From the newly widened four-lane heading north from the state line, you can catch a glimpse of faded beauties hidden behind a gate on an old gravel road. The owner, possibly fearing interlopers like myself, strategically placed corrugated metal siding in such a way as to camouflage the little hatchbacks.
Of course nothing can stop the sharp eyes of a veteran carspotter like myself, so I hit the exit and backtracked down the access road to see if that boxy ‘80s shape was indeed those three magical-sounding letters: GTI.
Many people forget the days when high performance was anything with 100 horsepower or more. Out of the malaise of the ’70s, the pastel-and-neon decade that followed didn’t offer much to impress car aficionados. But then came the Hot Hatch era. Small cars with perky acceleration and sharp handling replaced the aging muscle cars as an enthusiast’s choice for transportation.
This little GTI still proudly displays those red initials front and rear. Its ignominy only increased by the trailer hitch on the back. Who would subject this spunky little street fighter to towing duty?
I knew a guy who owned a red ’84 GTI just like this one in the mid-‘80s. It would dust the British Racing Green TR7 I drove at the time and would handle just as good. Plus, its German engineering eliminated those adventures like having to drive with no headlights or windshield wipers when one really would appreciate their functionality.
Back in 1984, GTIs stood out in the crowd with those inverse color schemes: Red with black trim or black with red trim. They also offered a white with black trim version of GTI. Seeing that meant this was no mere grocery-getter.
A couple of years later, I found a Hot Hatch for myself — a stunning gloss black 1980 Scirocco S with red velour Recaro seats and that iconic Golf-ball shifter. Sleeker than a GTI, the Mk I Scirocco S offered all the same goodies in a sleeker body conceived by legendary car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Behind this abandoned GTI lies a second-generation Scirocco silently resting in the trees. The Mark II Scirocco would later receive a potent 16-valve engine and styling package, which made it an object of lust for a poor college journalism student in the late 1980s. Sadly, I see more ‘60s and ‘70s Beetles on the road today than these two Hot Hatches.
A few years ago, news of a new Scirocco stirred my nostalgic excitement. I’d gladly pay to drive a new version of my beloved college steed. Yet because of marketing reasons only the Germans seem to understand, Volkswagen isn’t selling the Scirocco in the United States. Do they think we all want to drive SUVs? Some of us really HATE four-door cars, you know.
There does seem to be a rekindling of the Hot Hatch vibe these days. The new Ford Fiesta seems as fun-and-perky as its German-made ancestor, along with the Focus ST. And the Fiat 500 will soon be offered here in the racy Abarth trim. Of course, the Honda CRX remains with us after a long and distinguished service to boy racers everywhere.
Everything old is new again, and I spot hints of a decade long past in the fashions and music of today. As the’80s resurrect themselves for a new generation, it’s my hope the Hot Hatches will also find their way back.
— Michael Gouge