“Don’t judge a book by its cover”…

If there’s one thing this old and wise saying describes accurately, it is the experience of driving one of the world’s finest front wheel drive cars; the one and only Peugeot 205. Don’t let the small, not so aerodynamic looking vehicle fool you; it is capable of outperforming more modern and muscular vehicles of the same class.

The French automotive brand ‘King of the Jungle’ aka Peugeot, might not associate with the craziest sports cars nowadays, but you know what, it wasn’t like that…

There used to be days where the French automotive builder was dominating motorsport with crazy machines like the 306 Maxi and the Group B T16, as well as the streets with the likes of the 205 GTI.

The 80’s were a great era for the motoring industry; the concept of a lightweight body and smaller engine was adopted by a lot of manufacturers. This resulted in many successful models like the VW Golf GTI, Renault Clio Williams, Vauxhall Nova etc. All of these cars made their imprint into motoring history. It was the birth of the modern sports hatchback.

It did go downhill from there however; the vehicles became bigger, fatter and most disappointingly less fun. And yes, whilst the modern hatchback are now faster, it is not the same; hence the high demand for the proper classics currently. Whilst I have driven a lot of cars, there are very few that leave me speechless; this small French box was one of them. I got the keys to Paul’s Peugeot 205 CTI and was told to take it for a drive and so I did – over some of the finest back roads Northern Ireland has to offer. Having never driven a 205 I was blown away.

The 205 was a car that managed to turn over the fortunes of the French manufacturer. Having produced nothing but very un-adventurous heavyweights for a long time the 205 introduced fun back to the brand. The Peugeot 205 was launched in 1983 and sold until 1998, and within that time managed to snatch a few trophies, including “Car of the Year”. Thanks to the close heritage of motorsport the car had unbelievable road presence – feeding back great information from the road via steering and brakes. This car was so successful it was compared to the mighty Cooper S.

The CTI version of the 205 was launched in 1985 and produced until 1992 and was offered in 2 engines -1580 cc and the glorious 1905 cc, as found in the GTI version. Paul opted obviously for the latter one.

The CTI version of the Peugeot 205 comes equipped with an electric folding roof allowing you to enjoy the roads topless when you feel like it. It takes less than 2 minutes to convert this car into a convertible. And even though a lot of ‘purists’ will try to argue the GTI is better, and convertibles lose performance, I am sorry I beg to differ. If you drive a 180mph+ supercar on track maybe, not a CTI on British backroads. If there was one hatchback that deserved to be a convertible it was this one. And you know what, looking at statistics, the CTI may have lost half a second on the 0-60 run, but gained 3mph on the top speed, so it’s not all bad with the performance differences. For being a classic car, unlike some cabriolet versions (even modern ones) the noise level is minimal and there are no rattles or noises. I even forgot I was driving one.

The styling of the 205 CTI model was done by the highly respectable Italian Pinifarina coachbuilders (Same company that also has design a lot of Ferraris and Alfa Romeos). The collaboration between the two companies, dates as far back as 1955. Peugeot sent their bare shells to the Italian company, where they chopped off the roof, added extra strengthening to the chassis (adding extra 100kg to the total weight of the car) yet retaining the rest of the glorious 205 look. Less really is more.

The 205 is a pure 80’s child; the classic square and simple body panels, square headlights and foldable mirrors, it’s all there. The exterior styling was never face lifted or significantly altered in its 15-year production run as it looked awesome as it is. In late 1990 the 205 received new door design and cards, clear front indicators, new ‘smoked’ rear light clusters and some small mechanical changes, but that’s it. It was never going to win the best looks awards, but it never had to. People loved it anyway.

Paul was clear on his intentions of his 205 – keep it clean, OEM and beautiful. Only small mods where required and one of them was to source one of the finest OEM wheels on the market – the Peugeot Nimrod. The wheels are dressed in nothing but the best – Toyo Proxies that keep the car on the road at any speed.

The interior of the 205 was probably the biggest letdown according to a lot of motoring journalists; the cheap interior fabric choice along the boat sized steering wheel was criticized most, but to be honest the 80’s were never the fashion years. To me the interior seemed perfect – the driving position was ideal, as was the feel of the steering wheel and pedals and gear stick. Was there supposed to be anything else in this thing?

Yeah, the proper metal ignition key was a great trip down the memory lane. And most importantly – the interior lets in that glorious smell of burning tires, fuel and oil that any classic car should do. I loved it. And how can one not love the rev gauge that shakes like a leaf from the fear of not being held high enough.

The CTI model received electric windows and central locking which was pretty impressive for a car of this age. And the most important joke of them all involving “French electrics” won’t fly here – everything works the same as it did, when the car left the factory.

Now to the glorious part. Paul’s CTI came equipped with the naturally aspirated 1.9 litre capacity engine, same as the GTI model. This unit features single overhead camshaft, 4 cylinder layout; it produces 105 bhp of power, and maximum torque of 140 Nm. The car weighs less than a ton, so the performance figures are impressive. It takes less than 9.5 seconds to run up to the speed limit and it can break it by 58mph (118mph). And whilst it might not look amazing now, back then it was an outstanding performance. But don’t be fooled by numbers, this car can go flat out on any road and stay on it, as long as you have the skill to do it.

The engine is linked to a beautiful 5 speed manual gearbox that delivers the power to the front wheels. The gear ratios are amazing and not once did I feel the need to downshift when throwing the car into a corner. This car is an engineering masterpiece and it was majestic driving experience.

If you ever get a chance to drive one, please do. There are very few cars that will make you smile and make you want one. This one will do it for all of you – I guarantee it. This was the day I fell in love in driving a car again.
 
Words & Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
 

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