Blog : 30 years of the Peugeot 205…

Keith Adams

Peugeot 205 (3)

Well, it looks like 2013 is going to be another one of those years guaranteed to make me feel old. I’ve already drawn attention to the fact that this year sees the 20th birthday of the Ford Mondeo, Rover 600 and Citroen Xantia. Well, some pretty cool cars hit the big three-oh in 2013. Next month we’ll be going Maestro crazy in due deference to that car’s landmark, but I thought I’d sneak in this one for good measure; can you believe the car above was launched in 1983?

Yes, exactly 30 years ago, one of the five best small cars ever made – the Peugeot 205 – made its debut. On 15 February 1983, the world’s media was literally caught napping – the 205 was launched by one of the industry’s most conservative carmakers. The deux-cent-cinque was the latest in a long line of 2-series Peugeots, but what made this one so special was that it looked and felt right for its time, and was perfect for the buyers who grew out of their Renault 5s and into this.

Peugeot had, of course, been a front-runner in the supermini sector: the 104 was an early entrant into the market, and had sold reasonably well. It also sired a number of offspring including the Talbot Samba, Citroen LNA and Visa, and clearly had some influence on the Renault 14. And yet, it never really caught the imagination of the cool people who craved chic city runabouts. Yes, it went on to sell 1.6 million in its 1972-1988 production run, but that achievement was dwarfed by what followed.

The 205 was conceived to plug the gap between the 104 an the 305, and therefore was always going to be a little larger (3705mm) than the established supermini norm at the time, so epitomised by the Ford Fiesta (3648mm) and Renault 5 (3540mm). But it launched initially in five-door form, and just seemed that little but more mature, grown-up than the opposition. Style of course had something to do with the 205’s appeal, too.

Peugeot 205 (1)

The 205 was originally known internally as Projet M24, and it had been in development since 1978. It was designed to use the existing Douvrin four-cylinder transmission-in-sump drivetrains as well as a number of new engines in development – and was planned to work well with petrol engines spanning 954-1580cc (the 1905cc GTI 1.9 would come later) and three diesel power units.

The 205 was designed by a new in-house team led by Gérard Welter and its interior was done by Paul Bracq, whose family designs had strong brand identity. Peugeot also utilised the expertise of Pininfarina for the Cabriolet (and it’s probably from here, as well as because of its genuinely handsome styling, that the urban myth that the 205 range was styled by Pininfarina came from). The range ended up consisting of the three- and five-door hatchbacks, the convertible, and a couple of rather well converted vans. Pininfarina did design a small estate version too, but that was never pursued by the company.

When it was launched, the 205 took a little time to gain momentum. Perhaps that’s why it failed to win the 1984 European Car of the Year award, coming a close second to the Fiat Uno. It was always a tough call to decide which of the two was the best at the time – but looking back now, with the benefit of hindsight, I reckon the CoTY judges made the wrong call. But that’s happened several times in the CoTY.

Then, of course, there was Peugeot’s huge Group B rallying success with the 205T16 – two World Rally Championship constructors titles, as well as some amazing performances on the Pikes Peak hill climb. And finally, we come to the 205GTI, which ended up becoming the 1980s best hot hatchback of them all (unless you’re a Volkswagen fan). Offered in 1.6- and 1.9-litre form, it defined the era of cool combined with lift-off oversteer and rapid acceleration.

No wonder the 205 went on to sell 5,278,000 units during its life – and why Peugeot had a devil of a job replacing it. In the end. the 106 and 306 never quite managed (although both were brilliant), so it wasn’t until the 206 that the legend was finally supplanted properly. Except – as we know – that car marked the beginning of Peugeot’s descent int today’s design mayhem. But a measure of a car’s importance is how its rivals react to it. And the French company must have been very flattered when the Ford Fiesta Mk3 emerged in 1989 looking like an Uncle Henry-sponsored clone – but without the charm.

Having said that, the 206, has now reached the eight million production mark making it the best-selling Peugeot model ever in the history of the Company. Who’d have thought it?

Peogeot 205 (2)

Keith Adams
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  1. 30 years old- and still looks incredibly fresh. So much so that they never needed to do anything significant to rejuvinate up the design.

    Always a really good drive- fantastic steering and very good handling. Not the most solid build quality though, but you can’t have everything.

    I’d love a 5 door 1.4 as a small runabout. Or a GTi for some serious hooning.

