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The father of the Peugeot 205 GTI has passed away
TG looks back on the career of former Peugeot design director Gérard Welter
Former Peugeot design director Gérard Welter has died, aged 75. He wasn’t ‘just’ a designer though, he was also a committed Le Mans team director, and passionate about bringing Peugeot’s World Rally success into the look of its road cars.
Welter led Peugeot design for a decade until he retired in 2007. Truly a career Peugeotist, he’d actually joined the company at age 18. Among his first high-profile projects were turning the pretty but mild Pininfarina 205 into the sharp 205 GTI, and then into the full-on-crazy 205 T16 Group B car.
Meanwhile he had his own Le Mans team, WM, the W being him and the M being Meunier, another designer. Later the team became WR for Welter Racing, run together with his wife Rachel.They built Group C cars out of little more than a home garage. But despite having no official Peugeot help, they did quietly get to borrow the firm’s wind tunnels and dynos.
One year they took outright pole. They took a couple of class podiums too at various times. But that wasn’t Welter’s best-known racing feat. In 1988 WM set up a car for minimum drag, at sacrifice of most of its downforce. Roger Dorchy speared it through the Mulsanne speed-trap at 405km/h, 251mph. The chicanes came in for 1990, so that remains the fastest a racer has ever gone at Le Mans.
His production cars included the 207 and 407, and towards the end of his career people did wonder out loud if the noses needed to be so prominent. Mind you the 206 GTI’s front and rear bumpers were designed, he once told me, deliberately to resemble the 206 WRC’s. Then came the oddball but headline-grabbing 307 Cabrio WRC. Welter knew the value of publicity.
To that end he also designed some bonkers concepts, but they all used elements of his road cars.
One was the 907. If you squinted, it glamorised the nose and bodysides of the then-new 407. But the bonnet was hilariously extended to give room for a pair of V6s siamesed end to end. It drove, too.
Then there was the Asphalte, where the front end of a supermini tapered through a monoposto cockpit into a rear so narrow the wheels almost met in the middle. If we’d have been able to concentrate, we’d have seen that it was previewing the 206’s front.
Later came a saloon, the 908 RC Concept, which ran the Peugeot Le Mans car’s diesel V12 behind its rear seat. Bien Sûr. More significantly, just as he retired came the concept version of the RCZ.
He was a really French Frenchman - looked like one, ate like one. He didn’t speak English, which left us monoglot British hacks struggling to see where he was coming from. I did once try to interview him in French. I didn’t learn much about the car in question (the 607 as I now recall, not his finest hour) but I certainly knew I was in the company of a man of deep charm and unending passion for cars.