Owning a hot hatch is a rite of passage for any car lover. Our writers recall the memorable ones they bought, cherished, sold or almost crashed
Our fledgling hot hatch memories
Peugeot 309 GTI STEVE CROPLEY
There have been a couple of 205 Gtis over the years (a sweet 1.6 and a gruntier 1.9), but the hot hatch that stands out in my memory is a 1989 Peugeot 309 GTI, originally bought via ebay for £250 for an Autocar project that didn’t really work. It turned out to be a bit of a nail – someone had attacked one of the load-bearing body box-sections with an angle-grinder – but I inherited it and with initial help from Peugeot’s in-house apprentices, and then a Builth Wells rally car preparation specialist called Christian Prynne, I finished up with a credible road-registered hillclimber, which I campaigned for a few years. It was the perfect size, and quick, especially with a Quaife low-ratio slippery diff. I foolishly let it go on another car purchase; it’d be even more desirable now…
VW Golf GTI Mk1 JESSE CROSSE
The Mk1 Golf 1800 GTI was the first hot hatch I ever tested as a journo and is still my favourite. The test car was Mars Red with ‘Tarantula’ wheels, twin headlight grille, red and orange striped panels to the black fabric upholstery and beautiful, timeless design by Giugiaro. The upgrade from 1600cc to 1800cc was intended for the forthcoming, heavier Mk2 and made the 830kg Mk1 potent for its day with a spine-tingling, growling induction note. I bought my own car for £3000 from the classifieds when I went freelance in the late 1980s. It was black, complete with the UK specification twin-headlight grille and a wonderful soundtrack. It was practical and fun, taking me to jobs, carrying my young family around and carting clobber in the spacious load bay. I badly want another, but in Mars Red, like the press car I originally fell in love with.
Citroën BX GTI 16v ALEX ROBBINS
F480 DUG was my second attempt at owning a Citroën BX GTI 16v; the first ended up being a hound. But DUG turned out to be different. The peeling, hazing lacquer belied the fact that under the skin it had been looked after mechanically and the body was solid. I gave £700 for it.
The hottest BX is a joy to drive. The engine – shared with the Peugeot 405 Mi16 – is terrific, delivering a screaming 158bhp with such a strong top-end hit that you’d reckon it was a VTEC predecessor if you didn’t know better. As the BX weighs so little, that power goes a long way.
There’s as much feel as any of its ilk, but the soft suspension means the BX GTI 16v remains untroubled by mid-corner bumps, resulting in tremendous predictability. The extra squidge and long wheelbase mean that although the tail will step out whenever you ask it to, it does so ever so progressively, allowing you to scoop it up time and again without fear.
I still miss DUG. I’m sorely tempted to get another BX GTI 16v, and it remains my favourite French hot hatch of its era.
Garish 309 GTI was reborn as a hillclimb and sprint weapon
Beneath the patina, the BX GTI 16v was mechanically sound