  2. I had a 3 dr 1.8 Turbo D. It absolutely flew, to the point where I could worry my mate in his mk3 Cavalier SRi. Great cars.

  3. Pete Burns from Dead or Alive did some modelling then before his music career took off !! ….nice but give me an MG Maestro any day.

  4. The 205T16 was a viciously powerful competition car. It also had a very French feature. While almost every other maker had in-line engines in their GpB monsters, Peugeot went transverse-mid engined. This caused issues when flying over crests as the flywheel torque would cause the car’s front to rotate downwards, leading to heavy landings.

  5. I once looked at a 205 diesel, but the interior was like a punishment cell. I bought a Rover 216GSi instead – gorgeous interior, fast, economical…

  6. I shall give my XS a little pat on the bonnet this morning. 24-and-a-half years and 220k miles after leaving Sochaux, she’s still a hoot to drive and still looks gorgeous, bless her.

  7. Wonderful little car, a great drive even in basic 1.1 form. I later had a ZX which had much of the same fluidity in the way it felt.

  8. If only car makers would unleash similar pics as the one featuring ‘that’ model. Brilliant. I love a bit of galic eccentricity.

    As for the 205 itself? It really was a memorable chapter in Peugeot’s history and, with the exception of the more recent 106, 206, 306, 405, 406 and 605, I feel they have not been able to create cars with the same degree of conviction about their attributes (although I do like the RCZ). This was highlighted by the comments for Mike Humble’s recent article about Peugeot.

    Small cars is something Peugeot used to excel on and I would hope the 205 will be viewed as a landmark car in the company’s history which their current product planners and design engineers will revisit for inspiration for the future.

    Interestingly, whereas the 205 (and the other ones I have already mentioned) were more about driving ‘thrills’ without too much in the way of frills, Peugeot’s sister company Citroen is now known more for the frills of its DS range based on high levels of equipment, bespoke trim and pricing. Perhaps Peugeot should return to giving us more of the ‘thrills’ and less of the frills?

  9. Great little cars from Peugeot’s heyday.

    They’ve aged well, the occasional example can still be seen on the road, either as a collector’s GTi, or even as a workhorse diesel. No rust, and the design still looks smart.

    The 106-306 split didn’t quite work, perhaps if the 106 was the ‘206’ the successor would’ve been crowned properly.

    With the 208 they’re trying to get some of the charm back into their supermini sector.

    In 1983, the VeraPlus was shown, effectively a 309 preview.
    Recognise the doors? They were reused from the 205.

    The 206 numbers are up because it is still being sold in France as the 206+, and as the C2 in China.

  10. That bottom picture is a rare example where the car is more attractive than the model (not an issue with recent Peugeots)

  11. At a time when PSA and Renault knew how to build small cars… My sister-in-law had an automatic 3-door 205, well equipped, comfortable, downright rapid with the slightly detuned GTI engine. It felt like a big auto-scooter in town, yet was comfortable even for long drives on the motorway.

    And now the first of these modern looking cars will be officially classics here in Germany. Hard to believe. But last year we already saw the Mercedes 190 enter classic status…

  12. @7 – Keith.
    Will do – you’ve prodded me to give her a wash’n’brush up first as I don’t have many recent digital pics of her.

    @11 – Will.
    Yes, the 206 does live on as the 206+ and it is testament to how Peugeot have trashed their legacy.

    The 206+ is a sort of cut’n’shut: a 206 body with the awful 207-style ‘gob’ stuck on the front half. The UK market has been spared this aberration, fortunately.

    I won’t post a link to a pic as it might be seized by the Obscene Publications Squad…

  13. An 206+

    French manufacturers used to make runout models of their small cars as a budget option.

    The 5/supercinq carried on til the mid 90s, when the Clio had been around since 91. I remember seeing a GB-reg’d ‘M’ model (95?).

    The previous Clio was sold as the Clio Campus when the new Clio was introduced.

    There was also some crossover between the 206 and 207, Pug dealers sold both even in the UK for a while.

    As Renault and Peugeot-Citroen look to move upmarket, we are seeing less of this, with the likes of Dacia, and potentially a new Talbot, taking the mantle of the cheap supermini.

  14. @15

    I always found it amusing that the 5 Campus was sold in France as the
    “Renault 5 Five”
    Not sure the French language police let that one through!

