The Peugeot 404

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A very fully equipped, excellent all-round family car from a famous factory. Individuality allied to refined running an outstanding feature of this 1.6-litre saloon. 

THE Peugeot 404, introduced last year as a companion to the firmly established 403 made by Peugeot Freres of Belfort, is generally a splendid car, offering exceptional value for money, but while it will entrance confirmed Peugeot enthusiasts it could well exasperate less experienced or discerning drivers. For it is a highly individual motor-car.

The individuality of the 404 does not stop at actuation of the slightly-inclined o.h. valves of its new 1,618-c.c. Type XC 84 x 73 mm. “over square” wet-liner, alloy-head engine, itself inclined at 45°, by push-rods from a base camshaft and a worm­drive back axle with torque-tube drive – individuality extends to details, and the car even smells French.

Basically this Peugeot is a spacious 4-door saloon, able to seat six if need be in comfort, well finished, lavishly equipped as stan­dard and having stainless steel bumpers and exterior parts, fully­reclining squabs to the separate front scars, “X” tyres, parking lamps, scuttle fresh-air vents, two-tone horn, roof-rack mountings, lockable steering, screen-washers, safety-locks for the rear doors, illuminated boot, etc., as a matter of course.

The front seats are deep, generously sprung and generally com­fortable (although some people may find they are too resilient and plastic gets hot) fore and aft, and squab-angle adjustment (down to single or double-bed position, returning under spring action) being by two levers at the side of the seat. There was a little free movement of the driver’s seat and a gap between base of cushion and squab which caused the driver’s coat to catch on a bracket and tear when getting out; also the seats creak. Forward visibility is good, the wheel set sensibly low and both wings in full view, but there is considerable reflection in the screen and the wipers park badly. The doors open to almost 90°, held by good “keeps,” and shut, not with the vintage “double clonk,” but the opposite of tinnily.

The large steering wheel has a full horn-ring which gives loud or soft horn note depending on how hard it is pressed and from its column on the left (in r.h.d. cars) protrudes the rigid gear-lever with, above it, a short, flat direction-flashers lever, feather light and only faintly inaccessible. In the gear change is found the first Peugeot individuality, for it moves in three planes, spring-loaded to neutral. Bottom gear is obtained by pressing the lever down and towards the floor, and unless fully pressed down the gear will not engage. There is said to be synchromesh on this ratio but it is easy to crunch engagement, which is not to be made above 15 m.p.h. Reverse is unguarded, above 1st. The lever springs naturally from 1st to neutral, from whence it is push up into 2nd gear and down into 3rd. To engage top it is moved through neutral and upwards. Taken unhurriedly this is all quite satis­factory providing one concentrates. Fast changes are less pleasant to undertake, especially as the gate was apt, to be “catchy” going from top into 3rd. There is commonsense behind the layout – 1st and reverse together for manoeuvring, 2nd and 3rd together for town work, top on its own for open-road motoring – it is no longer an overdrive and can be engaged at 30 m.p.h. or so by thrifty drivers. The lever moves lightly enough and the technique is to use the palm of the hand, letting the sprung action do the work.

Opposite the gear-lever a shorter, knob-tipped lever selects the lamps. This, again, goes round corners, coming up to put on the sidelights, across the gate for dipped headlamps and forward again for full beam. Remarkably, there is no indication as to which position selects which lamps, so it is all too easy to motor in daylight with sidelamps “on” or at night with them out, and it is not easy to flash the headlamps from sidclamps only. But Peugeot fans will say that if you cannot master this simple “switchery” you shouldn’t pretend to be an enthusiast…. After all, everything tends to be made too easy nowadays and a little effort need not be deterrent to enjoyable motoring. Here I may as well explain about the interior door locks! These are excellent sill-locks but they pull up to secure the doors, the reverse of the usual, which makes locking up your Peugeot puzzling until you comprehend this. The doors have arm-rests, metal pull-handles that make the forward-sliding interior catches easy to operate, and good quality window winders with rotating grips (4 7/8 turns front, 5 1/4 turns, rear). There are elastic-topped pockets on the scuttle sides tut no door pockets. The wipers could be more efficient.

