Peugeot is so often associated with sensible hatchbacks these days that it’s easy to forget the French marque has an incredibly rich motorsport heritage.
On track, Peugeot has powered Formula 1 cars and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice. But it has been most successful in rallying, winning four driver’s and five manufacturer’s titles in the World Rally Championship, among other successes.
Here are Peugeot’s greatest rally cars.
Peugeot 504 Coupe
Through the Sixties and Seventies, Peugeot pretty much dominated African rallying. In 1975, the 504 Ti won all three major African events, including the world championship-counting Safari Rally and Rallye du Maroc.
Though it handled well and seemed to be chiseled from a block of solid concrete, the old Ti was heavy and underpowered against the likes of the Ford Escort and Lancia Stratos.
Enter the extremely pretty, Pininfarina-styled 504 Coupe. Its 2.7-litre V6 engine produced as much as 250bhp, against the Ti’s 170bhp.
More wins followed, including the 1978 Safari Rally, when the car of Jean-Pierre Nicholas took victory despite looking like it had just finished a banger race. Few cars have looked so good and been so tough.
Peugeot 205 T16
Rallying went nuts when Group B was introduced in 1982. The newly-formed works Peugeot Sport team entered the fray in 1984 with the 205 T16.
The T16 looked a bit like Pug’s new 205 supermini, but actually had nothing whatsoever to do with it. The rally car used a spaceframe chassis, had a 1.8-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the middle and four-wheel-drive.
Early versions had around 350bhp, later Evolution iterations were pushing 600bhp. It was an instant success, winning three times in its first year. With a total of 16 victories, it became the most successful of all the Group B cars.
Timo Salonen and Juha Kankkunen won the driver’s title in 1985 and ’86 respectively. Peugeot claimed the makes’ crown in both years, too.
A series of deadly accidents meant Group B was banned from the world championship for 1987, so Peugeot went to race on the Dakar Rally instead…
Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 GR
With Group B banned, Peugeot took a stretched version of the 205 T16 to the Dakar Rally in 1987 and won. The car repeated the feat in 1988, as well.
A change was needed for ’89, so Peugeot essentially rebodied the 205 chassis with a 405-alike shell. It’s not strictly important, but the new car was much prettier…
Two more victories followed, with ’87 winner Ari Vatanen at the wheel. The 1981 WRC champion also set a new course record in a much-modified GR at the infamous Pikes Peak hillclimb.
Citroen took over PSA Group’s Dakar endeavours for ’91 (winning four times), while Peugeot went to race at Le Mans. Peugeot returns to the Dakar, now run in South America, next year with the 2008 DKR.
Peugeot 206 WRC
Peugeot rejoined the WRC in the late Nineties, albeit in the second-tier F2 category with the front-wheel-drive 306 Maxi. In ’99, the factory team entered the top tier with the 206 WRC. They only contested a part-season, but Gilles Panizzi finished second in Italy.
The team’s first full campaign in 2000 got off to a disastrous start when all three cars retired from the Monte Carlo Rally when they failed to start in parc ferme on day two. But never mind – Marcus Gronholm won at the next event in Sweden.
Gronholm went to on win that year’s driver’s title. Another followed in ’02. Peugeot won consecutive manufacturer’s championships from 2000 to 2002.
The 206 WRC won 24 rallies in its career. It was replaced by the recalcitrant 307 WRC for 2004, but by then sister brand Citroen was the rising power. Peugeot bowed out of the WRC at the end of 2005 and went back to Le Mans.
Peugeot 207 S2000
When Peugeot left the WRC, it didn’t abandon rallying completely. In 2007 it launched the 207 S2000 to compete in the Super 2000 class that headlined the new Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Power came from a 270bhp 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine that powered all four wheels. It was an instant success, winning the driver’s title that year, the first of three consecutive triumphs, including Briton Kris Meeke’s ’09 crown.
The 207 racked up 23 wins until it was usurped by the Skoda Fabia. But it carried on winning in the European Rally Championship, taking its 21st and 22nd victories in the series only last year.
Images: Gopixpics.com (504); Ultimatecarpage.com (205); Favcars.com (405); Alphacoders.com (206); Tech-racingcars.eu (207)
By Graham King