Right, right, settle down class. Settle down. I SAID QUIET! That means you Stebbins. Stop that, O’Rourke – you’ll go blind. Right, now as your usual house master Dr. Lord Humphreys is out on a hot hatch field trip today, scouting for evidence of Seatencicus Leonus Cupraonicus, I think it’s high time we had a history lesson in the evolution of the genus Hottius Hatchicon, or Ditch Finder as it’s commonly known. It’s a varied family tree, lots of cross-breeding going on, so there’s a lot to get through. Open your books at page 67 and we’ll begin.
Right, for a start, there are a number of unstable lunatic creationists who believe that the story of the hot hatch begins with the Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI, or Volks Populi Rapidium. Don’t believe a word of it – the evolution of the hot hatch goes back a lot further than that.
In fact, certain scientists and evolutionary biologists believe that the starting point is actually the 1966 Ford Lotus Cortina, or Verdant Stripeius Champanensis. True, it wasn’t a hot hatch in the sense that it didn’t have a hatchback body, but you and I are related to monkeys and we don’t have tails or a banana fetish. Well, not all of us.
Around the same time, Renault had the R8 Gordini, or the Wrong Way Froggy as it’s known, which had its engine where the hatchback should be, but, thanks to being motorsport tuned and dashed good fun to drive, and based on a humble, common-or-garden French family car, certainly deserves its place on the hot hatch family tree. Dammit Bletchley, put that copy of Playboy away before Matron sees it!
As for the first actual hot hatch with a hatch, you really have to look to the Italian genus, and the Autobianchi A112 Abarth. This was basically achieved by cross-breeding a common Fiat 128 with a conservatory, and the result was this sporty version with a 1,050cc overhead valve engine and, at the back, a glassy flap that could be deployed as part of a mating ritual. Or to put your shopping in.
Before we get to the Golf, there’s another proto-hot-hatch to consider, the Simca 1204 TI, or Homo Looks Like Its Still Got A Boot-us. Now, it doesn’t look like a proper hatch, but that is the distinctive outline of a proper lift-back you can see there, and it predates the first Volkswagen GTI by at least two years. Actually, the 1204 also eventually evolved into the Matra Rancho, which is the distant ancestor of all those odd-plumage crossovers you see running about at the bottom of the school gates, but that’s another day’s lesson.
Then, finally, we get to 1976 and the Golf GTI and that’s the point at which scientists say the Wolfsburg Explosion in hot hatches began. Prior to the emergence of the Golf GTI in the fossil record, there were only sporadic instances of that kind of body morphology – after, you can’t throw a pre-historic stick without hitting one. It occurs at a point in the geologic record known as the M/G Boundary Layer, where the appeal of the traditional two-seat sports car began to wane and a new species, called the Yuppy, adopted the hot hatch as a sort of parasitic host.
Needless to say, there were some evolutionary aberrations. There was the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus for instance, which was powered by massive back legs, er, wheels and didn’t really have a hatch so much as a hinged window. It lasted long enough to be thoroughly mated with by a species known as Rally Driver Tiovenen after which the hind-legged version died out for a while, before popping back up again in the Munich soil samples in the mid-2000s.
While the German scientists generally claim primacy in developing the theory of hot hatch evolution, they’ve received some pretty short shrift from their colleagues in Paris. There, the theory of natural selection holds sway, and French evolutionists maintain that the Peugeotonicus Oversteerus, known by its sample number 205, was the ultimate expression of the hot hatch genus, as it carefully advanced evolution by throwing its less well-controlled versions off backwards through a hedge.
Of course, British scientists maintain that the ultimate hot hatch, the Fordium Escortian Cosworthasaur was developed in Essex rocks, but despite strong evolutionary competition from Italy (the Lanciamama Delta Integrale Rex) and Japan (Nissanus Sunny GTI-R) that part of the evolutionary tree died out pretty quickly once the super-predator, Subraruensis Imprezasauras, arrived on the scene, and seeing as that was mostly a saloon, it need not bother us here.
At around that time, the hot hatch genus nearly dies out completely. It seems that an Earth-shattering impact from something known as ‘Insurance Premiums’ almost killed of the evolutionary line altogether, and as far as we are aware only a few secluded herds of Renault Clio Williams made it through this turbulent period. Even the mighty Golf GTI at this time added weight and bulk to see itself through the winter, and settled down to a decade of domesticity.
As we entered the middle-2000s though, there were stirrings anew in the evolutionary field. A new sub-genus of Golf GTI emerged, fitter, leaner and more able to see off the competition of younger foes. Predating that, Renault claims to have found strata of rock containing a chemical called Renaultsport Clio 172 in layers of sediment dating back to 2001.
And then, with the relaxing of the nuclear winter brought on by the impact of insurance costs, not to mention the simultaneous development of weapons-grade engines based on reliable, affordable family car breeding pairs, the variety and number of Hottus Hatchius exploded once again. Czech, German, French, Italian, British and Japanese varieties all sprung up, mostly all sticking to the simple front-drive layout, and it seems that power outputs began to spiral upwards. Evidence has been found in the form of fossilised tyre marks in supermarket car parks that hot hatches by the middle of the second decade of the 21st century were regularly being bred with more than 250hp.
And then came the emergence of a second super-predator. With claws on all four paws and as much power as 350 horses, it seemed that none could defeat the mighty Fordus Focusenius RS. Well, we’ll see I suppose. Hopefully Lord Humphreys will return safe and well from his SEAT Cupra expedition. And hopefully he’ll remember to seal the specimen jar lid properly this time…