For Tolman Motorsport’s MD, the Peugeot 205 GTi is far more than just an iconic 80s hot hatch…
Why restore a Peugeot 205 GTi in 2021? This is a question that Tolman Motorsport MD Chris Tolman has been asked countless times in recent months. The fact that the 205 is considered by most to be a standout model in Peugeot’s celebrated history should be a satisfying answer alone, but the real story behind Tolman’s 205 GTi project is a personal one.
Christopher Tolman has a long-standing love for the Talbot family of cars. He was brought up surrounded by them and built a Sunbeam replica rally car, which would become his daily driver when he was 17.
“It was inevitable that the family trait would take hold," Tolman says. “I managed to buy my first Peugeot 205 GTi when I was 20. In those days it wasn’t the price of the car that was eye-watering, it was the insurance, or rather, the lack of insurers willing to take on the risks associated with young men driving ‘Hot Hatches’.
“At the time I also had a 309 (a basic one, which was much cheaper to insure) alongside my glorious 1.9 Sorrento Green special edition 205 GTi. It was nice, but the GTi was my pride and joy, I modified the cylinder head and played with cam timing, in addition to fitting dampers, springs and better brakes. With so much passion poured into it, it will come as no surprise that I consider it the best car I have ever owned.”
Fast forward to 2014 and Chris spotted another Sorrento Green 205 on eBay. While prices were beginning to rise, they were still sensible. The nostalgia associated with it quickly got the better of him and after an in-person inspection, a deal was promptly done to buy it. It was not the prettiest example, but it was (mostly) free from rot and had some interesting spares and parts. It was put into careful storage, waiting for a gap in the busy workshop to start work.
The impetus to start the 205 project came when Tolman was tasked by a client to carry out an appraisal on a Renault Clio Williams that had been “restored” with a view to purchase.
Those on hand were appalled by its condition – especially as it was being sold as a full restoration – so much so that it sparked the idea that there were customers looking for correctly restored cars and would appreciate having a modern classic that was prepared by someone they could trust. It was time to wheel the 205 out of storage.
Working on the 205 would tick a few boxes. It could be used as a training project for two new members of the team and enable the company to decide if it was economically viable to start taking on professional restorations as a commercial venture. The potential for it to be used as a marketing tool was also appealing…
The vision quickly became clear: restore the car to its original condition and fit as many factory parts to it as possible; this included power steering, electric windows, central locking, and leather seats. The body shell and some components came into use quickly, as a display piece for the Classic Car Show at the NEC in 2019, where it generated a notable level of interest from members of the public.
As the project started to come together Chris made a key decision. Instead of recreating a 205 GTi in its original specification, Tolman would actively improve certain areas of the build. “When you reminisce about an old car, you always have your rose-tinted glasses on," he explains. “If we restored the 205 to its original spec, it wouldn’t be impressive, especially in today’s market because modern cars have so many new creature comforts.
“I knew that we could improve the engine performance with head work and cam timing, the brakes and handling, but the big change would be to have the car fully mapped on a modern ECU.
“As for the in-car entertainment, initially I planned to utilise an original Clarion upgrade head unit for the project. However, Blaupunkt had just launched a new product to the market that fitted with our philosophy perfectly: a retro-styled head unit that features Bluetooth, phone, and iPod connectivity. That addition felt like the final piece to the puzzle, it allowed us to create a 205 GTI that looks completely standard, feels as good as you remember to drive on the road and features modern in-car technology.”
The results of this endeavour speak for themselves. Featured in many of the top magazines, the Tolman 205 GTi has proved to be a smash hit with automotive journalists, who have been taken in by its perfect proportions and dynamic handling. The fact that it has over 130 BHP from its 1.6 engine, with as much torque as the bigger 1.9 brother, makes the experience so much sweeter.
The crowning glory was being nominated for Top Gear Performance Car of the Year over the summer, and making the final top five alongside the latest BMW M3, Hyundai’s I20N, Ferrari’s SF90 and Porsche’s 992 GT3. Immensely proud, humbled, it posed the question, is there a market out there for a special 205 created specifically for each customer? More power? Heated seats? Air conditioning? An LSD? Bespoke colours? Tuned dampers? Custom interior? It’s an intriguing possibility…