Frankly, we don't talk about the Peugeot 309 enough

Major Waffle 80s cars Peugeot
The Peugeot 309 was developed as the Talbot Horizon but became the first Peugeot to be built in Britain. But it's in danger of becoming extinct in the UK.

We need to talk about the Peugeot 309. It’s not that it has done anything wrong – quite the opposite, in fact – it’s just that it appears to be falling off the radar and, quite frankly, that isn’t good enough.

The fact is, the Peugeot 309 deserves far more respect than it currently receives. It was an important vehicle, not only from a Peugeot perspective but also in terms of its part in the history of the British car industry.

Let’s consider some of the highlights worthy of a future obituary. Yes, the Peugeot 309 really has reached the point at which we need to start preparing a eulogy.

The 309's days are numbered

Not convinced? Well, in 2001, there were around 109,000 Peugeot 309s on the roads of Britain. Today, that number has fallen to 481. Granted, those figures are taken from the How Many Left? website, so the number might not be totally accurate, but the fact remains: the 309 is in danger of extinction.

About those highlights. For starters, it was the first Peugeot to be built in Britain, with the 309 the main beneficiary of a £30m revitalisation of the old Ryton plant. Car production at the Coventry factory could trace its Rootes back to 1946, but the 309 signalled the end for the Alpine, Solara and Horizon.

Indeed, the Peugeot 309 was indirectly responsible for the imminent death of the Talbot badge, although the name would live on in the commercial sector until 1991.

Of course, the 309 was always destined to wear the Talbot logo. Development of the C28 project started in 1982, with the design handled at the Whitley plant near Coventry, and Poissy taking care of the technical side. It was to be the replacement for the Talbot Horizon and as such, was to be called the Talbot Arizona.

The decision to give it a Peugeot badge was a late one, but not unsurprising. The Talbot brand was in decline, still suffering from the effects of Peugeot’s takeover of Chrysler Europe and its name being thrust upon former Chrysler products.

This once prestigious marque was being used to shift volume products and buyers were either less than convinced or completely nonplussed. Sales went into decline, workers were laid off and production was hit by strikes in France. Talbot was on borrowed time.

It’s not hard to imagine the 309 in a Talbot dress – squint a little and it could pass as a replacement for the Horizon, albeit with a notchback-style (almost Shatchback) rear end and wraparound rear window. These photos show a prototype wearing the Talbot badge. Black steelies for the win.

But with a Peugeot badge and a ‘Made in Britain’ tag, the 309 had every chance of success. By the end of 1985, around 750 309s were rolling out of the Ryton factory every week, with the car occupying a slot between the 205 and the 305 in the Peugeot range.

Its styling might have been a tad conservative, looking more Escort than Astra, but the 309 was pitched perfectly for the private and fleet markets, especially when the 1.9 XUD diesel versions arrived in September 1986.

The first petrol 309s appeared in showrooms in February 1986, with buyers offered a choice of a Simca-sourced 1.1-litre, a 1.3-litre and a 1.6-litre shared with the 205 GTI, albeit in non-fuel-injected guise. The 309 was based on a lengthened and widened 205 floorplan – similar in size to the Austin Maestro – and it even shared the 205’s doors.

The name may have seemed at odds with Peugeot’s naming strategy, but it kind of made sense. At one point, Peugeot announced that it would be called the 206, but this would have disrupted the ‘family tree’ approach to badging. Similarly, the 405 and 605 names had been earmarked for future evolutions of existing models, meaning the ‘Arizona’ couldn’t be called the 306, as the 305 was to remain in production.

At launch, the 309 was offered in GE, GL and SR trim levels, but others were to be added at a later date, not to mention a host of special editions, including Look, Style, Trio, Zest and Green, although this one wasn’t sold in Britain. See the image gallery for a photo of the 309 Green. It's not exactly green.

The GLD and GRD diesels arrived at the NEC Motor Show in 1986, much to the delight of fleet managers across the land. "The 309 diesel is, in our opinion, THE definitive Light Segment diesel car," said Peugeot's director of fleet and leasing in a letter to fleet operators.

Better than the 205 GTI?

Peugeot 309 GTI
Even better than the real thing?

There was also the SRI model – a fuel-injected entry-level performance car labelled ‘Soft’ by Peugeot. It was good, but it was merely a prelude to the main event. The Peugeot 309 GTI was so great, it was considered the closest rival to the Golf GTI.

Whisper this, but some say it was better than the fabled 205 GTI. This is a fact lost on those who are quick to fan the flames of desire for the hot hatch, resulting in crazy prices for the 205, while the 309 is allowed to spiral into the abyss. Again, the numbers aren’t precise, but there are around 350 309 GTIs in the UK, which is around 10 percent of the figure in 2001.

The 309 GTI arrived in June 1987, and with a price tag of £9,599, it cost a similar amount to the Citroën BX GTI but was cheaper than the Ford Escort RS Turbo. The MG Maestro undercut the 309, mind.

Contemporary reviews placed the 309 GTI at the very top of the hot hatch game, with one road tester likening it to a 205 GTI with more space and greater refinement. It's worth remembering this the next time somebody baulks at a four-figure 309 GTI, but is prepared to accept the auction prices being achieved by the 205 GTI.

Got wood?

Peugeot 309 Goodwood
Goodwood festival of speed

If one Peugeot 309 deserves a place in the motoring hall of fame, it’s the Goodwood. Launched in 1992 to honour the success of the 309 GTI in the 1991 Esso Superlube Saloon Car Championship, the 309 Goodwood featured power steering, a CD player and full leather.

Buyers could also select a wood-rimmed chrome steering wheel and a matching wood gearknob for no extra cost. Given the name, it would have been madness not to go full wood on the Goodwood. Although it wasn’t a final edition as such, it was a fitting end for the 309, as Peugeot’s attention was turning to the new 306.

Should we care that the Peugeot 309 is in terminal decline and likely to be all but extinct within a few years? Naturally, PETROLBLOG thinks we should. It might stick out like a rogueish uncle on the Peugeot family tree, but a car with influences from Simca, Talbot and Peugeot occupies a unique position in the history of the British and French car industries.

‘The reality is even better than the dream,’ proclaimed the television ads. The reality is that unless you act fast, the 309 will be little more than a number in the pages of your little book of car history.