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Peugeot 504

Peugeot 504 Published: 30th Mar 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
Peugeot 504
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Peter Vaughan looks back on nearly 20 years of driving a French classic that’s sadly little known in the UK yet is as exclusive as a Ferrari and a classy rival to our Stag

As a child with a half-French father it was perhaps no surprise that all our family holidays were of the motoring variety, starting with a ferry across the Channel. And with petrolhead parents, I grew up in the ’70s with a particular fascination for the cars that were never seen on British roads. Back then, in those pre-globalisation times, all sorts of oddball or limited production models appeared in left-hand drive only, and as a result, were unknown here. Think Autobianchi A112, Opel GT (buying guide next month-ed!), Renault Rodeo, Ford Taunus Coupé, Alfasud Giardinetta and many more.

PREFERENCE FOR A PEUGEOT

Into that category you could also put the Peugeot 504 Coupé and Cabriolet, although these were briefly marketed by Peugeot UK with an aftermarket right-hand drive conversion carried out by Hodec, based in Surrey. However, these were exorbitantly expensive cars powered by a mundane 2-litre ‘four’ and made by a company still best known for its practical family estate cars with seven seats. In the days before the 205 Peugeot was far from a household name and few Brits could even properly pronounce the Gallic name.

Nevertheless, Peugeot had long sort to add a touch of glamour to a reputation based on durability and longevity. Its association with styling house Pininfarina was as strong as Ferrari’s or Alfa Romeo’s and dates back to the rather frumpy 403 of the 1950s. Things got a little more sexy when the Italians penned the subsequent 404 saloon, with its Morris Oxford/Austin Cambridge-like lines and subtly American fins, but the relationship really blossomed with the 404 Coupé and Cabriolet, which were not only designed in Turin but built there too.

The 404 Coupé and Cabriolet, in fact, started a tradition that carried on right into the current millennium, with the 306 Cabriolet and 406 Coupé, cars that still retained that simple, flowing Pininfarina elegance.

But if there was a high spot in this relationship, it was surely with the 504. Whilst 504 saloons, estates and the overlooked rugged pick-ups served French families and farmers from Calais to the Cote d’Azur, and would go on to be the taxi of choice all over Africa, the two-door, 2+2 versions would more likely be owned by chic Parisians.

FRENCH LESSON

With a considerably shortened wheelbase (by 19cm), the Coupé and Cabriolet were closely related to each other but bore little resemblance to – and certainly shared no body panels with – their more practical parents. As with the 404 before, these special versions were assembled in Italy (complete with thin, rust-prone panels!) before being transported to Sochaux in eastern France to receive their mechanicals. At the outset, following a début at the March 1969 Geneva Motor Show, these consisted of a 1796cc engine producing a modest 97bhp and driving the rear wheels through a four-speed floor change.

Pre-1975 models are easily recognized by their four individual headlamps and unique slatted tail- lights (shared with the ultra-rare Maserati-engined Ligier JS2 supercar), but it was not long before the motor received a modest increase in performance and capacity, a 2-litre engine becoming standard from October 1970.

The 1971 Paris Motor Show saw the appearance of a third ‘glamour’ version, the 504 Riviera – a sort of French Scimitar GTE. But like the later Lancia Gamma Olgiata of 1982 and Fiat 130 Maremma of 1974 – which also took Pininfarina-designed coupés and added a longer roofline and a hatchback – the Riviera (although undeniably handsome) would remain a one-off. Much more significant change would arrive for the pretty Peugeots in 1974 and it was these later cars that really piqued my interest – both then and now.

Again it was (unsurprisingly) the Paris show where the newest version of the 504 would be unveiled, with the headlamps now paired behind single lenses per side and the rear lamps simplified – minor touches that made all the difference. Even bigger news was under the bonnet. Here was Peugeot’s first six-cylinder production car since the 601 of 1936. The new engine was the PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) Douvrin V6, which would later go on to power the flagship 604 saloon, as well as the Renault 30 and Volvo 264. This lump even ended up in Alpine sports cars and the DeLorean but here, with carburetors, it produced 136bhp – not much more than half the output of later turbocharged Douvrin motors.

