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Peugeot 205 GTI: Cult Heroes

It may be thirty years old, but the love for the 205 GTI doesn't look set to diminish any time soon.

Spare a thought for the engineers at Peugeot Sport. While developing the latest crop of performance cars must be an exciting and rewarding task, a thirty-year old cloud looms over every new model it produces.

Though the firm has really hit form with the latest 208 GTI, it, and each lukewarm attempt before, is compared to the iconic 205 GTI to the point of nausea. The reason for the endless comparisons is an honest one: we'd all love Peugeot to produce a car as nigh-on perfect as the 205 was when the first deliveries started in 1984. So what is it that makes the original so desirable?

Of course, a little motorsport pedigree goes a long way towards creating a desirable classic, and winning consecutive World Rally Championship titles with the T16 Group B monster did its reputation no harm at all. Simply attributing only those links to its success would be doing it a disservice though - there is so much more to appreciate.

Even before a wheel is turned in anger, it was off to a great start. Entry-level versions of the 205 are pretty, well-proportioned cars, but the addition of deeper valances, wider sills, larger alloy wheels and red pin stripe (a must-have accessory for any true eighties sports car) help it nail the subtle aggression which has become typical of all the best descendants since.

Its insides received similar perk-up, too. Depending on the exterior colour, bright red carpets covered the floor, while sports seats - trimmed in part leather in 1.9 versions and fabric for the 1.6 - give driver and front passenger plenty of support. The changes were rounded off with a gear knob with flashes of red trim and a three spoke steering wheel with ‘GTI’ stencilled centrally in red lettering.

So it looked the part, but in order to compete with the already well-established Volkswagen Golf GTI, it needed talent, too. The launch model's 1.6-litre four cylinder was fiery and eager to deliver its full 113hp in a dramatic flare of revs. The added displacement of the 1.9 came courtesy of a longer stroke, bumping power up from 113 to 130hp, and knocking one second from the 0-60mph time.

Driven back-to-back, the 1.6 reveals itself to be the more willing unit at the top end, though the 1.9's combination of slightly longer gearing and extra torque (119lb ft versus 99lb ft) makes it a little more cooperative in everyday driving.

The straight line performance isn't the highlight though. To this day, few cars feel as agile and as talkative through the bends. The steering is sharp and tingling with feel, with or without power assistance (a tiny degree of communication is lost with the former, but some drivers prefer its quicker rack and lighter weight). It's fearsome reputation at launch for lift-off oversteer isn’t really the case anymore - at least in the dry. Modern tyre compounds have reduced the back end's desire to overtake the front due to subtlest of mid-corner lifts, but it's still hugely playful and adjustable.

The throttle is telepathically responsive and is perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifts, and like the brake pedal it has no built-in sneeze room, demanding smooth inputs. The gearshift is light but with a wonderful mechanical feel as it clicks its way through each ratio. There really isn't a weak aspect to the driving experience, so you can hop in and just enjoy yourself.

And yes, it is possible to drive one daily if you really wanted to. While the term 'NVH' wasn’t part of Peugeot’s vocabulary in the 1980s (large bumps tend to crash through the entire structure of the bodyshell), the ride itself is fairly smooth by performance car standards. The seats are comfy, too.

So if you're tempted, is there anything in particular you'll need to look out for? Perhaps the most common fault centres around the rear suspension. The bearings in the torsion bar set up wear and eventually fail. A rear beam can be refurbished at a specialist for £300-£400.

Rust isn't a major issue for the 205, unless it has been subject to some dodgy repairs in the past. If it shows up anywhere, it’ll be around the sills ahead of the rear arches - the drainage holes frequently clog up, causing trapped water to rot the area from the inside out.

The engine and gearbox are strong (though both can sometimes be leaky) but the gear linkage can be just a little flimsy. This can be easily remedied by fitting aftermarket parts designed for group N applications - they feel just as slick and work just as well on the road. Best of all, consumable parts are cheap and it's easy to work on.

Being an eighties french car, it should come as no surprise to discover that interior plastics are brittle, so anyone who is easily irritated by rattling trim might be driven just a little barmy.

But who cares when you're having so much fun?

Take a look at our Peugeot 205 GTI buying guide, and browse the classifieds here

Words: Alex Ingram // Image: Dean Smith/evo magazine

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