2018 was a quiet year for Ran When Parked.
Work gets in the way of life, and hobbies take a back seat to it all. That doesn’t mean I stopped working on classic cars, driving them, occasionally cursing at them, sipping beer while staring puzzlingly at broken parts of them, reading about them, thinking about them, writing about them, photographing them, buying them, and sometimes selling them. I still hover around 10-12 cars at any given time. One that never made it onto these pages while it was part of my fleet is a 1983 Peugeot 205 GR.
I bought it from a local lady in June 2018 for the hell of it. I’d always wanted a 205. This one was cheap, it was two minutes away from my house, it had 97,000 original kilometers on the clock, and it only needed shift linkage parts to move under its own power. It was in excellent shape, all things considered, and its May 1983 build date made it one of the earliest 205s around. I had absolutely no plans for it other than to cross “own a 205” off my bucket list. It unexpectedly got promoted to daily driver status a month later when I got tired of fixing my 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee and sold it with more problems than all of my other cars combined. For the record, most of the issues were linked to the Mercedes-Benz-supplied five-cylinder turbodiesel engine and the five-speed automatic transmission it shifted through, not to the parts made by Jeep/Chrysler. I enjoyed it (and used it like Jeep intended) but it destroyed my soul and my wallet; never again.
Back to the road: the little 205 grew on me. It was an honest, simple car. It got through safety and emissions with zero advisories. Its 1.1-liter engine ran well, it returned good fuel economy, and it was comfortable in the sturdy, sure-footed way a Peugeot should be. Above all, it kept me dry in the rain, warm in the cold, and it always started. What more can you ask of an unrestored 35-year old car? It wasn’t perfect, it had almost completely eaten its clutch, but I used it as my daily driver throughout the second half of 2018 (in other words: it sat at the airport throughout the second half of 2018).
In early December 2018, I got one of those can’t-refuse offers for the 205 from a fellow collector. And, naturally, I refused it. I like my car, why would I sell it? I changed my mind a couple of weeks later when I found a 1984 205 GT with 85,000 kilometers listed in the classifieds. The car was an hour and a half away from my house, and the seller was asking the same amount of money that I was offered for mine.
He told me the GT belonged to his 92-year old mother. It was a clean, survivor-style car in good shape with the exception of a small dent on the hatch. It ran great; he wouldn’t think twice about driving it anywhere in France. On the phone and in photos, the GT checked out. I rolled the dice. I sold my GR, immediately hopped in my 2007 Renault Kangoo, picked up a friend to have a second driver, and trekked out to a remote part of France’s Var department to buy the GT.
The seller lived in the middle of a vineyard the size of Central Park. It was pitch black when we got there, so he gave us each a flashlight before we walked out to the car. I could just about see the outline of a 205 in the distance; finally! I aimed my light at it and… holy moly, is this really what we came here to see?
The hood didn’t close properly, every body panel had at least one dent or scratch on it, the rust bubbles on the bottom part of the front fenders – a common 205 problem – needed immediate attention, the hatch wasn’t aligned with the body, it had electrical issues, and the interior looked like a dog had lived in it (because one probably had). In hindsight, the photos the seller sent me were at least a decade old. It was likely as-described under his mother’s ownership, but I suspect he used it to go hunting after she stopped driving it. It’s common for 205s to end their days carrying hunters through the hills here, and this one ticked every box. Dents? Yep. Scratches? Check. Dog hair? Lots of it. Mud? Present, inside and out.
This was not the clean, well-preserved car I had come to buy.
I thought, “I came all the way here to see this damn thing, I’m at least going to drive it.” It started right up but didn’t idle very well and occasionally misfired. The clutch felt good, the brakes felt like they weren’t there at all, and the front left tire blew 45 seconds into my drive. It looked original to the car, and upon closer inspection I noticed the other three were in the same condition. Good thing I didn’t buy it; I don’t know how I would have gotten home on those tires. I probably wouldn’t have, and would have ended up with a very expensive towing bill.
All this to say: I rolled the dice and lost. The search for another 205 continues. I’ve had an early, gasoline-powered model. I may as well make the next one a late, diesel-burning model. The 205 was mass-produced and mass-destroyed, so finding a good one 21 years after production ended is more challenging than it may seem. And while GTIs are already eye-wateringly expensive, even relatively basic models like the GR I had are slowly but steadily going up in value.
In the meantime, I inherited a 1995 Peugeot 306 that is likely too far gone to do anything with, but it would make a decent daily driver if the cost of getting it back on the road doesn’t exceed its value. That’s a different Peugeot story for a different time, though.