Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nostalgic Subcompact: Historic turbocharged hot hatches

I grew up with small hatchbacks. We had a 1979 Plymouth Champ, an '82 Dodge Omni, an '86 Dodge Colt (Mitsubishi Mirage), two Mitsubishi Eclipses ('90 and '94), and a '92 Mitsubishi Expo LRV, which I later inherited. However, we never had the turbocharged "hot hatch" version of these vehicles, instead the higher-volume, higher-mileage, lower-cost, normally aspirated variants. I always wished my parents opted for the turbo versions of all of these (sans the Expo, which was available with a turbo overseas).

1984 Dodge Colt GTS - Subcompact CultureFor example, the Plymouth Champ's twin was the Dodge Colt. The Colt GTS was available with a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine with the Twin-Stick (eight-speed) transmission. It put out 102 hp, but weighed about 1,800 lbs.

Dodge Omni GLHS - Subcompact CultureThe Dodge Omni GLH, with its Shelby-tuned turbocharged 2.2-liter engine put down as much as 146 hp from the factory. And yes, GLH stood for "Goes Like Hell." This is probably the most iconic factory-turbocharged hot hatch of the '80s. There's still a rabid fanbase that tunes the crap out of them, making them crazy fast.

1985 Dodge Colt Turbo - Subcompact CultureThe next-generation Dodge Colt and Mitsubishi Mirage also got a turbo variant, as pictured above. The Colt GTS/Mirage Turbo featured classic angular '80s Japanese styling. It had 120 hp, and like the first Colt GTS I mentioned, is also a rarity to find in good condition. I totally want one.

1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GST - Subcompact CultureI remember sitting in a 1990 Eclipse at the Minneapolis Auto Show in 1989. My dad, looking for a sporty car with four seats, decided this was going to be our family's next car. We got a GS (non-turbo 4G63) not the turbo GST, but it was a real head turner in Minnesota, and we had one of the first ones. The GS made 135 hp, while the FWD and AWD turbo versions put down 180-195 hp. Of course, these are still incredibly popular with tuners and racers.

The next generation Colt/Mirage also got a turbocharged engine: A 1.6-liter DOHC making 145 turbocharged (non-intercooled) horsepower. Being a DSM household, I remember these, and always thought they were awesome. I'd still rock one.

Chevrolet Sprint Turbo - Subcompact CultureAlthough my family didn't have one of these, I always thought they were cool. The Suzuki-built Chevrolet Sprint turbo had a boosted and intercooled three-cylinder engine that made 70 hp and 79 ft./lbs. of torque. Car and Driver recorded 0-60 times of 8.7 seconds and a quarter mile ET of 16.7 at 79 mpg. Weight? Try 1,633 lbs. Another totally cool, totally wonky '80s hot hatch.

Isuzu I-Mark RS - Subcompact CulturePerhaps one of the more elusive models was the Isuzu-built 1987-1988 Chevrolet Spectrum Turbo. I believe the 1.5 SOHC engine made around 110 hp-115 hp, but I haven't been able to confirm that. This car was also sold as the Isuzu I-Mark RS from 1988 to 1989, although in '89, the car offered a DOHC, normally aspirated engine instead of the turbo 1.5. There is a decent site for these vehicles at

We've heard the rumors and seen the spy photos. Allegedly, there could be a return of the boosted subcompact market. There have been spy shots of an EcoBoost Ford Fiesta, talks of a turbocharged Chevrolet Aveo RS, and who know what else. I'd love to see a resurrection of this genre. Maybe we'll see a turbo Colt again? Maybe a spooling Suzuki Swift?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how modern 4 cylinder engines that are naturally aspirated make more power than these '80s and '90s turbo fours. But one thing those '80s Japanese cars had was a certian fun factor because they were generally crude and weren't "as polished" as some of today's models. IMO, the car today that seems to capture some of that lost spirit is the Suzuki SX4.