Peugeot’s 205 T16: selling the game changer

DirtFish owner Steve Rimmer is selling his road-going Peugeot 205 T16. This is the story of chassis #189’s creation

Rally Tour de Corse Ajaccio (FRA) 03-05 05 1984

That Audi delivered rallying’s revolution is beyond question. The quattro moved the goalposts. But it was this Peugeot that truly changed the game.

The French manufacturer was dreaming up an all-new road car aimed at stealing Eighties headlines in the way the Mini Cooper had ruled the Sixties. The 205 would be the car to be seen in. It had to be, Peugeot was not in the rudest of health at the time and it needed something to turn those fortunes around.

It would be launched in 1983, but how to do it? What would really grab people’s attention?

Here’s an idea, why not whip out the rear seats and replace them with the 1775cc XU engine. Bolt a big KKK turbocharger to the side and double the number of driveshafts.

T16 bonnet up

The ultimate Peugeot 205 came with a turbocharged 1775cc engine where rear seats once sat. Who needs seats?

Appointed as director of Peugeot Sport in October 1981, Jean Todt walked into his office to find a Group B car at the top of his to-do list. Having just finished second in the World Rally Championship alongside Guy Frequelin, Todt had an insight into what was needed to go one better.

He canned Talbot’s Formula 1 involvement and centralised the firm’s motorsport development in Paris. By July, 1982 the 205 T16 was already in the wind tunnel. Two months on and transmission parts were arriving, by November the first shell was assembled and in December a turbocharged engine was ready to be installed.

Throughout this process, the world was kept out. Nobody could find out about this car. Finding out about the 205 T16 would mean finding out about the 205. The road car was top secret.

Early in February, 1983 a trailer rolled through the gate house at Mortefontaine, Peugeot’s own road test center, just north of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Nothing unusual there. Maybe it was a new derivative of the 305. Or a facelifted 104.

Once the gates were locked, a sister car to DirtFish owner Steve Rimmer’s chassis #189 rolled out and made its way slowly around the track. It worked. On February 23, most eyes were on the Paris Motor Show and the launch of the 205 road car. Around the same time, in the center of the city Peugeot president Jean Boillot pulled the covers from the 205 T16, describing it as: “The ultimate word in rally cars.”

Audi’s designer Roland Gumpert took one look at the mid-engined layout and said the world’s second Group B supercar would struggle for traction due to the weight transfer under acceleration.

By October 1983, the 205 T16 was ready for a competitive debut at a small one-day event in France. In pouring rain, the car’s hideous turbo lag and troublesome transmission were painfully exposed. Again, Todt was decisive in his direction. At that time, nobody knew turbocharging in motorsport like Renault, so ex-Formula 1 engineer Jean-Pierre Boudy was drafted in to make the 340bhp useable. Combine that with the renowned brilliance of rally engineer Jean-Claude Vaucard and the car came together.

In April, 1984, Peugeot lined up 200 examples of the 205 T16 for inspection by FISA, world motorsport’s governing body. Steve’s car is in that line-up.

205 press shot

Peugeot's PR shot from April 1984. Chassis 189 is in the line-up. Head to the Amelia Island Auction on Friday March 1 and it could be in your line-up

Ironically, Audi’s Sport quattro was also signed off for competition. Having thumbed its nose at France’s interpretation of what a Group B car should be, Ingolstadt chopped 320mm out of the original quattro’s wheelbase and squared it off by making it 57mm wider. The engine was developed with the deployment of two cams and 20 valves, mushrooming power from 370 to around 500bhp.

The showdown came in Corsica later in April. The Audi overheated its way through seven stages before Walter Röhrl retired the only example of the new car. The Peugeot 205 T16? It fared slightly better.

By the second stage of the French island event, Ari Vatanen had set the car’s maiden fastest time. By stage eight, he was leading. The Finn remained out front until he aquaplaned off the road on the first stage on the final day.

The next event couldn’t have been more different, with Greece’s agonisingly rough Acropolis testing the Peugeot thoroughly. Again, more fastest times and more promise. Next up? Finland and the 205’s first win. Vatanen was victorious at home and remained on the podium’s top step for the remaining two rallies – Sanremo and the RAC – the Peugeot would contest in 1984.

“This car, this Peugeot 205,” Vatanen told DirtFish, “it was the glove on my hand.”

This is your opportunity to own one of those gloves.

Lombard Rac Rally, Chester (GB) 25-29 11 1984

Vatanen on his way to victory on the 1984 RAC Rally. There was no stopping the Peugeot 205 T16 once it started winning

Talking about the decision to sell this remarkable piece of history – a car which has stopped so many people in their tracks in the DirtFish lobby – Steve said: “I know what you’re going to say… it’s with a genuinely heavy heart that this one is going to be sold. Anybody who knows me knows how fascinated I am with the road-going versions of these extraordinary cars and this Peugeot really is one of the very best examples. It’s identical to the moment it sat in that line-up back in April, 1984.

“I already own a EVO1 tribute car, the renovation of which is almost finished. And then there’s Juha Kankkunen’s 205 T16 E2 which I recently bought. Don’t worry, the lobby in DirtFish will retain its French influence!”

Steve’s Peugeot will be sold at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island Auction on Thursday February 29. Further details are available here.

The day after the sale (Saturday March 2) is DirtFish Women in Motorsport Summit day at the Rally School in Snoqualmie. Not only will the Kankkunen Peugeot 205 T16 E2 be on display, it will be flanked by other examples of the world’s finest Group B cars. Even better, four-time world rally winner Michèle Mouton will be joining us to talk, among other things, about the heady days of the Eighties.

Register for the DirtFish Women in Motorsport Summit here.

Pictures copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company, images by Mathieu Heurtault

Steve Peugeot 2

Chassis 189 is a stunning example of Peugeot's 205 T16. This is your opportunity to own a road-going example of the WRC's game changer