  15. I run a 205 diesel which has been in the family since 1996. Utterly reliable, a hoot to drive, best car ever in the snow, has covered 100,000 miles, mostly driving round Leeds in second gear. Vaguely worried how I’ll replace it when it eventually fails to proceed.

  16. Even the basic 205’s were nippy little things, plus the 205 GTI was a must have for yuppies in London in the 1980s. There arer still quite a few 205’s on the road around here, and they don’t seem to be rusty either. I bet Pug are wishing they could bring the magic back, and have another ‘205’, but now they really have lost the plot entirely

  17. I used to have a Citroen Visa GTI. The front half was 205 GTI (engine and suspension) rear half was Visa / 104 rear suspension + 309 brakes. About the most fun car I ever owned. Not as pretty as a 205 GTI but 5 doors and apparently lighter with better rear suspension. Wish I had kept it. Got replaced by a company Mondeo 1.6 🙁
    Once borrow a friends 205 GTI 1.9, abosulte hoot to drive and the styling was fantastic. Shame that Peugeot styling has steadily worsened.

  18. @Magnus – speaking of obscene publications, is the rally car in the second picture really sponsored by Penthouse?

  19. @22 – Matt.
    Indeed: auto porn sponsored by female porn…

    A UK TV ad campaign at the time for the 205 showed some lovely female drawing a heart with lipstick on the rear window – although I don’t think the campaign was linked to Penthouse.

    Peugeot dealerships were pushing out window stickers to coincide with the campaign. Naturally, my 20-year-old self had one on the XS but, sadly, it didn’t have any positive results for me… I tore it off in the end, worried about looking like a sad old perv.

  20. Perhaps the marketing team at Longbridge should get in touch with the publishers of Razzle. It would certainly get people talking about the MG 6.

  21. This is one design that has stood the test of time.

    I still see a B reg one near me in decent nick.

  22. Every motoring journalist vomited similes over the 205 GTI, and even the pube haired pillock absolutely adored it. The 205 really does deserve the title ‘modern classic’, and to say it stayed in production so long with just minor cosmetic tickles says it all. They had it more or less spot on from day 1

  23. Oh, you do like to provoke, Mister Adams…

    They did attract ‘the wrong sort’, I suppose – particularly in later years. The 1.9 is almost too powerful; much prefer the 1.6, myself (after the XS, of course).

  24. Looks fresh because it’s an absolute master class in getting the proportions and detailing right… NOTHING looks out of place… Also a rare example of the mid life facelift genuinely improving the situation as oppose to just changing it.. The facelift back lights were brilliant..

  25. Back in 1989, I was lucky enough to take part in an internal Rover ‘ride and drive’ exercise to compare an R6 Metro prototype with all its key competitors. Two cars really stood out a mile from the rest – the R6 and the Peugeot 205. Both just felt so instantly ‘right’ and fully sorted. The R6 at that stage was a little less refined than the 205, but sharper handling. Really enjoyed driving them both, But you know what? I climbed into my MG Maestro 2.0 EFi afterwards, and it felt even better than all the superminis – quiet, punchy, effortless, comfortable, but still pretty quick and taut handling. Still the most underrated car ever !

  26. I’ve got five 205s on my drive at the moment, all GTIs. I’m afraid they all have either BX 16v or XM turbo engines, sorry Keith 🙁

    BTW Pininfarina did produce a proposed design but it was rejected in favour of the in house one.

    As for the 1.9 being too powerful, it is slower than modern diesel repmobiles and has been for at least ten years. It is a good example of how average car performance has increased dramatically in the last 10-15 years.

  27. What’s wrong with it? If you need parts or info I can probably help you out. Please don’t burn it, at the very least use its parts save a BX or two – 1.9 205 wheels on a phase two BX 16Valve works very well in my experience.

  28. Also this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Fiat Uno, the Fiat that at least didn’t rust and probably saved the company over here as the model range of the time that included the Strade and ageing Mirafiori was notorious for premature rust, terrible build quality and awful resale. While never as big a success as the 205 and still with some reliability shortcomings, the Uno at least proved Fiat could make a reasonable car again and sales were healthy in its eleven year run.
    PS wot no Nova, Vauxhall’s first supermini which came out in 1983, sold in shedloads and wasn’t bad actually?

  29. As the old bull said to the young bull, looking at the paddock full of heifers, take it slowly and do ’em one by one.

