Every so often the main motoring mags run a 'Best Hot Hatch Ever' feature. Almost inevitably the Renault Clio Williams wins. Now, it may be heresy to say it aloud, but I'm not convinced by that verdict; my vote goes to the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9. Which explains why I once owned one (bought from Vicky Butler-Henderson's dad) and never a Renault, great though many of the hot Clios have been.
Quite apart from the fact that it had extraordinary dynamic intensity, what marked out the 205 GTI as a special achievement was that it came from Peugeot. Sure, the French company had produced some fine, dependable machines prior to the 205 range's arrival in 1983 and had enjoyed enviable success on some of the world's toughest endurance rallies; but historically there was nothing in the line-up to really set your trousers alight. And then, out of the sacré bleu, the gorgeous-looking 205 rolls up, accompanied at launch by the mid-engined turbocharged T16 homologation special, in a vivid example of extreme rebranding.
At the end of 1986, along came the 1.9-litre GTI. The bigger engine capacity brought with it more power - 130bhp to the 1.6's 105bhp (and later, 115bhp) - and more torque, thanks to a longer stroke. There were some initial comments about the torquier motor making the driving experience less intense and frenetic, because you didn't have to rev it so hard: that's another school of thought I don't subscribe to.
Johnny Stokes, who runs Harleston Motor Company (07546 007007) and has lent us the 1.9 GTI pictured here (for sale, £3995), is another bloke with a big grin when the subject turns to the 205. Seemingly more by default than design, he's ended up specialising in quick Pugs (although he does sell all manner of other interesting machinery) and is especially fond of 205 GTIs.
Peering at Johnny's car, gleaming in the spring sunshine, it's hard to imagine why you'd want to mess with it. The 205's proportions are spot-on, its GTI addenda modest yet suitably effective, and its signature telephone dial 15in alloys perfectly suited. The car's compact, too, in a way that modern safety regs no longer allow.
Ping open the flimsy door using the flimsy plastic lever, and its thinness and lightness betray its lack of side impact protection and airbags - the 205 GTI weighs in at about 880kg and these dainty doors contribute to its svelteness. In fact, just about everything in the cabin does; almost nothing in here feels robust. And while there are electric windows, the door mirrors are manual items, helping keep weight (and cost) down.
Some old cars feel precisely that - old. Not the Pug. It remains an invigorating drive. A talented drive. A drive you'd put ahead of many hot hatches - sure, modern cars are burdened by safety requirements and economy and emissions issues, but let's not forget they've also had the benefit of more than two decades of engineering advancements and electronics development. That the 205 GTI isn't outclassed by modern metal - is in fact more enjoyable - simply cements its status as a PistonHeads Hero.
If there's a drawback to driving Johnny's GTI it's that it's put me in the mind for ownership - PistonHeads classifieds, here I come. Again...