Posted by: Raphael Orlove | November 11, 2009

Peugeot 205 CTi

Germans. They can be an intimidating breed. They always look like they know what they’re doing, they hustle and bustle everywhere they go, and (as far as this American is concerned) they’re on home turf. It can be pretty easy to start seeing those people who ride the subway with you as just part of the scenery. Moreover, at eight in the morning it can be pretty easy to tune out those quick dialogues of dialect that swirl in the winter air as I make my way to class. But then, all sorts of circumstances have been known to come about in this blue world we all inhabit and one rainy October morning witnessed this here exchange student see the bright side of chance: a Peugeot 205 CTi. No wait, that wasn’t it – well, let me start with the car. So, as an American, there aren’t too many chances for me to find wee little hatchbacks buzzing around and nipping to and fro, as I imagine the owners of little hatchbacks do to occupy their time. Given that they were cheap and all-but disposable when they were new, a really old (and due to the continual growth in size and weight of the modern automobile, the really small) hatchback will look like a real pile of bolts today.

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Pile of bolts or not, a small European city car is forbidden fruit to me, and I will lap up the chance to stop whatever I’m doing and stalk around a hatchback, shutter snapping away no matter what kind of looks the general public gives me. This white one I found on the Freie Universitaet’s campus especially. The Peugeot 205 was an altogether normal car when it came out. The French company sought out a prestigious italian styling house to design the body and the gallic side of things busied themselves with making a fairly standard set of mechanicals to stuff inside it. The 205 wasn’t particularly fast, it wasn’t particularly exceptional in any way, really, but it sold well enough and put a dent in the sales of its rival, the also-styled-by-italians VW Golf, so Peugeot kept on making the car for fourteen years. Clearly they got bored along the way, and started messing around with their basic design. Peugeot decided that what their company needed was a extraordinary racing pedigree to draw more people into the showrooms of their indeed ordinary cars. What resulted was not only a flame-spitting race car built to look like an ordinary 205, but a decently sporting 205 model as well. Peugeot called it the 205 GTi and it has since become legendary for its nimbleness and its sense of eagerness for looney-tunes style driving. Clearly Peugeot was an early sufferer of ADD as what I found was a convertible version of that sporting GTi. Rather than begin a tirade about the pointlessness of softening-down a sharpened-up model of a car, I will interrupt with a short story, as the story itself begins with an interruption.
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As you may recall, a little while ago, sometime before I started ranting about French rustmobiles, I noted that Germans cast a querulous eye on someone photographing an old hatchback, convertible or not. The day I found this CTi was no different. Walking away from my prize sighting with a load of pictures as proof, some guy started running up to me and shouting, which was especially weird since I hardly could understand what he was saying. Quickly, my brain snapped out of a Peugeot-induced daze and realized that this was one of those real, live Germans I kept talking about, and a fairly irate one at that. No one really teaches you how to explain that you haven’t bashed into someone’s car in German class, but after I made clear that everything was alright, he lightened right up and we started chatting about the car, what it was, how a convertible is the same thing as a cabriolet, and other boring car stuff. But the chat went on and before I knew it I was babbling away about what it’s like to go to the Freie Uni and other boring stuff like the weather. Now don’t get mad at me if you feel like this was an and-then-I-found-20-dollars kind of story, because this utterly dull interlude completely brightened my otherwise grey day. The small talk was in its own way extraordinary, much like this Peugeot 205 CTi.
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