that would make most drivers hark back to an older day. Shame they only came in left-hand-drive.

Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC

Credit: Fiat

Our last car on this list is another Fiat. The Strada Abarth 130TC (or Ritmo as it was known in Europe) was really the predecessor to the Uno Turbo that we covered earlier in this piece. Producing 130 hp and achieving a a 0 – 60mph time of 7.8 seconds, the 130TC was a real town racer. Fiat achieved the power increase by fitting twin Solex/Weber carburetors and improving the cam profiles. This meant it was the only 1980’s hot hatch to continue using carburetors instead of fuel injection and we think that’s great.

Despite being a bit stuck in the past, the 130 TC had superior performance to many of its contemporary rivals, including the VW GTI, the Ford Escort XR3i and the MG Maestro.






  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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