– The Story Behind the Peugeot 205 T16s at Barrett-Jackson

It was quite surprising to see that two Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Group B homologation road cars (owned by General Motors no less!) were put up at the famous Barrett-Jackson american auction house last weekend. Of course, not only did this event catch the Rally Group B Shrine’s eye, but the cars themselves immediately looked a bit “off” just by their appearance, and this of course warranted some further investigation! The actual story behind those cars is quite interesting: all immediate credit going to Jonathan Grabowski of the “Sons of Taki”.

Remember when GM did some cleaning and sent some of the cars from their Heritage Center Collection to the Barrett Jackson Auction in 2009? I was looking over the list of cars and two items stuck out. Two Grey 1984 Peugeot 205 Turbos. Why would GM have two Group B supercars in their collection? I know manufacturers buy each others cars to get an up close and personal view of what everyone else is doing but it’s strange to own two cars that were of very limited production and not for sale in the US at the time.

Looking at this closer, one of the cars is listed as “Active”. During the second half of the 1980’s GM was heavily involved in developing “active suspension”. GM had a fleet of Corvettes developing and testing the system in hopes that it would debut on the 1990 ZR1. The system (which was also being developed by then GM owned Lotus) was used in the Corvette GTP cars being raced on the IMSA circut. Perhaps these cars were used as mules to develop active suspension for the Corvette and at the end of their time ended up in the GM collection.

Doing some research on these cars I stumbled across the website www.thevirtualdriver.com . One of the post on the site was about the Peugeot 208 T16 that Sebastien Loeb used to dominate Pikes Peak in the Summer of 2013. One comment under the post came from a man identified as “Patrick Peal” who commented:

“Having worked on a heavily-modified Peugeot 205 T16 as a development hack for an Active Suspension project at Lotus back in the last millennium, I’m delighted to see Peugeot taking on Pike’s Peak with this feast of technology. Awesome!”

A quick search of Mr.Peel  online found that he worked for Lotus as a development engineer in consultancy work and later became engineering sales and head of Communications. So I sent an email to Mr. Peel and here’s what he had to say.

“Thank you for your email, which brought back a lot of very happy memories. So much so that last night I dreamt I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a full works T16 trying to work out how to start it! (Clearly it wasn’t one of the two cars we had at Lotus…)

This was indeed all to do with the engineering relationship between GM and Lotus. The Active Suspension development originally conceived for the F1 team in 81/82 became a major technical offering for Lotus Engineering which ultimately grew into a suite of active systems for vehicle dynamics control.

But back to your question – yes, in 84 or so we secured a massive contract from GM to develop active systems which would be showcased in the Corvette Indy showcar (http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2013/08/08/cars-of-futures-past-1986-corvette-indy-concept/ )

By this time we’d already built several cars with active suspension for GM – the first contract was for a couple of sedans as R&D cars, and we also did a truck as a show car. We’d also worked with Volvo and had sold an idea for creating active rear steer to them which worked incredibly well (it was at least +- 5 degrees of steer and may have been +-15 degrees – I can’t remember. But it was more than enough to control the steer response not just trim it.).

So we had already gone beyond just active suspension.

The concept we were working towards for the Indy was ‘active everything’ – suspension, rear steer, front/rear torque distribution and front steer – and lots of performance. So we needed some new tech and some mule vehicles to try it out on. 

We knew we needed some cars that would have lots of performance, four wheel drive and ideally quite easy to modify. We did look at building something from scratch but not for this project – so we looked at the then current crop of Group B rally cars and analysed all the cars around at the time. The Metro 6R4 was a possibility as was the Ford RS200 but we eventually bought the last two 205 T16’s from Peugeot Sport (Andre de Cortanze was my contact).

Of course when they were delivered to Lotus they were brand new so we had to run them in as road cars…that was a hoot! I took one from my home to Brighton for the weekend to visit some friends…I discovered pretty early on that if I gave it full throttle for an instant and then backed off I could get a huge flame out of the exhaust. Made for a good effect in the high street at night…

We also decided that the 240 bhp of the ‘standard’ car wasn’t enough, bearing in mind the power drains from the hydraulic systems and the added weight, so we bought the Club upgrade which gave us 300 bhp.

I could go on (and on) but here are some highlights I can remember:

We modified the four-wheel drive with a second differential driven by a hydraulic motor (check out a Tamiya model tank drive system to see what I mean – that’s what we did!) so that we could control exactly the speed of the front axle compared to the speed of the rear axle and therefore control slip.

To do so, we had to compare wheel speed and true vehicle speed (longitudinally and laterally) which was a challenge – we ended up using two Leitz Correvit optical speed sensors mounted behind the passenger seat. They were a bit like two massive telephoto lenses and were a pig to install, calibrate and keep working. We had to calibrate the lateral speed sensor using a belt sander as a ‘road surface’ whose belt speed we could measure.

One car was built with active suspension and the four wheel drive so we could sort that out while the second ended up with the steer systems as well, so it was the full mule for the Corvette Indy. 

Front steer was weird – basically the steering wheel could be mechanically disconnected from the steering rack (with an emergency reconnecting clutch if things went wrong…) and then it was just used as an input to the computer. You could have opposite-sense steer – turn the wheel to the right and the car would go left – or even load-steer when the wheel wouldn’t move but applying load one way or the other generated a steer response.

And of course rear steer could play whatever static tricks we could dream up as well. Same-sense or opposite-sense giving crabbing motion or a very rapid rate of rotation with a small turning circle. In fact one of the silly party tricks was to apply full lock and full throttle and get massive burnouts in a ridiculously small circle – two very black very small concentric circles on the test track, not much bigger than the wheelbase of the car…oh and a dizzy driver!

So once we’d sorted out all the systems, the main project was to build the Corvette Indy. I didn’t get involved with that one but I seem to remember there were some problems which made it difficult to run. Shame because the systems were awesome.

We were all very sad to say goodbye to the two Pugs when they were shipped to GM at the end of the project”.

So mystery solved. The Peugeot 205’s in the GM collection were from the time when Lotus was testing active suspension for projects such as the Corvette Indy. Thank you Mr Peal for your response and solving an interesting mystery.

SOURCE (slightly abridged, spell-checked, and corrected)

The Shrine will attempt to get more information from the individual mentioned in the article… and of course congratulations to the new owners of these very unique cars!

***UPDATE***

The Shrine is currently in contact with a few individuals concerning this matter including former Lotus engineers who worked on the project and with the buyer of the first car on the block. Future updates will be released accordingly!

–Jay Auger
Rally Group B Shrine owner and author

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