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 205 GTI 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.
Which one to buy?
The good news is that the 205 GTI enjoys a pretty high survival rate, meaning that there is still a great selection of cars available at any one time. Post-1990 Phase 2 cars (black interior and exterior trim, and smoked rear lights) are generally the most desirable, and the easiest to find in top condition. Post-1993 models were fitted with a catalytic converter, which slightly blunted performance.
The considerably rarer Phase 1s are rapidly becoming more collectable, but are on the whole worth slightly less with the exception of absolutely original and low-mileage examples. Offering the greatest value are the most common ’87-90 Phase 1.5 cars. Most GTIs are fitted with a factory sunroof, meaning that non-sunroof cars do carry a premium.
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, or you know exactly what you are looking for.
Although we’re not covering them in detail here, there are also other performance variants of the 205 that are well worth seeking out. The 205 XS uses the 1360cc 85bhp TU engine, and is a whole lot lighter than the GTI, offering a surprisingly fun driving experience. The later UK-market Rallye was also similar in concept to this model, although fitted with a lower-powered 75bhp engine.
It’s the left-hand drive European-market Rallye (fitted with wider arch spats and white steel wheels) that is more highly coveted than the GTI today. This was a stripped-out hardcore road car, built to be eligible for under 1300cc rallying. Featuring a 1294cc version of the smaller 1.1-litre TU engine, the addition of twin Weber carbs pushed power to just over 100bhp, which endowed the 790kg 205 surprising performance.
Although no automatic GTI was ever produced (other than a handful of special order vehicles) there was a limited run of 1.9-litre automatic Gentry models, offered with a high spec. Although featuring the GTI’s body styling, this was more of a luxury-orientated car, lacking the sports suspension of the GTI.
Performance and specs
Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9
Engine 1905cc, four-cylinder
Power 130bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 119lb ft @ 4750rpm
Top speed 123mph
Fuel consumption 28.1mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 875 kg
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. Here is what you need to look out for:
• 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.
• Any GTI should have had – or will need – a full engine/transmission restoration by now. Most 205s will have been driven hard, so budget around £1000 to renew all the basics.
• If the rear end of the car is creaking, it probably needs a rear suspension rebuild. There’s no science to knowing when it will need a rebuild. 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’s 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. Check the boot floor and suspension mounts, front inner wings, and the seam between the bulkhead and floorpan – which is easier said than done. The original factory underseal can hide a multitude of sins too, 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.
February 1983: Peugeot 205 range launched in France.
April 1984: 105bhp 205GTI 1.6 goes on sale in the UK.
February 1985: Minor spec changes to the GTI, including softer suspension after complaints of an overly hard ride on early cars.
April 1986: Power increased to 115bhp with an uprated cylinder head and camshaft.
June 1986: Convertible 1.6CTI launched; styled and partly built by Pininfarina.
December 1986: 130bhp 1.9 GTI launched, featuring the 1905cc XU9 engine with the same Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection as the 1.6. Fitted with all-round disc brakes, half-leather interior and electric windows as standard.
September 1987: Phase 1.5 introduced, featuring a more modern dashboard, three-spoke steering wheel, higher-quality plastics and different seat patterns. All Peugeots including the 205 are now fully galvanised.
August 1989: Another minor update, with new BE3 gearbox, slightly larger two-piece exhaust, and power steering made available as an option.
September 1990: GTI receives a minor cosmetic facelift, with clear indicator lenses and smoked rear lamp units, black dashboard and trim, as well as the option of Bendix ABS. CTI receives an electric hood.
September 1992: Production of the 1.6 ends.
October 1992: 1.9 gets the 122bhp catalyst engine.
April 1994: Production of the 1.9 GTI and CTI ceases.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Whether you’re after a usable everyday classic, or something to cherish for years to come, there is a 205 GTI 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 reasonable parts availability, so with interest in 1980s classics surging, now is a great time to buy.
Gone are the days of finding a usable car for £500 though. Even tatty ones start from around £1000 now, with nice examples likely to cost at least £2500. £6000-7000 would get you into one of the best 1.9s out there; £4500 for a 1.6 in similar condition.