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Tuesday 29th March 2011

PH Heroes: Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

Brett Fraser revisits the humble hatch that turned him (briefly) into a hooligan



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.


Probably you don't agree about the Pug: you've got your own champ. Yet whether or not you believe it's top of the pile, it's hard to dispute the fact that the rumbustious little tearaway belongs right up there with the other pretenders to the crown. And in terms of defining a genre, it's every bit as significant as the original Golf GTI.

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.


The boggo 205 models were promptly hailed as mass-produced masterpieces, so when the 1.6-litre GTI rocked up in 1984, people were expecting it to be really good. In fact, it was brilliant. Boisterous, quick, responsive, light, agile and supple: it was a compelling combination. It looked the business and was the business. For both sheer driving pleasure and cross-country pace, the 205 GTI made not only many other hot hatches seem like dullards, but a good many 'sports cars', too.

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.


Back when the 1.9 GTI was new, I remember driving it around central London, forever in fear - especially at night when the road were a bit clearer - of having my licence prised from my perspiring palms. The 1.9 GTI had a speed lust that you simply couldn't deny it, whether it were away from traffic lights, exiting roundabouts, or along short straights. It was as if you'd been hypnotised and turned into a hooligan, or at the very least a central Paris commuter. It was a real headbanger, and while there's a fair degree of shame attached to the memories of my behaviour in the uproarious little Pug, at the same time I can't help but smile...

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.


The biggest problem, he tells me, is finding tidy examples that haven't been tampered with; such is the demand for original-spec cars, apparently, that some people are removing modifications and returning GTIs to standard.

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.


By modern standards the seats seem insubstantial, but at least they place you low to the floor, with the thin-rimmed steering wheel directly ahead. The engine sounds slightly tinny when you fire it up, echoey almost, and the idle is slightly lumpy, but then that's the way I remember the 205 when it was new; it never behaved with complete decorum. Age hasn't mellowed the 1.9 GTI. As we leave Johnny's driveway the Pug leaps off down the road after only the gentlest prod of the throttle, eager to get angry. A quick flick of the long-travel gearchange into a higher ratio doesn't quell its enthusiasm and all of a sudden we're travelling much, much faster than planned, history repeating itself, but fortunately this time on the open road.


Rather like in an Elise, you find yourself bonding with the GTI's controls and chassis. The low seating position keeps you directly in touch with the suspension's workings, which strangely these days seem far more compliant than they did when the car was new. The steering is fast and accurate and not at all nervy or twitchy. And thanks to modern tyre technology, the 205's notorious lift-off oversteer characteristic is very much subdued during regular driving - be silly and I'm sure you'd find it making a dramatic reappearance.

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...







brettfraser
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Author Discussion

sootyrumble

Original Poster:

295 posts

72 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Brilliant write up, i owned 3 of these and the pick of the bunch was an ex LAD motorsport Hill Climb car running 170bhp, it was a phonemonal piece of kit which my friend now owns and regularly embarresses much more expensive modern machinery. I still love seeing these cars bouncing along

PSBuckshot

4,891 posts

45 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
What a stunning example.
And it's good to see one not killed by chavs unlike all the Renault 5s.

Psimpson7

903 posts

127 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
One of my all time favourite cars. I have also had 3! They also get my vote for the best hot hatch ever

JimGTxx

265 posts

89 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Yup, I'd agree with you.

The Williams is a great car, but I don't think it is the best hot hatch ever.

For me, it is a VERY tough choice between a 205 GTI 1.9 and a Charade GTti.
Everytime you drive one, you get out with a grin, feeling like a champion.
Both capable and both BAGS of fun! Not very often do you find both in such abundance.
(other noteable mentions are 306 Rallye and Mk2 Golf 8v)

MrScrot

33 posts

48 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
I used to drive my dads 205 1.1 petrol mardi gras five door and I loved it. I still drive it sometimes loved the way it handled!

Now I've got (my second car) a 1.6 cti in grey which I'm slowly rebuilding. Great car though I bought it off a boy racer and the engines been ragged and the reliabilty therefore has been a bit naff, nothing money cant fix.

Maybe they should have a review on cti's I cant find one anywhere see how it compares to hardtop gti I've never driven...yet.

Still get loads of admiring looks, get thumbs up from guys in skylines and stuff, and lots of jealous looks from people driving volkswagon go... actually I'm not going to start that arguement lol
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Smike

10,447 posts

89 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
JimGTxx said:
Yup, I'd agree with you.

