Prior to this Gallic giant’s appearance on the world stage, Volkswagen ruled the roost with its Golf GTi and it seemed nothing would match its sublime mixture of practicality and sporting prowess. However, when the 205GTi first stepped out of the Peugeot factory, Germany and France were once again engaged in a ruthless and bloody war that would upend the status quo; only this time instead of being fought in the fields of Belgium or the Ruhr Valley it was taken straight to the rally stage.
When you consider the boring and often times ill-conceived family cars that Peugeot kicks out today, you’d have never expected that they were the same company that gave us some of the most amazing sports saloons and hot hatchbacks in automotive history. Cars such as the 405Mi16 and the 505 Turbo V6 were equal to and sometimes even outdid the likes of BMW and Audi when it came to precision built machines that were so powerful they could tear holes in the space-time continuum.
However, the true pinnacle of Peugeot’s creation in this excellent period of automotive innovation was this; the Peugeot 205GTi. Volkswagen’s place as king of the hill was truly challenged when this machine went into production way back in 1983, a hot hatchback that presented its owner with power, handling, performance and styling the likes of which had never been seen before. On a winding road, the 205GTi could probably thrash the world’s fastest sports cars with its incredible grip and brilliant suspension; exactly why this car was perfect for the Group B rally stage.
The Group B rally series was among the most extreme sporting events in the calendar, where thousands would come out to muddy fields, snowy mountains and baking hot deserts to witness an all out brawl; a battle royale the likes of which had never been seen before and probably never will again. The Peugeot 205GTi, in its T16 configuration, whipped the stripes off every other car which was present at the time, leaving its rivals scrambling to outdo its unbeatable success. Audi rocked up with the mighty Quattro while Lancia strode onto the battlefield with the 037. Even we Brits wanted in on this action with a heavily modified MG Metro. The essential arms race started by the 205GTi escalated until eventually it reached its devastating climax with the Ford RS200, a brilliant but undeniably flawed machine that wrought fatal consequences and would eventually see the end of Group B rallying altogether.
Regardless, even with the end of Group B rallying the 205GTi was still a car of choice for those who wanted a cheap but incredibly powerful set of wheels parked on their driveway. Even in its regular family configuration, the Peugeot 205 was a practical and able machine, though its standard 1.1L engine and poor safety record meant it wasn’t exactly what most people wanted. If you wanted a 205, you had to get the champion; the lord of the manor, God on high!
So, is the 205GTi worth the money today?
One word; yes.
The 205GTi is perhaps the very definition of a timeless car. As a hot hatchback it’s performance is comparable to modern day hot hatches; even with their incredibly complex traction control and improved anti-lock braking systems. 0-60 comes in 7.8 seconds and the car will happily go on to a top speed of 124mph; which is quick even by today’s standards.
Such was the popularity of this car that there are still thousands on the roads of Britain and Europe even to this day, the GTi’s having a far greater survival rate than the regular 205. The simple mechanics of the 205GTi, combined with a dedicated fanbase, means that getting advice, finding spares and repairing the car are simple and inexpensive tasks to accomplish. Cheaper still is the price of buying a used 205GTi, mint condition models going for anywhere between £7,000 and £12,000; making it a perfect alternative to a modern equivalent.
However, we cannot forget that the 205 in all its incarnations is still an old car; so problems will be present and pervasive.
Perhaps the most prominent problem with the 205, inherent to all its aspects, is the safety. The car’s dogged determination to be lightweight in order to increase its performance means the car crumples spectacularly in crash. This was demonstrated during the 1980’s and 90’s when yobbos would steal these unfortunate machines and go for joyrides; usually resulting in a simply hideous accident wherein the occupants of the 205 would come out much worse for wear!
Aside from that, the design effort behind the 205 was nothing if not perfect, with its mechanical features, its practicality and its performance requiring no major amendments throughout its production history. However, the youngest 205’s were built in 1994 and thus most of these parts are knocking on the door of 25 years old. These issues can be alleviated with simple care and attention, but this is something not every owner is willing to give.
The biggest bugbear when it comes to buying second-hand 205’s is abusive or neglectful owners; especially on the 205GTi.
As a hot hatchback, most 205GTi’s have been worked into the ground; driven to the ragged edge and thus are barely held together. Check for deteriorating alloy wheels, clutch wear, worn rear shock absorbers and scored brake discs. Cars that have not been properly serviced with the approved solution and make of anti-freeze may have suffered corrosion damage to the engine which will be pricey to put right. Check exhaust emissions for blue smoke which may indicate engine wear. Knocking noises are a sign of camshaft wear on higher mileage examples. Bear in mind too that some earlier small engine models had their gearbox located in the sump, as was the case with the Mini, where it was difficult and costly to repair.
The cheap cost of maintaining and running the 205 means that many continue to exist but without fundamental or comparatively expensive maintenance requirements being performed; namely rustproofing. The 205 was once famous for the fact that it barely rusted, so finding an example which has pervasive rust and is still in regular use is certainly an achievement on the part of its owner. The most prominent area for rust is around the window seals, but also chassis and axles.
Apart from that, the 205 is a flawless machine that is loved for a good reason. When one considers the spectacular cars Peugeot put out in the 1980’s and the horrendous rubbish they see fit to release today, it’s small wonder the 205, especially the GTi, is considered the ultimate classic hot hatchback. The car was, essentially, a future-proofed machine, it knew what it wanted to be and where it planned to go.
I like to imagine that those who designed this car imagined the longevity of individual units; where would they be in 30 years time? As it so happens, many continue to roam the roads in everyday use, a clear sign of how resilient and practical these machines are.
- Comfort – 6/10 – Sports suspension can make rough roads rough going
- Practicality – 10/10 – Completely predicated on the concept
- Reliability – 7/10 – Peugeot reliability has been a touch hit and miss in the past
- Speed – 10/10 – It won the Group B Rally Championship multiple times
- Handling – 10/10 – It won the Group B Rally Championship multiple times
- Looks – 10/10 – Filled to the brim with Gallic panache!
- Equipment – 6/10 – Fairly underequipped for what it is, then again it was based off a rather humdrum family hatchback
- Price – 10/10 – There are probably several 205GTi’s within one mile of your current position, all of which won’t break the bank!
- Value – 4/10 – The market is fully saturated, and it’ll probably be a while before the 205GTi sees the true appreciation it deserves
- Total – 73/90 – A Champion machine for a very good reason.