First im­pres­sions

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

Autocar - - THIS WEEK -

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…


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.


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

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