I’m delighted that there’s been an enquiry or two about the fate of the Autocar Peugeot 309 GTI track-day car, mainly because it gives me a chance to describe how the car has been covering itself in glory.
Some of you may remember that the car was bought about four years ago for £250 on eBay. The idea was to build a ‘backyard’ car that would be as quick as a Mini Cooper at the Bedford Autodrome. It nearly worked.
We gutted the car, fitted a half-cage plus semi-race suspension (courtesy of Peugeot UK) and the car duly ran against a Cooper on one of the longer Bedford circuits, getting within a second a lap, which was reasonable if not a triumph.
I’ve always liked the idea of owning a cheap hillclimb/sprint car, so I took it over. First it went back to Peugeot where the apprentices cut out the old glass sunroof and replaced it with standard tin, saving about 20kg.
Then, just as inspiration was running out, the whole effort was saved when I made contact with a rally preparation specialist and Peugeot 205/309 expert, Christian Prynne, based in Builth Wells, who agreed to assess the car and suggest a plan of action. We started again.
Prynne reckoned it would be safer to fit a full cage, and bolt the race seats directly to the floor, so we did that. He sorted our engine (already Longman-headed and rebuilt at Peugeot) by putting it on a local rolling road. Suddenly it would rev cleanly to the 7200rpm limiter.
Then the big stuff. Mike Quaife, the gearbox guru, helped us with a low-ratio crownwheel and pinion, a slippery diff, and a set of hardy gearbox internals. Now the car will only do 107 mph (true) against the rev-limiter, which makes it a noisy motorway cruiser, but it doesn’t half get to 80-90 mph quickly.
In went a heavy-duty clutch. The whole thing was fettled over the winter, and last season we did a track day, Autocar’s Prescott driving school and a low-key season of sprints, culminating in our first dry meeting for the season — at Prescott three weeks ago.
That was the moment the car really started to realise its potential.
Our best time (my son Jon’s, not mine) was 54.08secs, which beat some pretty decent opposition. In fact, this is a better time than we’ve achieved on that hill in any of the other three cars we’ve entered in over 10 years — Caterham 1700, Lotus Elise and MG-engined Lotus 6.
Best thing: this car is exactly at out level. It can be MoT’d with a bit of a push, so we can drive it to local meetings. If you feel like making a bit of a noise, you can give it a run just for fun on local roads.
It seems tough and reliable — and better than many a race car in inclement weather, because there’s a roof to protect you in the paddock. I intend to keep gently developing the car, with a view to shaving a couple more seconds off our Prescott time, though I’ve a feeling gains will be harder to earn from now on.
But it’s huge fun, and it won’t cost us much to keep trying.