It’s hard to talk about the Peugeot 205 GTI without drowning in superlatives, throwing around phrases like ‘the original hot hatch’, ‘iconic’, ‘lift-off oversteer’ and what-have-you. But the bluster is all firmly grounded in reality – the reason people huff and puff with such fervour is that it genuinely is a brilliant little car.
Sure, by modern standards it feels a little, err… flimsy (in fact, even in period it felt a little flimsy – gently push the wafer-thin body panels with your palm, gasp at how astoundingly yielding they are), but those very same modern standards are what lend the performance its crisp edge. 130bhp may not sound all that impressive today, but the thing only weighs 875kg. The GTi accelerates with absurd enthusiasm, handles like a cliché on rails, and plasters a broad grin over your face even if you’re just nipping to the shops for a pint of milk.
There are two fundamental variants of the GTi – the 1.6 and the 1.9 – and debate continues to rage over which is superior. The original 1.6-litre car offered 115bhp, had drum brakes on the rear, and wore ugly-duckling 14-inch pepperpot alloys, whereas the brawnier 1.9-litre had a handful more power, discs all round, and slinky 15-inch Speedlines… but power isn’t everything, wheels can be swapped, and you don’t necessarily need mighty brakes in something that weighs as much as a well-stacked shopping trolley.
Naturally, being an ‘Eighties Peugeot, there are certain elements of the car that won’t fill you with joy on a daily basis. The half-leather seats on the 1.9 really do push the boundaries of what can comfortably be defined as ‘leather’; the subject of myriad warranty claims in the ’Eighties and ’Nineties, nowadays they’ll most likely be cracked and shrunken with huge gaps between the stitching. The dash will be annoyingly rattly, the seat frames might wobble about a bit, the lift-to-reverse spring on the gearstick may ping out unexpectedly… but none of that will matter to you one single iota, as owning a Peugeot 205 GTi is something that everybody should do at some point in their lives.
Easing open that featherweight door, drinking in the majesty of the scarlet carpets, gripping the tiny steering wheel, then hanging on for dear life as the mobile tail wags you about the place – it really is a spectacular adventure.
• The suspension is key to the GTi’s character, and has to be tip-top. The rear beam in particular is a trouble spot: Look at the car from behind – if the rear wheels look excessively negatively cambered, it’ll be due a rebuild.
• Knocking from the front suspension is common, and usually not too troubling – it’s probably either worn wishbone bushes or anti-roll bar drop-links.
• 205s don’t tend to rust too badly, but check the base of the B-pillar, boot floor and front wings for rot. The front panel may be crumbly too.
• Don’t be too concerned about engines hunting for revs at idle, and don’t be surprised if the speedo needle bounces around a lot while you’re driving! They all do that, it’s character.
Peugeot 205 GTi – from £1750 (condition 3) to £1000 (condition 1)