Driving a legend
They say you shouldn't meet your heroes. Screw That!
In life you are told you shouldn't meet you heroes, in case you are disappointed and I can see where they are coming from. But where is the fun is that? That's like saying "Don't go snorkelling in case you drown" or "Don't take risks in case something bad happens". In this case though, not only was I meeting a hero, but I was driving it as well. Step forward the Peugeot 205 GTI
A hot hatch that needs no introduction
This is a car which is simply one of hot hatchback legends and the chances are your Dad or one of his mates owned one at some point. Maybe you've owned one, whether it was used or from brand new.
The 205 GTI first hit the scene in 1984 with a 1.6 litre engine which produced a very modest 105bhp but as the car itself weighed around 900kg, it was enough to provide plenty of fun. It was also enough to put Volkswagen's nose out of joint and the Golf GTI v 205 GTI debate will rage on until the end of time.
A more powerful 1.9 litre engine came in '86 - this bumped the power up to 130bhp, meaning it was able to propel this go-kart for the road to 60mph in 7.8 seconds and then on to a top speed of 127mph. That's a bit more like it.
But enough of the history lesson, I had a date with destiny - well more like an allotted time with Peugeot - and it was time to get in and see what was so special. First of all the interior is rather basic and the gear lever is comically tall. It looks out of place and you get a sense it will be about as good as changing gear as I am drifting.
If you're looking for toys in the 205 GTI you'll be disappointed. But the thing itself is pretty much a toy!
Fire up the engine though and you get a sense of what this car can really do. The model I drove had been restored and featured the 1.9 litre engine - goody. I made a very cautious exit out of the paddock and made my way to the Millbrook Proving Ground's 'Hill Circuit', shifting through the gears as I went along and I have to say, the throws were shorter than the gear lever suggested at first glance.
As I make my way on to the road I open the taps up a bit and presented with a deep, natural, satisfying bellow - no turbo trickery here. The car picked up pace at a good pace but let's be honest, it won't bend your face with out and out speed.
No, what the 205 GTI does is dance in the corners and give you the sense you are driving it rather than simply guiding it around. You can feel the car pivot as you adjust the well-weighted steering in the direction you want to go in. It's been said many times before, but it does feel like a rather big go-kart and driving it round the hairpins on Milbrook is something I could do all day.
Photo taken by Peugeot, not me.
Word of warning though, as you may have heard from previous owners or motoring journalists the back can get a bit 'playful' in the corners. Which is fine if it's your car and you're used to driving it, but when it's a valuable press car that you need to return in one piece, it's not ideal when the back starts to go when you get a bit too confident, causing brown underpants in the process.
However, that only made the drive more enjoyable and more memorable and after a very limited time with the French hot hatch legend I had to begrudgingly hand the keys back in what was a bittersweet moment, knowing that there's a good chance I'll never own one or indeed drive one ever again. Maybe it IS true what they say about meeting you heroes...