THE INSIDE MAN

The Return of the Hot Hatch - Part 2

The Return of the Hot Hatch - Part 2  image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Newspress UK, Nodalo's Facebook Page | posted December 15, 2014 12:48

Marking Time by Signature Style

Sharp creases inside out

Origami's sharp edges in the interior and exterior were the universal styling theme. Fabric, velour and carpets were now sourced from recycled plastics as sun-bake slippery vinyl seats faded in ubiquity. The three point seat belt as we know it was nearly universal while some federal regulations forced Detroit to install cumbersome automatic seat belt systems. Seats may be small and thin, but at least they had proper springs instead of the all foam ones that Ford's 80s Laser [Mazda 323] pioneered. Pedals were small, giving an impression of spacious leg room. Headrests were treated as decorative items for neck support while napping.

Under the hood

The technology of 80s cars were in transition from electro-mechanical to electronic. Hence 80s cars could manage a bit of 'catch-up' upgrading which aided in keeping them legally roadworthy 20 years later as original parts supply diminished. Most diesel engines then were still pre-combustion chamber types so phenomenal pick up and go was notably absent. Small four cylinder cars were still peppy but needed a bump up in displacement; to enjoy the pick-up/acceleration of say a 1970's 1100cc Corolla, one had to upsize to a 1300cc version in the 80s. To drive a 2-liter then is akin to owning a Porsche today. Most petrol engine cars ran on carburetors and electronic breakerless ignition was still a novelty.

Nodalos' AE86

Serious tuning

For tuner modifications, stiffer shocks were available from KONI and TRD. Go faster kit like stage one tuned headers and large bore stainless steel exhaust were from Nodalo's while cheaper noise makers like Bravura exhaust mufflers indulged boy-racer fantasies. But since many of the local models' versions sold in advanced countries had engine computers, catalytic converters and fuel injection, some of the the corresponding go-faster parts made their way here for dedicated tuners and modifiers to tinker with.

Limited options

As far as options go, factory fit power steering, rear window defroster, power locks, power windows, fog lamps, sun roof, sun blinds, etc. were rare. Stick on tint, along with floor mats, seat covers [corduroy or double knit synthetic fiber], car alarms were part of the dealer package that included rust proofing, comprehensive insurance and registration. The 80s also saw a growing appreciation for wider 60 series tires and alloy wheels, inspiring a huge aftermarket following.

The 1977 Ford Fiesta advert

Cosmetic upgrades

Usually one of the first options that a new car owner spent good money on was a fancy AM/FM cassette stereo system with amplifier, equalizer and speaker upgrades. Aerodynamic aids such as spoilers and fairings, supplied by the aftermarket, came next. Hot hatch smoked or blacked out tail lamp covers, Rallye style distance lamps, black trim and rear fog lights were also popular. FCC were the go-to people for a selection of jets for Weber twin side carburetors along with European brand lights, sunroofs, horns and gauge sets. If one was tired of the hanging pine tree scent, various Car Shaldan scents in a can provided early versions of in-car aroma therapy.

FWD vs. RWD

The world's compact car fleet was about evenly distributed between rear wheel drive and front wheel drive, with front wheel drive was fast gaining dominance. Rear wheel drive remained dominant in the luxury and big car sector, including the niche that we nowadays call the SUVs. Most rear wheel drive cars had double wishbone front suspension while McPherson struts were standard for front wheel drive. The rear wheel drive compacts rarely had IRS [independent rear suspension] but had solid axles sprung by coils or leaf springs instead. Rear suspensions of FWD cars were either beam axles or lateral links.

A cutaway view of the Ford Fiesta's engine bay

Driving feel with less roll stiffness

More often than not, the front wheel drive cars with McPherson front struts and lateral link rear suspension tended to feel stiff legged on bumps, far unlike the supple double wishbones of rear wheel drive cars. What distinguished cars of that era vis-a-vis today was the amount of vertical compliance dialed in; ride was not sacrificed on the altar of handling and stiff anti-roll bars. This made the front suspensions of 80s cars far more supple and bump absorbent than today's cars. As for the rear, the solid rear axles tended to jolt on humps as most Philippine market specs had springs that were too stiff and dampers that were loose limbed. Without exception, cornering induced high roll angle understeer. Brakes, reliably strong by then, were usually disc/drum set ups. The only time they were prone to fading is after repeated hard use like going fast downhill on a mountain road or after wading through a monsoon flood.

Steering without power assist

Since most steering systems were still no-power assist recirculating ball types, there was no lack of feel and feedback, even if the steering had a little bit more free play on center. Front wheel drive cars usually had the slightly tighter feel of rack and pinion steering which tended to rattle sooner rather than later. Also, steering radii were usually tight as tires have not yet reached the ultra-wide proportions of today.

The custom interior of the 1977 Ford Fiesta

No sluggards off the line

What is most telling about gas engined 80s cars was the pick up on launch and weak torque thereafter, leading one to rev the engines to red line rpm. Regardless if the engine was an iron block overhead valve or an aluminum overhead cam, most engines were willing to do it anyway. Diesels, like the Isuzu Gemini at that time were not yet mated to small lightweight turbos. Though they produced more torque at lower rpms than a gasoline engine, their limited rev range counted against their fun factor.

Noisome sometimes

NVH was hardly bothersome, thanks to higher profile tires with more meat in the sidewall [70 series], careful weather sealing and heavy ladder frame chassis which absorbed much of the vibration. Monocoque bodies had some variance in sheet steel thickness to manage energy absorption in a crash, but not enough variety to suppress drumming vibrations. Suppression of harshness was left to rubber compound bushings and bitumen based sound deadening. Still, it is all relative as what seemed like good NVH insulation then as it pales massively in comparison with today's quiet cars. Mufflers and catalytic converters were getting better at corrosion resistance through aluminum coatings or stainless steel.