It was gone in what felt like a flash; months of anticipation, frustration and daydreaming.
As the still, early morning air rushed through the open window, the vista ahead was a constantly changing pallet of reds, pinks and blues. Passing the discreet farm entrance nestled into the neatly-kept winding lane it felt like the most mundane moment imaginable, but a rush of elation soared inside. The revs sung, and I likely cracked a smile. Freedom, yet I hadn’t even travelled 5km from home.
Here in Ireland, we’ve been in Covid lockdown not once, not twice, but three times. The early days were a novelty; no traffic, sun shining, peace and quiet entered our busy lives. The last time was different, and for 15 weeks the country held firm. Travel was restricted to 5km (3mi) and there were police checkpoints all over the country enforcing the limits.
The national mood suffered. I suffered. Countless evenings I fought the urge to just jump in the car and drive, but I knew it was only temporary.
Standing still has never suited me. Having a Peugeot 106 Rallye is a life choice of someone that simply enjoys moving, but for quite a while it didn’t. I didn’t have the buzz for it. The little French hatch was tucked off into a shed last November, and there it sat. I didn’t even stop by for a look.
Fast forward to March, and there were shoots of optimism. Most importantly, Ireland had a date that it would be coming out of lockdown; the second week of April was go time.
The 5km bubble would be replaced by the ability to travel within our county or state, which is rather handy when you can drive nearly three hours east to west and not cross county borders.
Knowing freedom was just around the corner, I set about tackling a list of jobs. One of the first things that badly needed sorting were the 106’s brakes.
The final outings of 2020, mainly while on the Rallye Omologato shoot, raised concerns about the health of the front discs, which may or may not have deteriorated during some track work in Mondello Park. Wheels off, one spin and bingo, a nice bit of warping on the front left. For a sub-800kg car, the little 106 never really stopped great. In fact, it terrified anyone that jumped behind the wheel. But to me, this was all part of its charm.
While the car came with upgraded Peugeot 206 GTi callipers already fitted, the rest of the braking system needed spicing up. Thankfully, Santy had delivered some nice shiny bits, so on went a pair of 266mm MTec discs, EBC YellowStuff pads and some Goodridge brake lines. Now it stops.
Another big item that needed ticking off was the addition of the iconic Series 1 106 Rallye bumper vents, one of the model’s most important design elements and also likely the rarest part to find. Long since discontinued, prices for these little plastic pieces have become eye-watering. With the original pair I had lost to a bodyshop issue, it was time to run the roulette wheel and try to source a decent pair online.
This is where William from Addaptiv, a local 3D printing specialist, comes into the picture. A quick chat led my search in a new direction, because why pay obscene sums for an already likely broken 25-year-old pieces of plastic when new ones can be designed and manufactured?
After back and forth emails sending photos and scans directly from the car, what arrived were perfect, brand new parts better than the originals – for me at least. I’d requested subtle changes, like swapping the solid backing plate for a more functional mesh and beefing up the mounting points that are dynamite for breaking, but I think they absolutely make the car.
Every car is a nightmare to keep clean, we all know that, but there is something almost self-loathing about running a white-on-white hatchback that adores being flung down muddy and dirty backroads. Grime and brake dust just take over if you stare too long, never mind driving the damn thing. So it was off with the wheels for a bi-monthly deep scrub.
Out of storage and after three days’ worth of cleaning, the Rallye looked respectable. Of course, 10 minutes up the road and this work would all be in vain. I love and hate this equally. It’s currently clean, meaning I must drive it again as I like it dirty. But I also hate it dirty, so will need to clean it…
The Rallye was ready in a way I’d never seen in the entirety my ownership, and with the end of lockdown imminent, I booked a day off work. I was going for a spin.
The plan was simple: 4.45am alarm, drive through the darkness to somewhere scenic and sit waiting for the sunrise to do its thing. Reality was waking up in a panic at 5.35am to see the most stunning sky illuminated it a wispy shade of pink, and the crippling thought that myself, the Peugeot and the camera were not looking back at it.
In a flash I was out the door, past the farm gate, through the invisible 5km bubble boundary, and headed towards the nearest stretch of coast. Parked with barely a minute to spare, the sun emerged – naturally in the totally wrong direction, such was my panic – to provide a stunning start to the day.
The rest of the day was utterly joyous. I’ve owned my little Rallye for nearly 18 months, and this was the first time I felt I had properly driven it. No destination, no time pressures, no worries.
With the back seats down for maximum aural quality, the throaty roar of induction fills the tinny little cabin with such delightful notes past 5,000rpm, all while barely approaching the speed limit. For me, this is raw driving pleasure.
The westward route took me past beaches and mountains, and down main roads and farm tracks. The Rallye loved it all.
I spent nearly an hour sat looking out at the Atlantic, remembering what the sea looks and smells like, and only had a lone local dog for company. He was a sharp pupper and seemed to appreciate the little Pug, as did another of his buddies later in the afternoon.The Second Spin
While Friday was an early start, Saturday was even earlier – 4.40am to be precise. This time I wasn’t going for a drive in the Rallye, nor would I be travelling alone. It was with friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen in months, and I’d be behind the wheel of my new daily driver.
While in my 106 lull, out went my diesel Seat Leon ST and in came a bit of kit I’d had a firm eye on for quite a while. In a world of grey and black VAG cars, it felt apt to buy a subtle grey slice of Korean spice, namely a Hyundai i30 N.
It’s like a Golf GTI, as most hot hatches aim to be. But most importantly for me, it’s not a Golf GTI.
To me, the i30 N is jagged and exciting. The game-rivalling number of selectable settings allow for a drive dictated by personal mood or taste – and an exhaust that has likely upset every neighbour within a few hundred meters of my home. That can be turned off, but would you really bother?
The Hyundai entered my life in December, one week before lockdown kicked in, and as such I never had an opportunity to explore what it could really do.
Like the 106, the i30 N has nearly always been grimy or filthy, but such is its stealthy aggression that it really suits a dousing of dirt. In four months, all it’s required is a pair of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.
For as much as I love the i30 N though – and no doubt I’ll do a proper Speedhunters Garage update on it in due course – last weekend reminded me just how much I enjoy the 106 Rallye.
It is the anthesis of all modern cars. On that Friday morning, with an open road ahead of me, I clocked up 350km of joyous, soul-cleansing driving. I let go of months of worry and stress, and remembered how great it is to just go for a spin.Gallery