Peugeot 205 T16 Group B


The French machine with a Finnish soul. image: OSCAR WILSON, originally commissioned for INFLUX

There are a number of racing machines that will forever be associated with Finland.

The best of them are – like the nation that loves them – unruly, unpredictable and quick.

For some the definitive Finnish machine might be Jarno Saarinen’s Yamaha GP machine that he rode for the tragically truncated 1973 racing season. For others it is Mika Håkkinen’s McLaren MP4/13 from his victorious year of 1998. For some it will be Hannu Mikkola’s Ford Escort Mexico, or his Audi S1 Quattro.

But by far the most resonant, evocative back of nuts-and-bolts associated with Finland is the Peugeot 205 T16 Group B.

No car was as loved by Group B audiences as the 205 T16

This was the car that dominated the opening salvoes of the most entertaining, outrageous and perhaps deadly formula of motorsport that was ever invented. In the dangerous years between 1984 and 1986 it achieved 16 Group B WRC Rally victories out of 26 starts. In all but one of these wins the car was piloted by a Finn.

Jean Todt’s tutelege was the driving force behind this phenomenon’s creation. Todt was director of Peugeot Talbot Sport at the time and not only brokered the deal to make the car happen and to corale the drivers into getting onboard the project – but had a firm hand in the concept of Group B itself. Todt was also the man who coined the now clichéd bon mot which suggested “if you want to win, you hire a Finn”.

And you have to admit, he had a point.

The great Ari Vatanen’s romance with the T16 ended after his horrific high speed somersault in the Rally Argentina of 1985 – an event that sent the driver into a desperate spate of physical and mental illness – his countrymen Timo Salonen and Juha Kankunen stepped into the breach and continued to dominate the sport.

Ari Vatanen’s terrible wreck was an early death nell for the formula

The 205 T16 was an amazingly sophisticated piece of machinery. Its power unit, a twin-cam 16-valve turbocharged four cylinder engine, sat just behind the two seats, and was offset to the right so that its block and services could be could be located at either side of the driveshaft. This helped facilitate a magic front-to-rear weight distribution of 45:55. The 4WD system itself was trick as hell too, with things like viscous couplings and multiple LSDs.

A sophisticated mutant of a power unit

To further augment the optimum distribution of weight the battery as well as the intercooler was mounted in an unusual position, and the fuel tank was placed directly under the seats. This meant that pilot and co-pilot were raised slightly, enabling a great view of the road ahead – which must have been pretty handy when travelling at over 100mph along forest tracks.

These days, they’d call the car’s engineering ‘future forward’

But raw performance stats mean little in Rallying – probably less so than in any motorsport. All you need to know is that this car was quick. It was powerful. Gobsmackingly, horrendously dynamic. Just look at the compilation video below. What really counts in a car’s success in the exploitability of the performance characteristics of any given machine – the way it is able to interact with human synapse, eye and limb.

The inconsistency, plurality and unpredictability of the surfaces of any given stage load up responsibility on the driver and his wingmen – making rallying the most delicately balanced craft that blends technical prowess and raw intuition.

In that sense, the Peugeot 205 T16, with it’s mad, out-of-the-box thinking may be the most human car ever constructed – the most car with the soul most akin to that of the Finns themselves.