Shed has a pal in the spannering trade. Let’s call him Spud. In terms of mindset, Shed and Spud are very much alike. Neither of them has much time for politicians, smartphones or modern cars. They both enjoy hearty English food: none of your foreign muck.
Every now and then Shed invites Spud round for Sunday lunch. The two men usually have some sort of animal-based pie accompanied by various vegetables from the tuber family, all covered with a nice thick sheet of gravy. Mrs Shed of course has no interest in Shed’s meat and two veg and generally goes for a pig’s head, medium rare with extra wobble.
Once the food has been consumed, the men retire to their equivalent of the snooker room (Shed’s comfortably furnished workshop) where the Meerschaums come out and the conversation turns to cars. A favourite topic is ‘motors that should still be available to buy new in the showrooms’. Not that either of them would ever be seen dead in a new car showroom. It’s only a conversation though, innit.
Anyway, this week’s Shed – a Peugeot 306 XSi – has come up more than once in that particular strand of conversation. Referencing ‘Peugeot’s golden age’ in regards to chassis excellence may seem like a cliché to some, but clichés come about for a reason. In the case of the 306 XSi the cliché took root in its perfectly judged mix of very acceptable performance, sweet steering and almost mystically supple suspension. Unsurprisingly, this car also crops up in another regular Shed and Spud topic: ‘what car would you choose if you had to run away from the missis at high speed without attracting too much attention from the custodians of the law?’.
A car like this isn’t for everybody. Buying any mainstream European car that’s more than 20 years old might be seen as a leap too far. But there’s a lot of reassurance in the ad about rust (none) and mechanical tightness (plenty), and the great thing about cars this old is that it usually takes something pretty major to write them off. They’re not lumbered with the sort of electronic gizmos that, in Shed and Spud’s opinions, are part of a Bilderberg conspiracy to create a new world order by keeping the general population poor
This 1998 specimen is a phase 2 car with the new front-end visuals. Launched in that same year was the Rallye, a stripped-back, 65kg lighter, UK-only version of the GTI-6. Even tired and leggy examples of the GTI-6 will burst our £1,500 budget, and Rallyes are an order of cost above that. The first three ads on the cars for sale section of the GTI-6 + Rallye Owners Club website quote £2,700 for a 158,000-mile Rallye, £3,000 for a 100k GTI-6, and £2,700 for a stripped-out Rallye that hasn’t been on the road for a few years.
All of which makes this very clean and well looked after 77,000-mile XSi highly attractive at £1,400. What don’t you get in the XSi that you get in the GTI-6? Well, a six-speed gearbox, obviously. Although Shed refuses to quote weight differentials as you’ll find a thousand different figures depending on where you look, he is fairly sure that there is slightly more weight in an XSi, which in the crossed eyes of someone like Mrs Shed is actually a good thing. The GTI-6 wins on power, too: 163hp gave it a 0-62 of around 8.5sec, versus the 10-sec time dished up by the XSi’s 135hp or thereabouts.
You won’t worry about any of these shortcomings as you flow along Britain’s off-road tracks – sorry, A and B-roads – in your XSi at speeds of up to 125mph, enjoying your Willy Wonka Get Out Of Jail Free card, your cheaper insurance and your slightly better fuel consumption relative to the GTI-6. Though that last one is marginal, in all honesty. The XSi’s technical mpg advantage would easily be reversed if you thrashed it for not being a GTI-6, which is hardly the car’s fault.
If you do drive like that, you might have to reset any prejudices you may have about unreliable French motors because these 306s are known to take a beating. 306 clutches can get a bit heavy with age: the fix there is to wear heavier boots. The XSi’s lack of urge at higher speeds relative to the six-speed GTI-6, plus what feels like an immensely long second gear, are nicely compensated for by its low-speed flexibility (torque peaking at just 4,200rpm) that makes it a pleasure to drive even when you’re not in the mood.
The MOT doc runs to December and has advisories for a wiper blade (which you assume will have been done by now) along with some light wear to the offside front suspension. The belts on this one were done last year/6,000 miles ago, so you’re OK for another 44k. Coil packs blow and heater matrices burst: check the front carpets for dampness. Airbag warning lights do work, which along with the creaky interior can be annoying. The airbag thing is often underseat wiring that’s been stretched once too often by seat adjustment.
That front suspension advisory is worth looking at, if only to check the front springs as well because they are known to snap. Engine mounts can fail (listen for a clonk under sudden acceleration), as can rear brake compensators, leading to brake seizure. 306 body panels seem to be peculiarly vulnerable to shopping trolley attack. There are plenty of outfits like PugSpares around to service most if not all of your needs.
But for all this 306 XSi’s positive attributes, its brilliant driveability, the fact that it’s a three-door and the fact that they can be mended without recourse to the dealer network, Shed and his mate Spud are very much in. If you are too, you’d best act fast because there aren’t many XSis left, still fewer in this condition, and (Shed thinks) probably about one hitting the Shedman’s perfect sweet spot of condition and price. This one.