Why I bought a Peugeot 205 GTI


Regular readers may remember back in November I asked you to advise me what cheap and fun old car I should buy to replace my under-utilised old 911. The response was gratifying to say the least and the suggestions far wider ranging than I’d expected.

Bob Smith was kind enough to suggest I sought professional help for selling the 911 in the first place – and he’s probably right – before going on to suggest a BMW 2002 and a Mk1 Golf GTi, both real contenders on my final shortlist. Matt Wills suggested everything from a very tempting Alfa GTV6 to a not in the least tempting Mk1 Capri. He even came up with the Renault 11 Turbo which I’d forgotten even existed.

But it was another job for another title that finally made me see straight. I was asked to referee a world cup for hot hatchbacks where I’d select the best offerings from each country and play one against the other until a final was reached. It turned out that in one corner sat the Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione 2, in the other the rather more humble Peugeot 205 GTI. Lacking the Lancia’s power, pedigree, four-wheel drive, turbo, multi-valve head and competition pedigree I expected the Peugeot to compete only for value for money. I have rarely been more wrong. The fact is that after a couple of hours skidding around a test track it was the little Peugeot which steered better, changed gear and direction better and was, in short, the more fun to drive.

This created one of those mythically rare moments where a motoring journalist actually puts his money where his big fat mouth is and you can see the result before you. It’s a 1990, 1.9-litre 205GTI, late enough to have the desirable facelifted interior, but sufficiently early not to have a power-sapping catalytic converter. It has the power steering I wanted because it comes with a far faster rack and just happened to be one of 150 ‘Miami Blue’ examples equipped with not just the blue metallic paint but a full leather interior. And apart from a stupid stainless steel exhaust and tyres one section too wide, it appears to be perfect.

Lighter than a new Lotus Elise yet sufficiently quiet and comfortable to make the journey home to Wales from London hardly any less pleasant than were I in a modern car, it has spent the Christmas period dodging the floods and welding a smile to my face.

But it also made me realise how much fast hatchbacks have suffered for all the weight that’s piled onto them in the last 20 years, perhaps more than any other breed. Peugeot’s most recent attempt at such a car was the dire 207 GTI which weighed 1325kg, making it around 450kg heavier than the 205. That’s almost an entire Caterham of extra clobber to carry. It doesn’t matter how much power it has, or how much rubber its wheels carry, in terms of how the car responds to its driver’s commands, that’s a deficit that’s never going to be made up.

Of course if I was canny I’d have bought the car before writing the story and hoped that it might cause values to rise. But I didn’t start looking for a replacement for the 911 to make a few pennies, I did it to have some fun. And so far in that regard, it has not put a foot wrong.

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