Persona

Will Hot Hatches gain collector status?

by Rob Sass
16 October 2023 4 min read
Image
Volkswagen

I’m a Gen-Xer, but not by much. Since I’m a product of the 1980s, I got a front row seat to one of the significant mass extinction events in the automotive world. As with all such events, something eventually fills the niche left by the departed species, and in the wake of the great dying of the British sports car, we got a new species of cheap fun, mostly from Germany and Japan. 

I briefly owned a Triumph Spitfire. It was gutless, rode badly, and handled unpredictably at anything over six-tenths. A base VW Golf would run rings around it. Any modern FWD compact would. This precise realization is what gave rise to the first hot hatch, the Mk I VW Golf GTI, and my first drive in one was a revelation.

My older brother bought a new ’82 GTI, the U.S.-built version called a Rabbit. At just 90 hp, it was down on power from the German market Golf GTI, the shifter was rubbery, and the locally-sourced switchgear was cheap. But the steering was sharp, the suspension taut, and the brakes were good. Compared to my Spitfire, it felt like a GT40. I’ve been a GTI fan ever since. 

I didn’t do serious seat time in a GTI again until the early ’90s when a friend bought a Mk II 16-valve car. By then, VW had shuttered the Pennsylvania plant where my brother’s Mk I had been built. The Mk IIs built in Puebla, Mexico somehow seemed a lot more German, and I was shocked at how much better of a car it was, faster, larger, and significantly more powerful. The GTI had grown up without jumping the shark. 

Mecum

Americans very briefly fielded a hot hatch in the form of the Chrysler France developed Omni/Horizon. I never drove a Dodge Omni GLH or GLHS in-period, but I did drive a 1984 GLH about ten years ago. I was shocked at how good it was compared to my recollections of my brother’s Mk I Rabbit GTI. The GLH had about 20 more horsepower than the Rabbit, because, well, Carroll Shelby. It had plenty of torque-steer, but it handled pretty well, and was frankly, no less shoddily built than the Pennsylvania VW. I liked it, and I wish that Chrysler had stayed in the hot hatch game. 

My mom briefly owned a Honda Accord during one of the ’80s fuel shortages. It was a competent but totally uninspiring little sedan. And that was the impression that I had of all Hondas until I saw my first bright red Civic Si around 1986. I thought the car was quite attractive in a Kamm-tail, breadvan sort of way, but I didn’t actually get around to driving an Si until 1992 or so.  It was worth the wait—the fifth-generation Civic was the one that introduced VTEC into the automotive lexicon. One of the first variable valve-timing systems, it was designed to give more torque at the low-end, and more power at the upper RPM range. Although it doesn’t sound like much today, the 125 hp that the 1.6L naturally-aspirated four made felt much more like 150. I remained a GTI fanboy, but I got the feeling that at least from a technology standpoint, the Japanese were starting to eclipse the Germans. 

I needn’t have worried. By the early aughts, the Civic Si seemed to have stagnated, with its 1.6 L VTEC four still making the same 160 hp that it had for some time, while VW had broken the rule that a hot hatch was exclusively a four-cylinder car. They stuffed the VR6, narrow-angle 2.8L V6 in the GTI. By 2004, in Mk IV form, it was making 200 hp, and it remains one of my favorite hot hatches to date. 

Stellantis/Peugeot

Sadly, the hot hatch segment never gained the same traction with Gen-Xers as British sports cars had with Boomers. Hot hatches remained sort of thinking person’s cult cars in the U.S. with a lot of flash-in-the-pan GTI competitors like the Toyota Corolla FX16, and the Mazda 323 GTX falling quickly by the wayside. In Europe, it was a different story. The other GTi, the Peugeot 205, remains probably the prettiest hot hatch ever, and the Renault Clio Williams the most beguiling. Both cars are on my short list.  

40 years on, the hot hatch segment seems itself to be on the way out. A few years ago, the criminally underrated Hyundai Elantra GT N was discontinued in favor of the unexciting Kona and Venue crossovers, and the Veloster N met a similar fate last year. The Golf GTI, Civic R, and GR Corolla are hanging on for now.

1991 Civic Si. Honda

Like many of my favorite machines, these cars were made to be used, and as a consequence there aren’t a whole lot left, at least of the early models. That should drive up prices for good examples, but the segment as a whole does not appear to have consistent enthusiasm. Instead, value trends vary significantly by model and generation. Take, for instance, the two heavy hitters in this category. Mk I GTIs up as much at 19 percent over the last year (to $20,000 for #2 excellent example) while early ’90s Civics are trailing, with a 6.4 percent increase that brings a #2 condition car to $16,600. Hot hatches look to remain affordable and accessible for the foreseeable future, too.

At least I was around to see the whole niche develop, and regardless of what happens to the segment in the future, hot hatches remain rewarding cars to collect, drive, and own. Take it from this early convert.  

Comments

  • Rob says:

    Back in the mid 80s. My first car was a 1969 Triumph GT6+. When it was time for something more reliable I converted to a first gen GTI in 1986, and it was stunning. A friend had a Honda CRX si and we had the best time bombing around northern Alabama in the 80s. These hot hatches are a natural for collectors, but these last two examples are going to be hard to find healthy examples of

  • paul s murray says:

    The problem with these cars, and the like, is they were relatively inexpensive so they got used up until the original owner traded up to something else. The second owner probably drove it into the ground. They weren’t really built to last, but to get young buyers into the showroom to make them ‘brand loyal’. Many were sold at cost or slightly above. & you forgot the Escort GT.

