In 1982 Peugeot saved its skin thanks to a new model it mass produced, an instant classic signed Gérard Welter called the 205. Brought down by the 1979 crisis and the unfortunate buyout of Europe Chrysler, the PSA group threw all of its forces into the fight to move forward with their new CEO Jacques Calvet. More than 30 years later the scenario is different but you can definitely find similarities; in 2012 the PSA group came close to bankruptcy,it was able to redress itself in extremis thanks to the arrival of its new boss Carlos Tavares. Also through the prior preparation work of his predecessors and a brand new success of the 308. 5 years later Peugeot had accumulated successes (such as the 3008) and was even able to take over and put Opel back on its feet. It also finally made a new version of its bestseller the 208. Peugeot, in this natural flow of connections and for its new models presentation, invited us to take advantage of it’s glorious older sibling on a road trip from the Mulhouse factory to the Geneva Motor Show.
Some could say when coming off the train in grey and humid weather that “Mulhouse ain’t in the house”. However several kilometers later a smile returns to the faces : parked on the parking lot, a dozen of 205s await French and international journalists as if on parade and in nearly new condition. For our group 5 models are available : a Champion (special low-end-price series), a Lacoste (first luxurious version of the little lion), a CTI (convertible version made by Pininfarina), a Rallye (a pure and true old fashioned sports car) and the Graal (for amateurs in-the-know) a very rare i16v made by the German tuner Gutmann. Admit that there could be worst selections!
The 205 Rallye “it’s buff”.
The director Xavier Crespin whispered in my ear right before the starting line of this Peugeot adventure “you will see that the Rallye is buff!” Indeed the 103 horsepower of the TU24 1.3 with two double body Weber carburetors is very present, the car is nervy, builds up revs fast but with weak brakes. It takes a few kilometers until one realizes that the brakes only start working on the late end without a big impact. To compensate the motor brake as well as sufficient anticipation are a must, otherwise the CTI that is in front of me is in danger. By sheer luck the Juras first foothills give a chance to fully enjoy this car, the ascending slope gives natural breaking with a release of the throttle and making the little “three-thousands” go into high revs without danger! Raging, loud, the light weight 205 is driven along at a nice rhythm. I am sincerely surprised by the Rallyes comfort despite the spartan equipment and the sports settings compared to the basic 205.
Behind its wheel I understand better why the Rallye has always been such a fantasy.
With this beast we are in the line of the “training” cars such as Renaults 8 Gordini, or the 12 éponyme, the 1000 from Simca and then the Talbot Samba Rallye. These cars are raw vehicles, without superfluous attributes made to learn sporty driving. No need for enormous power nor sophistication, back to the basics. Unlike the GTI with its injection engine, the Rallye despite the fact it came out 4 years later, comes back to the good old carburetors. Speaking of the GTI it is time to test one, well not exactly.
At the wheel of the rare i16v Gutmann
Facing us the 205 looks like a normal 1.9 GTI with its 130 horsepower, but if you go to the back the red i16v logo indicates to specialists that it is a totally different car. Even if the base is the same this Gutmann prepared in Germany is very different with a specific exhaust pipe line, lowered suspensions, but especially its 405 Mi16 motor that is slightly pumped up to give 160 horsepower. From the get go the beasts character expresses itself in a totally different register than the Rallye. The 160 horsepower pass without difficulty despite its feather weight but it is less raging than the Rallye. Here is a more modern car with more torque, more flexibility. The i16v pushes all the time. The little Jura roads gives us a chance to have fun while staying in both French and Swiss legal speed limits.The car pushes without effort despite the sloped angles without always having to downshift.
This i16v is in opposition with the 205 Champion, an entry level version with 1100 cm3 of 50 horsepower but thankfully coupled with a 5 speed gearbox. With this one you just get the sporty looks but nothing in the stomach at first sight. This said because it does rather well in the mountains and is even fun to play with the gearbox to keep a good enough speed in the upward angles. Well, you do need to go back to the fundamental rules when doing an uphill start. The car was able to easily insert itself into the Swiss traffic on a Swiss freeway but no need to ask to get up to 130 kilometers an hour, 110 seems to be its ideal speed.
From the modest Champion to the chic Lacostes and CTIs
Strangely the Lacoste with its 1400 cc and its 10 extra horsepower does not seem more alert. However on the looks side of things it’s something else : a superbe Meije white on the body and the rims, with visible but discrete crocs and the inside mixing white and green. Lacoste initiated this car for a limited edition with a Roland Garros partnership and with the small chic city car concept. The equipment is very complete : open roof, centralized locking system, electric windows and a GTI like steering wheel. The Lacoste was a hit in rich neighborhoods without falling into the more extreme luxury of the Gentry and the Supercinq Baccara.
In the last car before Geneva which is the 205 GTI. A little like the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet GLI (see video here), the CTI is not exactly a convertible GTI. The motor may be the 1.6 with 115 horsepower, but nonetheless it still cannot be called a sports car. Despite its rollcage, it loses a bit of stiffness and most of all kept its “normal” 205 running gears. So with punch but not as much sensation as its racy GTI 1.6 or 1.9 sisters. In spite of it all the road to Geneva was done in a good rhythm and the CTI was nice to drive in spite of the traffic jams next to the Palexpo and the Geneva international motor show.
The 205s descendant, the new 208
“So you did you enjoy it?” Jean-Philippe Imparato (Peugeots director) asked me that very evening. “ the 205 is quit a car, but you will see the 208 is the bomb.” I had to wait till the next day to see the brand new Peugeot nicely posed under the monumental lion at the “Salon de Paris”.
Hard to know before testing but I can admit : the last sochalian city dweller has a proud allure and seems to wink in several aspects to its predecessor especially the shape of its rear side with a slight indent that shelters the logo and the back wings that looks like the old fashioned GTI. One thing is sure, Peugeot is back once again.