With every age and generation having their own preferences and favorites, it is impossible to claim that Group B rallying was the best and most exciting form of motorsport ever. It is a fact however, that this radical and technologically advanced formula produced some of the best and most exciting homologation specials ever. Audi will be hailed forever for bringing four-wheel drive to rallying and for that reason the Sport Quattro remains one of the sport’s icons. Looking at the numbers and statistics though, it is Peugeot that deserves most credit – in only two seasons the French annihilated the competition and claimed the world title back-to-back. And not just in the constructor’s championship, but for the drivers as well.
Peugeot Talbot Sport
Peugeot developed and launched the 205 Turbo 16, or simply T16 as it became known, when Group B rallying was already spiraling into the stratosphere with death defying speeds, drivers reaching world fame and spectator numbers challenging those of Grand Prix racing. Audi was the team to beat in 1984, but Lancia had won the year before with the 037 – becoming the last manufacturer to win a WRC title with rear-wheel drive. In the early eighties, Peugeot shifted focus to small hatchbacks and competing with their most important newcomer would be a big and welcome image boost.
A leading role in the project was given to French rally expert and former rally co-driver Jean Todt.
For the development of the new rally car, Peugeot-Talbot Sport (PTS) was founded and a leading role in the project was given to French rally expert and former co-driver Jean Todt. He agreed with Peugeot’s Chairman Jean Boillot to using the upcoming 205 and was an advocate for four-wheel drive and a mid-engine layout. The resulting 205 Turbo 16 resembled the standard car on the outside, but was completely different under the skin, having only the headlights, grille, windscreen and door handles in common.
Prototype and small series specialist Heuliez received the contract to produce the bodies for the 200 cars that needed to be built for homologation. An additional twenty were made for the rally team, and another batch of twenty followed later for the Evolution 2 models. Heuliez cut off standard 205 bodies behind the B-pillars and attached a custom-made steel sub frame to hold the engine and drivetrain. The suspension was changed to independent double-wishbone all round. Peugeot then shipped the finished bodies to the factory in Poissy for final assembly. The 1,775cc four cylinder was placed transversely behind the passenger, in front of the right rear wheels and the 5-speed gearbox was on the opposite side for a better weight balance. The differential came in the middle with the turbo compressor above it. Covering the rear section is a large clamshell to provide unobstructed access for mechanics and making damage repair quicker and easier.
The space that used to be the engine bay was filled with a radiator, some mechanical bits and the spare wheel. In March 1984 Peugeot launched the 200 production cars and the twenty dedicated rally cars. By the end of that season already three first prizes were added to the Peugeot-Talbot Sport trophy cabinet. In 1985 things went even better, with Peugeot winning the manufacturer’s title and Timo Salonen capturing the driver’s title. The same happened in 1986, but then with Juha Kankkunen at the top of the driver’s standings.
On wet roads however, things start to get a little tricky and the true character of the T16 starts to shine
Earlier in the 1986 season the more powerful Evo 2 was introduced with an improved chassis, keeping the competition at bay with over 460 PS and a weight of just over 900 kilos. The career of the Turbo 16 – and the wheelbase of the car for that matter – were extended after Group B ended at the end of 1986, entering it in the gruesome Paris Dakar rally. This resulted in overall victories from 1987 to 1990 with the 205 Dakar chassis also claiming fastest times at the Pikes Peak hill climb in 1988 and 1989. Don’t be fooled by the later Dakar cars and the ones used for the hill climb though, because these looked like 405s and were promoted as such, but they were basically 205 Dakar chassis’ with different bodies.
Looking at the 205 T16 from a technical standpoint, it is not that revolutionary. Renault had already developed a rear-wheel drive hatchback with a turbo engine in the back, Audi had already used four-wheel drive and Lancia beat the French with a purpose-built rally car that had to be adapted for public roads, instead of adapting an existing street car for rallying as was customary before that. It is not the individual components then, that made the ‘Turbo Seize’ so remarkable, but the sum of these parts. The fact that the street car is not the most rewarding to drive and the quality and performance are not in proportion to its enormous price, make it even more special. You just sense that you’re driving a weapon, or at least the foundation of a very effective and powerful weapon. As a daily-driver it fails on every imaginable level, and driving the Turbo 16 in traffic is like wearing a fencing outfit to the cinema. You may look imposing and draw lots of attention, but as long as you cannot use it for its intended purpose, it is really rather pointless.
Since simply getting from A to B is not the point in this Peugeot, it is all about getting from one point to the next as fast as possible. Empty, twisty and preferably slippery roads are the natural habitat of this little French troublemaker, but it asks quite a lot more than just responsibility from the person behind the wheel. As a tool designed for professional rally drivers, the T16 communicates in a very specific jargon and does so very rapidly. For drivers who don’t understand this ‘language’ the question is not if, but when they are going to have a big and potentially painful pileup. On dry roads and with medium to high speeds, it all feels relatively safe. The street cars were all set up for understeer, so in most corners the front-end just washes out and with 200 PS split between the four wheels, there is not enough grunt to push it into oversteer.
On wet roads however, things start to get a little tricky and the true character of the T16 starts to shine. Understeer is still the initial reaction, but at higher speeds this can transition into lift-off oversteer in an instant. With the right skills, and a hefty dose of guts, this 205 will let you drift it through corners, but the snappy tail and short wheelbase make it quite a challenge. Because of the relatively soft suspension and tires, weight-transitions are predictable and that makes flipping from one drift into another an absolute joy. This might not be the type of driving to display on public roads, but that’s an entirely different matter.