Peugeot 205 Rally Car risen from the gravel. Fate is key to Dominic Delaney and his Group A Peugeot 205 rally car, now back competing in his hands after disappearing for 25 years. Words Jim Blackstock. Photography Paul Harmer. Back on the gravel after a 25-year hibernation.
ate is a divisive concept. But regardless of your own personal stance, there is an air of fate surrounding Dominic Delaney’s Peugeot 205 rally car. Dominic bought the car brand new on New Year’s Eve 1986 – his 19th birthday – and then bought it again 25 years later, after it had been sat in a pair of sheds for the entire interim period. It seems clear that this 205 was meant to be Dom’s all along.
Motor sport has been a key part of his life for as long as he can remember – some of his first memories are of watching the RAC Rally in the early ’70s with his father, himself a keen road rally competitor. So it was no surprise that Dom’s professional career would follow a similar route. And having put himself through a two-year college course, he walked into the TWR Racing headquarters and asked for a job, which was an acceptable way of doing things in the 1980s, the decade of opportunity.
So it was that Dom found himself building engines for TWR Racing, at the end of the Bastos Rover project and the beginning of the Jaguar Group C programme. As such, he was earning reasonable money for an 18-year-old and, keen to start his own motor sport activity, he treated himself to a brand new Peugeot 206 1.6 GTi. He collected the car from the dealer on New Year’s Eve 1986, for two reasons: first, the dealer was shut on 1 January, the date the car was registered, and second, 31 December is Dom’s birthday. And that year, he turned 19.
The original plan was to do some road rallies and the first he could get an entry for was the Bath Festival, the next round of the then-Motoring News Championship. Dom takes up the story: ‘When you’re 19, you’re going to win everything, aren’t you? We got an entry and sat on the start line for the first selective – essentially the same as a stage nowadays – and I had a sudden “What am I doing?” moment.
‘Then it was 3-2-1-GO! and we were off. A hundred yards into the selective, there was a long, tightening right-hander covered in gravel and I lifted. The car swapped ends and we went into the hedge backwards. There was no damage, apart from a few marks but, by that point, it was scratched and I didn’t worry anymore.’ And so, at 19, did he win the first event? ‘No, we got hopelessly lost and if we even recorded a finish, which I’m not sure we did, it was around last.’
After more road rallies, Dom converted the car to stage rally spec, since it was clear the road rally series was on borrowed time. He bought a proper Group A bolt-in rollcage from Peugeot Sport, along with the genuine sump and tank guards, and before long the car was ready to tackle stage rallies. Dom wanted to enjoy his motor sport and, instead of single-venue rallies, ‘driving 30 miles around an airfield in and out of cones’, he went out and did a series on gravel.
He suffered the inevitable engine failures, gearbox failures and class wins until he got to the point where he and his co-driver(s) either retired from the event or won their class, winning more often than retiring. Then, one day, he was driving the Peugeot on the road: ‘I was doing 30mph in fifth gear when the engine coughed and dropped onto three cylinders. I pulled over, left it running and opened the bonnet. There was a rod through the block and I could see the crankshaft still going round. ‘I had no money – nothing left whatsoever. I pulled the engine out, stripped it down and put it in the boot in boxes. It stayed like that for a month or so before I decided to sell it. I got £3000 for it – not bad for an 18-month-old Peugeot that had been abused – and that was the end of that.’
Dom then embarked on a career that saw him travelling the world for some 20 years, working for various World Rally Championship and Formula 1 teams, including being part of the four world titles that Tommi Mäkinen won with Mitsubishi. Eventually, he started a family and set up his own independent Porsche specialist garage, servicing and repairing Porsches and preparing them for various forms of motor sport. A few times over the coming years he wondered whatever became of his 205 and even went so far as checking online to see if it was on the road, but he found the last time it had been taxed for road use was actually the last time he had done it, back in 1988.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Dom was, as we all have been, sitting on the sofa on a Sunday evening, idly surfing through eBay, when a pop-up appeared, flagged ‘Things you might like’. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular but clicked to see more and realised that this Peugeot 205 rally car had stripes like his had, back in the day. The welding in some of the photos looked a bit familiar but the penny didn’t finally drop until he saw the corner of the numberplate. It was his old car.
Not only was it his old car for sale, but it was in exactly the same state as when he had sold it almost a quarter of a century earlier. There were 20 minutes left on the auction, the bidding was up to £200 and Dom decided he wanted – no, needed – the car, even though he had no idea what he would do with it. He put a maximum bid of £2500 on it and, 20 minutes later, it was his for just £250.
When he went to collect it, Dom didn’t have the heart to tell the seller he had owned it 25 years earlier but was very pleasantly surprised by the condition it was in. In fact, he reckons it’s one of the straightest 205 ’shells around. ‘It was just as I had sold it – the engine, still in bits, still in the same boxes I chucked it in, still in the boot. The guy I bought it from had bought it from the guy I sold it to originally and it had been in barns ever since.
‘They weren’t proper storage facilities but the car was protected from the elements and there was plenty of air movement around, so it was in remarkably good condition. I got it home and it still had a few dents and dings in it from when I competed, and I decided to build it into a proper Group A specification car. I got my sons to strip it for me, ready to build it to FIA Historic spec for the Roger Albert Clark Rally in 2014.’
