The Peugeot 205 GTi wasn’t the first hot hatch. It wasn’t the fastest or the cheapest, but it was the best. The GTi’s legacy speaks for itself. It was the Peugeot’s high water mark, offering an intensely physical and involving driving experience in a dinky, good looking body. Generation after generation of hot hatchbacks have used the 205 GTi as a benchmark for design and performance. No one has replicated it’s freakish abilities, least of all Peugeot. It was affordable, desirable and practical, surely the closest a shopping cart has gotten to toppling the sports car. Talking of low cost, the GTi’s glittering reputation has shot prices through the roof and shows no signs of abating. The 205 GTi has become a valuable commodity, with prices topping £40,000 for immaculate low-milers. Thankfully, working examples can be found for far less.
Launched in 1984, the 205 GTi was designed to transform Peugeot’s public image from a maker of dull workhorses to a desirable brand. The GTi was powered by a 1.6-litre engine producing 103bhp. It wasn’t much but the Peugeot only weighed 850kg, making the GTi lighter than a Lotus Elise. In 1986 Peugeot upped it to 113bhp, but the weight increased to match it, bloating to 900kg. This cancelled out the performance hike and made it marginally less responsive. The launch spec remains the purist’s choice. Peugeot introduced the 1.9-litre model at the end of 1986, producing 126 bhp. It came with larger alloys, disc brakes and a (slightly) more luxurious interior. Enthusiasts are divided about which 205 GTi is the best. Some say it’s the eager 1.6-litre car. Others swear by the torquey 1.9-litre with its attractive alloys and superior performance. There’s no one answer. A well-maintained GTi is spectacular, regardless of spec.
The GTi was galvanised so rust isn’t a huge problem. You will still need to check corrosion spots around the sills, wheel arches, boot, windows, the bottom of the doors, suspension turrets and headlights. Inspect the sunroof if specified as it’s prone to rust due to a leaking issue. Also study the join where the front bulkhead and floor pan meet, as well around the petrol tank and the rear brake lines. In its day, the GTi attracted thefts and accidents like a magnet. After all, it was an Eighties hot hatch. Check for crash damage in the inner wings, chassis legs and boot floor. Also ensure the paint is consistent throughout to prove it's the original colour or at least a quality respray.
A healthy GTi should start straight away as the injector system is strong. If it doesn’t fire instantly you know there is a problem. It could mean anything from a dying battery to faulty injectors. If it is the latter, a specialist is necessary to fix it. The 205 is known to have a lumpy idle when cold, so don’t immediately assume there is a problem. A worn distributor can make this worse. If the exhaust is smoking on start-up this could point to a valve stem oil seal failure. Also pay attention to any big end bearings knocking and droning. A dry bearing or ticking sound could mean the cambelt tensioner has let go. Furthermore, the belt and water pump need changing every four years. Examine the exhaust manifold for signs of any cracks or blemishes. The GTi can suffer from oil starvation, often caused by a non-standard oil filter, an oil pump blockage (caused by an old gasket) or blocked oil spray bars. Make sure you check the pressure gauge during your test drive for any irregularities. Also check for any leaks at the rear of the sump, which a gasket replacement should solve. Find out if the timing belt and water pump have been changed every 48,000 miles (or four years, whichever comes first).
The Peugeot’s gearbox is hard-wearing. While the gear linkage can become loose with age and heavy use, replacement bearings will restore shift precision. A stiff clutch may mean replacing it with a new cable. The gear lever is susceptible to wear and tear but is easy to replace.
Inspect the rear beam axle for collapsed bearings. It could be caused by disintegrated seals. Top mount bearings decay and stiffen, making it creak. Drop-links also wear rapidly, along with rear wheel bearings and wishbone bushes. Thanks to its popularity with boy racers, many GTIs have been lowered over the years. Restoring standard ride height at the rear is easy. You just need to rotate the torsion bar. Knocks and rattles can often be attributed to the front suspension drop links and wishbone bushes. The rear beam is vulnerable to rust, but replacements are available and affordable.
As with many cars from this period, the central locking is patchy at best. The best solution is to disable it and lock the car manually. Faulty instruments and heater switches are caused by corroded circuit boards. It’s cheap to get the board cleaned, with parts starting at around the £100 mark.
The 205 GTi was born in an era of Peugeot reliability. Trim and plastics are durable, but many parts have been chopped and changed over the years so keep your eye out for an all-original interior. It’s tricky to source replacement parts these days so a well-maintained cabin is a must. While the cabin is durable, squeaks and rattles are likely. The optional leather seats are thin and easily ripped, but this can be sorted with a re-trim. Ensure the seats are fastened and secured because they can easily rattle loose.
The 205 GTi is one of the best drivers’ cars ever built, and a solid example should feel as engaging and precise as it did new. A well-maintained GTi should have a sensitive throttle which makes it eager from a stand-still and belies its lack of power. The suspension is softer than modern hot hatches, but absorbs bumps and compressions with ease. The lack of power steering will save you a gym membership, and the rack fizzes with feel. The gearbox has one of the sweetest shifts fitted to a production car. The throw is long but you can feel the synchromesh doing its thing between changes and the pedals are perfectly placed for heel-and-toe. The GTi has built a reputation for spikey handling thanks to its short wheelbase, but you’d need to be barrelling into corners like a car thief on day release to make the rear step out. It forces you to concentrate and step up to the plate, teaching you things about driving you hadn’t previously understood. A well-sorted 205 GTi is, simply, the best of the best.
The days of bargain basement GTi’s are long gone, but it’s not too late to pick up a good deal. Act fast because values continue to climb. Early 105hp 205 GTi’s are often pricier because many enthusiasts regard it as the purest version. Don’t be deterred by the factory fresh, delivery-mile GTi’s topping £40,000 at auction. These are treated as collector’s cars and these values are more a reflection of the classic car boom than the GTi itself. If you’re willing to settle for a well-sorted example with miles on the clock then you can pick one up for £10,000. If this is too steep then a quick look at the classifieds will find you a high-mileage example for under £5,000. These well-worn cars are arguably the pick of the bunch. If you can put up with some scruff around the edges you could have one of the performance bargains of the century on your hands. The 205 GTi is a reliable car, good for well over a hundred thousand miles, and with a lower overall value you can afford to blitz it down b-roads all day, every day.
The 205 GTi requires regular maintenance and is often tweaked and upgraded. While you can run a standard car no problem at all, many owners opt for short-shift gearboxes, lowered suspension and engine upgrades. A popular option is to fit the 16v Mi16 engine from the Peugeot 405.
The Peugeot 205 GTi is tricky to describe without careering headfirst into cliche and hyperbole. It is one of those rare cars that lives up to its billing even after all these years. There’s a reason why prices have skyrocketed. Pick up a good example and you’ve pocketed yourself a lifetime of world class fun. If you measure a car’s greatness by the way it involves the driver in every change of gear, every throttle input and each turn of the wheel then the 205 GTi is among the finest drivers’ cars of all time, and almost certainly the greatest hot hatch.
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