  30. I had a new one of these on 1st August 1987 a 205 1.6 GTI finished in bright red. I had it almost 8 years and practically lived it it. I loved it to bits. I went everywhere in it. One summer I recall taking it down to the south of france and comming home drove from Cannes to Calais in 11 hours some 880 miles I recall, all in one day. It flew along the auto route. Why did I ever part with it, I ask myself.

    Come back E144 XPP all is forgiven

  31. Mine arrived, after something of a wait, in November 1987. I ran it in with a 500 mile round trip on 5 November, it was downhill after that. Never let me down, but long journeys left me hard of hearing, and with nerves strained by the NVH. Build quality was strange – precisely but cheaply made. The doors felt as substantial as biscuit tin lids, the dashboard materials were like something from an East German suitcase.

    Two years on, the lease was up and the Golf GTI arrived, the Peugeot instantly forgotten. Why did I ever part with the Golf?

  32. An Aunt of mine has owned a pair of 205 1.6 5-door Automatics in the past (either in white or red), prior to switching to a more modern Hyundai i10 and has always commended how enthusiastic the 205s were to drive.

    The only (minor) flaws in the 205 were no GTi 16 version (with 148-160 bhp) and the lack of a more powerful XUD diesel (such as the 90 bhp 1.8 XUD Turbo-Diesel that was later fitted to the Rover R8), with both engines also being available on the 309 (with the existing 309 GTi 16 being sold in the UK).

  33. @JackHerer

    It’s my son’s 205. He sold it as a project on eBay and the buyer STILL hasn’t collected it. If he doesn’t soon, I’ll recommissioned it and have it myself!

    Truthfully, it’s an exciting and amazing hot hatch which is still genuinely quick – markedly so, as it’s on its original 1.6 gearbox…

  34. Nice cars….

    I got a Delta HF instead on a GTi 1.9 when I was young…

    The 80s cars had so much personality 🙂

  35. So, what does that Mi16 GTi need again? 😉

    (Offset pedals ruin 205s for me, but they’re undeniably fun).

  36. 1983 was a very significant year for new cars. Fiat had the Uno, which would stop its slide down the sales charts, Vauxhall brought out the Nova, which gained them a new market, Ford launched the Orion for buyers who wanted a saloon and were put off by the Sierra, Toyota launched a new fwd Corolla, which would sell and sell, and, of course, there was the Austin Maestro, the great white hope of British Leyland.

  37. Peugeot claimed that the 16 valve engine would fit under the 309 front but not the 205. Seems they told porkies….

  38. Working in France (Paris) in about 1981/2the 205 was so visually appealing I was always looking out for them, hint, they were everywhere!

    A friend converted a LHD 309 to RHD and installed the 205 16v engine, he claimed the combination of the chassis/engine combination was superior, he drove the UK 16V race series in the car, I will not dispute his opinion, he always knew what he was doing

  39. Hard to believe that this car was launched 30 years ago (OMG I’m really getting old!), and all these years later it still looks better than the 206, 207 and 208. The GTi immediately became one of my favorite cars and to my knowledge, Peugeot still hasn’t topped it despite having released more powerful hot hatches since then.

  40. Yorkie @ 47, the Micra deserves two mentions, firstly for a very long and successful 30 years, and also this is the 20th anniversary of the very successful and still seen mark 2 version from Sunderland. However, the newest one is vile and production has been moved to India.

  41. #36 “PS wot no Nova, Vauxhall’s first supermini which came out in 1983, sold in shedloads and wasn’t bad actually?”

    Back in 1987 I had a dolomite 1500HL that had given me a spot of bother and was only doing 30mpg so I went after a 205 5 door diesel. Unfortunately the dealer and I were a few £100s apart in terms of valuation on the Dolly so I walked away. I always thought the 5 door looked better balanced than the 3 door incidentally.

    I ended up with a 2 year old Nova 1.2 2 door saloon that was brilliantly reliable and averaged over 40mpg even driven enthusiastically. It was also a doddle to work on. The saloon was not the best looking but it carried all my gear with no problems when I moved to Nottingham and gave great service.

    The 205s either seemed very good or very bad, and I recall that quite a few GTis had very short lives having gone backwards through hedges and walls. The GTi was notorious for snap oversteer if you lifted off too quickly on a wet bend.

    Perhaps time for a Nova feature?

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