We have long had a very high opinion of Peugeot cars. Not only have 403 and 404 estate cars served well as staff vehicle but memories of other models, from the 203 saloon which today would be called a fast-back, the front-drive 204; and the extremely useful 7-to-9-seater 404 Familiale have endorsed Peugeot quality, and the makes’ noted economy of fuel, the last a factor in motoring which is of ever-increasing importance.
Consequently, when a 504 eventually presented itself for the test, in for the form of an Injection saloon, we were more than usually interested. First impressions, however, were disappointing, this most recent of the larger Peugeots felt heavy up front, the floor gear-change had very pronounced spring-loading, the steering wheel had a very wide spoke which blanked the instruments when you were making a turn, and the 504 did not feel at all “chuckable” or particularly handy in heavy traffic. Later, after we had gained less congested roads, the true merit of his individualistic French car with its ability to cover the ground quickly in commendable quietness and to impart a great sense of security to its occupants while doing so, became readily apparent.
Respect must be felt for an old-established Company which has not sought the mass-production method of price-cutting, which plans each model for a ten-year’s lifespan, and which has pioneered many important innovations, from the twin-cam racing ending and inclined o.h. valves operated by a crankcase camshaft. To wet cylinder liners (1930), synchromesh on all four forward gears (from 1954), cross-flow heads (1955) and rack-and-pinion steering on all the post-WW2 Peugeots. It is interesting that Peugeot proudly include the winning of Indianapolis in 1920 when listing examples of their competition prowess but ignore the great Peugeot racing victories in the 1912 and 1913 French Grands Prix.
That this is a highly individual firm is well known and that it still makes many of its own components, such as suspension damper units, gearboxes, and the long-lived worm-drive back-axle for the 404 saloon (the point of which is less apparent now that it has been phased out for the other models), and is extremely concerned about the suppression of road noise, cannot but command considerable respect. Road noise is dealt with by the use of torque-tube transmission and correctly applied rubber bushes to Peugeot’s own exacting specification. It has been proved to out-do the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in this respect on the 404 and is not much diminished on the 504 in spite of the difficulties posed from the sound transmission point of view by independent rear suspension.
Feeling that the 404 must now be brought up to date (it has not, however, been superseded) Peugeot have the 504 the same iron block, wet-liner, alloy-head engine but stretched the stroke by 8 mm., to give a swept volume of 1,796 c.c. instead of the 404’s 1,618 c.c. With Kugelfischer fuel injection, controlled by induction manifold depression, the net b.h.p. is 97 at 5,600 r.p.m., although Peugeot make nothing of this in the handbook, a modesty they share with Crewe. The engine inclined at 45 deg., has DLO 203 fuel injectors and a c.r. of 8.35 to 1. The sub-frame-mounted suspension is by coil struts at the front, but at the back the 504 has trailing-arm coil-spring suspension, to give an enhanced ride, not to improve the corner-flinging qualities, they hastily explain at the Avenue de la Grande Armée. The 504’s Pininfarina styling is neat rather than handsome, the car sloping down towards the front and the big Cibie and Seima lamp clusters spoiling the lines. The unobtrusive radiator grille proudly carries a Peugeot lion. But it is a body which has been electrophoresised prior to painting to combat corrosion and Peugeot’s usual adoption of stainless steel for bumpers and other external bright-work has been adhered to.
Within the 5/6-seater body (wide folding arm-rest in the back) presents comfortably-shaped but clinging seats upholstered in cloth-cum-leatherette, with two-tone leather door trim. The front seats have proper fully-reclining squabs adjusted by side levers, with other side levers dealing with fore-and-aft movement, and there are built-in headrests. These controls are difficult to reach, the door arm-rest getting in the way. The pedals are pendant but well placed, the handbrake is a small pull-out affair for the left hand, under the facia, calling for a good stretch, as does that on a Renault 16, but the central gear-lever, floor pattern on r.h.d. cars, is nicely to hand, angled towards the driver, with short movements. It controls a change which is precise but a bit notchy if hurried, and the spring-loading which sends it away from the 1st and 2nd positions is overdone. Reverse if beyond top, easy to engage, but neutral is slightly elusive.
