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Peugeot 604

Peugeot 604 Published: 29th Nov 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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The 604 was a prestigious Peugeot that tried to take on the establishment with its first large executive saloon since the 1930s. A fine car, but The Lion’s share of well heeled customers usually looked elsewhere for one-upmanship says Chris Randall

Head back to the second half of the 1970s and for those buyers that couldn’t quite stretch to the likes of a Jaguar or Rolls-Royce, there were plenty of large saloons from mainstream manufacturers with which to impress the neighbours. Wanted to show them how well you’d done for yourself while also standing out in the golf club car park? Then the likes of the Rover SD1 and Ford Granada were perfect, and if you’d made a few more quid then the BMW 5-Series or Mercedes-Benz W123 would have made the right impression. But there was an alternative if you were prepared to think a bit differently, and in 1975 it came from across the Channel in the shape of the Peugeot 604. Launched at that year’s Geneva Motor Show and going on sale in the September it was styled by Pininfarina, the result being a pretty if conservative saloon that sat above the popular 504. The new model’s body and platform borrowed heavily from its smaller sister but that was no bad thing, the new large saloon offering plenty of space, comfort, and a large helping of Gallic prestige. In fact, it was Peugeot’s first attempt at a big car since the 601 of the 1930s while the sober but suitably executive appearance made it a firm favourite with captains of industry and French Presidents alike.

Launched in SL trim it was a touch pricey when it first landed in the UK, Peugeot asking in the region of £4700 which positioned it perilously close to those premium German rivals, although it was plenty capable enough to compete. One highlight was the 2.7-litre PRV V6 engine (shared with Renault and Volvo) that featured a clever three-choke Solex carburettor and managed a useful 136bhp. With 60mph reached in the region of 10 seconds it wasn’t short of pace and proved smooth enough for relaxing progress, which is what luxo-barges like these were really all about.

Coupled with comfortably soft seats that were typical of French cars and an equally pillowy ride the 604 was more than capable of soothing away long distances. There was a big boot, too, and choose one equipped with optional leather trim and the likes of electric operation for the windows, locking, and sunroof and there was a decently luxurious feel to proceedings.

However, if you wanted a little more entertainment behind the wheel it could deliver that, too. Suspension by MacPherson struts up front and independent semi-trailing arms aft delivered usefully poised handling backed by accurate rack and pinion steering, and disc brakes all round. Broadly praised by the motoring media of the day it wasn’t without foibles and ergonomic annoyances, but that didn’t stop Motorsport magazine calling it “a notable addition to the ranks of big, spacious saloons”.

Peugeot didn’t intend to rest on its laurels, though, and set about a programme of improvements to keep the 604 competitive. It was a vital move given the popularity of its rivals, not least from home-grown contenders such as the Citroën CX and Renault 30, and if taking a tilt at the Jaguar XJ6 was taking things a bit far Peugeot certainly didn’t lack ambition. And for the 1979 model year they decided that what its big saloon needed was diesel power, introducing the 604D. Bolting a Garrett T03 blower to the 2.3-litre XD2S ‘Indenor’ oil-burner they created what it claimed was the first turbo-diesel for mass production in Europe. Power output was a miserly 80bhp so it’s no surprise that getting to 60mph required a glacial 17 seconds, but it managed a claimed 30mpg which was competitive for the time if distinctly average by today’s standards. The petrol engine wasn’t forgotten, though, the PRV unit later enlarged to 2.8-litres and gaining Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection for 144bhp in the 604Ti. A facelift in 1980 brought minor styling tweaks to the exterior and cabin, and a year later the Ti became the STi and the GM automatic gearbox was replaced by a more responsive ZF unit.

Development slowed a little after that, the main points of interest comprising a slightly more powerful 2.5-litre version of the turbo-diesel engine for 1983 and a racier 604GTi the year after.

However, the writing was on the wall and by November 1985 production had ended. In purely commercial terms the 604 couldn’t be considered a roaring success, a decade of production seeing just 153,000 examples roll out of the factory gates.

Quite why it did so badly isn’t entirely clear, although sales had been steadily declining almost from the word go and by the last year of production they had sunk into the hundreds. Arguably, Peugeot’s introduction of the 505 in 1979 hadn’t helped – designed to plug the gap between the 504 and 604, its key dimensions were close enough to the bigger model to rob sales. Rust worries and niggling unreliability probably didn’t help, either, while regular maintenance was required more frequently than rivals and even included attention to grease points, something that was rather unusual by the late 1970s.

It’s also not unreasonable to assume that repairs were more labour-intensive than on simpler models like the Ford Granada; for example, it appears that replacing the clutch took eight hours which was twice as long as most rivals, and would have dented any reputation for hassle-free ownership. Ultimately it was a sad end for this attractive and capable saloon, a model that offered buyers an interesting alternative to the mainstream norm, and it’ll come as no surprise that it is rare today. According to uk there are just fourteen examples still on the UK’s roads, and any that are left certainly deserve to be saved wouldn’t you say?

Why we like them

If you’re after an executive classic offering comfort and space then there are plenty of models that would fit the bill. Indeed, the likes of a Ford Granada Mk 2, Rover SD1, or BMW 5 Series would make for thoroughly enjoyable companions and we certainly wouldn’t blame you if that’s where you decided to put your hard-earned cash. If nothing else, it would prove easier to find one. But there’s something uniquely appealing about a luxury French barge, an alternative itch that those more obvious choices can’t quite scratch. Admittedly, finding one will take patience and it’s worth looking to Europe, but if you want to stand out at your local classic car show this rare refined Peugeot could be just the ticket.

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