The motoring phenomenon of the Eighties, the hot hatch was all things to all people; fast, fun to drive and practical, while usually relatively cheap to run. One of the most prized is Peugeot’s 205GTI, but its bigger brother the 309GTI was (and still is) a more capable all rounder.
Better balanced dynamically, greater value, more spacious and just as much fun to drive, the biggest downside with the Peugeot 309 is that it doesn’t have the pert looks of its smaller brother.
There’s not much out there, so you’ll have to look hard – your starting point should be the 309GTI Club. The GTI debuted in April 1987, in three-door form only; in October 1988 a five-door edition arrived. A facelift in October 1989 meant cosmetic tweaks, while from January 1991, remote central locking and sportier front seats became standard; ABS became optional.
The first Goodwood special edition appeared in September 1991, with metallic green paint, a sunroof, black leather trim, a boot-mounted CD autochanger and cosmetic tweaks; a second edition arrived in March 1992. The 309 GTI died in October 1992, but some cars were registered late in 1993. Some of these include Japanese-spec cars which never made it to the land of the rising sun. These have air-conditioning and automatic gearboxes.
Peugeot 309 GTI
Engine 1905cc 4-cylinder OHC
Power 130bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 119lb ft @ 4750rpm
Top Speed 122mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Poorly repaired accident damage is more likely than corrosion. To reduce repair costs, many insurance companies specified pattern panels, some of which fit poorly, so check panel gaps. Most important are the bonnet and front wings, along with the doors and tailgate.
Rust in the front wings suggest they’ve been replaced; also inspect the seam between the front inner and outer wings. There should be lots of seam sealer there – if the car has seen new panels the sealer may be missing. Worse still, if the sealer hasn’t been applied, water and mud will have got into the joint to eat the metal away. See if the wing retaining bolts are the same colour as the rest of the car, with intact paint – if not, the wings aren’t factory-fitted.
Cars that have been looked after shouldn’t be rusty, although traces of corrosion might be evident in the rear wheelarches and the seam between the sill and bottom of the rear wing. The bottom of each door can also corrode along with the base of the tailgate. This isn’t too rust-prone, but if the glass has been poorly replaced, corrosion will soon strike.
All GTIs had a 1905cc four-cylinder all-alloy engine, which doesn’t take neglect. Camshafts and valve guides wear quickly if the engine is thrashed – within 60,000 miles the powerplant will need rebuilding. But if the engine has been treated well, with oil changes every 6000 miles, it’ll last 130,000 miles, although it’ll get clattery at tickover.
Every 36,000 miles the cambelt should be renewed; fit a replacement if you’ve got the slightest doubts about its condition. If the belt has been changed recently, but the engine still isn’t happy, make sure the ignition timing has been set up properly. The distributor is driven directly off the camshaft and it’s easy for the settings to get knocked out of adjustment.
The fuel injection needs adjusting by an expert with a CO meter, or it’ll never run properly. Another reason why the engine runs badly is because the breather hoses have got blocked up or are leaking, allowing air into the system. It’s worth buying a whole new set for a couple of hundred quid or so although sub-standard ignition parts can also cause erratic running.
All UK-spec 309 GTIs have a tough five-speed close-ratio gearbox. A constant knocking belies worn CV joints, or an imminent bearing failure within the diff; the latter is unusual. Unless it’s fixed quickly the gearbox casing will be split, requiring a new gearbox. Fixing it will cost around £50 for a new set of bearings – or a decent used box is around £100.
If the car has been used mainly in urban traffic, and the gear linkage has been allowed to wear, the clutch will probably be due for renewal if it hasn’t been done within the last 30,000 miles. Rebushing the gear linkage will cost £25 while buying a new clutch will land you a £75 bill.
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
The straightforward suspension gives predictable handling and a good ride, but hard-driven cars will need a suspension rebuild. Clonking from the front means either the wishbone bushes or the bottom ball joints need replacing. The bushes are £16 per side or a whole wishbone with bushes and ball joint is £62 per side; failed anti-roll bar drop links add £33 per side to this.
The weak spot is the rear suspension, which can be pricey to fix. The rear axle bearings can seize, leading to the whole back axle having to be replaced. New wheel bearings are £58.80 a set, but if the axle needs to be replaced you’ll be looking at a potential £700 bill. To make sure you’re not going to have to replace the axle, try lifting the car and see if the suspension moves. If it doesn’t or if it’s sitting low on one side, there’s a big bill looming.
Look at the car from the back and see what angle the rear wheels sit at. They should lean slightly in at the top – if they don’t there’s been some heavy wheel-to-kerb contact and you’ll have to replace the pin in the stub axle(s) at £30 each. Off-colour handling can also be down to broken suspension mounting blocks. To check these you need to jack the car up and see if the mountings have fallen apart – replacements are £11 each.
The spare wheel lives under the boot floor, and they’re often pinched. Make sure it’s there and if a lock isn’t fitted, fit one for £30 or so.
Cheap materials were used for the 309’s interior, so expect any car to be looking tatty, unless it’s been really cherished. Glovebox lids fail readily and sunroofs leak, especially through the two fixings in the glass. Door locks also seize up, with repairs a real pain because of poor access.
The electrics tend to be unreliable, as damp gets into the terminals and connections, causing corrosion. Megawatt stereos were popular when these cars were new, along with home-fitted security systems, so make sure the loom is reasonably intact. If the electrical system isn’t charging properly, it’s probably because the alternator drive belt isn’t tight.
Fast, fun to drive, practical and economical, the 309GTI has everything going for it and is worth buying if you can find one worth considering. Parts availability is good, and DIY maintenance is simplicity itself. Best of all though, the cars are criminally cheap; even the bargain-basement 205GTI is massively overpriced in comparison. If you’re waiting for the car to become a future classic, you’re way behind – this is a car that’s already there.