MY TURN NOW…

I had long admired the 504’s elegant lines when I became a member of Club Peugeot UK and soon a classic 304 Cabriolet (the 504’s little – much cheaper – brother) joined my everyday ‘lion’ as my first old car. Driving an early 2-litre 504 Coupé to the marque’s centenary celebrations nearly put me off though; the hefty steering and lack of performance being something of a disappointment. If I was going to become a 504 owner it had to be a V6.

That decision lead me to the discovery that only 977 V6 Cabriolets were ever made, all in the period from September ’74 to July ’77, and only a handful have ever made it to the UK. After a couple of years, though, I struck lucky when a yellow 1975 car came up for sale in Wimbledon, just a short drive from where I lived in south London. It was a car that I would own for 15 years, longer than any other I have ever purchased (out of twenty or so, more than half of them Peugeots).

My enthusiasm for the model was such that I drove it to International Peugeot Meetings in France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland – and I even became the chairman of Club Peugeot UK for three years. The car rarely missed a beat, would keep up with modern traffic and 24mpg on a run seemed much better than you might expect from an old carburetor-fed V6 with a bit of a reputation for a drink problem. Selling it when I got divorced was hard emotionally but not from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence – the current club chairman snapped it up in double-quick time for his extensive Peugeot collection.

So, why two years later did I buy a 2-litre 504 Cabriolet? Simply because the ultimate combination of 504 features – soft-top, five-speed gearbox, V6, end-of-the-line styling – was never put together in one car (at least not by Peugeot).

The V6 engine was phased out of the Cabriolet in 1977 and all later examples reverted to the injected ‘four’. An injected ‘six’ joined the range as the V6 TI but only in hard- topped Coupé form. However, later cars were improved in so many other ways.

From October 1979 the slim chrome bumpers were replaced by polyurethane replacements, colour- coded except on white and red non-metallic cars, and while such a change might sound horrific to those thinking along the lines of rubber bumper MGBs or Series 3 Alfa Spiders, here they actually suit the car well. Importantly, too, inside the rather dingy all-black trim was replaced by beige seats and a brown dash with wood highlights.

And finally the 2-litre engine got a five-speed gearbox. Then, from October 1981, there was a new ‘Monte Carlo’ dashboard – a development that beggars belief when you realise that production had slowed to less than 500 cars a year (Coupés and Cabriolets combined) and production would stop in 1983. Why did they bother?

The car you see here in the pictures is the newest 504 Cabriolet registered in the UK, having been manufactured in January 1983. In fact, just 123 soft-top 504s rolled out of Pininfarina’s gates in that final year.

Having spent most of its (pampered) life in Germany, my car came to Britain and was sold by Classic Chrome – south London again! – with little more than 60k miles recorded in its first 29 years. Clearly cherished, it also shows a marked improvement in build quality over early 504s.

Left-hand drive makes the Cabriolet perfect for touring France, where the 504 is still revered and top examples have sold at auction recently for over 33,000 euros. The 2-litre engine might only offer 106 horsepower (down 30 on the V6) but the extra cog does make for more relaxed cruising – and for 30mpg without undue restraint.

In the end, the choice of engine makes surprisingly little difference to the driving experience. These are not rivals to Alfa or Fiat 124 Spiders; they are elegant tourers rather than sports cars. Where they gain is in a ride quality unknown to drivers of modern machinery, which combined with soft and luxurious seats makes long distances effortless. Better still, the hood folds easily (it can even be done without leaving the driver’s seat) into a recess behind the back seat, and without robbing boot space, as in so many modern cabrios.

Indeed, travelling four-up for a two-week holiday in the Dordogne was no hardship and the boot swallowed everything two adults, a teenager and a five-year-old needed without too much compromise. Try that in a modern A4 or 3-series!

Of course, the perfect 504 would probably be a V6 TI Cabriolet – the car they never made – but on today’s crowded roads the modest ‘go’ of the injected 2-litre is of little consequence. Relax and enjoy the ride in a car that is as exclusive as many a more exotic machine but far less temperamental.

My 504’s elegant Pininfarina lines have been mistaken more than once for a Lancia, a Ferrari and even an Aston Martin in the time I’ve owned 504s and that perhaps says it all. Maybe Peugeot needs to recapture a little of this Italian glamour today if it is to compete with the ubiquitous German company car choices.

 



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