With auto show season officially, mercilessly and thankfully over, the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage stands to be full in just six weeks. A short time by any standard, but especially so when distilling over a hundred years of automotive excellence into just 50 vehicles. Two weeks ago saw the induction of the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, a car so finely crafted only a communist would disapprove. In this week's edition, we switch gears entirely. Compact, lightweight automobile construction, responsive suspension, spicy engine and a slick manual transmission. It's a simple formula which, if done properly, not only results in a car with character, but one which transcends the bottom-of-the-barrel genre and becomes something of legend, something which can ascend to the level of fantasy. This week, we examine the hot hatch.
Here's the deal, it's going to be a knock down, drag out fight with no elimination rounds, no brackets, no BS — a winner takes all match up between four of the most remarkable hot hatches ever to be tossed around a corner with glee. And in this fight, we'll let age go before beauty.
1963 Mini Cooper S
Arguably the very first hot hatch, despite its lack of said hatch, the Mini itself was a revolutionary leap forward in car design for post-war Britain. When notable F1 race car designer John Cooper approached the legendary designer of the Mini about a higher performance edition, Alec Issigonis thought the idea unacceptable, this was a working mans car after all, not a race car. Undaunted, Cooper went above his head and received the blessing of BMC directly for the project. 1961 saw the first high performance Mini Cooper but it grew into its skin in 1963 when a 1071cc short-stroke, four-cylinder replaced the long-stroke 997cc engine. The '63 Mini Cooper S was a fantastic performer with up to 70 HP from the tiny engine. To say the handling of the Mini Cooper S is the stuff of legend is something of an understatement - how many other compact cars can claim David-versus-Goliath-like wins at Monte Carlo over cars many times its size and power?
1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Mk1 Golf GTI is spoken about in hushed tones and with quiet reverence among fans of the econobox-turned-road-racer. The GTi was a breath of fresh air in a stagnant, malaise-mandated European market. The Golf was a handsome design to begin with, penned in the workshops of Guigiaro, and sporting a 1.5L four cylinder, the GTI got interesting upgrades that took it from everyman transporter to corner carving joy buzzer. Chief among the upgrades was one of the first entry market applications of fuel injection, wider track and tires, uprated anti-roll bars and stiffer springs, along with that famous red-rimmed grille. The Golf was rebadged as the Rabbit and produced in Pennsylvania for the 1978 model year, making it the first domestically produced European car in history. A GTI version followed for the US market in 1983. Though there aren't any Monte Carlo wins under its belt, few cars did as much to beat back the 'car as appliance' mindset which pervaded the '80s era auto industry, and the hot hatch survives today in large part due to it's existence.
1986 Dodge Omni GLH-S
Though Carroll Shelby is better known for his involvement in cars like the Cobra 427, Daytona, and Mustang, it's nut job projects like the GLHS that should really be putting him into the Automotive Hall of Fame. The 1985 Dodge Omni GLH was a bonkers car to begin with, starting with the turbo-four out of the Shelby Charger, but Carroll took the last 500 of the Omni GLH and added some more. Goes Like Hell - Somemore, a name only a speed crazed Texan could come up with, was apt. The already potent, for '85, Chrysler turbo 2.2L four was upgraded with an intercooler, prototype fuel rail and remapped fuel delivery curve and delivered 175 HP and 174 lb/ft of torque. The suspension gained Koni adjustable shocks up front and coilovers in the rear, and some sticky tires on custom wheels. Our favorite modification is a sticker on the speedometer hailing the possibility of 135 mph - it just has such a smirk inducing quality to it. All that added together to produce a real street burner. The GLH-S would do 0-60 in 6.5 ticks and run up to 130 mph. It takes a certain kind of mad man to make a Simca designed econobox run with a Corvette.
2003 Renault Clio V6
Not many cars can make the claim to fame of being one of the ten Jeremy Clarkson would place in his personal fantasy garage. The Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport is an example of what happens when madness reaches its inevitable end. Yes, the DS is a beautiful automotive achievement and the CS has a nearly magical suspension, but this Renault may be the most impressive example ever of the French passion for the automobile. For those who have never seen a Clio in person, it is not a large or imposing car, not by any stretch of the imagination. Somewhere the bean counters fell asleep and the batshit crazy idea of dropping a V6 into the back seat of an econo-car slipped by, and the world is a better place for it. The 255 HP naturally aspirated V6 from a Renault Laguna motivates the Clio from just behind the drivers seat and spills its beautiful music into the open air. 0-60 comes in a quick 5.6 seconds and the car tops out at 153 MPH. Bonkers. Sure it loses pretty much all of its utility as a hatchback, the turning circle is atrocious, it's expensive, and it gulps fuel, but the insanity excuses all of that.
So there you have it, four cars from four decades, each with its own character and achievements. However, there can be only one. We know there will be rants over cars not included in this poll as the hot hatch has been a stalwart of automotive affection for a long time, but these are the four today. So what will it be? The British bulldog, the sharp steering German, a bold and brash American, or proof of France's sporting chops? Have at it folks.
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage:
1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917 | Audi RS4 Avant | Lamborghini Miura | Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 | BMW E39 M5 | Jaguar E-type | Mercedes-Benz 300 SL | Dodge Charger/Challenger R/T | Toyota 2000GT | Facel Vega HK500 | Voisin C28 Aerosport | Bugatti Type 41 Royale | McLaren F1 | Maserati Bora | Continental MK II | Tucker 48 | Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato | BMW 507 | Porsche 959 | 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe | Land Rover Defender | Lotus Eleven | Cadillac Eldorado Brougham