It was back in the late nineties at university when I saw the add for the mint Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6.
If you can stretch your mind back that far you’ll remember you could get the Student Loan at the beginning of the academic year in a lump sum (I’m not sure how it works now). So naturally every year I’d use that money responsibly to either fund a new (to me) car or modifications to a car.
In this instance I was going to use more or less the entire student loan to buy one car.
The car in question was a Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6 in silver, post facelift interior, located in North London and selling for the price 1500 pounds.
The car was mint right down to the red carpets. Well I say mint. When I went to see it, everything checked out except the gear change was vague (to say the least) and the clutch was slipping badly. Both faults the seller said he would get fixed before I took the car.
Before I committed to the purchase I think I paid 120 pounds for an independent inspection. Everything came back A1 expect the aforementioned clutch and gear linkage problem. With that news I paid a couple of hundred quid deposit and said I would pick the car up in a week after I’d sorted the insurance and he’d sorted the clutch.
During this week I shared the news with my immediate family. Big mistake. They called me back a day after receiving my news and said hold on, there is a close friend of the family selling a white Peugeot 309, 1.3 in mint condition and because he is a close friend he will let it go for 600 pounds.
This was very tempting not least because the 205 GTI was going to stretch my finances to the absolute maximum.
So I went to look at this 309. It involved a 40 pound(?) train ticket and a 5 hour journey, largely in the dark and wet, to get to this “mint” 309 at an isolated farmhouse in Wales.
A number of problems came apparent when I arrived at the “friend” of the family’s house. One it was dark. But that was the least of the problems. The interior smelt and it was dirty, not in the “just needs a vac” dirty but in the stained, smelly type of dirty. The thoughts “what have I done but I am here now” ran through my head.
Mechanically I didn’t really check. This friend of the family was a professional mechanic and the family member that recommend the car was also a mechanic. If they said it was perfect then it must be perfect.
I had my misgivings. It was a 1.3 car after all and the interior was bad, especially when I compared it the mint 205 (oh why do you hurt me so…). And lets be honest, the Peugeot 205 GTI is one of the nicest looking cars ever made whereas the 309 isn’t.
Anyway, I’d gone 5 hours on the train and spent the money on the one way ticket so I bit the bullet. Not biting the bullet meant a 5 hour return journey and another train ticket. I got the insurance sorted on the spot and drove the car back three and a half hours to my house on the other side of the country.
It must have been true what they said about it being mechanically perfect because I do not recall having a single mechanical problem with that car on the way back. I later learned it had an overheating issue in traffic but more on that later.
I had the 309 for a year and I would have kept it a lot longer except the engine spun a bearing coming back from a night club in Essex one warm summer night. That night I was finally sick of the poor performance. Not being able to keep up with 1.3 Novas between roundabouts broke the camel’s back so I drove more or less the whole journey with my foot buried to the floor boards.
And then the engine started to knock, badly, and it’s power output took a major drop. To the point where the car could not even pull itself up the slightest incline. My partners in crime that night had to get out of the car every time we attempted even the slightest gradient and push, a running push but a push all the same. If you know the South East of England you know there are no hills and if you know the east side of the North Circular you’ll know that doesn’t have any hills in it either. That gives you an idea of how down on power the car was with it’s new found knock. Pushing a car uphill on the North Circular is not something that you can really do normally but at 4 am in the morning, we had the road to ourselves, which was just as well. A very eventful trip back and two knackered friends. They gave it everything that night and for extended distances.
So that was the end of the 309. One of the pushing friends knew a mechanic in East London who said he would take the car for free and that was where I left it, at his garage. But only after I stripped out the speakers and the stereo. Something they weren’t happy about but I didn’t care.
So why was that 309 the biggest car buying mistake I have ever made?
At the time, I just got on with it, I’d made my bed and I laid in it. But looking back I realise it was a huge mistake. And a huge opportunity missed.
Within 4 weeks of getting the 309 I spent around 660 pounds on a complete suspension upgrade. Sachs dampers front and rear, some lowering springs for the front and an adjusted torsion beam on the rear. Done at Extreme in Harlow. Handling and stance transformed although heavy braking could lead to the rear getting a bit sideways…
If you are doing the math at home you will realise that with that suspension upgrade I have now spent around the same on the 309 as the cost of the 205 (including it’s deposit). This made me sad at the time and it still makes me sad now.