  • Jamie Palmer says:

    You and many others are missing out on one of the most fun hot hatches of all—the 2012-2019 Fiat 500 Abarth. Does it make any kind of practical sense? No, not really. Is it state of the art (or was it at the time)? No. But I defy *anyone* who can drive a manual transmission vehicle not to have a grin on their face after driving one!

  • Mark Thistel says:

    No one ever talks about the “Plymouth Champ/Dodge Colt” twins, really Mitsubishis of course, mostly because they’re extinct now. But in their day (mine was a 1980), my non-turbo’d Champ’s 82 hp and 2000 lb curb weight made for more victories at stop lights than defeats, though that’s hard to imagine now. It’s sunroof, stylish colors, and unique 8-speed manual gearbox everyone liked to make fun of, made this $6K showroom purchase something to be envied for sure. I remember distinctly a college roommate, sitting with his arm out the window, sunroof open, Talking Heads blaring, looking at me with actual awe and screaming “This baby can cruise!!” The stereo I ultimately put in the car vastly out-distanced the car’s value, but having owned many dozens of vehicles since that had many times the horsepower and were better in every conceivable respect, that Champ lived up to its name and it’s on my short list of cars I miss the most.

  • Tom says:

    I’s surprised the 1st and 2nd gen Honda CRX Si’s were left off the list.

  • Driveable_Cars says:

    Don’t forget the original hot hatch. The ‘73-79 Civic was in the ultralight class making more of 60 horsepower than many later Civics and competitors. It also handled better than the newer, sloppier cars. Combined with a precise and smooth shifting five speed manual and first rate instruments and controls, it was refreshingly down to earth. The ‘70’s Civic was a ball of fun to drive. Way more fun than you would think, especially if you drove a malaise era American car.

  • Vehicle Nanny says:

    I was working in the Chevrolet Atlanta zone office in the late 80s, and was assigned a 1987 Sprint Turbo. This was the Suzuki produced 3 door with a 1.0L turbo 3 cylinder. It weighed less than 1700 pounds and drove line a go kart! It was a fun company car, but not sure it would have made it beyond the warranty period.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    They are collectible currently, there just is not huge amount of them around to purchase. Trust me when a clean Corolla FX16, GTI, Type R, etc. shows up people notice.

  • Verdigris says:

    Ahem,

    Renault R5 Turbo 2

    Drops mic, walks off stage.

  • Mark B says:

    Kind of surprising, as when I park my 2016 Focus ST, it usually attracts I’m guessing the 25 to 35 year old crowd. It does have the Tangerine Scream paint with matching color insert fabric Recaro seats, so just the color is a bit unusual, but they always offer admiring comments? So, I’m saying maybe? Plus, my old 2006 Mazdaspeed 3 was quite a brute. So, I say there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll become collector options. Certainly more so than the crowd of SUV’s running around the roads now.

  • paul s murray says:

    Verdigris, an apples and oranges. – ‘We’ve got a pretty full lineup for the next few weeks..but we’ll call if we need someone to clean tables.’

  • Brian Thomlinson says:

    A a nearly septarian, I have 3 British cars at the moment, but have also owned numerous Golfs, Jetta’s of the 80’s and a 325is . The German cars have such a great feel on the road as well as solid construction – controls that feel solid- not like lighter Japanese cars. They give you confidence in performance driving them. Today I drive a 2017 Golf 1.8 TSI and Love it for the same reasons as the 80’s cars .

  • Brian Thomlinson says:

    A a nearly septarian, I have 3 British cars at the moment, but have also owned numerous Golfs, Jetta’s of the 80’s and a 325is . The German cars have such a great feel on the road as well as solid construction – controls that feel solid- not like lighter Japanese cars. They give you confidence in performance driving them. I also owned a Passat, Jetta GLI, GTI from the 90’s thru till the early 2000’s. Today I drive a 2017 Golf 1.8 TSI and Love it for the same reasons as the 80’s cars .

  • Brian Thomlinson says:

    I have 3 British cars at the moment, but have also owned numerous Golfs, Jetta’s of the 80’s and a 325is . The German cars have such a great feel on the road as well as solid construction – controls that feel solid- not like lighter Japanese cars. They give you confidence in performance driving them. I also owned a Passat, Jetta GLI, GTI from the 90’s thru till the early 2000’s. Today I drive a 2017 Golf 1.8 TSI and Love it for the same reasons as the 80’s cars .

  • Eric says:

    Nice to read an article on hot hatches that discusses the models that Americans could usually have bought from their local dealerships, rather than the unobtainable rally legends from Lancia et al.

    My experience in exploring acquiring a Mazda 323 GTX jives with this article: they’re rare and kind of expensive, but with few fans and no large community surrounding them the way old GTIs do. I concluded they were too expensive to buy as a fun project car, and not collectible enough (yet?) to buy as an investment/show car either.

  • Tim says:

    I just sold a red 2003 SVT Focus, six speed, Cosworth headed 2.0l. That was a fun to drive, excellent handling little hatch. Granted it wasn’t an 80’s model, but I feel clean versions of this car like mine was is going to be hard to come by. Mine was used for a weekend track car. It wasn’t to hard to bring back to nice condition. A future Hatch classic?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic

Hagerty Insider Newsletter

Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.

Thank You!
Your request will be handled as soon as possible
Hagerty Insider Newsletter
Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.
Share