PEUGEOT'S victorious sweep of the first three places at this year's Le Mans 24 Hour race shows that French car makers have still got what it takes to be world-beaters. The Peugeot 905 race cars held back the might of the Toyota team to give the home crowds something to celebrate. The 905 is the pride of Peugeot, but it is the smart little 205 that led the car out of the financial wilderness 10 years ago, and the 205 is still a good seller today. Many motor industry observers had written Peugeot off as a has-been before the launch of the 205, the car maker having seemed to have lost direction and its products lacked the imagination and flair for which the French are famous. But the Pininfarina-styled 205 was a bundle of chic fashion that was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. The trend-setting shape, innovative engineering and plain cuteness of the 205 re-established Peugeot's credibility and, indeed, the credibility of the entire French car industry. Suddenly, Peugeot was back in the game and the 205 has remained at the top of its class for a decade. Even Peugeot's newest small car, the 306, has failed to win over fans of the 205. All the 205 models are desirable, but the convertible 205CTi has the glamour of open-top driving with all the attraction of the sun in the face and the breeze in the hair. And the compact dimensions of the 205 make it ideal as a Hongkong city car. Victor Kan, chief executive at Lion Motors, the Hongkong Peugeot concessionaire, describes the 205CTi as a perfect car for the territory. ''It's chic, good looking and popular with the film stars, and it's an evergreen design which is still good today.'' Fashion conscious drivers need not worry that the wind in the hair will spoil the coiffure. There is a minimum of buffeting with the top down at speed and with the windows raised. With the cool air spouting from the air-conditioning, the driver can pose as a parisian model without breaking into a sweat. The 1,904 cc four-cylinder engine produces 120 brake horsepower, enough to maintain a brisk pace and keep the air-conditioner at full blast. The sturdy anti-roll bar behind the driver's head gives a feeling of security and the whole car has a pleasing solidity and is free of creaks and rattles. The steering is heavier than is usual and the chunky leather-covered wheel needs a firm grip. But the advantage is terrific feel and security which makes the 205 a real friend on twisting roads. The body is slim and putting the 205 through traffic or narrow lanes is easy and fun with the car feeling no more bulky than a winter coat. Some of the interior fittings are showing their age: the dash seems unfashionably square and selecting drive with the gear shift lever for the automatic gearbox needs a double check because the gear indicator next to the lever is indistinct. But, as a style statement, a fun package, and a practical everyday car, the Peugeot has few rivals.