Peugeot has one of the best motorsport legacies
By now you should have WATCHED THE LATEST EPISODE (CLICK HERE) where Marty goes rogue and buys the most chewed-up, taint-stained Peugeot 206 in Australia. While his dreams of building a track beast to slay MOOG's Suzuki Swift (CLICK HERE) might be... bold at best... that isn't to say the French marque hasn't given us some of the most legendary race cars of all time.
Right from the start, way back in 1895, a Peugeot won the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris races. This was considered by many to be the first car race of all time, and they took more wins in Grand Prixs in the pre-World War 1 era. They then spent most of the next century building solid, dependable but not overly exciting cars.
This changed with the 205 model in the early 80s. The small front-drive hatch featured sensible models designed for running about town buying red wine and cigarettes, but there was also the 205 GTI which became the most celebrated hot hatch of the 80s and the first-generation of hot hatchbacks. VW may have started the hot hatch craze, but Peugeot perfected it. And then built one of the greatest rally cars of all time off its silhouette.
Starting with the World Rally Championship in 1984, Peugeot entered a more ferocious, wildly advanced mid-engined beast to the Group B class. And it would go on to inspire the design and engineering of countless race cars in other classes for decades to come.
Loosely based on the epic 205 GTI road car the 205 Turbo 16 was a hand-built beast that would make over 600hp by the time the class was ended in 1986. The all-wheel-drive 1.8-litre DOHC four-cylinder took 19 WRC wins, two Constructor's Championships and two Driver's Championships in just three years of competition. And up against some of the most highly-funded, radically unrestrained factory teams from Ford, Fiat, Lancia, MG, Toyota, Ferrari, Porsche, and Audi, among others.
The 205 T16 was then modified to Desert Rallye Raid spec and won the ferocious Paris-Dakar event four times, from 1987-1990. The 205 also served as the base for another special edition, hand-built using Le Mans and Formula One technology with an incredible budget, and to just win one event.
America's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as the Race to the Sky, is a grand master on the international motorsport calendar. Audi, Peugeot's greatest rival in Group B rallying, had revolutionised the event in the mid-80s with their Quattro Sports so now the French wanted to usurp Johnny Hun.
The 405 T16 was a four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steer 600hp turbocharged brute and WRC legend Ari Vatanen piloted it up the giant hillclimb in 1988 in record time. Even more special was the short film made of the run, called Climb Dance and it inspired a generation of car enthusiasts - CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT
Around the same time the World Endurance Championship was stacked with epic Group C sports cars running turbo engines and ground-effects suspension, capable of over 400km/h and lap times that made F1 cars look slow. Peugeot joined late with their 905 but it was built to incoming rules allowing what were essentially Formula One drivetrains.
Debuting in 1990 the 905 won the '92 and '93 Le Mans 24-hour races, as well as the Driver's and Constructor's titles in the 1992 World Sportscar Championship. All up, the howling V10 monster took 9 wins in 17 race entries. They returned in 2009 with the 908 diesel to win the Le Mans 24-hour race for the third time.
At the same time, Peugeot's 405 was shaking off the brand's stodgy image in touring cars. The 405 was their three-box front-drive sedan designed to take them into the 1990s, and the twin-cam Mi16 model was a proper hottie. With razor-sharp steering and handling they are capable (in good condition) of running away from other cars in its class like the Legacy RS Turbo and Mitsubishi Galant VR-Four.
Australia's own Peter Brock raced a standard Mi16 at the Bathurst 12-hour production car race. But the hot sauce was the hand-built models used in the 2-litre Touring Car categories around the world. They were followed by the 406 models in the mid-90s, though the 406s didn't have a hot-sauce road model.
There were some hot-shoe 306 and 106 Peugeot road cars through the 90s, and the front-drive 306 Maxi rally cars took plenty of all-wheel-drive scalps in tarmac events, but Peugeot returned to the top-tier of the World Rally Championship in 1999 with the all-new 206 WRC.
In four years the 206 WRC took three Constructor's titles and two Driver's championships, before being replaced by the 307 for the 2004 championship. Peugeot ultimately bowed out of the WRC in 2005.
While they haven't enjoyed the same kind of success since, nobody can ignore how epic the French marque's impact on 80s and 90s motorsport was.