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True Companion: Driving a Peugeot 205 XS to the Nürburgring, Part III

After our Romanian leg of the trip was done, we headed to Serbia by crossing the Donau River near Gura Vaii. We drove the riverbank road to Golubac, and spent the night in a guest house close by. The border crossing was somewhat intense, as the guards eyed at our vehicles, and we drove past abandoned cars on the pier. They had been there for years, as there most likely had been document issues and the cars’ holders had had to leave them for the foreseeable future.

The riverbank road drive was otherwise pleasant, with local Turbo-Folk music blaring from the speakers, but a couple road works had left the surfaces way askew and a loud bang was the inevitable result despite trying to hit the brakes in time. No bent rims on mine, however. Thank the alu-steelies, perhaps.


The fortress in Golubac.

We continued on towards Croatia, and spent what felt like an eternity in a traffic jam on the border. Some of the other cars had air conditioning, but I just sat in my white hot box, sweat pouring down the doorcard.

But then, as everyone had reached their own, personal boiling point, we reached the crossing point and headed on until Bjelovar, where we met a friend of ours, Ivan. With him, we continued to Rijeka the next day, after a welcome barbeque at Ivan’s place.

Croatia proved to be somewhat challenging for the little Peugeot. Or, skipped maintenance finally caught up with it. I had had the brakes and pads replaced before the trip, but the brake fluid wasn’t done then. As a combination of old brake fluid and vigorous driving, I had boiled my brakes on several occasions on the drive up until now, as the Romanian mountain roads had been more demanding than flat Finnish roads. As the car reached 240k, I decided it would be nice to get new fluid for it.

As the service was being performed, it became apparent that the bleeding nipple for one of the brake calipers had been broken off and replaced with a pop rivet. This rendered the brakes unbleedable, and the mushy pedal felt terrible, sinking to the floor at ease. A junkyard caliper was sourced and found to be rusted to uselessness, and the old caliper was reinstated. The brakes were even worse now.

There was no other thing to do than to continue forward to north, with almost useless brakes. I got stopped at the border to Slovenia and the guard wanted to go through my car, wondering what I was doing there. I thought of replying “Driving to Italy with no brakes”, as miserable I was, but kept my mouth shut.

We reached Vittorio Veneto in a thunderstorm so intense we had to pull over a few times so we could see where we were going. Brake issues aside, I loved Italy the moment I got there: immediately after reaching the Autostrada, a white Alfa Romeo 75 flew past us with no care in the world. A moment later, on a service station, I mustered all of my Italian skills and shouted “Bella macchina” to a Saab 900 Turbo driver. “Grazie!” he replied smiling.

The next morning, we walked around Tarzo, having a nice breakfast at a corner café with croissants and espresso. It’s a lovely little town, and I’ve fallen completely for Northern Italy.

The 205’s bad brake caliper was bled better at another service station in Faé later on, while we had some pizza, taking shelter from a drizzle. The brakes weren’t perfect, but bleeding the caliper from the hose connection made them safe enough for crossing the Alps.

This was the sight for much of the Dolomites; clouds obscuring the view, but I didn’t care. The car worked well enough to be driven spiritedly, and I loved it as much as ever. Cowbells gave directions to us when the scenery was fogged out of sight; team radios were crucial for overtaking caravans.

DONT You Forget We Me, I presume. Italian fuel prices turned be so exorbitant (near two euros per litre), that I just about made it to Sölden, Austria with barely any fuel in the tank. I filled up at the BP there, and with the price difference of a full tank I ate a hearty meal.

Main street in Sölden.

Alpine roads. My heart yearns to go back there, as strong as ever.

How can you tell we reached Germany?

Because of road signs like this.

You can probably see the little Zastava there. Check the piece I wrote on it.

And at last, with the HorribleNoise still there every now and then, we made it to the camping site near the Nürburgring, the place we always stay. The brave 205 had stayed in one piece, still driveable, still fun to drive, still moving under its own power after thousands of kilometres.

A pair of replacement front brake calipers were sourced at a 205 specialist close to the ‘Ring and fitted at another garage, and that meant we could hit the track in good time. I did eight laps of glory in the car there over two days, having reached the ultimate destination for a small Finnish-registered hatchback built in France.

A few days later I was back in Finland, with brake dust embedded so deep in the white wheels I couldn’t get it off the Plasti-Dip. The weird noise surfacing every 500 km turned out to be a CV axle support bearing, and I had that replaced along with the motor mounts that had grown weary. It’s a lot less clunky now.

I still have the Peugeot, of course. There’s no way I could sell it now, after all we’ve been through with it. I did buy the Mazda MX-5 for forthcoming roadtrips, I did let the 205 sit outside for the entirety of last winter, and I still haven’t fixed some of the little things that aren’t right with it. But the 205 is with me for the long haul, and by now it’s like a good friend to me. And with only 245 000 km on the clock, it’s barely run in.

Some words by Donald Fagen there, for the choice of headline in these posts.

Also, an account of this trip was published a year ago in the Finnish Klassikot magazine, for which I write monthly. If you read any Finnish, I suggest you find yourself a copy of the 6/2014 issue.

[Images: 2015 Antti Kautonen except that Karussell shot by Highspeedfotos]

  • nanoop

    Some of the in-car shots look gorgeous! Remind me of some racing game fantasies. Obviously a great road trip!

  • Roland Alfonso

    Wow, Antti, what a three-part tale. It was great!