The Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 has been winning rallies for the past 12 months. Although its first two events in 1984 Corsica and Acropolis yielded little save to boost Peugeot Talbot Sport’s confidence, the l000 Lakes Rally in August provided that all-important first win. Suddenly, the face of world Championship rallying had been changed, and everyone wanted one of the new cars.
The PTS operation in Paris was then understandably reluctant to part with their baby but now, with their stated aim of claiming the 1985 World Championship achieved and a second evolution version of the car in use several cars have found their way to national teams. In, June this year, the British based team took delivery of their own example, a proud moment for the team that gave Talbot the World Championship in 1981.
Following on from that successful 1981 season when the little Group 2 Sunbeam Lotus outpaced the more specialized Group 4 machinery the Peugeot Talbot operation began to run down. Over the next couple of years, the company headquarters withdrew its tentacles and the motorsport operation moved to Paris. Jean Todt then announced that he was intending to develop a new car to take the company into the second half of the 1980s following the introduction of Group B and the situation in Coventry looked grim.
Des O’Dell. the forthright leader of the Coventry based operation, went to Paris to work for a time, taking his close friend and partner Paul White with him. Back at the Humber Road workshops, where the faded sign still proclaims the existence of the Competitions Department (albeit erected during the days with Hunters and Avengers), the skeletal remains of the team worked on projects such as the Group A and Group B Samba. Neither of which really received the support that they deserved with the company to promote the Peugeot name, rather than that of Talbot.
It was important to the team that they continued to work from Coventry for they were sure that there was a future in rallying. Bernard Unett, who Des still praises at every opportunity for his racing and rallying exploits in years gone by, kept the team busy and, when the Samba project folded, turned his attentions towards the newly announced 205 GTI. This was a real shoestring budget, affair hut they developed the niche machine in Group N trim (Autosport October 25, 1984) at the same time that the French were notching up their second World rally win.
By now, Des O’Dell was back at Coventry and Paul White was soon to follow. The management was talking about getting a 205 Turbo 16 as soon as possible. Jean Todt apparently having promised one to Des before he left Paris for Warwickshire but a more realistic aim seemed to be the acquisition of the necessary parts to produce a Group A version of the 205 GTI. It would be fair to say that many people were sure that there was a large difference between O’Dell’s dreams and the practicalities of the idea. But he is a determined man…
By the end of 1984. Peugeot Talbot announced that they would be returning to rallying in Britain through a Dealer Team, comprising two Group A versions of the 205 GTI. Des had achieved part of his dream and his frustration at being trapped behind a desk receded when for the first time in almost three years, service vans left Coventry for an international rally the Bradford based National Breakdown Rally, round one of this year’s Shell Oils RAC Open Championship.
Two cars had been prepared, one for Britain’s leading lady driver, Louise Aitken-Walker, and the other for the young Finn, Mikael Sundstrom. With little chance for development beforehand, it was no surprise that neither driver finished the weak front suspension breaking on both cars within a few stage miles of each other. But Sundstrom had already shown the potential of the car, the driver and the team. By dicing with Tony Pond’s Rover Vitesse over the early stages, the little 1600cc machine actually leading Group A for a while.
In Ireland at Easter, the tarmac format proved kinder on the cars now with stronger front suspension links hut Sundstrom went out early with a broken fuel pump while Louise stayed on the road to record a class win. By Wales, however, the buzz was that a 205 Turbo 16 was actually on its way to Coventry, destined to appear on the Scottish and that Sundstrom would be at the wheel. Once again. Des had confounded the skeptics!
The practicalities of running one of these supercars were now the major consideration. It was one thing getting hold of the car but no-one in Coventry knew much about keeping the thing going. Experience with Group 2 Sunbeams counted for little with a mid-engined four-wheel-drive, machine. The best way to learn was to build it themselves and they would have plenty of opportunities.
The car set aside for the Peugeot Dealer Team was the one used on the Safari by Bruno Saby and it was in a pretty sorry state. Bernhard Unett took a squad of mechanics to France where they set about building the car back to rally trim, learning its intricacies as they went. One of the most fundamental parts of the current four-wheel-drive cars is the Centre differential, in the case of Peugeot supplied by FF Developments, which allows the torque split to be adjusted from front to hack between 55-45 and 75-25. For our test day, PTS set the car up in its Ulster trim of 67-33. The front and rear differentials, each a plated ZF type unit, were set at the standard 25% front and 45% rear. The front diff remains the same for forest or tarmac use, the company opting for a fairly soft setting at the front end, while the car would have been changed to 75% if the car had been in forest trim.
The 205 Turbo l6 was probably the first of the current Group B cars specifically designed for competition use. Audi’s Quattro was essentially a converted road car and the handicap of; the front engine ahead of the front axle has never really been overcome. The most noticeable feature of the 205 Turbo is its beautiful handling. perfectly balanced at all times, just a hint of oversteer when pushed to the limit.
The turbocharger, provided by KKK, begins to operate at around 3500 rpm providing urgent boost right up to the maximum rpm of 8000 and it does it extremely quickly too! The traction is a particularly impressive part of the package as well, little or no wheelspin being registered, despite the road surface being still damp during our first runs with the car. No matter what the driver does with the car, the turbo boost is eager and controllable, with little or no turbo lag to impede progress.