But the purchases did not stop there. Oh no…
The 309 needed a new carpet due the smell, the holes and general rankness. I don’t remember the price but I do remember it was a bit of an involved job. But the new carpet was a huge step forward over the old carpet. The old carpet seem to be made from fluffy nylon fabric whereas the new carpet was a plush, grey shag pile in comparison. A huge improvement.
Then it was a central locking DIY install. I don’t remember the price of the kit but this was before China so it must have cost a ton including the actuators. I’m pretty sure the 205 GTI had central locking as standard….
Then there were the pepper pot wheels that were stock on the Peugeot 205 1.6 GTI…. I think I got the wheels for 50 quid. The cost of the tyres, I don’t remember.
The speakers I mentioned above.
Exterior mods were limited to colour coding the plastic piece that was between the rear lights. I never did fit a rear wing.
And after all that what did I end up with?
A car that handled amazingly, had plenty of boot space, was very noisy and which I didn’t really like the look of. I tried to tell myself it looked a bit like an E30 M3 but I was never convinced.
I mentioned the 309’s engine power was woeful. Actually I think there must have been something wrong with the engine. The car’s maximum speed was 80mph. Even writing that down hurts, even after all these years.
Where did I go in the 309?
The two most memorable trips were to Fort William for my second ever ski holiday. Freezing conditions on the way up. Which reminds me. The heater blower never worked. Anyway, we got as far as Stoke on Trent and there was a traffic jam. A traffic jam so bad it had the engine overheating even though the outside temps were close to zero. But no bother. We were close to Junction 16 on the M6, a quick detour off the motorway and a few laps of the roundabout at the junction had the temps down to normal and gave the jam time to clear.
The next “moment” came far far North of Glasgow in the middle of nowhere. The windscreen was starting to freeze over and naively I hadn’t put enough deicing fluid in the washer bottle. (Blower fan wasn’t working remember). We found a petrol station that’s was thankfully open an 11 pm at night, filled the washer with 100% antifreeze and we were on the road again.
Another memory of that trip up to Fort William were the deer on the road. Except we didn’t know they were deer on first sight. I only knew that the road had what seemed like hundreds of small reflectors in the middle which on closer inspection were eyes of many deer of all sizes. A few more of these encounters and we arrived in the metropolis of Fort William. Late. Luckily we could still check in and the receptionist pointed us in the direction of the only Chinese that was still open. Which also happened to be the fastest Chinese we have ever been to. In and out in around 3 minutes. But I digress.
The second trip, which was massively over ambitious given the power of the 309’s engine, was Barcelona. At least that was the plan. However after what seemed like hours on a French autoroute in the middle of summer and getting overtaken by absolutely everything we decided to abort Barcelona. It was going to take forever. Luckily the Le Mans 24 Hours was on at the time so we diverted there. A memorable experience not least for the difficulty/impossibility in securing a hotel remotely close to the circuit.
And the car overheated on the way back to Calais and again in central London on the way back home. But at least these two overheating incidences made the problem clear. A hole in a radiator hose. Nothing that a couple of bottles of Evian and some egg white couldn’t fix.
During these “adventures”, I could not help thinking to myself, this wouldn’t be happening in the Peugeot 205 GTI. We would have got to Scotland without issue and we would have made it to Barcelona. In our lifetime. The fact that I would have also had more money in my pocket to drive this much nicer car made the 309 the biggest car buying mistake of my life and one that still grinds with me to this today. The price of tidy 205s at the moment adds lemon to the wound.
What I Learnt from the Peugeot 205 GTI
After this I promised myself that from now on, I would only buy the top spec of the model of car I liked. Or at least a spec that I was satisfied with as standard. If modifications were to follow then so be it but I would never again buy a car with an under powered engine and hope to solve the power issue with aftermarket add ons. And also never buy a car without the body kit of the top spec model with the idea of fitting the top spec kit at a later date. It is a total and utter false economy. In my experience.
And that is it. The worst car buying mistake I ever made and how to this today I still regret not buying a Peugeot 205 GTI, 25 years after the fact.