Yes, there's a 309 for sale. But really it's time for an automotive confessional 25 years in the making…
By John Howell / Wednesday, 7 December 2022 / Loading comments
I’m going to admit something now, and it’s not going to put me in a good light. Anyone with any decency will be disgusted by what I am about to write but, please, all I am asking for is forgiveness. I’m not a religious man, and have never been to confession, but this, I feel, is my confessional. Forgive me PHers, for I have sinned.
This tale of evil involves the worst side of human nature – my human nature, specifically. And it culminated in tragedy. Luckily, the subject survived, but it was a close-run thing, and only because of the care and kindness of others. I did nothing to help. I stood by, lying to cover my tracks. The year was 1995, or sometime around then. I can’t remember exactly because I’ve tried hard to wipe this incident from my mind. The point being I was still a teenager, just, and not the (allegedly) fully formed person I am today. I’d like to think I was generally a kindly soul back then, but I was also dualistic: I had a right old devilish streak as well. It’s not a side of my personality that was fed entirely by evil, though. I’d say a good chunk of it was born of curiosity. Thoughts like ‘What happens if I did do this?’ would often pop up, and I’d have to know.
At this time I was an apprentice mechanic, working for a very salubrious franchised dealer that sold Jaguars, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys – I may have mentioned this a few times before. But while the cars we sold were posh, the cars we used for knocking about in – and the dealer would actually loan to our esteemed clientele when there was nothing else around – were old Peugeots. This was because the dealership had once sold Peugeots, too, and my boss was not accustomed to shelling out money willy-nilly. Despite his fleet of Peugeots getting on a bit, and many pushing 100,000 miles, old Mr Green’s philosophy was make do and mend.
There were old 205 diesels and those were the real workhorses. They would rumble on regardless, and I respected them for that, but there was one 309 1.3 petrol that was mercurial. It would start when it felt like starting but would stubbornly resist at other times – usually when you needed it the most. It was a pain in the proverbial, and because of its recalcitrance, it was often left sitting idle behind the workshops for long periods. So on the occasions it was called upon, and decided to work, there was an ambience of chilly dampness that seem almost engrained into its carpets and the sponge in the seats.
What I am saying here is, nothing about this car wheedled its way into my heart. Hate is a harsh word that I’ve learned to use sparingly, but back then I hated that 309. And it didn’t help that I thought it was an ugly thing. There was its sibling, the 205, looking all Pininfarina-pretty from every angle, while the 309 looked like it had been given several whacks with the ugly stick. I know the phrase pug-ugly came from the dog, but it could’ve just as easily been derived from the 309 in my view.
Anyway, one day I was driving down a dual-carriageway section of A1 in the damp, smelly, grisly, little beast. And as I was bowling along – doing, let’s say, a healthy speed – with resentment about the 309 festering away in my head, a thought cropped up. It was driven by the curiosity I mentioned earlier, but also a good slice of malevolence. “What actually happens when you over-rev and engine?” Well, I decided to find out.
I began by dropping a gear and keeping my toe down until the engine refused to spin any faster. Nothing really happened, other than a lot of harsh screeching. And the 309 sounded like a dog with someone’s size-nines on its tail even at normal revs, so this didn’t really tell me much I didn’t already know. My thirst for knowledge wasn’t sated, so I decided to step up my experiment. My new method was building up a head of speed, then dropping the car into second and seeing what occurred. Each time I’d go again, with a bit more speed to start, and the engine would whizz higher and higher and higher, sounding all the more pained with each repeat of this torture.
And then the final act. When I was doing a speed that I can’t write down, for it’s yet another thing on my list of sins, I selected second and brought up the clutch. I had my answer. What happens when you rev a 309 1.3-litre engine to – I would guess around 9,000rpm – is an ungodly scream, followed by a bang, some shrapnel flies out of the front, after which the noise changes – it becomes deeper and thrummier, like an air pump with a pipe off. And then nothing. Silence. Well, other than Steve Wright in the Afternoon wittering on about something in the background.
It was at this point the guilt started. Oops. I realised I’d deliberately killed an innocent car. Sure, it wasn’t the nicest of things, with its annoying personality and perpetual darkness, but I knew then it hadn’t deserved this. When I got out to investigate further, the first thing I noticed was the huge hole in the grille. And when I opened the bonnet, there was another one in the radiator, and another in the engine block. Oh dear, oh dear. What had I done?
The car was eventually recovered and I made up some lies to my boss that “I was simply pottering along at 70 and it went bang” and “no, I have absolutely no idea why, sir”. The 309 wasn’t dead, though. The make-do and mend philosophy meant a second-hand engine was sought. Graham, the mechanic who got the job of fitting it, came to see me afterwards. He said, with a smile, “John, there’s no way all that damage happened while you were just driving along at 70.” He knew, and I knew he knew. So I smiled back, guiltily. Then he said “You did such a good job on that f**king car I’ve made you a souvenir.” He presented me with a shard of cast iron with a bit of tin sump attached to it, and it was engraved with ‘John H was here,’ and the date.
So that’s why, when I saw this rather splendid-looking 309 1.3 GL, I thought I’d write about it. It’s a cathartic act of repentance and acceptance of my wrongs. And I say splendid-looking not just because of its condition, but because, in the years since, I’ve learned to love the 309’s looks. Sure, it’s not perfect like the 205, but imperfection also has a certain kind of beauty, too, I’ve learned.
So, PHers, I am sorry for this and all my sins. Yes, I was young, but that’s no excuse. It’s over to you, now: assign me my penance.
Specification | Peugeot 309 1.3 GL
Engine: 1,294cc, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 65 @ 5,600rpm (Power at 9,000rpm TBC)
Torque (lb ft): 79lb ft @ 2,800rpm
Recorded mileage: 64,000
Year registered: 1991
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £3,495
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