Two tuned 205s

Factory Plus Pack v Cheetah 1.9

The cry of “more power” is one that is often heard in the more sporting circles of the motoring world when a particularly nicely balanced small car makes its appearance. Such calls have been frequent in the case of the Peugeot 205GTi, the nimble and willing two-door hatchback which spearheaded the Peugeot-Talbot group’s campaign to create a sporting image for the range. Its combination of poise and grip perhaps tended to overshadow the free-revving 1,600 cc power unit, for all that it is a smooth and vice-free package, and made one compare it with larger-engined cars such as the Astra GTE, or with more complex 16-valve units like Toyota’s Corolla GT. Against these, the Peugeot’s 105 bhp looks a little skimpy, and Peugeot Talbot Sport in France have developed a performance kit which boosts this to 125 bhp.

Now, a jump in power of just under 20% on a relatively small engine is a big one, especially when the alterations are restricted to valve size and lift, and the noticeable extra performance at high revs is offset by an equally noticeable loss of urge below about 3,500 rpm. The kit consists of a new cylinder head comprising larger valves, and a modified camshaft, and costs a little over £1,000 including an exchange allowance for the standard cylinder head.

Big-valve heads are of course at their most efficient while flowing air at high velocity, ie at high revs, and with a rev limit of 7,000 rpm, the little 205 streaks along open roads when given its head with welcome extra punch. On the two-mile straight at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, the GTi Plus hit 125.4 mph, about 5 mph up on standard, while 0-60 mph produced a best of 8.7 sec, compared to 9.2 as standard. But such standing starts highlighted the low rpm deficit of the conversion, it being necessary to spin the driving wheels for longer than usual in order to keep the red needle pointing in the important sector of the tachometer, for the engine will falter on wide throttle openings on the first half of the dial.

This is apparent in traffic, where enforced restraint keeps the car in low gears for surprisingly long periods, and I found that normally second gear corners needed first; it is only the very easy gearchange which prevents this from being a real drawback, though the synchromesh on the test car was showing signs of wear.

More fun than a standard car, then, but only in the right circumstances. What the car really needs is extra capacity: enter Charters of Aldershot. With the well-received Sunbeam Cheetah to their credit some years ago, which was a cheaper but effective rival to the Sunbeam Lotus, and a Samba more recently, they have used their Peugeot Talbot dealership facilities to combine crankshaft, con-rod, and pistons from other PSA models with the existing injection set-up and cylinder head to produce a longer stroke 1900, for a price of about £1,200 + VAT. The development was done in conjunction with Ravic Engines of Daventry.

And it has to be said that if you have around £1,000 to spend on your 205GTi, this is the one to go for. The figures will suggest that it is slightly inferior to the factory kit, with 0-60 coming in at a best of 8.8 sec, a whisker behind the other, and top speed only stretching to 119 mph, but the mid-range strength of the larger engine is a delight. It responds at all revs with gusto, making the choice of gear one of fine-tuning rather than necessity, and the much fuller torque curve allows a more leisurely (and tyre-preserving) take off whether at country junctions or city lights. It is still very easy to spin the wheels, though, which tends to attract attention, and what with the speed that each gear is disposed of, it is a car which could be rather bad for the driving licence.

No modifications have been made to the suspension of either of these cars but recent revisions to damping rates have improved the ride of the stock GTi, making it feel a touch more positive particularly in changing direction. With the extra performance, one begins to think about other possible areas of improvement—harder brake pads are fitted to cope with the extra work but perhaps a quicker steering rack would be appropriate; in the meantime what it has will do very well.

Some rather neat signwriting on the plastic trim gets the “Cheetah 1.9” message across to onlookers and drew many puzzled looks while we had the car, but I found that the sports-styled seats were not as comfortable as my early brief experience of the 205 suggested, especially on long motorway journeys. Fuel consumption is up, too: around 27 mpg from 30-plus. Given an interesting road, though, such quibbles are likely to be thrown to the winds. — GC.