Jean Todt isn’t the kind of guy who makes false promises. So when he arrived at a London press conference in 1981 with a pledge to build a championship-winning rally car by 1985, he was to be taken seriously.
This was the very genesis of the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 – or T16 for short – a car that would enjoy three years of success in the manic Group B era of world rallying, including total dominance in 1985 and 1986.
With a very special Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 heading to auction at the Artcurial sale in Monaco, we take a brief look at one of the greatest cars ever to grace the world rally circuit. You’ll need to dig deep, as this particular car is very special.
More Peugeot on Motoring Research:
- Peugeot 205 Rallye review: Retro Road Test
- Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6 vs Peugeot 205 GTI Mi16: Retro Road Test
- Peugeot 208: Two-Minute Road Test
One vision: to end Audi’s dominance
Jean Todt arrived at the newly-formed Peugeot Talbot Sport team having enjoyed success as a co-driver with Guy Fréquelin in the 1981 World Rally Championship. In a Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus, the pair finished first in the manufacturers’ championship, with Fréquelin narrowly missing out to Ari Vatanen in the drivers’ title challenge.
Indeed, the aforementioned press conference was held at the conclusion of the 1981 championship, by which time Peugeot – inspired by the success of the British-based Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus team – had decided to throw its considerable might behind a challenge for the title.
Peugeot-Talbot had toyed with the idea of creating a mid-engined/rear-wheel drive version of the Chrysler Horizon, but Audi’s trailblazing Quattro led to a change of plan. The future was four-wheel drive and Peugeot knew it had to adapt or face defeat.
That the 205 T16 would be so successful should come as no surprise: Peugeot’s approach to its development was as all-encompassing as it was brilliant. Todt’s single-mindedness and dogged determination was matched by the full backing of the Peugeot board. The company threw serious money at the project, offering Todt what was essentially an unlimited budget.
The requirement to build 200 road cars for homologation purposes was considered from the outset and Peugeot’s marketing department knew full well what an all-conquering rally car could do for sales of its more mundane models. The standard 205 was still two years away from reaching Peugeot showrooms.
This, of course, meant that the 205 T16 had to look like the conventional 205 front-wheel drive hatchback. And, indeed, in isolation there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two cars.
But something has to give when you’re creating a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive rally car aimed squarely at ending the dominance of the Audi Quattro. The 205 T16 is pumped up to the max – complete with longer wheelbase and wild haunches – as if a regular 205 had consumed one too many tins of spinach. Dare we suggest that Gérard Welter’s regular 205 is the more aesthetically pleasing of the two?
A timetable for success
Peugeot’s timetable for the project was tight and rigid. The engine – a 1775cc turbocharged unit based on the four-cylinder XU block – was chosen in February 1982, while the first mock-up of the exterior was completed just two months later.
The first major prototype parts were available in September of the same year, ahead of the construction of the first prototype in November. The first car ran in February 1983 before the 205 T16 was homologated in 1984.
By August 1984, the Peugeot 205 T16 had secured its first big win, with Ari Vatanen and Terry Harryman guiding the car to victory at the 1000 Lakes Rally, ahead of a pair of Lancia 037s.
The team enjoyed a terrific end to the season, picking up wins at the San Remo and Lombard RAC rallies: enough to secure fourth place in the overall standings. The writing was on the wall for Audi: it was about to lose its favourite game.
Ari Vatanen started the 1985 season with two back-to-back victories, but it was Timo Salonen who picked up the pace, most notably following Vatanen’s near-fatal crash in Argentina. This was also the year in which Attilio Bettega was killed at the wheel of his Lancia 037.
Salonen secured the title in his first season for Peugeot in what was the 205 T16’s first complete championship. Peugeot won again in 1986, with Juha Kankkunen winning the drivers’ title and Salonen finishing third.
Sadly, following devastating crashes in Portugal and France, the development of Group B cars was frozen in 1986 and teams were banned from competing in 1987. This signalled the end for the 205 T16, at least from a WRC perspective, although it went on to enjoy success in Rally Raid, Pikes’ Peak and rallycross.
The 205 T16 also led to the development of the Peugeot 405 T16 Grand Raid and Citroen ZX Rallye Raid cars. Its legacy lived on, as would its place in the motorsport history books.
One for the road
Of course, the rally hero is only half the story, because Peugeot built 200 road-going 205 T16s to satisfy homologation rules. All would be left-hand drive, finished in the same shade of grey and assembled at the old Simca factory in Poissy.
But while the rally version developed between 340hp and 550hp depending on spec, the road-going version was forced to ‘make do’ with 200hp. It was enough to give the 205 T16 a top speed of 130mph and a 0-62mph time of six seconds dead.
Just imagine seeing one of these parked in a dealer showroom. At a penny short of £27,000, Peugeot was, in the words of Car magazine, asking “Ferrari money for a 1800cc Peugeot”, at a time when nine of 10 enquiries were about diesels!
It would take a certain somebody to dismiss the cheaper and quicker Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera in favour of a French wideboy. If you were one of the enlightened few, we salute you.
There were some similarities with the 205 driven by your mum in the mid 80s. The doors, windscreen, headlights and grille are at least faithful to the car you’d find in the supermarket car park.
But while you might raise the hatchback to load your groceries into a regular 205, doing so in a T16 would merely unveil the engine sat behind the two seats. In terms of kerb appeal, the 205 T16’s rear clamshell must be up there with the 300 SL’s ‘Gullwing’ doors and the Miura’s headlight ‘eyelashes’.
It was, of course, designed to be purely functional, providing access to the car’s structure, engine and four-wheel drive transmission. Such ease of servicing between rally stages would have been hugely beneficial to Peugeot Talbot Sport, not to mention your local Peugeot mechanic.
Some sacrifices would have to be made in order to live this homologation special. The 205 T16 isn’t what you’d call practical, with the front ‘boot’ filled with the spare wheel, ancillaries and petrol filler cap. And although Peugeot added some sound insulation to the cabin, there’s only so much you can do when the engine is situated behind your head. And contemporary reviews point to the wail of the turbochargers as being as pleasant as fingernails on a blackboard.
But does this matter? It’s not as though Peugeot didn’t offer a more useable, accessible and cheaper alternative. Besides, the creation of the roadcar allowed the T16 to go racing, and we can all raise a glass to that.
The best 205 T16 in the world?
You’ll need to dig very deep in order to secure the example being auctioned at the Artcurial sale. The pre-auction estimate of €275,000 – €325,000 (£243,000 – £287,000) reflects the very special nature of car number nine.
It is one of four T16s finished in the same pearl white as the works cars, as ordered by Jean Todt. The cars were reserved for key figures in the model’s history, namely: Jean Todt, Jean Boillot, Didier Pironi and André de Cortanze.
Number nine was presented to André de Cortanze, the then technical director of Peugeot Sport, who played an integral part in the development of the T16. He requested that his car was fitted with an alarm, radio and telephone, although it’s unclear whether he actually made use of said items.
That’s because the car has covered a mere 284 kilometres from new and as such is presented in original condition. Little wonder the pre-auction estimate is so punchy. For reference, a ‘regular’ 205 T16 sold at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction for £155,451 in 2016.
But don’t worry if you can’t stretch to the Artcurial car, Bonhams is offering another 205 T16 at the 2017 Quail Lodge Auction in August. Precise details are unknown, but we do know that it has covered just 1,200 kilometres.
Turns out that Peugeot 205 T16s are like World Rally Championship titles: you wait an age for one to come up and then you find two in quick succession.
Peugeot 205 T16, Graham Robson
Car, March 1985