The hatchback seems to be one of those vehicles that defined the American experience in the 1970s and 80s. Before the minivan officially hit the market in 1984, hatchbacks ruled the road as the car of choice for most families since they represented a practical, fuel efficient alternative to the bulky sedans of the time.
But that’s not to say that old-school hatchbacks were only delegated to grocery-getting status.
Although these vehicles are basically a more compact station wagon because of their narrower wheelbase and rear liftgate, that doesn’t mean that all models were bound by the same, primitive drivetrains.
Instead, high-performance hatchbacks, dubbed hot hatches, offered the perfect balance of cost, performance, and usability. And since collectability isn’t quite on par with its muscle car brethren, the following classic models can be bought for a fraction of the price.
For this list, though, we’re talking about traditional, utilitarian hatchbacks – and not the modified hatchback coupes.
Dodge Omni GLH
Image a time when auto manufacturers where building compact cars with 75-hp four-bangers under the hood.
Now, think about how much positive press, and street cred, a standard hatchback would receive if its power output doubled that total.
Meet the Carroll Shelby designed Dodge Omni GLH, which debuted near the tail end of the U.S. fuel crisis.
Because of its 2,200-lb body – coupled with a quaint, 146-hp turbo four that joined the model in 1985 – this thing Goes Like Hell (that’s why it’s called the GLH). By today’s standards, its 6.5-second 0-60 time may not seem like much. But back then, it was only a second slower than the Ferrari.
Because this car is quick, sporty, and sought-after, its only flaw is finding one in good shape for a decent price, since most retail in the $10,000 ballpark.
Ford Escort Gt
Have you ever dreamed of owning a newer Ford Focus ST, but couldn’t quite afford the $20,000 price tag? If so, look no further than the Escort, Ford’s answer to the European hatchback market of the 1980s.
Sure, it may not be as fast as its Focus ST counterpart, and lacks the handling and maneuverability that compact drivers have come to expect. But the Escort GT can hold its own as a daily driver or Sunday cruiser.
The second-generation Escort, which was produced from 1991-96, shared a Mazda platform with the venerable Protégé and was powered by a DOHC 1.8 L four-cylinder – good enough to churn out 127-hp and a sub eight-second 0-60 time.
And the best part? Most of these cars sell for less than $3,000, which means that this Escort gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
When the CR-X was introduced in the mid-80s, it was branded as a sporty, two-seat counterpart to the Civic, Honda’s well-known entrant into the U.S. consumer car segment. With an anemic 58-hp VTEC engine, the CR-X wasn’t much on the dragstrip, limping to a 10-second 0-60 time.
However, where this car shined was in the fuel economy category. Since its engine didn’t exert much power, the CRX easily earned an EPA estimated 57 mpg highway and, driven carefully, one could expect these numbers to increase.
Most may have been beaten, or modified to death, by early 2000s high school kids. But finding a CRX in the $4-6,000 range shouldn’t be too difficult.
If you have an older hatchback that’s in need of body and/or mechanical work so it’s ready for the road, contact Andy’s Auto Service at 412-478-9304 for a FREE estimate.