The Peugeot 205 GTI – a classic in the making
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It’s not the sight of a coachbuilt Ferrari or a Jaguar E-Type that brings the biggest smile to motorsport engineer Christopher Tolman’s face; it’s a Peugeot 205 GTI, that humble French runaround from the ’80s. “I think it’s the most iconic car, and it’s certainly the first really good hot hatch,” he says. “It’s got the competition pedigree, it’s got the heritage.”
Created amid rallying’s golden age, the 205 GTI was a real-world version of the legendary 205 T16 that dominated the World Rally Championship from 1984 onwards – winning the cup twice. With a clean and compact design and a plucky 1.6-litre engine that produced 105bhp and a top speed of 116mph, it offered regular people the chance to feel like rally champions on their daily drive. Peugeot followed up with a more potent 1.9-litre model in 1986, adding even more speed to the car’s performance. In the decade before production stopped in 1998, it served as the ultimate hot hatch – an accessible performance car for the masses.
As more and more of the drivers who grew up with ’80s and ’90s hot hatches start collecting the cars of their youth, demand is on the up. When the 1.6-litre Peugeot 205 GTI first hit dealerships in 1984, it cost a modest £6,425. The car raced past this original value in 2017, and today clean examples can fetch well over £30,000. Last year, a partially restored but well-used 1.9-litre 205 GTI sold for £9,000 with 131,400 miles on the clock via the online auction site Collecting Cars. Paris-based auction house Artcurial sold a limited-edition Le Mans last month for £32,184. Today, Car & Classic lists more than 20 GTIs for sale, ranging from £3,995 to £26,000 for a 1988 205 GTI modified by German firm Gutmann.
These hammer prices have been supercharged by scarcity: after a peak of nearly 50,000 cars in the UK in 1994, the number today is closer to 6,600. With fewer in existence, there’s stiff competition for good examples.
While there are more to be found in France, prices in the 205’s homeland often go higher: a rare, pristine-condition 1987 205 GTI fetched a record £69,768 at auction house Aguttes’s Tour Auto sale in Versailles in April last year. With only 4,304 miles on the clock, the car had just three recorded owners. “There’s a distinct domestic bubble when it comes to French cars: collectors will spend considerably more on very good examples of their cars than anyone else,” says John Mayhead, editor of the Hagerty UK Price Guide, comparing the trend to a British love of home-grown cars such as Mk I Mini Coopers or S1 Land Rovers.
Tolman’s restorations start from £50,000, and can rise depending on the specification. His team spends more than 700 hours carrying out a nut and bolt refit of either the 1.6- or 1.9-litre engine models, while respectfully altering and enhancing elements. The result is a car that has more power – 72bhp more than the original’s 128bhp – and an improved 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds, compared with just under eight seconds on the original. Inside, there’s a digital dashboard and radio, and a sport button that sharpens the throttle response. On the road, with the upgraded underpinnings, the transformed 205 is an intoxicating drive. Tolman has since received interest from around the world – from France to the USA and from Australia to Brazil.
Although the car was designed to provide cheap thrills in 1984, the average price is still climbing. This nippy hot hatch is now well on its way to becoming a classic car.