The Williams is a great car, but I don't think it is the best hot hatch ever.
I'm with you two, I'd take the 1.9 205 Gti or more likely the 309 version over the Williams

DR10

483 posts

60 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Spent a lot of time in an Mi16 converted GTI. Bloody good fun.

y2blade

54,388 posts

101 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
cloud9

thehardman07

106 posts

67 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Nice write up.

Only experience I've had with one of these was whan came in as a part ex in the garage I used to work at. Being 20 at the time and having read all the hype, I decided to take it for a quick blast.

Although it was quite a rough example (near slicks!), the steering was a revelation and the power seemingly just kept coming. I can only imagine what a properly sorted one like the example in the article would drive like.


Always preferred the clio 16v mind, 7bhp more see (which is very important when your dad owns one and your arguing which is best in the school playground!)


gforceg

1,687 posts

65 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
It speaks volumes about how well proportioned and dainty the car is that 15 inch alloys look so big and chunky. Great cars.

sootyrumble

Original Poster:

295 posts

72 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
thehardman07 said:
Nice write up.

Only experience I've had with one of these was whan came in as a part ex in the garage I used to work at. Being 20 at the time and having read all the hype, I decided to take it for a quick blast.

Although it was quite a rough example (near slicks!), the steering was a revelation and the power seemingly just kept coming. I can only imagine what a properly sorted one like the example in the article would drive like.


Always preferred the clio 16v mind, 7bhp more see (which is very important when your dad owns one and your arguing which is best in the school playground!)
The clio weighed in at 980kg though while the 205 gti was 875kg therefor had an extra 9bhp/tonne :-)but to me the engine allways felt hugely torquey any gear it would just pull away with an enthusiasm rarely seen. I know 16v engines produce more bhp and are cleaner but i have allways found 8v's feel like they have more low down torque

DannyVTS

5,324 posts

54 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Can we have any of these pictures as wallpapers?

bob1179

13,735 posts

95 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
I was always a Pug fan. The 205 GTi is still a wonderful little car.

Lovely write up there.

smile

Gruber

5,170 posts

100 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
They just look so "right" don't they?

Definitely on my ever-growing list of cars to own one day.

Fetchez la vache

4,424 posts

100 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Nothing but fond memories of mine, well, that and flimsiness as stated in the article smile

Also remember almost being run over by it when walking to the garage to pick it up after a service, and one of the mechanics was enjoying the road test a little too much...

clorenzen

2,211 posts

121 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Great write up. I had 3 as well. The two first ones were 1.6 and then 1.9 - all white because you could only get them i 3 colours: white,black and red if I remember correctly. Actually the 1.6 was the better drive. More responsive and slightly lighter. The 1.9 had the nicer wheels and was better for long distance. Mine ended its life when a mad lady in Rue du Dragon in Paris threw an armchair out of her 5th floor window which went straight through the large sliding sunroof of my car parked underneath and bent the car through the impact - what a way to go.

shibby!

711 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
Loved these cars.

I had 2.


I had a 1991 1.9 and a 1984 1.6.

1.9 in my opinion was FAR better. I loved that car.... it unfortunatly met with a bridge. Ooops! totally my fault for driving like a tt.

But the car was awsome. Quick in a straight line and the cornering was also fantastic! i have yet to drive something that was THAT good. Chances are im probably just dreaming it was THAT good.

Regardless, i would buy another one! Esp as a shed to dive around in.

hotrod scott

1,308 posts

86 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
To me the 205 GTI 1.9 is still the greatest hot hatch of all time and at 880kg i can't see how it can be bettered by heavy modern cars!

The throttle response, brakes, non assisted steering, gearchange just absoulutely brilliant! cloud9

Hub

2,751 posts

84 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
One of my favourite cars. My first 'hooning' was done as a 17 year old in a 205 1.1 4 speed, so I always lusted after the GTI... never driven one though sadly!

TomTVR500

219 posts

47 months

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Tuesday 29th March 2011 quote quote all
AMAZING! I may have to move onto one of these. If i sold my current run about they would be in budget and i have read so many reviews over the years almost worshiping this car and my dad still maintains its the best car he has owned from a pure fun point of view. I think i would be mad not to buy one.
The only slight issue i have is, compared to modern cars they are very small and fragile so in the very unfortunate event of a bump im not sure i would come out of it very well.
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