However, as is the way with so many labours of love, things didn’t go quite to plan. Because Dom would only do things right, building a 205 to Group A spec using proper parts was a very time-consuming business. Brakes, for example. He contacted Alcon to see if the company would re-manufacture the components it made for the original cars back in the 1980s. Yes, it would, if he would order 30 sets, otherwise they would not be economically viable. AP Racing took a look and helped out, including swapping the rears to the original set-up.
The 1.6 road cars used drums on the back but, for Group A use, these were machined down and used as carriers for discs, with a corresponding caliper on the hub carrier. So that is what Dom did. He also had the bodies for the Bilstein dampers remade, using the originals instead of more modern versions. And so his 205 will have the notorious doublebounce on landings and the rear-end kick that 205 drivers are so ‘fond’ of.
The engine uses the original crankshaft but, once balanced, this is good for 8000rpm. The Group A regulations allowed forged pistons, as well as a fair bit of cylinder head work, while the homologation papers specify the details for allowable camshafts, one of which Dom also had made from scratch. The gearbox is fitted with a close-ratio gearset and several final drives are permitted, along with several styles of limited-slip differential. Dom prefers the ZF plated style but others like the Quaife torque-biasing version, and both are allowed.
Throughout the build process, there were numerous reminders that this car was always meant to be Dom’s. ‘As we were building it, I came across holes in the dashboard that I remembered drilling for switches when I first owned the car.’ There was also a dent in the roof, that was caused by a rear-end bounce that Dom thought would end in a roll but – luckily – didn’t. When the car went to the paint shop, he specifically told them to leave the dent. ‘I went along to check it before they started painting it and they had filled the dent in. I told them to get the filler out. That was part of its history.’
The livery was, surprisingly, one of the harder aspects to get right. ‘You’d think just googling “Louise Aitken-Walker” or “Mikael Sundström” would throw up loads of pictures, but try it! There are plenty of pictures of Colin McRae or Richard Burns in the 205 Challenge cars [a toned-down version for a UK one-make series] but not many of the works cars. We found this one in the end, which I’m sure is for the 1987 RAC Rally, and it suits the car well.’
Since Dom put the car back together as a genuine works Group A car, the day we meet at the Sweet Lamb complex in Wales for the photos is the first time he has been in it for 25 years, other than for a three-mile shakedown the day before it was loaded onto the trailer.
Typically, the Welsh winter weather is appalling but it’s a more-thanappropriate debut for his car in its current guise. It is, as Dom explains, a fitting reunion: ‘Getting back into the car at Sweet Lamb was a bit like putting on a pair of really old trainers and finding that they are still very comfortable.
‘As I’d only been up the road in the car, I was steady away to start with but it soon started coming back to me. You really have to work the car to get the best from it. You chuck it around and you can feel it moving under you and it’s so easy to control. It’s not like modern cars, where there is no drama – this is moving and doing something all the time and, while it might not be the fastest way through a stage, it certainly is the most fun.’
From the passenger seat, that much is obvious. Dom takes me for a few laps of the test venue, which is complete with jumps, a water splash, long climbs with drop-offs, hairpins and fast, downhill sections, and not once do I jab the imaginary brake pedal. It’s busy – very busy – inside and, because the car is so small, the co-driver feels every little movement just as much as the driver. They also bang elbows a few times but, again, that’s part of the attraction of this pocket rocket.
We get out of the car and Dom is red-faced and smiling. My face is its usual colour but I am also smiling. And that’s what this car is all about. It’s covered in slime, with the distinctive smell of mud burning on hot exhaust, but everyone – Dom, myself, the technicians and Dom’s 15-year-old rally-driving son Tom – is smiling. And the smile is all-important.
‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s a tool, not a jewel,’ says Dom. ‘I’m not one for building showpiece cars – they are to be used, pure and simple. I love the old Escorts but there are so many around now that I wanted something different. When people visit the workshop, they walk past the Porsches and head straight for the Peugeot. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of other cars – a Porsche GT3 and a Lancia Delta Integrale that’s in the period colours. But of them all, the Peugeot is the keeper. ‘If I had to sell everything tomorrow, then I would never let this one go. Not again, not ever.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE 1987 Group A Peugeot 205 GTi 1.6
Engine 1598cc four-cylinder, OHC, balanced crankshaft, forged pistons, GpA-spec camshaft, Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection
Power 150bhp @ 7600rpm
Torque 130lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Steering Rack and pinion
Front: MacPherson struts, coil springs, adjustable Bilstein dampers, rose-jointed mounts.
Rear: trailing arms, solid-mounted torsion beam, adjustable Bilstein dampers
Performance Top speed 103mph. 0-60mph 5.5sec (on gravel)
‘GETTING BACK INTO THE CAR WAS A BIT LIKE PUTTING ON A PAIR OF REALLY OLD TRAINERS AND FINDING THAT THEY ARE STILL VERY COMFORTABLE’
Below and right Correct livery was eventually sourced, from the 1987 RAC Rally; this engine threw a rod in 1988, then lived in a box in the boot until reunited with Dom – now it’s good for 8000rpm.
Top and left Owner Dominic Delaney bought back his GpA Peugeot 25 years after he sold it with a blown-up engine; stripped and caged interior is to full Group A specification.