Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED IN THE MAY 2014 ISSUE OF RETRO CARS MAGAZINE
It’s been an enjoyable month with the 205. A couple of the modifications we’ve made over the course of this project have really transformed its day-to-day usability; the work done by H&H Ignition Solutions to rebuild the distributor, combined with the renewed silicone breather hoses, seems to have entirely eradicated the trademark GTI hunting idle. Before owning this one I’d had four other 1.9 GTIs over the years and they’d all been pretty much the same in that area – whether hot or cold, the rev gauge would dip down to 800rpm, then flick up to 1,500rpm, and keep ricocheting between the two – but that doesn’t happen with #Project87, it just sits at a happy 1,000rpm and stays there. Seems kind of incongruous in a 205!
And the other big difference, of course, is the waterless coolant. This continues to prove its worth in preventing the 205 from freaking out in stationary traffic (which, living in London, you find yourself in rather a lot). A recent humdrum trip to the local tip to dump some old rubbish, for example, could otherwise have been a bit of a nailbiter; having chosen the stupidest possible time to go – a sunny Sunday, just before lunch – I found myself in a queue of hedge-clipping-filled Range Rovers and XC90s, not going anywhere, keeping a keen eye on the temperature gauge… and in the old days of water and antifreeze, I’d have been opening the vents and cranking up the heater to get the engine temperature down. But now, it’s just fine. It keeps itself cool, no worries.
See, the various other mods we’ve made to the car – the coilovers, the exhaust, the brakes, the tyres – are purely in the pursuit of performance. But in broadening our focus a little, we’ve made the car genuinely usable too. We, er, might not have planned to be so cunning from the outset but hey, we’ve accidentally done this pretty well, I reckon.
OK, backslapping over. What have we done to the thing this month? Well, I’ve been keeping the idea of future-proofing in mind. With a sorted chassis, it’s only natural that some proper performance mods could find their way under the bonnet in the future. With the car handling and stopping as it should, it’d be up to grappling with a bit more poke. But rather than throwing any extra grunt through the standard drivetrain, it’s sensible to think about beefing up the architecture first. And as such, I reckoned an uprated clutch would be a sensible move. So I got in touch with Helix Autosport to see what they could recommend.
Helix have been operating since around the time that our 205 was built, and their express business goal was to become the market’s number one clutch manufacturer, with a keen bias toward motorsport applications. These days, as well as offering a catalogue of off-the-shelf clutch upgrades for a broad variety of road cars, they also specialise in bespoke clutch and flywheel setups, and are counted as one of the leading suppliers of hand-made competition clutches in the UK.
Rather than go bonkers and fit a full-on rally-spec paddle clutch, it made sense to retain the day-to-day usability that the GTI offers by fitting an uprated performance road clutch. While paddle clutches provide tremendous scope for ramping up the power in future, they are a pretty uncompromising option for a road car, and I have to parallel-park #Project87 outside a busy pub every day. As you can imagine, it’s a noisy little poppet with that rorty Powerflow exhaust popping and barking down the street, so the crowds of smokers outside the boozer always turn to point and discuss. I don’t want to give them any extra banter fodder by repeatedly stalling in front of them, do I? I suspect climbing out and saying ‘shut up, it’s got a paddle clutch’ may fall on deaf ears…
So yes, a performance road clutch was the tool for the job. And with that decision made, I had a little think about who might be best to fit it. Having had such a good experience with Toulmin Motors last year when they fitted the 205’s uprated Tarox brakes, they seemed like the best chaps for the job, so I got it booked in – their enthusiasm for old Peugeot hot hatches in general and this one in particular meant that I knew I’d be in safe hands, and the last time the car was there it seemed to spark a sort of who-knows-the-most-about-205s competition among the lads, which is all confidence-inspiring stuff.
When the GTI was at Toulmin last year, as you might remember, the car decided to act in rather a petulant manner and throw up a few obstacles: what should have been a simple disc & pad upgrade turned into all manner of fiddling with new calipers, handbrake cables and goodness knows what else. So it was with some trepidation that I observed the guys enthusiastically tearing the thing apart to get at the clutch. The job involves removing the subframe, pulling out the driveshafts, dropping the gearbox out and unbolting the clutch itself, and at every step of the way I was expecting them to find some part or other that would be worn out or demonstrably knackered… but thankfully everything went totally swimmingly. The Helix drive plate mated perfectly to the stock flywheel, all of the bolts came out and went in as they should, it was all suspiciously easy. The road test showed that everything was fine. The clutch had strong bite and wasn’t aggressively unpleasant to use. All good.
You’re waiting for a ‘but’, aren’t you? Well, fear not – there’s no disappointing ending here. The journey back from Windsor through rush-hour West London provided every type of clutch-testing scenario: stop-start traffic, wide open motorways, the inevitable traffic light grand prix (c’mon, you can’t resist it in a car like this), and everything’s proved to be great. Helix have made a damn fine clutch here, and Toulmin have fitted it perfectly. Job done.
…and next time, there’ll be even more exciting developments! You just wait there on the edge of your seat…