An Aristocrat Among Small Cars
Alec Issigonis’ East-West engine location to provide compact yet roomy front-wheel-drive small cars was a significant automobile innovation in 1959, when the first Mini appeared. Since then Minis have multiplied enormously, B.M.C. has expanded the system to embrace 1,100, 1,300 and 1,800-c.c. engines, and Peugeot, Auto-Bianchi and Simca have cribbed it.
The transverse-engined front-drive Peugeot 204 was commented on in Motor Sport in 1966, after I had driven the saloon model, of which I remarked that I regarded it as one of the most significant small cars of the nineteen-sixties and that it made other f.w.d. 1100s feel and sound like tramcars. Car fashions and standards change rapidly but, trying the two-door coupé version of the Peugeot 204 this year, I see no need to modify my views of this refined and pleasing little French car. It uses a smooth overhead-camshaft engine, whereas B.M.C. are content with push-rod valve gear, although that may change when their long-overdue “1500” arrives. This 74 x 64 min. (1,130 c.c.) light-alloy Peugeot power unit gives 58, 55 or 53 h.p., depending on whether you refer to S.A.E., CUNA or DIN ratings, at 5,800 r.p.m. and starts with commendable enthusiasm after a night in the freezing open. The carburetter is a Solex 32 PBISA 3. It runs nicely at 70 m.p.h., just as contentedly at an indicated 85 m.p.h. There is a rather loud hum at such speeds which is the only tiring aspect of quick cruising in this little car, for the front seats are exceptionally comfortable, more to my liking even than Renault’s renowned seats, although it is disappointing that squab angle is adjustable only by manually screwing out or in the supporting legs. A further contribution to comfort and lack of fatigue is the level-riding suspension, in an era when too-lively springing has by no means been eliminated from the average run of motor-cars. The 204 has a somewhat lurchy gait but it does not pitch or buck and it negotiates bad surfaces comfortably, at the expense of some roll on corners. This is achieved by telescopic suspension units and Peugeot’s own dampers, in conjunction with anti-roll bars at each end of the car. The ground clearance is most reassuring. The 14-inch Michelin “X” tyres lose their grip at times, for the 204 encourages quick cornering, but f.w.d. pulls the car straight and otherwise presents no unusual feel to the accurate rack-and-pinion steering (3½-turns, lock-to-lock, with a 15-ft. kerb turning circle). The normal tendency is mild understeer; the steering transmits a little vibration on certain road surfaces and is smooth rather than light, with good castor return.
This coupé version of the Peugeot 204 is perhaps too short and high from some angles to be an eye-catching fastback, but it offers excellent accommodation for the front occupants, has a rather shallow back seat and a back window which lifts up for loading the roomy boot. The back seat squab folds on to the cushion to provide extra room, when such bulky household objects as long rolls of carpet and linoleum can be easily accommodated. The back window tends to mist up but a mirror is provided on the driver’s door. The wide doors shut nicely, have effective “keeps” when fully open, and the handles, locks and winders have a quality action in keeping with the neat high-grade interior trim, which is in readily washable leatherette. The doors have big “pull”-handles within and the boot is illuminated. The interior light is as bright as household lighting, and there is a Neiman steering column lock.
Well-located pedals, a neat facia with matt-black surrounds and a good facia shelf, supplemented by an unlockable lidded cubby hole beneath it, are found in the 204. The l.h. steering-column gear change, although having rather long movements, functions reasonably if the changes are not too hurried and the lever is allowed to feel its own way from 2nd to 3rd, otherwise this is a notchy gear change. A small stalk on the left of the column works the turn-indicators and self-cancels rather too readily. On the right there is the usual Peugeot lamps/horn stalk, acceptable to logically-minded Gauls but a thought confusing for casual Englishmen. The rectangular Marchal Aurillix headlamps, “incorporating halogen supplementary lamps”, get space and a picture in the catalogue, but night driving is rendered a strain by the very sharp cut off, although on full beam these are good lamps.
Instrumentation, by Jaeger, consists of speedometer, with total and decimal trip adapters, a very accurate seconds-hand clock, and a combined thermometer, fuel gauge and thermal voltmeter, of which the fuel gauge shows far below the “empty” reading for some time before the tank runs dry. The tank, which has a very difficult to replace bayonet cap, is said to hold 9.5 gallons. A long run, averaging 40 m.p.h. inclusive of a refuelling pause and a minor collision (when a lorry reversed into the stationary Peugeot) across Britain, gave a figure of 29.0 m.p.g. of 99-octane petrol, which is satisfactory but not outstanding for an 1100. The engine, for which Esso Extra oil is specified, used none in 700 miles. The bonnet is self-supporting but not self-releasing.
Disappointments in a car which is costly in this country are that the quadrant lever controlling the volume of heat would slide over to the hot setting, baking our feet, that in this r.h.d. version the wipers/washers knob is located rather too far over to the left under the facia lip, and that although the choke and cigarette-lighter buttons are close to the driver’s left hand, they could profitably be transposed. The wipers leave an unswept area on the o/s of the screen. On l.h.d. cars the locations would probably seem quite satisfactory and logical. The screen-sill contains lift-up fresh-air inlets, the volume from which is controlled by a sliding knob.
In this country the coupé version of the Peugeot 204 (which has the same engine and servo disc-front brakes as the saloon and estate-bodied models) is expensive—1,327 8s. 7d., inclusive of p.t.—but it is a rugged, very comfortable, refined little car, a typical product of Peugeot, three times in succession winner of the E. African Safari, which deserves the distinction of being called an aristocrat among small cars. In spite of their high prices (the saloon costs £1,062 8s. 1d., the estate version £1,130 5s. 10d.), the 204 now represents 25% of Peugeot sales in this country.—W. B.