Kim Henson takes a close look at another ‘modern classic’ launched since the Western Group of Motoring Writers was established.
With three fascinating decades of our Group now having flown by, in my series of 12 features labelled ‘Back to the Future Classics’, and appearing on our website through 2013, I am looking back at a selection of models seen as especially important.
Together, the vehicles I’ve chosen show how times have changed across the motor industry during the last 30 years, and, I feel, represent “12 of the most significant future classics launched in that time”. So put on your nostalgic spectacles again, and cast your mind back to the spring of 1984…
Peugeot’s new ‘baby’, the 205, was launched in Britain in the autumn of 1983, and some Western Group members (yes, including me) can vividly recall the launch, in western Ireland, of that vital new model – and how impressive it was at the time.
However, when the range was introduced, the ‘hottest’ variant was the GT. In truth, with a 1360cc petrol engine developing 80 bhp, it was mildly warm, rather than hot. (Note: The 60 bhp 1.8 litre diesel-powered 205, with bags of low speed torque, was also well thought-of by motoring writers).
Fast-forward to the spring of 1984 – and, at a time when ‘hot hatches’ were all the rage, motoring scribes were buzzing with the news that the overtly sporty 205 GTi had landed on British shores.
The welcome newcomer was offered only in three door dorm, and was powered by a transversely-mounted, wet liner aluminium 1.6 litre ‘XU’ type engine – as also used in contemporary 309s, 405s and other 205 variants. For the GTi this unit was fed by a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system, helping to produce an output of 105 bhp, and endowing very willing performance.
Running gear highlights included a twin circuit, all-disc brake system (with ventilated discs at the front), strut type front suspension, plus a torsion beam suspension arrangement at the rear. The GTi’s was notable for its pin-sharp handling.
Standard equipment included aluminium alloy sports wheels (shod with Michelin 60 Series low profile tyres), a front airdam incorporating built-in driving lamps, and ‘wrap-around’ sports front seats. Tinted glass, remote control door mirrors, comprehensive instrumentation and a 50/50 divided rear seat were further factory-fitted GTi features.
The car was also fitted with a five speed gearbox, and although this did help to provide fairly relaxing cruising at high road speeds, the gearchange quality was not one of the best of its time, feeling ‘rubbery’ and somewhat imprecise in action, even when the cars were new.
While we’re talking negatives, leg room for rear seat occupants was never generous, and, with four people aboard, nor was luggage accommodation. All the same, in most respects the car remains a practical proposition for everyday use, if desired.
The performance figures may seem tame by comparison with today’s sporting machinery, but in 1984, a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of 9.5 seconds, plus a top speed of 118 mph, were regarded as very good.
These figures were reinforced by excellent on-the move acceleration times too. According to figures I obtained when road-testing this model in the 1980s, an increase in road speed of 20 mph, in third gear and starting at any speed between 20 and 50 mph, took just five seconds. That was, and remains, exhilarating.
Quite simply, this car was fun to drive!
Buyers agreed, and loved the GTi; by the late 1980s the model represented one fifth of all 205s sold.
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME
Power output was upped by approximately 10 per cent in 1986 (courtesy of larger valves, plus cylinder had and camshaft modifications).
At the same time a new CTi Cabriolet version was launched. This model was designed, assembled, finished and painted by Pininfarina, and featured a strengthened body shell, a fully insulated folding hood, and winding, frameless side windows.
Buyers seeking greater performance were rewarded by the arrival, in December 1986, of the 130 bhp, 1.9 litre GTi (although the 1.6 litre variant continued to be offered until August 1992).
This potent new version was even more enjoyable to drive, with over 90 per cent of its maximum torque of 122 lb.ft. being available throughout more than 68 per cent of the engine’s speed range. From a standstill, 60 mph could be reached in under eight seconds, and the top speed was over 125 mph.
Compared with the 1.6 litre GTi, the 1.9 litre model had a higher ratio first gear and higher overall gearing. It also featured an oil cooler, a twin tone air horn, electrically operated front windows, central locking, a quad speaker stereo system, leather/velour interior trim and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
This car represented the state of the art in sports hatchbacks of the mid-1980s, and begged to be driven… I well remember undertaking a very happy 200 mile round trip in a press test car, when the model was new.
Helping to celebrate a quarter of a century of BBC Radio One was the ‘1FM’ special edition of the 205 GTi. This was introduced in October 1992, complete with a high quality audio system, an electrically operated sun roof, air conditioning, remote control central locking and an anti-theft system.
After a decade of providing fun for Peugeot buyers, the 205 GTi was discontinued in January 1994.
With their unique, distinctive styling, willing performance and positive handling, surviving examples are revered as modern classics, and are still fun to drive. Indeed, nearly 30 years after their introduction, 205 GTis are appealing to new generations of motoring enthusiasts.
Running costs are reasonably low, with typical fuel consumption being between 30 and 48 miles per gallon (depending on use).
Any GTi requires close scrutiny when viewing with a view to buying. In addition to possible structural bodywork deterioration due to age, consistently hard use and neglect are often-encountered enemies of the 205 GTi.
It’s worth noting that the engine’s phosphor bronze valve guides can wear severely in 40,000 miles or less (resulting in blue oil smoke from the exhaust).
It is crucially important that the cam (timing) belt is renewed at least every 48,000 miles; if the belt should break, the valves will say ‘hello’ to the pistons and you will be saying ‘goodbye’ to much cash in order to rebuild the engine… Changing the belt will typically take half a day; the belt is very close to the adjacent ‘wall’ of the engine bay.
Other routine maintenance is not too difficult, although, again, restricted access is a hindrance.
Brilliant! An iconic, very likeable hot hatch, and a true classic. Just the thought of another drive in a 205 GTi brings a smile to my face…
© Kim Henson Images sourced thanks to Virtual Motorpix