The facia incorporates a truly deep cubby-hole but its lid has an over-strong spring action and no lock. There is a pull-out ash­tray, a 100-m.p.h. hooded horizontal-scale Jaeger speedometer (with a steady needle and very easily-read total and four-figure trip-with-decimal odometers) and not only water thermometer and petrol gauge (pessimistic, with a shaded blob at the reading where about 2 gallons remain) but an ammeter and a very accurate electric clock. The test car had a Philips model 808 Motorola radio, of splendid tone and selectivity, and front and rear speakers controlled by a mixer unit convenient to the driver. Peugeot does not believe in flashing warning lamps and dispenses with a full-beam light, etc., the only such indicators being one for the direction flashers, and an oil light in the water thermometer window. On U.K. cars the left-hand flashers’ warning window is inoperative, which is rather confusing. At either side are the air vent grilles with adjustment knobs. Twin padded swivelling vizors, with vanity mirror in the near-side one, and safety-glass rear-view mirror are fitted. There is courtesy interior illumina­tion when the front doors are opened, and the back seat has a fold­ing arm-rest with pull-out ash-tray. A sliding roof is available for an extra £21 5s. 

Below the facia are the radio speaker mixer knob, parking lamps selector, instrument lighting rheostat control and, against the steering column, the choke knob. Peugeot leave odd nuts and brackets in view and obviously believe that a car is a piece of machinery, not a boudoir. Thus four fuses live on the inside of the scuttle, by the front passenger’s seat. There is a battery master switch for the 12-volt electrical system incorporated in a battery terminal, a prominent knob for resetting the electric clock matching the trip zero knob on the facia, and the ignition key­-cum-starter incorporates a Neiman Anti-vol column lock. Two good quality keys suffice, one for the doors and boot, one for ignition. The key is required to open the boot lid, which at least prevents it from being left unlocked, and the lid, like the bonnet, stays up automatically. There is a socket giving provision for under-bonnet lighting and a lamp with switch for the boot­ – further proof of Peugeot practicability.

The floor has rubber matting in the front, moquette at the back, over felt underlays. The plastic upholstery holds the occupants securely. The bayonet fuel filler is hidden beneath the spring­-loaded rear number-plate. The luggage boot has a capacity of 17 1/2 cu. ft. in its felt and moquette-lined interior, the spare wheel being covered and mounted vertically on the off side. There is the usual parcels shelf behind the back seat.

A metal quadrant in the facia centre contains the controls for heating and ventilation, the knob travelling round corners again in its passage from “off” to “heat fully on.” There are also shutters on the air-conditioner box for further heat, and the usual heater fan.

From the foregoing it will be seen that the Peugeot 404 is a generously equipped, essentially practical, rugged and well-finished car. It gives the feeling of being conscientiously assembled for long life. 

On the road the sheer honesty of this well-liked French car gains further confirmation. The 72-b.h.p. engine provides a cruising speed of 70-80 m.p.h., a top speed of 89 m.p.h., and a true 3rd gear maximum of over 70 m.p.h. and adequate acceleration, although high gearing contributes to easy speed rather than flashing pick-up. Even so the 404 will reach 60 m.p.h. from rest in 22 sec. and cover a s.s. 1/2-mile in rather less time, very com­fortably outpacing a Morris-Oxford or the larger-engined Ford Consul, for instance. The indicated maxima in the gears are 28, 50 and 80 m.p.h.

The engine is unobtrusive if not entirely silent when at work, mechanical noise being absent, the gearbox is quiet save for a low whine on the over-run in top gear – a sort of mechanical confirmation that this is a real motor car. Road noise is very thoroughly absorbed and wind noise is low, making long-distance fast travel per 404 an effortless undertaking. There are no quarter-lights to the windows, so these are best left closed, using the facia vents for fresh-air ventilation. The car is outstandingly quiet and the engine is flexible in keeping with this worthwhile quality, enhanced by a body devoid of rattles, save for a minor one from the near-side rear door.

