Would Peugeot still have existed without the 205? It just might not be the case. When the brand was on the brink of collapse in the early 1980s, the 205 was the savior.
This report by Bavo Galama previously appeared in Auto Review. Bavo scours the autoland for every issue. He meets enthusiasts with petrol in their blood. Is there still a future for their passion?
In the early 1980s, the Peugeot group was in financial trouble. In previous years it had purchased the ailing Simca, Sunbeam, Chrysler France and Citroën in order to achieve the necessary increase in scale.
These brands (except Citroën) were brought together under the name Talbot, but instead of increasing the chances of survival, Talbot dragged the parent company further into the abyss. And when the need was greatest, a saving angel suddenly appeared exactly forty years ago.
This time the design for the compact family car came from the company's own design department led by C. A rectangular and somewhat boring proposal from Pininfarina was politely dismissed. In retrospect it was the right choice, because no fewer than 5.3 million copies of the company's own design were built.
The dying Lion was resuscitated in record time by a small elegant car bearing the number 205. A song that was immediately canonized in France: Le sacré numéro.
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You still see the 205 quite often in the Dutch street scene. More than five thousand copies are still registered with the RDW. From this year it is an official classic.
If I had to quickly qualify the 205, I would say: a women's car. But that doesn't always turn out to be the case. One of the biggest fans of the 205 is contractor Mario Müller (47) from Tricht. A giant of a guy with hands like coal shovels. The Bear of the Betuwe.
He is chairman of the Peugeot 205-309 Club Netherlands. I meet him at Visscher Classique in Buren, the car museum of former car dealer Henk Visscher and his associates. The Betuwe contractor is one of those companions and a large part of his Peugeot collection is permanently on display here.
At the time of my visit, preparations were taking place in the large halls for a festive gathering of 400 fans of the Peugeot 205 from home and abroad. The next day they come to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of their beloved and iconic Peugeot 205.
Mario Müller: “My passion for this car started very early. My father worked at the Simca garage of Visscher here in Buren. That later became Talbot and later Peugeot. I was 9 years old when the 205 came out and it somehow really appealed to me. I was only 16 when I bought my first one. I polished it up a bit and sold it on. I did that about a hundred times after that, I think. Yet my first car after getting my driver's license was neither a 205 nor a 309, but a Talbot Horizon. That had everything to do with the dealership where my father worked, of course.”
Mario just continued buying up traded-in 205s, fixing them up and selling them again. “I did that as extra income. About twenty years ago I started my own construction company. At the same time, I decided not to wait until I was 70 to start collecting cars. I wanted to be able to enjoy it straight away. So then I got several cars and held on to them a little longer before reselling them. Since 2008, I have kept the more special models for myself. I also started looking for additions to my own collection. I currently have 29 units of the 205, in all possible versions, and 11 units of the 309. One of them is a 205 Break that has never been in production. Of course I also have a GTI.”
“My wife drove a so-called 205 Terberg for another eight years. That was a three-door on which the Dutch bodywork company Terberg built a kind of dormer window, making it an order version with a gray license plate. I can still continue collecting for a while, because about 65 different versions were published between 1983 and 1998.”
“That may have been an important part of the 205's success. There was one for everyone. From diesel to GTI, from a luxurious Indiana to a basic Junior, two-door, five-door, convertible, you name it. One example is high on my wish list: the Durisotti pickup. Peugeot had asked designer Durisotti to make a proposal for a 205 pick-up. In the end, Peugeot didn't see anything in it and the only sample copy ended up with a French farmer. That man apparently drove around in it for years. An acquaintance of mine discovered this car at a scrap yard and immediately bought it and refurbished it. Unfortunately, he doesn't want to get rid of it, but I'll keep trying.”
After our conversation I walk through the large hall of Visscher Classique, where it all has to happen the next day. The 205s of all shapes and sizes are driven in, set up and polished.
I immediately recognize a number of versions. For example, the Lacoste promotional model. You know, from that clothing brand with the crocodile. They were white copies with green accents, striking white plastic hubcaps and a sticker of the reptile on the fender. Only now do I discover that the car is also equipped with a horrible apple green carpet.
Of course the bestseller Accent is there. But I also see the Junior and the last series that was for sale in the Netherlands, the closing sale model Génération. I also remember a model version called Roland Garros, but I don't see that here anytime soon. A 205 GTI in striking metallic green. His name is on the side: Griffe. I think the greenery here is beautiful.
“The three-door has everything that makes the 205 such a nice car, the five-door is quite boring.”
Mario's 205 Break is also there. It is a design by Benoît Cointreau, who presented it as the 205 Nepala. Then I notice something that I had never realized before. The five-door version largely lacks the charm of the three-door and is actually quite a boring and average car. However, the three-door has everything that makes the 205 such a nice car. This is mainly in the C-pillar. This makes it sporty and elegant and gives it a certain kind of class that is much less present in the five-door version. I also think that about the convertible. While in other cars a convertible is the chic version, in the 205 it has become a bit of a junk car.
A fun fact is that the loser of the first hour, the famous Pininfarina agency, was allowed to design this open version again. As far as I'm concerned, it could have been better drawn in-house. Well, Johan Cruijff was also out of shape sometimes.
Then I come across a nice, small and bright red Jeep. I don't immediately understand what it is doing among all those 205s. It turns out to be a Dallas. A French car builder first built this Jeep based on a Renault 4, and later on the platform and with engines and parts from the 205. So that Jeep is on display here completely legitimately.
A little further on there are also two very special 205 versions covered by blue cloths. Employees of the Peugeot 205-309 Club are taking the curtains off especially for me. This should be the Grande Surprise for the visitors the next day. Two rally cars appear.
Peugeot once built three very special cars to participate in the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Bright yellow 205s with extended wheel arches and enormous double wings. Really gigantic! If mounted upside down, they could earn the car a certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority. The three original cars have disappeared, dissolved, demolished, fallen apart or sold in parts. Anyway, they're gone. But an Austrian has recreated one down to the millimeter according to the original specifications. The car is rarely, if ever, on display in public, but here it is.
The other racing car is the white and slightly less exuberant-looking 205 Turbo 16 of Timo Salonen. This chain-smoking Finnish rally driver won the world championship for Peugeot in 1985, after the leader of the Peugeot factory team Ari Vatanen was struck by technical adversity. That profit was not unimportant for the later sporting image of the 205.
Two years later, in 1987, the 205 GTI would come onto the market. A car that is still praised to the heavens by friend and enemy. The undisputed leading position of the iconic Volkswagen Golf GTI in the hot-hatch segment even wavered for a while. But unfortunately, in that part of the market the Golf is sacred. But the car with the Sacred Number 205 came a long way. Yes.
This post was last modified on December 2, 2023 6:13 am
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