Peugeot 205 GTI: still the one
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
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)