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~ ~ No less a luminary that the well-known motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson has this most unlikely car listed in his “Top 100 Cars of the 20th Century”. I recall reading an article of his a few months back where he reckons that if you drove this car into the side of Mount Everest at 100mph, then the mountain would come off worst! I personally think that’s stretching things just a little, but it certainly shows the esteem that this ancient Peugeot still demands among the luminaries of the motoring world.
~ ~ From the time of its launch in September, 1968, until the last 504 rolled off the conveyor belts in 1988, there were upwards of 3.5 million 504’s manufactured. Indeed, an updated and modernised version continued to be made in Argentina right up until 1999, where it was in the top five best selling cars in the country, and even today, it is still manufactured under licence out in Nigeria. (So if you really want one, then hop a plane!)
~ ~ It was (and indeed still is) a remarkable motorcar. During the 1970’s and 1980’s it had a virtual stranglehold on the motor market in Africa, and if you visit anywhere on that Continent, then you are sure to see 504’s of every shape and variety on practically every street. (or dust track or desert!) In its native France, it was the most beloved car ever of French taxi drivers, and at one point it would have been a rarity to see any other taxi vehicle on the Parisian roads. (If you see a car being used a lot by the taxi fraternity, then this is a SURE sign of it being built to last the pace.) During its lifetime, the 504 came in many different versions. There was, off course, the ordinary saloon car, but two different estate versions were built, (the family and the commercial) as well as a coupe, a convertible, a pick-up, and a four-wheel drive ATV. (All Terrain Vehicle) All could be purchased in a range of different engines, both petrol and diesel. In 1975, a modified 504 Ti, driven by the Swedish rally drivers Andersson and Hertz, and producing some 175bhp, won some of the most prestigious titles on the African rally circuit, including the gruelling “Safari Rally”, over some of the roughest terrain the Continent could offer. And
Pictures of Peugeot 504 Estate
Peugeot 504 Estate
believe it or not, the following year (1976) a 504 DIESEL driven by Frenchman Guy Fréquelin actually led the Monte Carlo rally for a period, before reality kicked in, and it dropped down the field. It was modified for use as an all terrain vehicle for the French armed forces, a specially reinforced version was produced for use as an armoured car for moving cash and valuables, and it was even adapted for use as a fire engine!! ~ ~ I came to be the proud owner of a Peugeot 504 almost by accident. In 1988, I was over in London for a few days on business, and wanted to purchase a good sized estate car during my trip, for use to carry goods and samples in a small business venture I was involved in at the time at home in Ireland. (Imported oil paintings, if you must know!) I had my eye open for a Ford Sierra estate, but all of them advertised were way too expensive for my meagre budget, when I spotted a 1980 504 Estate for sale at only £750 in the Exchange and Mart. Into a cab (black London taxi, naturally) and off to view I went, and after an inspection and test drive, the deal was struck at only £650 (Sterling) What decided me to purchase more than anything was the amount of space available in the car. To call this car big would not be doing it justice. It was more than simply big, it was totally ENORMOUS! I bought the “family” version, which had two rows of seats behind the driver, which meant it was possible to carry up to eight people. Seven in comfort, because the seat right at the back COULD take three people, but only if one of them was vertically challenged! (small) In this regard, it was one of the very first “people carriers”, and in many respects paved the way for the plethora of such vehicles that flood our roads today. (Renault quickly followed suit with their very own version of this car, the Renault 21 Savannah) Space, legroom, and comfort levels were great, as you would expect in a car of this size, even if the plastic (perforated) finish on the seats left something to be desired. (It was dire, to tell you the truth!)
~ ~ My car had a four cylinder, 2-litre (1971cc) petrol engine, which if not the hottest thing on four wheels, shifted you around with brisk efficiency. The only drawback was its enormous thirst for the “go juice”, (petrol) but this problem was quickly overcome when I got it home to Ireland, by fitting a LPG (Liquid petroleum Gas) unit in the tailgate, which nearly halved my costs per mile. (see my op on this topic if you’re interested, plug, plug!!) Quoted economy figures (petrol) were a thirsty 24 miles per gallon. Talking of the tailgate, this was another major problem with the car. It was a “rust magnet”, as were the wheel arches. The tailgate fitted to the car when I bought it was not the original, and I was to go through another couple in the seven years that I owned it. I also lost count of the amount of tubs of bodywork filler I went through patching up and respraying the wheel arches, but this was such a loveable car, that you could forgive it almost anything. One lovely extra was the fold back canvas sunroof, which was a joy in the summer months. So large was it, that with the two front windows rolled down, you almost felt as if you were driving an open topped sports car. (Well, apart from the performance, that is!) As for performance, it wasn’t that much of a slouch. It had a five-speed automatic gearbox, (four forward, one reverse) which allowed you to hold the car in either first or second gear for maximum acceleration when required. With a top speed in second of 64mph, and a 0 to 60mph time of only 11.8 seconds, it was more than fast enough for my purposes. The gearbox also had a good “kick down” facility, which I often used when carrying out a fast overtaking manoeuvre. By simply flooring the accelerator while cruising, it would drop the car into third gear, which had a maximum speed of 86mph, and fairly blast you past whatever traffic was in front of you. The top speed was quoted at 98mph, but there was the odd occasion (quiet road, late at night) when I had the speedometer touching the 110mph mark.
~ ~ But what really made the car (for me) was quite simply the amount of carrying space. Both rows of rear seats folded flat, and the amount of gear you could load into this wagon would put many an articulated lorry to shame. (well, not quite that good, but you get my point!) I was once offered a load of “peat briquettes” by a friend of mine who lived some 100 plus miles away from Dublin at a much reduced price. (Peat briquettes are a type of log made out of compressed peat dust) So I borrowed my brother-in-laws trailer, hitched it up, and off I went. Between the trailer and the tailgate of the 504, I hauled home over a ton and a half of fuel, enough to keep me going over nearly the entire Winter. Mind you, the car was right down on its springs, and the bodywork was hitting off the tyres whenever I went over a bump, but it took the load without a complaint. I carted exhibition stands, samples, helped various and multifarious friends and acquaintances to move house and apartment, and generally used and abused this marvellous car for a whole five years. Never once did it let me down mechanically, starting first time every morning, and I spent nothing on it outside of regular servicing. The suspension was awesome. With McPherson struts on the front, and independent telescopic shock absorbers on all four wheels, it was like riding around on a cushion of air. But it had an alarming tendency to “roll” about on corners at high speed, so you had to watch yourself a bit if you were ever “pushing on” a little. And with no power steering, you saved yourself a small fortune. One day of driving and parking this car (that is, if you could find a space large enough to park it at all) was better at building up your arm muscles than a week pumping iron in the gym! (It weighed one and a quarter TONS unladen!)
~ ~ I used this car regularly from 1988 to 1993, when it went into “semi-retirement” in the corner of a friend’s car forecourt, where it sat quietly rusting away until 1995. Then I got a phone call to say that he’d had an offer of £500 (Irish Punts) for it from a customer, so I reluctantly let it go. But that’s not even the end of the story! The following year, we went as a family to a “Classic Car Rally” and Show one Sunday afternoon in the grounds of our local hospice for the care of the elderly and terminally ill. And lo and behold, there was my old, trusty Peugeot 504 Estate, in all its pristine glory. The fellow who had bought it was an enthusiast, and had spent vast amounts of time and money bringing the car back to “concourse” condition. He was even willing to sell it back to me for £2,500!! And you know what, I was nearly tempted!!