The 1980s Are In Vogue Again, But I Remember When The Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Was A New Car
Photography by Rosario Liberti
When I was a little kid I used to spend hours and hours flipping through car magazines memorizing specifications and cutting out my favorite photographs—surely I am not alone in this pastime. I was probably six or seven years old when I got really “into it,” but back then I was mostly limited to the local offerings. I would go to the newsstand in the village I lived in on Lake Como to buy Italy’s major car magazines (which I loved), but my collection was augmented from time to time with some help from my father. I’d be happy to see him walking through the door after a business trip, sure, but I was particularly excited to see what kind of car mag he’d picked up for me along the way.
One of the oldest automotive memories I can recall is me going through the pages of a Spanish-language car magazine called Automovil. It was the 96th issue, from January 1986. I can still remember the smell of that paper, the arrangement of the photos, the typeface.
The front cover was split into two vertical halves: a white Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4 occupied the bottom, with three cars above it with the word comparativo—you don’t need to be a fluent Spanish-speaker to get the gist. The lucky journalists on duty for that feature story tested three homologation specials against one another during the last days of the Group B era: a red Lancia Delta S4 Stradale from Italy, a dark green Audi Sport Quattro from Germany, and from France, a dark grey Peugeot 205 Turbo 16.
My diecast collection at the time featured a 1:24-scale Camel-liveried 1987 Paris-Dakar-winner Peugeot Turbo 16 Grand Raid: no Lancias nor Audis. So then, pretty easy to deduce which car I was rooting for in the mag’s comparo.
The genesis of the T16—in summary—goes back to 1981, when Jean Todt arrived at a press conference in London with some news: Peugeot Talbot Sport would build a World Rally Championship-winning car by 1985. They lived up to the claim, and produced a vehicle which all but dominated the final years of the Group B era in 1985 and 1986—Lancia put up a fight, but the Peugeot 205 earned drivers’ and constructors’ titles back to back. Its turbocharged 1779cc inline-four developed between 350 and 550bhp depending on the boost settings of the Garrett T31 snail. Weight? Between 910-1,000kg (~2,000-2,200lbs). In other words, a fast car.
Like all the Group B machines, in order to homologate the rally version of its humble 205 hatchback, Peugeot had to produce 200 road-legal examples of the car they’d base their competition version on. The motor was moved to the middle, and powered all four wheels rather than the front two. It was hardly a 205 at all.
These special cars all came out of the PSA Sochaux factory in anthracite grey, with just four extra-rare examples cars wearing a special pearl white finish. These cars were reserved for key figures in the T16’s history: Jean Todt himself, Jean Boillot (then-president of Peugeot, and considered a the father of the 205), André de Cortanze (Peugeot Talbot Sport’s technical director), and racer Didier Pironi.
This French-made unicorn has around 200bhp, significantly less than the competitive spec, but more than enough to make its occupants feel a bit like Juha Kankkunen. The engine and gearbox are mounted transversely, the mass resting almost exactly halfway between the driver cockpit and the rear axle. However, the engine is heavily offset to the right, so that it and the gearbox could be located on either side of the longitudinal driveshaft. To offset the weight of the engine, the battery and the intercooler are mounted on the opposing side. This lightweight car, despite having no power steering and a steering wheel that’s hard as a rock, is still easy to handle about town, and excessively fun to drive on the backroads outside of it, with a wonderful tendency to oversteer.
The doors, windscreen, headlights, and grille are at faithful to the base-model 205s that one could find by the dozen in a French car park in the 1980s. Everything else, barring a parts bin toggle switch here and there, is Turbo 16-specific.
While you might pull the back hatch up to load your groceries into a regular 205, doing so in a T16 would merely unveil a bad place to transport your frozen goods. The car was designed to be purely functional, with an easy access to the engine and the four-wheel drive transmission, and as such it can get rather warm inside. The front boot is filled with a spare wheel, ancillaries and the fuel 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 about a foot behind your head.
That said, isn’t that what you want in a car like this? The whistle of the turbocharger is a welcome interruption to any other thoughts you might be having at the time, and any heat or vibrations that seep forward should be considered part of the experience rather than a discomfort.
Thanks to Rosario’s imagery, I can recall those pictures from that Spanish car magazine with renewed clarity. This ultra-rare white pearl example is currently on sale and ready-to-run at Ruote da Sogno in the heart of the Italian Motor Valley, should you find yourself as moved by this machine as I am. As time leaves us no choice but to marching further away from the days of Group B, I think it is important to keep these cars in the spotlight. Yes, if you’re reading this far down in an article about a homologated French hatchback from the 1980s, you probably already know some things about this car, but you’d be surprised at how many so-called rally fans only think of the Audi Quattro when the topic is Group B. The Audi was a game-changer, surely, but with the T16 Peugeot going on to win back-to-back championships in the WRC and then take the overall auto win at the Dakar, I think this is the game-winner.