24 September 2013

WHEEL OF FAME: Peugeot 205 GTi

One of the greatest Hot Hatches ever made...

WHEN it comes to debating over what is the best Hot Hatch ever made. A lot will vouch for the Volkswagen Golf GTi. It's an icon that's largely credited for pioneering the Hot Hatch. Whether it's the best or not is always going to be debatable. As many will also say the Peugeot 205 GTi. For years, the 205 has consistently challenged the Golf as the Eighties icon.

Every decade or so, a great car comes along. For the 1980s, the Peugeot 205 was one of them. Peugeot stunned everyone when the world's media was caught napping upon its arrival in February 1983.

What came from France's most conservative car maker famed for big, solid and understated family cars, was a truly significant small car. The 205 also became a trendy runabout and lured people out of their Renault 5s.

The real strength that lied with the 205 was its packaging. In standard guise, it was such a complete car with style and substance. A cheap and practical runabout, that was praised for excellent ride and handling, all complete with strong aesthetics.

It's a popular misconception that the 205 was designed by Pininfarina – they did design the 205 cabriolet though – but the hatchback was actually penned by Walter Gerald and Paul Bracq.

The GTi's interior had a smart red and black colour scheme.

A year later after its launch in 1984, Peugeot made a 205 that many people took to their hearts. There was a growing market of Hot Hatches at the time. The likes of Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, Fiat, Rover and Volkswagen were all making faster versions of their bread and butter cars.

Peugeot slung a 1.6 litre engine under the bonnet that produced 105bhp, linked to a five-speed manual gearbox. That might not be a lot of power by today's standards. But with the 205 being a lightweight car, and what resulted was a quick car.

Cosmetically, Peugeot tastefully dolled up the 205 with subtle tweaks and modifications to make the GTi stand out from the standard 205. Pepperpot alloy wheels, plastic mouldings and the doors and the wheel arches to beef up the profile, as well as a neat bodykit, rear spoiler and front fog lights.

Red and black was the colour scheme on the GTi, on the C-pillar with the lettering of the GTi emblem, red strips on the body mouldings. Red carpets, from the carpet, the seats, and on the interior panels and the steering wheel. It definitely distinguished it from the standard 205.

Peugeot made a more powerful GTi available with a 1.9 engine. The most sought after 205 GTis.

But what made the 205 GTi such a significant Hot Hatch? Peugeot made a Hot Hatch that was not only fast in a straight line. But they also made a car that was one of the best drivers cars of the 1980s. So much so it was a hailed for its kart-like handling in similar vein to the classic Mini Cooper. Thanks to its low kerb weight, it was also a nimble and agile little car.

Peugeot later made a more powerful and faster 205 with a 130bhp, 1.9 GTi in 1986, was added to the 205 range. It was also sold alongside the 1.6 GTi, which was also tweaked in its lifespan and power was uprated to 115bhp. Peugeot also made the 205 GTis available with the bespoke Dimma bodykits.

The 205 GTi took the Hot Hatchback market by storm. It was a huge success, and also a very desirable motor. Which lead to many of them falling victim to boy racers and joy riders. With many ending up being stolen or written off. Time caught up with the 205 GTi from insurance premiums going through the roof into the 1990s, meant that the bubble burst for Hot Hatches. So their popularity faded, leading to the demise of the GTi.

Replacing the 205 will have been a tough task for Peugeot. That was impossible to overstate given its success and the how much the public loved the 205. After 15 years and selling 5,278,000 units, they replaced it with the 206 in 1998. Even though not as well liked as its predecessor – especially the GTis. The 206 though, was a sales success and outsold the 205 by selling around 6.8 million units after 12 years in production. Making that Peugeot's best seller in the history of the company.

Peugeot makes no secret that the 208 GTi is inspired from the 205.

What cannot be forgotten though, is that the 205 was Peugeot's saviour. Into the 1980s, Peugeot was suffering from financial difficulties that meant the company was in threat of going under. The 205 also played an important role in turning round Peugeot's fortunes.

Given the success of their supermini. Peugeot reinvented themselves, with a stronger brand identity influenced from the 205. As seen with future cars that came through the pipeline in the late 1980s and the 1990s with the likes of the: 106, 306 and the 405. The 205 is rightly regarded as a design classic.

History repeats itself in some way for Peugeot. The 208 is playing an important role for Peugeot –much in the same way the 205 did in the '80s. They've even used their predecessor for inspiration in re-learning how to make cars like they used to, but keeping with the times. It's easy to see why that the new 208 GTi plays homage to the legendary 205 GTi. Peugeot must've taken a leaf out of Volkswagen's book when they brought the Golf GTi back to its former glory.

The 205 GTi is very much regarded as a classic now. The 1.9 GTis are the most sought after, but 1.6s are popular for younger drivers who want an entry level Hot Hatch – or practical classic for that matter. There's only one way the prices will be going in the years to come for 205 GTis...and that's up.

To end this...this year is the 30th anniversary of when Peugeot launched the 205. So it's Happy birthday to the 205. Looking good at 30 don't you think?

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