The Return of the Hot Hatch - Part 3

The Return of the Hot Hatch - Part 3 image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Newspress UK | posted December 23, 2014 14:40

The Eighties Live on

The stragglers

Today, the remnants of the 80s are mostly Mitsubishi Lancer EX's, many of which sport modified 16-valve heads and turbos of later models. Another popular old schooler, with tuner potential, is the late 80s Corolla with the country's first 16-valve engine.

Picture the 80s carscape

Though limited, the Philippine road landscape of the 80s had a large mass of popular models and a sprinkling of a few notables. Universal Motors' rear wheel drive Datsun 180B and Laurel were quite rare. So was the run-off model of Renault's 16TX, which together with the numerous Corolla liftbacks and the Mitsubishi Lambda boasted a 5-speed manual transmission. Nissan's Stanza and Maxima were beginning to make its front wheel drive presence felt. The majority of cars on the road were composed of the boxy E70 Corolla, T-140 Corona Silver Edition, Lancer EX box type and the wedge front 4th generation Galant, all rear wheel drive. The Ford Laser and Telstar were on its way to front wheel drive popularity but Ford's pull out in 1984 put an end to that. The demise of Delta Motors abandoned the Toyota Tamaraw and the first front wheel drive Corolla, just as Ford's exit put an end to the Fiera. What was left of the AUV segment was Isuzu's KC20 and the Nissan Bida, a resurrected Tamaraw.

Seeds were sown

The taxi market was carved up between the Corolla and the 1st gen. Isuzu Gemini diesel, also rear wheel drive. The high end was catered to by Commercial Motors Pasig assembled Mercedes Benz 200 [the ancient W123, in one color only], the only car left in the market with 70s all vinyl seats, bias ply tires, no tint windows and standard steel rims. Otherwise, most of the upper class waited to buy the used Mercedes W124's of ADB bankers who mostly rented in posh Forbes Park and Dasmariñas or personal import US version W126 S-class thru Balikbayan privilege holders. The 80s also saw the blossoming popularity of two utility vehicles that were to become all time Filipino favorites decades long after; the Mitsubishi Pajero and the L300. The 80s also introduced a small car that could, by some stretch of the imagination, be a potential hot hatch or at least a hot selling hit; the cheap and cheerful Kia Pride. Meantime, the rest of the world were eyeing, with curiosity and suspicion, two new uncharacteristically daring entries from Japan: the Mazda Miata and the first Lexus.

The 1st-gen Honda Civic

Will it ever catch on?

Today, the Peugeot 208 Gti and the VW Golf Gti are available and with the Ford Fiesta's sales growth, hotter Fiesta ST's with larger ecoboost engines are in the realm of the possible. But the question is will we ever have the cult of the hot hatch, akin to Europe's long and delirious affection to it? Without counting the aggressive Chinese [BYD, Chery, Chana, Lifan, Haima, Geely, Great Wall]and Indian [Tata] brands, the mainstream brands are starting to crowd the sub compact and mini-compact segments. There's the resurgent Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota's Wigo and Honda's Brio. The Suzuki Alto/Celerio and Swift has been around for at least 2 model generations, while the chic Koreans, Kia's Picanto and Hyundai's Eon and i10 are not lacking in lifestyle appeal to Generation Y and the millenials either. But there are hardly any tuner specials or genuine high performance hatchbacks, apart from the rare A-toy body kit toy. One can point to the success of the new Vios Cup race series, but it only intensifies appreciation for the sub compact class, dominated by the family-centric Vios, and the Vios is no hot hatch. Perhaps, our hot hatch market is essentially all the sales of the MINI Cooper S and maybe a few 1 series BMW's and Audi A1's put together? And we are not including the new Jazz and new Yaris as both have morphed into spacious family carry alls. No hot hatch either.

The niche hot hatch

We would have wanted to nominate the 'People's Car' category Honda Civic hatchback 2-door of 1989. It was, after all, a genuine 'hot' hatch considering its grassroots beginnings and its ease of primary tuning, like free-flow exhaust upgrade and minimal weight reduction. It was one of the most panoramic of small cars, only beaten in glass acreage by the early 80's Brasilia. In fact, many of these 5th gen 'EG' Civics ended up being full fledged race cars in the Subic International Raceway of the mid-nineties. The few that survived the hard racing were restored into street 'cafe racers' when lots of surplus JDM [Japan Domestic Model] parts became available in the local market. It had a cult, alright, but it's still was a niche one and the very few treasured units are wheeled out only on 'eyeball' club meets.

 Peugeot 208 GTi

That hot hatch significance

Though hot hatches had limited appeal in our islands, hot hatches contributed to the sporty look and driving environment of a typical eighties car. The hot hatch trend of the 80s revealed that people, usually male, desired the sports car image and look, but were not willing to put up with cramped space and the out and out sporty drive/hard ride. They wanted the versatility and comfort of a regular car so the hot hatch realized their desire into a compromised reality. If ever, the hot hatch enhanced the trend to personalize cars with aftermarket accessories. It also pushed car makers to include more standard options in modern cars and cater to several kinds of taste. This, in turn, motivated aftermarket accessories to be even more outrageous and exclusive.

That 80's appeal

That bygone era was a much simpler world, where social media and connectivity didn't rule your life and when cars were not yet absolutely and helplessly dependent on electronics. Cars were lighter as safety and environmental regs didn't penalize with more weight and width. Aerodynamics were not as tyrannical in its influence over car designers, so cars had gutters to prevent rain dumping on you when you open the door. Size for size, there was a lot more space in footwells then compared to the tunnels through which we contort to plant our feet in today's cars. With more upright greenhouses and lower belt lines, it was easier to see out of, negating the need for rear view cameras and 4-corner sensors. If anything broke or needed tinkering, one didn't need the internet and a computer. Parts were easily installed or dismounted with standard tools. Fans swear, that even with the new crop of hot hatches – even the Ford Fiesta ecoboost– nothing beats the hooligan cheap thrills of an 80s hot hatch.

 The MINI Cooper under BMW

Tinker friendly no more

But the march of technology made sure that cars today, though no longer tinker friendly, can still be fun while being far more efficient, faster, powerful, safer, thriftier and more comfortable at far slower per capita depletion of earth's finite natural resources. Just like the 80's disco hits remade for today or the common encore of Filipino show bands around the world - they may sound different issuing from an iPod synced with your car's audio, but they're fun just the same because they're still the same disco tunes.