The launch of the Peugeot 205 supermini in 1983 changed perception of the company and saved its fortunes; but it was the Peugeot 205 GTi version of 1984 that captured international hearts as the most popular hot hatch of its day.
Small, perky but unassuming, four-square, with a wheel at each corner (squeezing extra space inside), the 205 GTi came in 1.6 litre and 1.9 litre versions. The combination of light weight, taut chassis, raw power and tight steering made it a byword for nimble flitting — with the proviso that with no electronic driver aids, you had to learn to contain its tendency to oversteer on high-speed cornering. Mastery of the 205 GTi’s ‘personality’ became a point of honour among its many devotees (eventually, the car became difficult to insure because it was targeted by joy riders out to win their spurs).
The 205 GTi’s lightweight character came at the expense of safety features. It was a crumple zone. As safety issues became laws, the car’s weight increased, and its top dog status was ended completely by the catalytic converter. Even so, its enormous success during its production led to many special editions and specialist versions like the stripped-down GTi Rallye; and many survive to demonstrate how exhilarating it is to be truly in control of a well-made mini-rocket.
There are, obviously, much more powerful hot hatches now, but few have ever matched the sensation of becoming one with the vehicle, that has been the defining judgement on the 205 GTi. It’s why so many owners report having fallen in love with their car; and why there is still a strong market for them. The Peugeot 205 GTi is the definitive hot hatch of the pre-computer age — the best of the real thing.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1984 (until 1994)
1,580 cc or 1,905 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The most bizarre special edition was the Peugeot 205 GTi 1 FM series of just 25 cars, made in 1992 for the 25th birthday of BBC Radio 1 in the UK. Each car had every extra available, and was individually numbered with a brass plaque. They were all black, with dark grey wheels, black leather interior, and a special acoustic rear shelf designed for the car by Clarion. Radio 1 ran an on-air competition to win one.