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Performance Hatchbacks - the "Hot Hatches".One of the most important markets for car producers in the 1980s and 1990s was that of the hot hatch. In many ways kicked off by the Golf GTi way back in the 1970s, the type's popularity soared with owners no longer willing to get their sporting thrills in saggy old MGs or Triumphs. VW introduced the GTi to an originally sceptical market, but when it became clear that this was a lucrative arena to get involved in, other manufacturers soon cooked up their own warmed-over hatchbacks in an attempt to join the party. Many of these have been thrashed, trashed and crashed, so finding a good un-molested example will not be easy, yet will be sure to acquire classic status in the not-too-distant future.
What to go for? How about the Fiat Strada 130TC Abarth? Most Stradas have long since dissolved, so this would be an interesting car to own now, as would an original Renault R5 Gordini or Turbo 1 (the rear engined version, not the later and softer Turbo 2). If you have a soft spot for the 1970s then how about the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus? The hot Talbot echoed VWs idea to build a tuned version of a mundane shopping trolley, as did the Vauxhall Chevette HS and HSR variants.
Peugeot soon got in on the act during the 1980s with what was probably the best alternative to the Golf GTi in the guise of the 205 GTi, available in both hatch and convertible forms, initially with a 1.6 then later a 1.9 engine, both driving the front wheels. These cars are now a bargain buy and surely destined for classic greatness, benefiting as they do from associations with Peugeot's giant-killing 205 T-16 Group B rally car.
One of the maddest hot hatchbacks of all time must be the Sierra Cosworth, in its original 3-door form, especially the homologation special RS500 version, launched at about the time that the Andy Rouses of this world were flying the Ford flag in touring car races with great success. As tends to be the case with most cars, the original version is best in many people's eyes, and the original Sierra Cosworth looks set to earn the respect that has been accorded to earlier hot Fords, primarily the Lotus Cortina, of 25 years before. If you can't run to securing a 3-door Cosworth, how about the Sierra Sapphire four-door Cosworth, or the XR4i (later XR4x4), fitted with the V6 2.8 engine and surprisingly rare to find now in good condition, most having suffered at the hands of drivers with more brawn than delicacy. If the sound of the V6 Ford engine still appeals, but you can't bring yourself to run a Sierra, you might consider tracking down and preserving an end-of-line 2.8 Capri, its final incarnation being the leather trimmed 280.
An unlikely source of hot hatch thrills could be found across the North Sea in Sweden, when SAAB took their lively fuel-injected 99 EMS and worked their magic on it, producing the legendary 99 Turbo, the first mass-produced turbo car. Very early 3- and 5-door hatchback examples of the 99 are quite tricky to find now, most having been trashed or rallied, something that SAABs of this era, in the hands of Stig Blomqvist, were once renowned for. Most 99 Turbo survivors are 2 door saloons. 145bhp was the standard power output for the 99 Turbo (and the early 900 Turbo in 8 valve format), rising by 30bhp if the optional water injection kit was fitted, matching the 175bhp output of the later 900 Turbo 16S models, with such mid-range torque that many supercars could be given a good run for their money in the overtaking times, especially between 30-50 mph. Although an acquired taste, early SAAB Turbos make for an interesting alternative to the more obvious quick hatchbacks of the 1970s and early 1980s.
While talking high tech, don't discount the early 1980s 4wd Audi Quattros, as they can still provide a spirited mode of transport despite being launched 30+ years ago, just as the Group B rally era was beginning to gain ground, and of course the mighty Lancia Delta Integrale, especially fun in later 16 valve format. And whilst mentioning Lancia, hunt down, if you can, the lesser-spotted Y10 Turbo, not the best-built car ever but as it's now so rare to see a Y10 of any variety now, they could quite easily become accepted pint-pot-sized classics of the future.
High Performance Saloon carsDespite the popularity of hot hatches, performance saloons have never gone away, despite a maker's hot hatchbacks often grabbing the limelight. Witness the VW Jetta GTi, equally as capable as it hatchback brother, but always in the shadows of the Golf, making it an interesting alternative to consider now when assessing what modern classic car to go for. This assumes you can actually find one.
As mentioned already, while SAAB are maybe best known for their load-swallowing hatchbacks, they were also producing capable saloon versions of the 99 Turbo and 900 Turbo, not forgetting the later Type 4 9000 Turbo range which was available as a hatch or a saloon. Best of the bunch were the Carlsson versions.
