Peugeot 205 GTI Tolman Edition | PH Review

An eighties hot hatch hero gets a twenty-twenties rejig. And a thoroughly modern price tag. Time to justify it…

By Stephen Dobie / Friday, 16 December 2022 / Loading comments

It’s fair to say the Peugeot 205 GTI you’re looking at here has stirred a lot of debate among PHers. It’s the sympathetic restomod we can finally get fully on board with, it’s a stonking amount of money for a fragile little Frenchie, and it’s everything in between. Wherever your opinion resides on a clearly rather wide spectrum, we simply had to drive this Tolman Edition at the earliest opportunity.

This isn’t Tolman Engineering’s first amped-up 205 GTI, but it is the first it’s delivering to a customer. Following the dark green 1.6 demo car you may have seen on Top Gear telly comes this classical red 1.9, specced by its anonymous, car-collecting buyer to be ‘the best 205 GTI in the world’. No expense has been spared. So while the price of a Tolman Edition kicks off at £55k (sans donor car), the example here doubles that. Then adds a bit more. Some of the premium comes from being Tolman’s first customer – not to mention one of the more discerning that its Rugby workshop will cater for.

If your 205 GTI had cost that much, you might want it to betray the fact somewhere in its visuals. But then the best example in the world wouldn’t look chintzy or modified; consequently, this simply looks and feels like a box-fresh original in the metal. Its lights are now all LEDs, but you’ll have to squint very hard to tell. Beyond the Alcantara wrapped around its steering wheel (imagine how shiny the donor part beneath must have been…) giveaways to truly prove its mettle is limited to a sport button on the dashboard and digital dials.

Yep, those may seem like heresy in a car famed for its lightweight simplicity, but the former’s only function here is to alter the display of the latter. Tolman played with the idea of limiting throttle response to create an everyday ‘normal’ mode, but quickly realised the special experience it was concocting shouldn’t be limited to an equally special setting. So you now get a set of instruments that authentically mimic a stock 205 GTI’s as standard – or a 205 T16’s when you push the appropriated coloured button. The Motec digital display has almost infinite possibilities, though, so you could build Apple CarPlay neatly into it or add a stack of data logging displays if you really wished. The world of the Tolman 205 matches the breadth of both your imagination and your bank account.

So, the car at hand. This one’s predictably had almost everything thrown at it. A heavily refurbished engine, new Motec ECU, Tolman’s own exhaust and a rebuilt gearbox all help power jump from the stock 205 GTI’s 130hp to a mite over 200, while torque climbs from 119 to around 150lb ft. There are no performance figures to accompany the hikes but given weight has actually fallen to 895kg – despite the addition of new security, audio and power steering systems – expect any numbers Tolman does eventually publish to be pretty vivid.

Because that’s how it feels on the road. It’s a bit of a wild ride to begin with; it takes me a few moments to fine-tune the art of pulling away smoothly, and I only actually learn of its power steering system when Chris Tolman tells me about it later on. There’s still a fair amount of muscle needed. This is a car unequivocal in its requirement of driver effort and focus, however overbraked it suddenly seems with an AP Racing kit to haul its skinny kerb weight to a stop.

Which is surely what you’re buying into. Adding a heated windscreen and remote locking makes it a mite easier to use every single day (not that I imagine many buyers will) but smoothing the experience out too much would only serve to disguise or dilute the Peugeot DNA. That’s something Tolman was adamant it would respect rather than subvert.

Its big uplift in torque makes life below 4,000rpm a little easier, while above that figure – and on cam – it’s unrepentant in both its forward momentum and the noise which accompanies it. Inside it’s all induction noise, while those outside (in this case, an onlooking Mr Tolman) feel like they’ve stumbled across a bygone special stage, the rasp of a hard-worked four-cylinder filling the air. It’s of huge credit to Tolman’s overall vision that the extra power doesn’t overawe the chassis, even if the jump in performance is utterly stark in a straight line.

Is it the best 205 GTI in the world? Well, it depends on what your criteria happen to be. My memory of unmodified 205s is that their facets are all irresistibly balanced, and I suspect my own Tolman order would focus far more on refurbishing what already existed than transforming it into something new. And yet I can also see how a car operating at this level would prove utterly addictive; all the involvement and swagger that wee hatches of its era brim with, just with an injection of properly modern performance to keep things interesting. As well as uprated brakes and smart Michelin Youngtimer tyres to keep everything the correct shape… 

The prices Tolman asks are pretty intense, but so too are the driving sensations you get in return. And thankfully you can get a taster of the experience for a fraction of the cost. If you’ve already got a nicely coddled 205 GTI at home, then spending ten grand or so on a Motec ECU and a couple of nice extras could provide a subtle boost in performance and a light sprinkling of modernity for a modest amount of cash. 

“We’re trying to make the car more useable and driver-friendly so people use them every day,” says workshop manager Nick Boaz. “People don’t want to have to get their hands dirty to get their car going.” As the former owner of something similar (wearing a diamond on the front, rather than a lion) I can absolutely see the appeal in that.

Specification | Peugeot 205 GTI Tolman Edition

Engine: 1905cc, in-line four
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power: 200hp
Torque: 150lb ft
0-62mph: 6.5secs (est)
Top speed: 140mph (est)
Weight: 895kg
Price: £55,000-plus

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