Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY 2014 ISSUE OF RETRO CARS MAGAZINE
OK, so some of you didn’t like the wheels. I knew that’d happen. I chose the Wolfrace slotmags on the basis that they’d be deliberately polarising, and personally I thought they looked ace – polished lips, nice juicy wedge of dish, retro looks with a contemporary vibe, what more could you want? Although I have to admit that the relentless onslaught of comments on the Retro Cars Facebook page along the lines of ‘a 205 GTI should always be on standard wheels’ did resonate with a certain deep-seated belief somewhere in the dusty filing cabinet that is my brain. So I looked idly into a few options, just to see what could be done to the grubby old Speedlines that were on the car when I bought it.
Now, I’ve never dealt with wheel refurbishers before. Up until this point, my perception of them was that they were just dudes in vans who’d come along and tidy up your wheels while you nipped out for a sandwich. But when a colleague pointed me toward Lepsons, it became obvious that there’s far more to it if you want to do it properly. Lepsons’ process goes through six distinct stages: they start by inspecting each wheel for wear or damage, and talking through what’s needed with the customer. Then they put the wheels in a sort of heated, agitated chemical bath overnight to strip them right back to bare metal – after washing the stuff off, this is the stage when any repairs are carried out and the wheels are bead-blasted. The third stage is priming, which sees the wheels passed via a conveyor belt through an oven, then into a spray booth for powdercoating, before going back through the oven again. The next stage is spray-painting them in the colour and finish of the customer’s choice, then lacquering them. (Back in the oven again!) Stage five is a fastidious quality-control inspection, and stage six is the refitting of tyres and wheel balancing. With all of that going on, fifty-five quid per wheel sounds like pretty damn good value.
I left the wheels with them on a Friday afternoon, a charming lady named Colette - clearly a huge car enthusiast who really knows her stuff when it comes to the wheel refurb business - gave me a tour around the premises, and then the rims were all ready to go by the following Tuesday. Not bad at all.
I went with a medium anthracite finish – something they call ‘Carr’s Anthracite’ – as I thought it’d complement the lower half of the two-tone paint job nicely, but wouldn’t be so dark as to make the wheels anonymous and indistinct from a distance. I think it’s worked out pretty well – what do you reckon?
…and for those of you who loved the slotmags like I did, fear not – they’re now in the custody of a chap who’s going to be fitting them to a 200bhp MkIV Escort sleeper. A happy ending for ’em.
So, let’s move onto the question of winter. As December drew in with the inevitable frosts, I found myself one day sitting in a recalcitrant 205 that refused to start, or even turn over. The only sound was the horrible tick-tick-tick of the injectors, like those metal crawling things in The Matrix. Creepy. I got on the blower to the AA – the fact that I have Homestart has come in handy on so many occasions – and they were there within the hour, diagnosing the problem as a dead battery. Nice simple fix, then – I was worried it’d be the starter, so was pretty relieved. It transpired that the previous owner had fitted a battery that was too small (and was a Lion brand item, so hardly the last word in quality), and it just wouldn’t take any charge.
The friendly AA man told me he could swap it for a new one there and then, as he had the correct battery on the van, and it’d cost £101. I initially baulked at this, as it seems absurdly pricey for a battery, but when he nipped off to the van to get it I quickly Googled it on my phone (don’t you just love living in the future?) and it seemed to be that the right one would be about £80 from the nearest Halfords or motor factors anyway and I thought, well, if he swaps it over right now then I can get out and drive the thing. So I went for it. Good thing I did too, as my wife had bought a rug that needed collecting and I’d otherwise have had to carry it home on foot… and in the name of sensible grown-up consumer reviewing, you’ll be glad to know that a 2x3m rug will fit in the back of a 205 if you put the seats down. There, never let it be said that these columns don’t give something back.
On the whole this month, it’s been business as usual. The little Pug is proving to be an impressively reliable little thing, and a great winter hack. I can’t really justify the cost of swapping to a set of winter tyres, but the Avon ZV3s are more than up to the job of keeping the featherweight poppet planted on the slippery, frosty roads of south-west London and beyond.
In fact a recent countryside blast in the GTI served as a solid reminder of just why our keenness for retro motoring is so visceral and engaging. One day in early December I’d been driving Ford’s new Fiesta ST down to Goodwood, and had a whale of a time thrashing it down the icy country lanes. But when I got home and swapped into the 205, the differences between 1980s hot hatches and those of today were thrown into sharp focus; sure, the Fiesta ST is a pretty phenomenal thing, but its long-legged six-speed ’box and heated seats are a world apart from the simple, measured purity of the 205 GTI. You know when you have one of those drives when you just don’t want to stop? You find yourself deliberately missing turnings and ignoring exits because you know it’ll become a longer journey home? That was one of those drives – the 205 handles so sweetly on that Gaz suspension, it’s a constant joy to bounce it down country lanes. And stepping into it from a modern hot hatch, you’re acutely aware of just how light and uncluttered the thing is. 130bhp may not sound impressive in a modern context, but it’s plenty in what is basically a small steel shoe with windows. It shrinkwraps around you, it feels like you need to keep your foot planted to keep those eager treadblocks biting into the tarmac, otherwise you may just float away. Fun, huh?