Drive Modern Classics the Peugeot 205

In Modern Classics by Chris RandallLeave a Comment

This year sees a whole raft of motoring anniversaries, but one car that is perhaps more deserving of celebration than most is the wonderful Peugeot 205

Launched in February 1983, initially in 5-door form, the pertly-styled 205 has been widely credited with saving Peugeot’s bacon.

– there is some merit in the argument too – and was designed to slip into the range between the 104 and the 305 and provide a stiff challenge to sector stalwarts such as the Ford Fiesta and Renault 5. And while the GTI has been rightly showered with plaudits over the years, it’s the cooking models that get our attention here.

The 205 was the work of an in-house design team led by Gérard Welter (not Pininfarina as myth has it – he was responsible for the cabriolet, dubbed ‘CJ’ in non-injected form) with an interior penned by Paul Bracq, and it was an immediate hit with buyers. Core to the car’s appeal was the neat styling, almost perfect proportions allowing it to slot neatly into the supermini sector, and Peugeot managed to shift almost 5.3 million examples in a production run spanning the best part of 15 years. Over time, the range was expanded to include 3-dr and cabriolet variants as well as the iconic GTI, not to mention forming the basis of a hugely successful rally effort with the mighty mid-engined T16 campaigned so effectively in Group B at the hands of Ari Vatanen.

It was spot-on mechanically too, and while the ‘Douvrin’ gearbox-in-sump engines fitted to early examples were decidedly low-tech, the aluminium XU and TU units that followed were far more befitting of the 205’s chic city-car ambitions. The range encompassed petrol and diesel motors with the latter capable of a genuine 50mpg, backed by a slick-shifting manual gearbox or a smooth automatic. The strut front/torsion bar rear suspension was a proven layout that endowed the Gallic runabout with tidy handling and a superb ride while the rack and pinion steering was light and accurate on the move. The light kerb weight was a further plus point, and although the 205 never felt all that robust (flimsy would probably be a better description), it certainly benefitted driveability.

The 205 was actually beaten to the title of 1984 Car of the Year by the Guigiaro-penned Fiat Uno, but the ‘Car of the Decade’ award bestowed on the Pug by CAR magazine in 1990 is a fitting tribute to one of the finest small cars of all time.

Buying One

The good news is that the classified ads are still a good source of 205s for those wanting to grab their own slice of hatchback history, and you won’t need more than £1000 to pick up a great example. Perhaps surprisingly in light of the wafer-thin construction rust isn’t a major concern – tin worm has seen-off huge numbers of Fiestas and R5s – and you just need to check for rot nibbling at doors, wheel-arches, and screen surrounds. Mechanical toughness is a bonus too, rattly petrol engines and diesels belching black smoke the main things to watch for, and even a modicum of regular servicing should see a 205 soldier on for many miles. Interiors are another matter though, and it’s the cabin where general decrepitude is likely to be most in evidence. You’ll want to avoid the spartan base specs too so look further up the range for a smattering of modern conveniences, though you’ll need to ensure it all works. Better still is to seek out one of the smart special editions such as the ‘Gentry’ or ‘Roland Garros’ that bring an extra dash of style to the mix. Oh and just make sure someone hasn’t nicked the spare wheel from its cradle beneath the boot floor!


The arrival of the 30th anniversary only serves to remind everyone what a fine small car the 205 was. The fact that so many of us are still eulogising over it so many years later is testament to the rightness of the original design, and a reflection of the impact it had on the small-car market. The GTI might grab all the headlines, but a whole new generation of classic car enthusiasts are cottoning-on to the appeal of the bread and butter models, so I’d grab one before the bargains disappear for good.

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