The 205 was a game-changer for Peugeot back in 1983. But the lion really went from strength to strength a year later when the GTI was launched, initially with a 105bhp 1.6-litre engine. Doesn’t sound much now but it was a baby fireball back then, vying with the Golf Mk2 GTI and Renault 5 GT Turbo for status of hot hatch king. Suddenly yuppies everywhere wanted a Peugeot – and that was unheard of. The 205GTI had revolutionised the company’s previously boring image overnight.
It still has a cult following throughout Europe, with large numbers of enthusiasts enjoying these fun French hatchbacks. 205GTIs are legendary for their lively handling and strong power-to-weight ratios. In fact, that lightness is a double-edged sword: no modern equivalent is as wieldy, yet you might wish for a greater feeling of solidity. Overlook that and you’re getting all the fun of a sports car with practicality you can really live with.
Miles Horne of Hampshire-based Peugeot specialist PugRacing has been obsessed with 205s since he bought his first GTI in 1988, and has built up a business specialising in rebuilding road cars and preparing track and rally cars to an extremely high standard. ‘Gone are the days of finding a usable car for £250. Even tatty ones start from around £600 now, with nice examples likely to cost at least £2500.’
Post-1990 Phase 2 cars are generally the most desirable, and the easiest to find in top condition: £4000-4500 would get you into one of the best 1.9s out there; £3500 for a 1.6 in similar condition. The considerably rarer Phase 1s are rapidly becoming more collectable, but are on the whole worth slightly less with the exception of absolutely original examples. Offering the greatest value are the most common ’87-90 Phase 1.5 cars, which you could pick up for about £2500.
Whichever 205 you go for, condition has the biggest impact on price. It isn’t unusual to see fully restored cars with £6500-7000 price tags; original and truly exceptional 30,000-mile cars will push £8000 in extreme cases.
It’s also worth considering one of the many different special editions. The highly desirable Phase 1.5 Sorrento Green and Miami Blue GTIs from 1989 came with a full leather interior and power steering. More common Phase 2s are available in these colours, but they’re less well-specified and hence not as desirable.
The 205 remains hugely popular in tuning circles, with many people choosing to fit more modern and powerful 16-valve or turbocharged engines – well-known companies such as Gutmann and Turbo Technics sold fully built cars in the late ’80s, but there are also plenty of home-made conversions on the market. It’s advisable to give converted cars a wide berth unless the work has been carried out by a reputable specialist.
IN A NUTSHELL
Contrary to popular opinion, the 205 is not a badly made car. True, some of the interior plastics feel a little flimsy (especially on early cars), the body panels are paper-thin and cars can often look tired, but it’s generally well engineered. A well-maintained 205 will rarely cause headaches.
The all-aluminium XU engines are strong, but high-mileage or thrashed examples might show blue smoke on start-up and on overrun. In most cases that’s just worn valve stem seals. Finding one with a slightly tired gearbox is not uncommon, but the main thing to watch for is worn-out synchromesh on third and fourth gears. Miles reckons that any GTI should have had – or will need – a full engine/transmission overhaul by now. ‘Most 205s will have been driven hard, and they are all getting quite old now. It can be easy to spend over £1000 just renewing all the basics.’
If the rear end of the car is creaking, it probably needs a rear suspension rebuild. ‘There is no science to knowing when it will need a rebuild. I’ve seen 150,000-mile cars that are still perfect, and supposedly concours cars that were totally unserviceable.’ If a 205 is driven for long periods with damaged rear axle bearings, the beam will seize, which puts strain on the bodyshell. The entire beam will probably need to be replaced with a reconditioned unit. Pay up to £350 to renew the bearings, and £800 for a replacement beam.
You will struggle to find any 205 that hasn’t had some new paintwork. The original finish was never brilliant and many have faded, with lacquer peel commonplace. It is usually easy to spot a bad crash repair. Pay special attention to the front chassis legs and inner wings; rust in strange places often points to accident damage.
‘Corrosion is less of a problem than in many contemporary rivals, but the rot is really beginning to set in,’ says Miles. ‘Check the boot floor and suspension mounts, front inner wings, and the seam between the bulkhead and floorpan – easier said than done. The original factory underseal can hide a multitude of sins, so be careful.’
Another common area for corrosion is behind the fuel tank, as well as the rigid brake lines in the same area. ‘It’s amazing the state that you find these in; usually they’re the original pipes. They won’t be picked up on an MoT and I’ve seen them so bad that even a gentle prod has them crumbling.’
Whether you’re after a usable everyday classic, or something to cherish for years to come, there is a 205GTI out there for you. Top-condition cars are starting to fetch serious money and will probably stay strong, but there are plenty of good cars available for modest amounts.
Given regular servicing and proper mechanical maintenance, these cars are extremely reliable and a joy to drive. There are various different clubs, a healthy number of specialists and great parts availability from Peugeot so, with interest in 1980s classics surging, now is a great time to buy.