The usual criticism of four-wheel-drive cars is the way that they tend towards understeer when being set up for corners. Not so much the 205 Turbo. This beast showing few vices and proving easy to drive, a feeling shared by even the most experienced testers. The five-speed, the all-synchromesh gearbox was both a surprise and a revelation and the change was remarkably smooth to operate. Turning in to a corner of almost any description reveals fairly neutral handling characteristics. Ease the power on through the turn and the merest hint of oversteer sets in as the weight at the rear takes over. With a wheel almost literally at each corner, the 205 is beautifully balanced and sure-footed.
Acceleration in all gears is simply unreal, as the figures provided by Autocar show, this being the fastest accelerating, rally car that they have ever tested. The car is nimble considering its layout, hut the driver must know where he is intending to put it on the road as, unlike a straightforward rear-wheel-drive car, the attitude will not change as quickly. Nevertheless. with a hit of forethought. the car now changed to Michelin S5 slick tires for the drying roads would press on through the twists and turns without undue drama.
Throughout the Scottish and Ulster rallies, co-driver. Paul White had commented about the noise, heat and harshness of the ride. When I had the opportunity to drive the car at a relatively smooth test venue, I would have to agree with him. The noise inside the fairly cramped cockpit is unlike anything I had previously experienced, even with helmet and intercom. It seems that the team is now using a special intercom unit, built-in Italy, in order to combat the problem as even the ubiquitous Peltor system cannot cope with the noise levels. The ride, with the car in stiff tarmac trim, was very harsh indeed and I would have preferred a little more padding in the Sparco seats. But above all else, the most uncomfortable aspect of the car was the heat. In the roof, there is a tiny hatch
– Laughingly called a sunroof on the homologation forms which, apart from the two ’guillotine’ side windows, is the only way that cool air arrives inside. It does not work…
During the Ulster Rally, the temperatures recorded inside the car apparently reached the upper 80s, and in some southern countries, three-figure temperatures are the norm. Des O’Dell is, currently trying to work out some way of reducing these hazards.
The team is rightly proud of their charge, even though they have proved reluctant to reveal many of its secrets. Development work is still being carried out on the viscous coupled center differential in cloak and dagger style hut even now, the car is superbly driveable and effective. It is easy to see why it has suddenly taken the rally world by storm…
DRIVING THE GROUP A VERSION
Over the past 18 months, world attention has been focused firmly on the Group B 205 Turbo, but there has also been significant work carried out on a Group A version of the 205 GTI in order to provide an important step in the development of a driver’s career. With costs escalating for the ultimate challengers (the Group B Peugeot is currently around £130,000 before any spares are considered), a cheaper alternative was an important addition.
Since the 205 GTI became available, Des O’Dell’s team has been working on the car and it finally appeared at the beginning of the year, turning in some impressive performances.
Currently, the car produces around 140 BHP at 7000 rpm, a useful figure to work with on a front-wheel-drive car. It means that most of the power is useable and, as it turned out at the recent test day, the little car is a joy to drive.
The engine remains largely standard apart from some extensive development work to eradicate the inherent oil surge problems that have beset the road car while the gearbox has been drafted in from the Solara and Horizon model. The Series 2 unit is fitted with a close-ratio kit to produce a slick, efficient change, while the final drive is selected according to the conditions. One difference between the French versions of the car and the ones used by the Coventry team is the choice of differential. The French use a plated ZF type, the Brits settling on the Quaife unit. Testing at the beginning of the season produced little difference in performance between the two, although Sundstrom did prefer the heavier plated diff.
Nevertheless, I was glad that the team persuaded him to stick with the Quaife unit as it was his car being used for the test day, the machine now redundant following the arrival of the Group B car. And what a little gem it turned out to be.
Accelerating away from the line, the diff produces that ’wandering’ characteristic that is usual with powerful front-wheel-drive cars and one has to concentrate hard to counter such influences. Nevertheless, the symptom is quite controllable with practice and soon the car becomes easy to drive In tarmac trim, it stuck to the road like glue, no discernible roll to upset either the balance of the car or the driver’s confidence. The true test of its handling came through a particularly long right-hander, which tightened fairly late. Persistent acceleration produced the inevitable understeer but the simple act of easing back in the middle of the corner produced the right amount of ’tuck in to bring everything back under control again. The same was true anywhere else on the track, either easing the throttle or braking, with either foot would quickly and without drama, set things up again.
The sturdy front suspension of the current car is a long way from the first version to be used. 185lb/ins front spring rates virtually three times the standard weighting are fitted for forest use and the rear is controlled by a specially prepared 20mm torsion bar (compared with the standard 17.8mm unit). A 23mm rear roll bar stiffens the rear end even further. For tarmac use, those figures are even further increased and the whole car sits on Bilstein dampers, rather than the Peugeot units originally fitted. In the main, work has been confined to strengthening the front suspension and stiffening the rear, an area where the standard car reveals erratic handling.
Since those early days of trial and error, Sundstrom produced an amazing eighth place in Wales with Louise just outside the top 10. With Sundstrom’s switch to the Group B car from Scotland, Louise has been able to show her own talents to the full and has continued to get good results. With its new 9004 led bulb kit to improve the illumination through on road.
When I drove the Group N car last year, I was convinced that the 205 is basically right, something which is good news for drivers learning about the sport. The Group B car is certainly ’the business’ while the Group A 205 GTI fits neatly between the two Group A is not cheap, however, and to buy this car prepared by the factory would cost in the region of £17,000. Nevertheless, one could actually buy and run a full works replica, something that is not always true of the team’s rivals…
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