We’ve had it drilled in our heads that Americans don’t like hatchbacks, but that certainly wasn’t always true. The sight of this older upload by Triborough–and a few of the comments on Jim’s recent Accord wagon post–got me wondering: by what process did we decide the hatchback wasn’t cool?
After all, the Accord came over as a hatchback and more significantly, VW brought the Rabbit–and not the Jetta–to Pennsylvania for American production. Then there were GM’s X-bodies, like this Nova, which enthusiastically advertised their third door, with Chevy and Pontiac going so far as giving it top billing in their front-drive reinventio for 1980. It might have been surprising in such a context that there were no three-or-five door Aries or Reliants, but Chrysler eventually made the decision to graft one onto the K-derived Lancer/LeBaron GTS and Shadow/Sundance.
The former cars landed with a thud upon their 1985 release, which was the same year that the newly released Golf and Jetta swapped places in the popularity hierarchy and a year before Honda would release their final Accord hatchback. It would seem the death of the hatchback began in the mid ’80s, well before ultra-miserly econoboxes fell out of favor and the rise of the SUV. Notchback versions of certain cars, like the Fox Mustang received second billing to hatchback models until the end of their run, while other models, like the Cavalier and its J-car siblings, were vastly more popular as sedans. Then there were cars like the Escort and various Saabs which were most popular when sold in three- and five-door versions, losing sales appeal when moving to a traditional three-box format.
So rather than asking when or why the hatchback died, I’d like to pose the question of how. Was there a certain moment that the bodystyle jumped the shark in most Americans’ eyes? Can it be traced back to a certain popular representation or a singularly horrible car? And why did its mainstream disappearance begin so suddenly only to turn into a protracted process?