Although the words 'Vauxhall' and 'performance car' are rarely uttered in the same sentence, the usually conservative mass manufacturer blew away the press and public alike when they introduced the Lotus Carlton, a mad 170+ mph version of their mainstream rep-mobile, which made the Sierra Cosworth look sensible by comparison. Petrolheads admire it to this day, and it's unlikely that Vauxhall will produce anything quite this mad again, although the Australian Monaros are a bit of a hoot by all accounts.
Jaguar has produced some magnificent cars over the years. My top tip for recent Jaguar saloons probably lies with the X300 and X308 series XJRs, the mad 370-400 bhp supercharged saloons originally endowed with six cylinders and later upgraded to V8 specification with a further hike in power, at the expense of complication. This is one of my own all-time favourite saloons, as is the supercharged S-Type R. The 1980s was a barren time for development of the Jaguar saloons, the XJ Series 3 plugging along nicely, eeked out until such time as the angular XJ40 series came along. Best of the Series 3s if grunt is your aim, must be the XJ12 HE, although being saddled to an automatic gearbox does blunt things somewhat.
BMW were not to be beaten and this period saw them launch the mighty V12 engine, in both the 850 and 750 models, the latter being their monster Mercedes-beating saloon introduced in 1987. These 155mph (limited) saloons can be picked up for a measly sum nowadays, and offer more bang-per-buck than most older performance saloon cars .. look after it and it will become a regular attendee on BMW car club show stands in a few years I'm sure. I've had examples of both the E32 and E38 series and they can be a lot of fun, but they are complex old girls so need keeping on top of. If turbo cars are your thing, and SAABs are just a little too weird, how about a BMW 2002 turbo? They can be a bit manic, and the turbo lag can take some getting used to, plus their enthusiastic following means that picking up one of these classics will take some research, and hunting around for. Shift to the 1980s and the V8-powered Mercedes-Benz 500E (later E500) offers entertaining grunt in a very understated package.
When the hot hatch era kicked off, manufacturers also began launching all manner of hot performance saloons, usually based on fairly mediocre underpinnings. Many were endowed with bright red pin-striping, large wheels, and their engines fitted with turbos for added thrills. Turbo installations varied wildly in their implementation. Some were very well engineered, whereas others were less developed as a package, and as such proved to be very tricky to drive rapidly, especially in wet conditions. Manys the Renault 18 Turbo that ended its life on the hard shoulder of Autoroutes the length and breadth of France, while in the 1980s Japanese scrapyards must have been littered with the shattered remains of any number of chipped Mitsubishi Starions and Colt Turbos.
Lancia is a name that has not graced our shores in terms of new car sales for a while, having never shaken off the grim memories of their cars' lousy build quality in the 1970s, the Beta in particular having a fabled ability to dissolve at the merest hint of moisture. So bad was the situation that the company bought back much of the stock they'd sold, to try and lessen the damage that their problem child was causing the marque. Before they ditched the UK market altogether, their last large-scale saloon was the Thema, big brother to the disastrously named Dedra. This was a competent machine, developed as part of the Type 4 project in partnership with SAAB (9000), Fiat (Croma) and Alfa Romeo (164), sharing as they did certain key pressings and structural components. Most Themas were cooking 16 valvers or unruly turbos, but a select number of the 8.32 Thema model were sold to a discerning clientele. This subtle machine was fitted with a Ferrari-based V8 engine. These are mightily swift motorway machines, and one in good condition (many of which found their way to Germany) can be a surprisingly good, and individual, purchase.
On the subject of Italian performance saloons, Maseratis such as the 1980s Bi-turbo and the related Quattroporte may one day be accepted classics. Dismal reliability even when quite young means that few survive today, ensuring their rarity if nothing else.
While the French are in the main known today for making small to medium sized cars of mixed ability and desirability, their back catalogue does include a few interesting performance saloons. Going way back there is the Maserati-engined SM, but that's already a confirmed classic. Offerings from the 1980s include the Citroen CX Turbo 2, a deceptively swift machine that looks like no other car on the road, and was probably the last truly interesting Citroen that the company made. The Peugeot 505 GTi is also a tuned saloon that is rarely encountered on UK roads nowadays, and surely one worth hunting down as a future classic.
|This is Part 2 of a 5 part article on what cars now may be worth preserving for the future     |
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