On the mean streets of Chipping Ongar in Essex back in the late eighties, there always appeared to be a number of fast and furious hot hatches racing up and down the high street, whilst looking quite unbelievably cool to a young MotorMartin gazing on from the sidelines and dreaming of better days. From Ford there were the all conquering, in Essex at least, XR2i and XR3i, Volkswagen had the evergreen Golf GTi, although by 1989 this was now in its MkII incarnation, from Luton came Vauxhall’s Astra GTE MkII which was still immensely popular and had an extremely trick LED dash, whilst representing France was the stunning Renault 5GT Turbo and our subject matter, the Peugeot 205 GTi. Quite a collection I’m sure you’ll agree.
The thing is, by 1989 the hot hatch had perhaps reached its early zenith with the main protagonists producing around 110-130bhp in packages that offered fuel injection, lowered and stiffer suspension, wide wheel arches and glorious body kits consisting of side skirts, front splitters and the de riguer additional rear wings. A look that can be considered to be ‘right first time’ and one that has endured over the last 30 years or so because it looks so damn good.
And of course in those early days of, shall we say, pre-Cosworth dream cars, the insurance wasn’t even prohibitively expensive staying just the right side of stratospheric for just a few more years. For those of us old enough to remember, this was a war that was to be carried out on battlefields consisting of supermarket carparks the length and breadth of this green and pleasant land of ours and in the pages of what passed for car magazines back in those long hot summer days before the nineties came crashing in.
So which one of those old warhorses are still with us, still generating an air of quiet menace when it’s rivals have all but rusted away? Common sense already dictates that any fast Ford from the eighties will have long since disappeared in a cloud of rusty arches and disintegrated floor pans whilst the least said regarding the Astra GTE MkII the better. For proof of the rarity value of any of the cars already listed just ask yourself, ‘when was the last time you saw a genuine, good condition XR3i, Renault Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTi?’
This rarity then is reflected in the prices asked, if you can find a decent example that is. A quick look at AutoTrader shows just two Peugeot 205 GTis, a cat C write off 1.6 for 8k and a glorious looking 1.9 for 18k, crikey! Poor build quality and poor driving are to blame but if you’ve got a good one tucked away in a centrally heated garage then you’re most definitely in luck.
The 205 GTi now as it was then, is the one which an impressionable MotorMartin was most enamoured with and, truth be told, still is. A glance at any of the pictures accompanying this piece, kindly provided by Peugeot for use in this article, show that the GTi is still a stunning looking car. The proportions are spot on, in MotorMartin’s opinion and have a cleanliness and sense of purpose that today’s 208 GTi struggles to match.
Beginning life way back in 1983, from the pen of Gerard Welter and with interior touches completed by Paul Bracq, the humble 205 grew into the much celebrated 1.6 GTi in April 1984 with its 1.6 litre engine producing 105bhp and tipping the scales at less than 900kg, meaning that this new GTi could sprint from 0-62mph in 8.7sec and had a top speed of 116mph. As if that wasn’t enough, Peugeot then went and brought out the faster 1.9 GTi which was launched at the end of 1986. Incredibly, this new 1.9 boasted 130bhp and was capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.8sec whilst achieving a top speed of 127mph. Don’t forget, this was all achieved 30 years ago as well.
Not wishing to be seen as resting on their laurels, during 1986 the 1.6 GTi was also upgraded, with peak power now quoted at 115bhp and keeping it ahead of the chasing pack. As with every car, whether with a GTi badge or not, the raw figures only tell half the story, after all, performance figures are bested each and every mid life refresh or revamp before the unveiling of the inevitable all new model a few years down the line. No, it’s how cars such as these make you feel when you’re behind the wheel, or even looking on from the outside as MotorMartin was all those years ago.
There has been much debate over the years amongst journalists and the car buying public regarding the two different 205 GTi derivatives with some preferring the peaky power delivery of the 1.6 litre and others favouring the increased torque of the 1.9, however the handling was the same with both. Not only was the 205 quick due to those amazing engines, but Peugeot had managed to engineer an extremely agile and communicative chassis. It was not for the unskilled and foolish as it’s super sharp chassis had an extremely tricky side to it if the driver didn’t treat it with enough respect. Indeed MotorMartin well remembers passing a number of GTis that had managed to send themselves and their passengers backwards through the hedges and fields of Essex in the heady summer days of 1989.
If one is wanted today, MotorMartin suggests you dig in and get ready for a long and tortuous journey. You need to be ready to travel as that prestine 1.9 that you’ve found could be based in Torquay or, just as likely, Glasgow. Unfortunately, geographical location is irrelevant if you want that perfect 205. Money, who knows, but what is guaranteed is that if you find the correct car, you’ll not only have a fantastic driving experience every time you get inside but you’ll never tire of that superb, classic styling. The Peugeot 205 GTi, a BlackTopMedia Classic.