Although Peugeot was not the originator of the GTI craze, the success of its 205 GTI model greatly contributed to the development of this sporting category among its competitors.
In less than a decade, these three letters symbolised a new generation of small, muscular sports cars and launched a trend that was quickly taken up by most European manufacturers as well as by certain Japanese models produced for export. The North American market, however, which was very fond of sports cars and other muscle cars, was not affected by this phenomenon, even though brands such as Ford started producing them for their European ranges.
The arrival of the Peugeot 205 GTI in 1984 put an end to the hegemony of the Golf GTI since 1976. The figures speak for themselves: 15,506 Golf GTIs were sold in France in 1983 compared with 6,473 in 1984, while that same year the Peugeot 205 GTI took 33.8 % of the French sports saloon market. In 1984, GTI and other GT Turbo enthusiasts had a choice of fifteen models in this category and two years later, there were now twenty-four.
The Volkswagen Golf will be the main competitor of the Peugeot 205 GTI, here a 16-valve 1800 version delivering 135 hp from 1986.
© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Volkswagen
The historical competitor
As soon as it was launched in March 1984, the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6 was inevitably compared to the car that had been reigning in this segment for eight years: the Volkswagen Golf GTI. All the more so as, as if to better ensure the inevitable commercial confrontation which was in the offing, this model had a new look and was presented as the second generation. A change in continuity, since the Wolfsburg brand's design office has ensured that the new Golf GTI does not become too outdated. At the time, its fans regretted that this Golf GTI II was not designed to crush the competition again for ten years! The Golf has become somewhat commonplace, whereas the new Peugeot 205 GTI is unanimously acclaimed for its improved aesthetics compared to the basic 4-door version. The 205 GTI is a real bomb on this still young GTI market with, as a first argument, a much more advantageous price than its rival: 67,600 francs against 75,250 francs! And this, with measured performances which go to the advantage of the French car, whether it is for the maximum speed (186 km/h against 181 km/h) or the acceleration over 1,000 metres from a standing start (30''6 against 31''3), whereas the 205 GTI has 7 bhp less than the Golf GTI (respectively 105 bhp and 112 bhp).
The XR2i, part of the Fiesta range, is one of the sporty models developed by the American firm Ford to get a foot in the GTI court.
© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Ford
Among the French manufacturers, the fightback was quickly organised, notably within PSA itself, which saw the 205 GTI as a locomotive for other models of the group. Thus, in 1985, Citroën tried to compete with its cousin with the Visa, which was in turn launched in a GTI version, equipped with the same engine as the 205, the Type XU5 J of 1,580 cm3 offering 105 hp. Externally, the Visa GTI is distinguished by its double round headlights, fender flares, specific rocker panels and spoilers as well as the GTI badge prominently displayed on the corner of the bonnet. In 1987, it was the turn of the Citroën AX Sport to make headlines with its 1,294 cc (95 bhp) engine prepared at Danielson. In the same year, Peugeot launched the 309 GTI with a 1.9 XU9 JA engine offering 130 bhp, which was followed in 1989 by the 160 bhp 309 GTI 16-valve version. The most notable French competition, however, was the Renault Supercinq GT Turbo launched in 1985 to replace the 1981 R5 Alpine Turbo. The Super 5 GT Turbo had the engine of the R11 Turbo, with a displacement of 1,397 cm3 developing 115 bhp, then 120 bhp for the Phase 2 of 1987.
At Renault, it was the Supercinq GT Turbo that stood in the way of the Peugeot 205 GTI from 1985.
© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Archives & Collections
A European phenomenon
Faced with the indestructible 205 GTI and Golf GTI, the main European brands launched themselves into the GTI wave. In Germany, Opel presented in 1984 a remarkable Kadett GSI equipped with a 1.8 litre four-cylinder with 115 bhp, then 2 litres and 130 bhp two years later. Ford tried, but without much success, to counter the Golf from 1980 with the Escort XR3 1600 (96 bhp), then XR3i (105 bhp), as well as with a sporty version of the Fiesta in 1981, the XR2, which saw the same Kent 1.6 Litre engine deliver 84 bhp, then 96 bhp in 1983 and finally 110 bhp on the XR2i in 1989. In the European ranges of the Japanese brands, several models were to become established, such as the Mitsubishi Colt GTI Turbo with 125 bhp in 1986, as well as the Toyota Corolla GT 16S with 121 bhp and the Honda CRX with 125 bhp in 1987. The Italian Fiat Uno was the best-selling car in Europe in 1983 and the arrival of a 105 hp Turbo version in 1985 was supposed to put this model in the GTI race. If the Ritmo engine was up to the task, the chassis on the other hand was less efficient.
In 1985, Citroën, the other brand in the PSA Group, adopted the engine from the Peugeot 205 GTI and installed it in the VISA GTI.
© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Citroën
GTI, a range apart
In the mid-1980s, the three letters GTI formed an explosive cocktail that changed the laws of the car market and imposed a style on all European manufacturers, giving rise to an unprecedented phenomenon. Previously, GT vehicles (for Grand Tourism) had been given an O for Omologato, or a V for Veloce in the case of Italian brands, or S for Sport in the case of French brands, thus qualifying specific sports ranges. With the arrival of the GTI, which can be translated as Grand Tourisme Injection in French, Gran Turismo Iniezione in Italian or Grand Tourer Injection in English, the approach is different, since the starting point is generally an entry-level model that is equipped with a much more powerful engine with a displacement ranging from 1,500 cm3 to 2 litres. GTI thus becomes a brand of nobility like VIP!
The competition as seen by Peugeot
In March 1986, an internal promotional film was produced for the PSA group's sales force to mark the launch of the Peugeot 205 1.6 115 bhp version. During ten minutes, the rally driver René Defour, who raced for this brand for a long time, gives a panorama of the 205 GTI's competitors with unrestrained assessments and judgements... The main rival models of the 205 GTI at the time are presented: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Opel Kadett GSI, Ford Escort XR3i, Fiat Uno Turbo ie and Renault 5 GT Turbo. Each car is presented in a negative light: "the Kadett's lines are heavy and bulging, the XR3 is an old and outdated model...". As for the Golf GTI, it is described as "a real reference for small sports saloons until the 205 GTI came out!