A CAR reader’s love-hate affair with his Peugeot 205 GTI

Published: 13 October 2011

As I suffer the indignity of being pushed to the side of the road for the fifth time this week, I can’t help but concur with Kenneth Williams when he exclaims: ‘What’s the bloody point?!’ Of course, while Williams may have had the demise of his own existence to contend with, I have a much more pressing issue – the demise of my Peugeot 205 GTI.

So far, in my first six months of GTI ownership, I have discovered a head gasket oil leak, a misfire, an unknown knocking from the front near-side, an unknown groan from the brakes, a leak in the radiator, a leak in a coolant hose, an inexplicable tendency to start and stop at its own convenience, an indicator with an inexplicable tendency to start and stop at its own convenience, knackered handbrake cables, knackered ignition cables... the list goes on, believe me, but typing it is making me lose the will to live.

Life with a 23-year-old hot hatch legend

I would be fooling no one if I said that I expected no trouble from my 23-year-old Pug. But it is so easy to underestimate – to romanticise, even – the work involved in giving such an old French dog a home. What kills this romance is when the geriatric old duffer throws another tantrum whilst threatening cardiac arrest amid a busy city centre.

You see, if this were a normal car, if this was any normal morsel of scrapyard meat, there would be no problem. If that were the case, the Pug would have been gone long ago. But it is not, not by a long shot. This is a GTI, a 1.6 – it’s rare, and it’s – ahem – original. In this market, being completely unfettled – even if that does mean being left with the temperament of a schizophrenic sociopath – gives this car more credibility than a judge.

Peugeot 205 GTI: an instant trip down memory lane

And then there’s the way it makes you feel – in a hypothetical sense at least. This was no better illustrated than on a recent trip to CAR Magazine for a bout of work experience. On imparting the news that my heart now belongs to a GTI, this bunch of hardened journos came over all misty-eyed. Each one of them had a story about the 205 GTI – the go-kart like responses, the ’80s kudos, the lift-off oversteer! But then, none of them had to drive it home that evening. Unfortunately, it is a hypothesis that can no longer be proven.

In fact, in my half-year of ownership I can only remember one drive that has made me feel as triumphant as I had come to expect. It was at that beautiful eclipsing moment in – murmur it – classic car ownership when everything comes together. It was the moment just after you’ve adjusted to the intimacies of its handling, just before things start breaking, just as you stumble on a deserted ribbon of tarmac.

When it happened, I must confess that I had never felt such ecstasy with my trousers still on. I’ve driven an impressive array of cars for my 21 years – AC Cobra and Ferrari 308 included - and nothing, but nothing, has made me feel the way I did then. It was a pint-sized race car, my pint-sized race car. Of course, after that, a coolant hose sprung a leak and so begun the tip-toe homewards and the slippery descent into banger-dom.

Should it stay, or should it go?

Here, then, is my predicament.  Clearly I can’t go on like this, but without the right tools or a particularly practical knowledge of the inner workings of a 205 GTI I reckon I’m looking at shelling out around a grand – almost as much as I paid for the bugger – to put it right. And that’ll only last so long.

How about when it refuses to run for another inexplicable reason or the brakes groan because something else has upset them? And then, what of my mental health? I recently found myself eyeing up a Nissan Micra for the sole reason that I would be able to reliably indicate left.

At the heart of the car enthusiast’s choice: sensible or sexy?

But then, what of the other side? There is no way of denying that I am clearly in love with the old French legend. My heart broke when a mechanic point-blank refused to touch the engine because he said it could cost more than the car is worth. I swell with joy when a fellow petrolhead comes sniffing around what they may well conceive to be the fossilised remains of the ancient Peugeot 205 1.6 GTI.

I know that it will only cause me trouble, that it isn’t worth it, that I can do better, but I just can’t say no.  It is the Blake Fielder-Civil to my Amy Winehouse, the Bobby to my Whitney, it is the hacking and wheezing, chauvinistic old Frenchman whose charm I just can’t resist.

Here you have the chance to save me from myself or let me continue in deluded happiness. Should the Pug stay or go? Have your say, you decide!

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