The Peugeot’s riding and cornering characteristics are an interesting combination. The vertical coil-spring suspension is notably flexible, absorbing road shocks well at the expense of very considerable up-and-down motion and some mild wallowing even on but slightly rough roads. The deep front seat cushions tend to accentuate this action, to the benefit of one’s tailor, for suits must soon become polished, although the action is by no means so unpleasant as it was on the 403.

From this you might deduce that fast cornering would not be amongst the Peugeot’s better qualities. How wrong you would be! Proper location (by Panhard rod and torque tube) of the light-alloy back axle works wonders and, supple as the springing is, the wheels remain firmly on the ground. Roll is well subdued and the car corners fast with accuracy and security, aided by Michelin “X” tyres which are fitted as standard and do not protest at such treatment. Only over very poor roads does the conven­tional back axle make its presence felt and then only slightly, and it never tramps or otherwise becomes vulgar. “Colonial” going, however, does make the 404 wallow rather more noticeably and occasionally a combination of wavy surfaces on main roads gives rise to an odd but mild weaving action. The rack-and-pinion steering transmits no kick-back or notice­able vibration although front wheel movement can be felt, and, once away from the kerb, is light and smooth. It has useful castor-­return action and 3 1/2 turns take the wheel from one lock to another, with a commendably small turning circle. Thus it is not particu­larly low geared and if it feels to be, its accuracy soon offsets this impression. The cornering tendency, taken to extremes, is towards moderate understeer. 

The brakes are light and very powerful, which has long been a Peugeot attribute. They are so vice-free as to merit no further comment, except that slight harshness suggested hard linings.

The hand-brake is again typically Peugeot – a solid unpainted metal lever set at an angle up under the scuttle, with inset ratchet release, not too badly placed and another “engineering” aspect of this car of character. The clutch action is smooth, if a little heavy.

From the foregoing one would not expect a miserly petrol capacity to spoil the Peugeot’s charms, nor is one disappointed. I took the car over with room for another gallon in its 11-gallon tank and did 307 miles before running out. Fuel economy is another remarkable feature of the 404. Including crossing and recrossing London, many starts and stops and a lot of fast motoring it averaged 30.7 m.p.g. The Concessionaires had put in an inex­pensive Regent grade on which I got 31.2 m.p.g. The Peugeot thrives on “mixture” grades and will just about tolerate “com­mercial” petrol, so on no count can this big family saloon be regarded as anything but exceedingly economical.

In 800 miles a quart of oil was consumed, and nothing whatsoever went wrong in over 1,000 miles. Water temperature is normally 170° F. Under the bonnet, opened by a knob under the facia on the extreme near side, impossible to operate from the driving seat, the S.E.V. and Ducellier electrics are accessible, as are the plugs, buried in the valve cover which lies along the off side, the engine being tilted to the right, with the radiator on that side. This gives ample space for a big drum-type air cleaner for the Solex 32 PBICA downdraught carburetter and the battery on the near side. The dip-stick is deep down, and a little inaccessible. It is good to see a substantial starting handle clipped beside the engine, with a hole in the front bumper to receive it. The Marchal Equilux headlamps give a fine beam, and the parking lamps repeat the flashers’ warnings.

It is difficult to assess the appeal of this Peugeot, because it is the result of a combination of many virtues, adding up to great individuality, although the quiet running and good performance from a mere 1.6-litres are amongst the 404’s outstanding qualities. It would, however, be even more restful if it were endowed wiih less lively suspension. Peugeot cars, made by one of the manufacturers longest in existence, also have a reputation for long life. The body of the 404 is one of Farina’s less startling stylings. A big Peugeot emblem proudly adorns the radiator grille, “404” graces the bonnet, and the word “Peugeot” is on the boot. You step down into it over stainless-steel sills, for this is a low-built car. Other­wise this is a smart but unobtrusive family saloon but keen motorists, knowing of its many sensible features and the very full equipment offered at a basic price of less than £1,000, will continue to regard it as one of the World’s worthwhile products. – W. B.

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