Driven – David’s Peugeot 205 GTI rally car

We face a particular choice in just about everything we do. This choice defines us as people, defines the way we view the world and the way we choose to spend our time. It’s the choice of practicality, usability and reliability versus that of romance, emotion and feeling. According to Pirsig, each of us are either classically or romantically wired from the beginning. Some of us see things the way they are in reality (the classics), and some of us see the meaning and feeling in things (the romantics.)

It’s the choice between a maintenance free aluminium dingy or a beautiful polished wooden one. MP3 files or vinyl records? New carbon road bike or an old steel Colnago frame? Off the plan steel frame home or stone cottage? In each example the first option is cheaper and outperforms the last in every measurable way, but the second option has a romantic draw that some just can’t resist, despite its flaws.

In Australia, there is no rational reason to rally a Peugeot. There are a plethora of other, mostly Japanese, cars that are similar in size, weight and power. Japanese cars are typically more reliable and durable, and the parts are usually easier to come by and cheaper due to our geographic proximity to Japan. Toyota Corolla? Mitsubishi Mirage? Honda Civic? All excellent choices. But unless you’re out there rallying to win the World Championship, which I’m fairly sure at least 95% of people aren’t, you’re out there to have fun. You’re out there because you like the way it makes you feel. So it makes sense then that you would drive something that you connect with on an emotional level, something that you genuinely love. This is why David chose a 205 GTI as his rally car of choice. 

It all started back in 2003 when David was gravel rallying a Corolla Levin. It was time to step up to the next car, and the choice was between a Mirage Cyborg or the 205 GTI. The Mirage was by far the more sensible choice, but all it took was one drive of a GTI road car to convince David that the little Peugeot was the way to go. Knowing nothing about French cars or the world he was about to plummet down in to, David walked in and met Stuart at Charles Street Auto’s, a renowned French car specialist. The large picture of the Eiffel Tower on the wall and the daily croissant break should have been clue enough – Stuart lives and breathes French cars and culture, and has a fanatical attention to detail combined with an outstanding emphasis on quality. Stuart doesn’t do things by halves, and his one condition was that if this car were to bear his name, it would have to be built properly.

Over the following 24 months, the build of the Peugeot took place, and a friendship soon developed. The GTI was built to gravel specs and entered in its first event – the 2005 Rally SA ARC round. The GTI became faster and faster as development continued and lessons were learnt. It wasn’t like developing an Evo or a WRX – Stuart and David knew of no one else gravel rallying a 205 GTI, so every lesson was learnt the hard way. But the hardest lesson of all was to come at the Robertstown Rally in 2006 – the 205’s famous tail-happy nature saw the back end come around causing the front to clip an embankment, sending the GTI into a series of three barrel rolls. David and co-driver Claire escaped without serious injury, but the same could not be said for the poor little Peugeot. Most panels on the car were dented and the roll cage was bent. It was a sorry sight.

Fast forward to the present, and after a new shell, a new roll cage and four years of hard work, David and I are sitting in whats been dubbed ‘CSA-Evo-2.0’. The original plan was to simply re-shell the GTI, but in the subsequent years David became bored of not rallying and bought a Legacy RS Turbo, and then replaced that with a GC8 STI. It was deemed that the 205 was now too beautiful for the harsh gravel rally world, so it was re-birthed as a dedicated tarmac rally car and was completed just in time to compete in its first event, Supaloc Classic Targa Adelaide in 2011. The first time David drove the car in over 5 years was to scrutineering and it finished the four-day rally without fault, a testament to Stuarts thoroughness.

Owning a French car isn’t just about owning a vehicle, it can be a lifestyle. We decided then that the only proper place to drive the 205 would be to a French restaurant for lunch. Didier’s at Burnside ticked all the boxes – it’s David and Stuart’s favourite restaurant, and from our hills starting point is conveniently located at the end of some of the best driving roads this state has to offer. Not only that, but the 205 proudly carries a Didier’s sticker on the guard, there’s a framed photo of it on the counter, and proprietor Mimi has been waiting four long years to see the 205 in the flesh. Right-o then.

Like most motoring journalists back in the day, I remember being surprised at how quick, light and agile the 205 GTI was when I first drove a road version a couple of years ago. David’s rally car is no different – it feels just like a GTI should, except a little bit more in every respect. The engine wants to rev harder, it pulls stronger, it stops faster, it grips better and the whole package is just that bit more ‘chuckable’.

And it’s an easy car to drive, too. Within a few kilometres I felt at ease with the car and could get on with the business of navigating the twisty hills roads. I didn’t feel like it was working against me, it felt like an equal partner in crime. To be honest it felt like running with a personal trainer – both I and the car had a common goal, and it was doing everything in its power to help me get there, to egg me on and reward me. These are the hallmarks of a properly built and thought out car – no particular aspect overwhelmed anything else, the car worked in complete harmony. Due to their short wheelbase, 205’s are known for their twitchy handling, but the Koni tarmac package that David and Stuart have put together does a good job of controlling this, although my drive was limited to road speeds – that might all change at rally pace.

It has been raining most of the morning, and whilst the road has started to dry out it is still quite damp in places. Stuart fitted the GTI with a Tran-X gravel spec LSD which works perfectly to control the traction out of slow corners. Even a low powered front-driver will light up an inside wheel coming out of slow speed hairpins, especially in the damp, but the 205 just grips and goes. You can feel a slight twitching through the steering wheel as the diff locks up the inside wheel, but it’s not at all overwhelming like some front drive limited slip’s can be.

The only real demand the car makes is to be revved – the Motec managed engine has been pretty heavily modified so the good stuff all happens up high in the rev range, and whilst it’s not the end of the world if you’re caught below 4000rpm, it’s still not where you want to be. My only major criticism is the steering – it feels nicely communicative at speed, but it’s far too heavy for around town. Not a big deal for a race car you say, but in a typical four day rally you might drive 500-600km of public road transport, which would mean that your arms may be pretty tired come the last stage on Sunday.

As I was behind the wheel, sweeping through the bends heading toward Summertown the late winter sun was gradually dropping behind the tree line and casting long shadows on the road ahead. The overwhelming feeling was that I really didn’t want to stop driving; even at road speeds I was just having so much fun. Every gear change, every blip of the throttle just increased the size of my smile. And that brings us back to the first point – I’m sure a Mirage would have been equally as quick, but would it have made me feel the same way? I don’t think so.

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3 Comments

  1. stuart June 17, 2012 Reply

    really nice job andrew thanks for kind words and praise you should be proud of yourself.viv la france.stuart

  2. Ignacio October 20, 2012 Reply

    Excelente !!!!

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