MOD­ERN CLAS­SIC

Peu­geot 205 GTI: still the one

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

OUT OF THE cor­ner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the power poles go­ing off to the left and away from the road. It would have been warn­ing enough but the lit­tle car was to­tally com­mit­ted to the cor­ner now, so the knowl­edge that the cor­ner fol­lowed a de­creas­ing ra­dius counted hardly at all. If the car was good enough, they were safe.

Un­til now the black­top had been pre­dictable, a fast, open rib­bon of road. The tiny green hatch­back had been per­fec­tion, its en­gine hard, re­spond­ing in­stantly to the driver’s com­mands, and with its su­perb closer­a­tio gear­box, never drop­ping be­low 5000rpm. How smooth it felt, how sweet. The steer­ing had re­sponded in kind. There was no slack, no sponge, just a di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween the tiny soft-rimmed wheel and the squat Miche­lins. Ev­ery tiny in­put was passed through to the road, ev­ery apex judged down to the finest de­gree, such was the ac­cu­racy and pre­ci­sion. Was it not inspiring, did it not build con­fi­dence? To be sure, and that was the dan­ger, that was the rea­son this rec­om­mended 65km/h cor­ner had been en­tered at over twice this speed.

The car turned in beau­ti­fully, as al­ways, but that was be­fore the driver re­alised this cor­ner was dif­fer­ent. Now it was off the throt­tle quickly and sharply; the tail flicked out ever so slightly, yet no more than to re­quire a roll of the wrists in re­ply, then down to third and flat again, the tyres scram­bling for trac­tion, claw­ing at the coarse sur­face, the driver aware through the steer­ing wheel that he had used up all that re­serve of te­na­cious grip. Then it was through and gone, the poise and bal­ance had won, and he knew this was no Ja­panese pre­tender. Peter Robin­son, Wheels, De­cem­ber 1985 Has any passage of prose bet­ter summed up the ap­peal of the Peu­geot 205 GTI than Robin­son’s road test for this pub­li­ca­tion back in 1985? This 205 GTI was al­ways a car best en­joyed at ten-tenths, teas­ing at that part of the dy­namic en­ve­lope be­yond the ken of its peers. Yet even for those who never pos­sessed any­thing like Robin­son’s skill be­hind the wheel, the 205 Gti’s rep­u­ta­tion alone en­dowed it with an ir­re­sistible X-fac­tor, usurp­ing the Golf to be­come the most revered hot hatch of the 1980s. In truth, the ethos of the 205 GTI was ac­tu­ally closer to feath­er­weights like the Fiat Uno Turbo and Re­nault 5 GT Turbo, and

lat­terly the Clio Williams, than the doughty Golf GTI MKII, but such was the shadow cast by the VW that it be­came the in­evitable yard­stick.

De­signer Gérard Wel­ter’s pro­duc­tion car pal­marès also in­cludes the 304 and 305, the 405 and 406, the 604 and the RCZ. His com­pe­ti­tion­car re­sume was pos­si­bly even more spec­tac­u­lar, and in­cluded the Wm-peu­geot 88 sports rac­ing cars which set a speed record at Le Mans of 407km/h that stands to this day, as well as the most suc­cess­ful rally car of the Group B era, the Peu­geot 205 T16. Add to that the ParisDakar-win­ning 205 and 405 Coupes and the Pikes Peak 405 Coupe made fa­mous at the hands of Ari Vata­nen in the 1988 film Climb Dance. Wel­ter passed away last year, hav­ing served 47 years with Peu­geot. He was un­doubt­edly one of the great styling do­mes­tiques.

The in­te­rior of the 205 was styled by a far more il­lus­tri­ous name. Paul Bracq, a French­man who penned clas­sics like the Mercedes-benz SL ’Pagoda’, and the en­tire BMW road car range (3, 5, 6 and 7 Se­ries) of the 1970s, not to men­tion the high-speed TGV train. His in­te­rior treat­ment for the 205 fea­tured a mo­du­lar ar­range­ment, al­low­ing for the fit­ment of dif­fer­ent bin­na­cles for the var­i­ous 205 mod­els. He him­self would own a 205 GTI as a daily driver for bet­ter than two decades.

‘Pro­jet M24’, the 205 devel­op­ment cy­cle, com­menced in 1977 with two com­pet­ing de­signs. Wel­ter’s pro­posal ad­vo­cated a softer, more rounded aes­thetic but he was up against the power of Pin­in­fa­rina, who en­vis­aged a sharper-edged hatch, ex­tend­ing the aes­thetic of the ear­lier 104. The Tori­nese de­sign house felt the run-off to be a no-con­test and was as­ton­ished when its pro­posal was re­jected for be­ing too con­ser­va­tive. In Jan­uary 1980, Wel­ter’s fi­nal de­sign was signed off.

Its im­por­tance for PSA couldn’t be over­es­ti­mated. Peu­geot’s de­sign lan­guage was aged and in­vest­ments in Citroen and Chrysler/simca weren’t re­turn­ing mean­ing­ful div­i­dends. The com­pany had bet the house on the 205. The de­sign cri­te­ria called for a mod­ern hatch with a kerb weight of 735kg for en­try-level cars, fuel econ­omy around 15 per­cent bet­ter than the 104, over­all length set at 3680mm and width re­stricted to 1550mm.

Af­ter the Sochaux team’s de­sign was se­lected, events moved quickly. They had to. At the be­gin­ning of 1981, the first rolling pro­to­type was built at Garenne-colombes, and by sum­mer 1982, some 360 pre-pro­duc­tion

PHO­TOS ALAS­TAIR BROOK

Model Peu­geot 205 GTI En­gine 1905cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Max power 90kw @ 6050rpm Max torque 152Nm @ 4750rpm Trans­mis­sion 5-speed man­ual Weight 880kg 0-100km/h 8.2sec Fuel econ­omy 9.1L/100km Price $20,000 (good con­di­tion to­day)

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