Evidence dating back to the days of the original, giant-slaying Mini Cooper seems to suggest that a large-ish or tuned engine in a small and lightweight and decently modest road car of reasonably practical proportions and suitably low cost can be a recipe for biblical success.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI took the idea and ran with it, way back in the 1970s, begetting along the way the hot hatch phenomenon. Indeed, it ran so hard that it continues lapping all comers to this day. But ask a misty-eyed enthusiast to name but one such hot hatchback to reverse into their fantasy garage and a pound to a penny the car that’ll be mentioned more than any other will be the Peugeot 205 GTi.
Pourquoi? Well, it’s not just their memories playing tricks: the diminutive 205 GTi really was a responsive and agile humdinger and even now, nearly 40 years after its initial launch, it’s still a bit of a hoot to punt down a winding road. It arguably looked more stylish than the contemporary Golf GTI, too, more pert and rounded and pretty, and it was certainly sharper and more engaging to drive, and it didn’t take long for it to become the hot hatch de jour.
Initially launched in 1984, the first GTis were powered by a 1.6-litre all-alloy fuel-injected engine that made just 103bhp. If that doesn’t sound much by today’s standards, remember that the car weighed just 850kg. Great was the clamour and wide the adulation for this eager-handling little beaver and, although some raised concerns initially over the limitations of its suspension and subsequently bouncy ride quality, the legend was born.