Road impressions: the Peugeot 304 Estate

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Once upon a time British journalists who wished to remain au fait with the latest Peugeot products without taking a trip across the Channel were wont to work with Mr. Graham of Peugeot Distributors out at Croydon. He did everything possible to let us have cars but as he was also responsible for selling Peugeots from the Lion showrooms in Surrey and had to regale us with demonstration cars, there were sometimes delays before the very newest of these fine, dependable French cars came into our hands.

Some time ago all this changed, maybe because Peugeot, along with other European manufacturers, is thinking actively in terms of the ECM. After suffering some rather jumbled publicity for a time they appointed publicity agents with the cumbersome name of Brook-Hart Ruder & Finn International to administer to their interests. Soon after this we received a letter saying that special efforts were being made to facilitate the testing of all the Peugeot range of models by accredited journalists who hankered after them.

This reminded me that 1971 was well advanced without a car from Souchaux having come my way. I put in a request and very promptly Mr. Hebert, Sales Manager at Peugeot Automobiles UK Ltd., had telephoned to suggest that I might find a 304 Estate just the job. I did! Moreover, it was delivered exactly on time, a pleasant contrast to BMW, Volvo, which in spite of requests and even arrangements, still proves elusive, and Saab, Rover and others which were verbotten until after the Motor Show.

One reason why I found this well put together economical little Peugeot Estate just the job was because it coincided with transporting part of my personal library of motoring journals—the sort of property some soulless people think of only in terms of raising money at auctions but which to me is the very breath of history and quite beyond price—over a considerable distance, I might even say out of England… Now books weigh heavy, bound volumes of the old weekly journals, my petrol-bibles, especially so. I am afraid I loaded up the spacious rear compartment of the 304 until the permissible 280 kg. it is supposed to carry was no doubt exceeded. Some cars would have given evidence of this by rolling on corners, feeling temporarily under-braked, and understandably sluggish. Not this willing Peugeot 403. The tail-heavy load, although such that beams from the huge, rectangular Cibie headlamps, even on dip, seemed to dazzle some oncomers, made no difference to the lively performance from the transverse 70-b.h.p. (SAE) 1,288-c.c. all-alloy o.h.c. engine, to the squeaky somewhat spongy but powerful disc/drum Girling servo brakes, or to the Macpherson-strut and trailing-arm coil spring all-independent suspension. Cornering sure-footedness is ensured by front-wheel drive, this test car being on 145 x 355 French-made Dunlop SP radial tyres.

Indeed, loaded like a lorry as I was, I had no compunction about descending the old Birdlip Hill into Gloucester, so safe and contented did the 304 feel. It has excellent, light and quick rack-and-pinion steering (3.75 turns lock-to-lock), rides, as good French cars do, in a supple fashion over unmade roads, has ample ground clearance, a useful item in subsequently using the Peugeot to cover the Senior Service Hill Rally in “out-backs” Welsh terrain, and the front seats are deeply upholstered for top comfort, with lever controlled adjustable squabs.

The gear change, once the spring-loading has been mastered, is light to use in a “non-mechanical” sense, and the handbrake has a conventional, central floor location. Visibility is good, as it should be in a small car, and improved by the optional heated window in the lift-up tailgate. The back seat, as well-padded as the separate front ones, folds to give a loading area of 53 cu. ft. The floor has a smart simulated mahogany finish and there is adjacent upholstery, so this Estate isn’t one in which one would normally carry pig-manure, but longitudinal rubber slats make for easy cleaning.

The facia, in matt finish, incorporates a roomy non-lockable cubby with a rather too-eager spring-up lid, supplemented by an under-facia well, and the Jaeger instruments indicate speed and distance, battery condition, fuel contents and water heat in symbol-marked but casually-calibrated dials, supplemented by an Ultra electric clock and the usual warning lights. A l/h stalk moves about in Gallic manner to select various lamps’ settings and the efficient wipers/washers can be brought into play by progressively depressing its extremity—an excellent arrangement. The single-speed wipers are switched on permanently from a r/h facia knob adjacent to the choke knob. To the left, outboard of the recessed ash-tray, is a cigarette lighter. A r/h stalk works the turn-indicators and, pulled inwards, sounds the horn. There is efficient heating and ventilation and this Peugeot 304 is a high-grade Estate car, with quality fittings and finish. The rear number plate lamps are recessed in the back bumpers, which could be vulnerable. The 304 retains the proper sockets for a roof rack, proudly carries the “Lion” badge on its radiator grille, and has that outstandingly smooth five-bearing hemi-head engine which will exceed 6,000 r.p.m., which I remarked on when enthusing over the similarly transverse-engined 204, believe it or not, all of half-a-dozen years ago. It develops an irritating buzz at around 60 m.p.h. but this becomes subdued at 70 m.p.h.

The 304 Estate sells in this country for £1,278.12 and is worth every New Penny of it. As to economy, it returned 32.5 m.p.g. of four-star fuels—a sticker proclaimed “Peugeot foit confiance à Esso,” but it didn’t always get it—and after 900 miles oil was required. It is a charming little vehicle and a useful load-carrier as well, so that I forgave it a difficult to remove fuel filler cap, a rattle from the region of the back seat and loss of a sound-deadening felt panel above the clutch pedal.—W. B.