Rooted in the 1963 Mini Cooper S and 1971 Autobianchi A112 Abarth, the hot hatch segment however popularly began with the 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The defining hot hatch and hugely popular, the Golf GTI led to a burgeoning small, practical, affordable, fast and fun car segment, which played a major role in diminishing the small sports car segment. Ever popular since, the hot hatch’s 1980s golden age was defined by the iconic Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI, and included many standouts including the Ford Escort XR3i, Fiat Uno Turbo, Vauxhall Astra GTE and Renault 5 GT Turbo. The 1980s also turned out many now somewhat unsung hot hatches, best among which are the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, MG Maestro turbo and Fiat Ritmo Abarth 125TC.
1. Talbot-Lotus Sunbeam – 1979-81
Developed by Chrysler UK with help of a British subsidy and based on the Hillman Avenger, the hot road-going Sunbeam Lotus finally arrived in time to be sold under new French owner PSA’s Talbot brand. Designed to cut development costs and using rear-wheel-drive live axle architecture, the Sunbeam went against the front-drive hatchback convention, but offered old-school sports car thrills and well-suited British sports car maker Lotus’ high performance rally and road conversion. Powered by a naturally-aspirated twin-carburetor 16-valve engine developing 152HP at 5750rpm and 150lb/ft at 4500rpm, the boxy and brawny road-going version of the 1981 World Rally Championship Manufacturer’s title winner could bolt to 100km/h in 7.4-seconds and onto 195km/h.
Specifications: Engine: 2.2-liter, twin-carburetor, 16-valve DOHC, 4-cylinders; Gearbox: 5-speed manual, RWD; Power: 152HP@5750rpm; Torque: 150lb/ft@4500rpm; 0-97km/h: 7.4-seconds; Top speed: 195km/h; Length: 3830mm; Width: 1603mm; Height: 1405mm; Wheelbase: 2413mm; Weight: 960kg; Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / live axle; Brakes, F/R: Discs, 241mm / drums, 203mm; Tires: 185/70R13
2. MG Maestro Turbo – 1989-91
With the MGB and MG Midget sports cars winding down just as the hot hatch segment was in ascendency, the MG Maestro Turbo took the fight direct to the best of hot hatches. Launched six years after garden variety versions, the Maestro Turbo hit back at high-revving 16-valve hot hatches with brutally effective 2-liter turbocharged 8-valve engine. Among the quickest hot hatches of its time, the Maestro turbo dished out a muscular mid-range and swift 6.8-second 0-97km/h acceleration. Using a similar suspension set-up to the Golf GTI, the Maestro handled well. And while its relatively large, spacious and angularly boxy design wasn’t the prettiest thing back then, its’ aggressive demeanor looks a lot better with hindsight.
Specifications: Engine: 2-liter, turbocharged, 8-valve SOHC, 4-cylinders; Gearbox: 5-speed manual, FWD; Power: 152HP@5100rpm; Torque: 169lb/ft@3500rpm; 0-97km/h: 6.8-seconds; Top speed: 208km/h; Length: 4050mm; Width: 1687mm; Height: 1430mm; Wheelbase: 2507mm; Weight: 1087kg; Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / torsion beam; Brakes, F/R: Discs / drums; Tires: 185/55R15
3. Fiat Ritmo Abarth 125TC – 1981-83
Renowned for its’ pioneering use of an extensively automated assembly line, the Fiat Ritmo is in hindsight overshadowed by its’ smaller Uno and Panda sister model lines. Developed throughout the Ritmo’s production run, the most powerful hot hatch version was the face-lifted 130TC, but the 125TC looked more charismatic, with bulging headlights and slim cladded rear lights. The 125 TC was also the last car assembled on a separate Abarth production line after Fiat’s takeover of the Italian tuning house. Quick for its time, the 125TC was powered by 2-liter carbureted 4-cylinder engine developing 125HP at 5800rpm and 127lb/ft at 3500rpm, and could accelerate to 100km/h in 8.7-seconds and onto 190km/h.
Specifications: Engine: 2-liter, carburetor, 8-valve DOHC, 4-cylinders; Gearbox: 5-speed manual, FWD; Power: 127HP@5800rpm; Torque: 127lb/ft@3500rpm; 0-100km/h: 8.7-seconds; Top speed: 190km/h; Length: 3937mm; Width: 1687mm; Height: 1370mm; Wheelbase: 2432mm; Weight: 980kg; Suspension: MacPherson struts; Brakes, F/R: Discs / drums; Tires: 185/60R14