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A Half Dozen 1970s Hot Hatchbacks

The VW Golf GTi Mk. I may have been one of the most notable ‘hot hatchbacks’ of the 1970s but it was neither the only or even the first of the breed. The half-dozen cars described below are my own selection – all front wheel drive, all with a third or fifth rear door and all of them highly entertaining.

1970 SIMCA 1204 SPECIAL/1100 SPECIAL

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Unfairly neglected in the UK and now more seldom encountered than a Rolls Royce Phantom IV, the 1100 range marked a quite radical step for Simca whenl  1100S finished in x ice less than £100 more than a Mini 1275GT. biased view, few 1970s cars have the sheer chuztpah e they debuted in 1967, with their combination of FWD and hatchback coachwork. The 1204 Special, launched in 1970, was the highly desirable flagship with twin choke Webers and servo assisted brakes under the bonnet, a tachometer and three spoke steering wheel and twin driving lamps, illuminating your progress along the A303. The 1204’s top speed was an impressive 100 mph and the paint choice was initially metallic blue, metallic blue or, for those wanting a walk on the wild side, metallic blue. In 1971, they were replaced by the 1100 Special which, despite its name, had a 1,294cc engine and today any surviving example of this pioneer ‘hot hatch’ is guaranteed to attract attention at any show.

1975 FIAT 128 3P

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Billed as a ‘coupe’ but essentially a very attractive three-door hatchback based on the Fiat’s groundbreaking 128 saloon. The 1300 version fitted with the ‘Rally’ specification 1,290cc SOHC engine was the car for all would be Marcello Mastroiannis who said ‘Ciao’ (albeit in a Southampton or Birmingham accent) to their secretaries. Despite some weaknesses, the pedals were oddly angled to the left and the rustproofing felt as if it had been randomly applied in the dark, the 128 3P was a rather splendid little car. Alas, survivors are now believed to be in single figures.

1976 FORD FIESTA 1100S MK. I

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I recently wrote about the XR2 but the 1100S predates it by five years and deserves to be celebrated as the car that set the template for all future generations of high-performance Fiestas.  The top speed of 86 mph was reasonable as opposed to scintillating but the price of £2,360 back in 1977 (when UK sales began) made the 1100S a genuine bargain and owners could boast of driving a hatchback so exciting that it even came with ‘beach stripe’ upholstery and, of course, a side’ flash’.  Naturally, a glass sunroof was a must-have extra at just £113.94 and, in my biased view, few 1970s cars have the sheer chutzpah of a Fiest 1100S finished in Jade Green.

1976 PEUGEOT 104ZS

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The 104 was not Peugeot’s first car with FWD, that distinction belongs to the 204 of 1965, but it was their first ‘supermini’. Launched in 1972, it was only available as a four-door saloon but two years later Peugeot unveiled the short wheelbase three-door ‘Z’ version and in 1976 the fantastic ZS. The overall length was just ten inches more than the Mini and the back seat was suitable only for uncomplaining children but the looks were utterly sharp, down to the alloy wheels, and the ZS was the role model for the 205 GTi. Post-1979 models had the’ Douvrin’ 1,360cc engine and as a ten-year-old, I recall being inordinately impressed that the ZS was fitted with electric front windows!

1976 RENAULT 5 ALPINE/GORDINI

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The publicity claimed this was a hatchback that ‘sorts out the men from the boy racers’ claimed the publicity while Autocar mused that There is nothing quite like the Renault 5 Gordini’. UK market cars wore the Gordini badge as ‘Alpine’ badging would have clashed with Chrysler’s products. £4,149 was a very reasonable sum for a 5 with a highly tuned 1,397cc engine and modified suspension with alloy wheels and an ultra-dramatic front spoiler incorporating fog lamps. And the never easy to please Car magazine found that the Gordini was ‘a friendly sunny little ally of a car’ at a price that undercut the Golf GTi by more than £500…

1977 FIAT 127 SPORT

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The 127 Sport was one of the best small sporting cars of its era, with a UK price less than £100 more than a Mini 1275GT. It also survived some exceptionally dire advertising; ‘if it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched’ was the banner of one memorably awful campaign. The Sport was based on the second generation 127 launched in May 1977 and was powered by a 1,049cc SOHC engine. For additional distinction, it came with a front air dam with coachwork painted either black with orange stripes -  for that sophisticated look, dashing silver with blue stripes or bright orange -  which seemed to glow in the dark – with black stripes. Now super-rare and very collectable. 

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