There is nothing particularly sporting about this Injection 205. No tachometer, just three Jaeger dials before the driver, the speedometer, combined fuel gauge/thermometer/battery gauges with symbols but vague calibration, and a Jaeger transistor clock with seconds’ hand–but who needs a seconds’ hand in a 504 saloon ? Or nay car, for that matter. The fuel gauge is almost as useless as that on an Alfa Romeo. Centrally there are four horizontal quadrants for the heating/ventilatory system, which has odd-looking pull-up vents on the centre of the facia sill, supplemented by side grilled vents at the facia extremities, controlled by rather inaccessible under-facia levers. The front side windows are shaped to admit air as the glasses go down, in lieu of ¼-lights. I did not have time to drive the entire system properly and suffered badly from a misting screen. A plated cigarette lighter and the wipers (two-speed) / Washers knob are on the rather gaudy facia which has gold-hued horizontal trim strops an the subdued horn is sounded by depressing plated strips at the ends of the aforementioned over-thick steering-wheel spoke. These are recessed and stiff to press and their location assumes that you drive with the hands at 9 and 3 o’clock (where handholes have been provided !), or never need to blow the horn when taking corners. Beneath this frustrating steering wheel a l.h. stalk controls the lights in the traditional Peugeot gated method, although the lamps can now be flashed by pressing the talk straight down instead of bringing it up, across and down to achieve the normal full headlamps beam. The rather short r.h. stalk operates the turn indicators.
The iodine lamps give a splendid driving light, well spread, but the cut-off is sudden, although rather longer in range than on most Continental cars. Vanity mirror, courtesy interior lighting, etc., are provided, the floor is deeply carpeted, and a warning light that almost dazzles comes on in the speedometer dial if the handbrake is on, brake fluid low or the brake pads dangerously worn. But I was surprised to be dazzled by another warning light adjacent, because I thought the engineers at Garenne the Belchamp (the banked test track Peugeot shares with Renault) were practical hard-driving motorists. I was also saddened by a car which came with the thoughtful provision of a plug spanner in the stowage shelf but on which the screen washers were inoperative. Another fault was that the brake lights came on and off intermittently, when the brake pedal wasn’t depressed. The young driver of a yellow Lotus Elan first informed me of this after I had been doing by best to keep out of his way along the back-double past the old Clement Talbot factory. I thought he was merely being rude about my age and driving ability ! But when another driver made the same point, after following me along a country lane, I realised that the fault was the car’s. There was a rattle from the front passenger seat on rough rods when this was unoccupied and the accelerator creaked towards the end of the test. This did nothing to commend Peugeot service inspections. (The milometer at the start of the test read 4,027.)
Apart from a l.h. under-facia stowage shelf and a lockable drop-lid cubby hole, Peugeot does not encourage the carrying of oddments in one’s motor car. The boot lid is awkward to open, the release knob being unpleasant to turn, but when manually lifted it reveals an enormous illuminated boot, unclutters by the spare wheel, and the lid is kept up by clockspring. The bonnet releases from inside the car on the left and has a self-supporting strut.
The doors have good press-in external buttons, sill internal locks which work conventionally and not up for licking, as on the 404, armrests-cum-pulls, and recessed pull-out internal handles which are, in consistent Peugeot fashion functional rather than decorative. The strip-tyre “keeps” are effective.
The engine idles somewhat roughly and only smooths out when it is turning fast, towards maxima in the gears of 29, 48, 75 and 104 m.p.h. in the gears. The 504 is unexpectedly high geared, so the quiet gearbox has to be liberally employed. Acceleration is excellent for coping with passing problems, in the order of 0-60 m.p.h. in 12.0 sec., and once into its stride the 504 cruises easily at well over our legal limit, quietly, sure-footedly, and with a level ride on main roads, a more choppy one on less well-surfaced secondary roads. It corners in a level fashion, almost neutral between initial understeer and the follow-up oversteer, and the Michelin XAS tyres, for which the suspension was probably designed (along with Dunlop Sport and Kléber-Colombes V 10 GT), scarcely protest, even when heavily leaned on.
Under very slippery conditions the front wheels broke away momentarily. The steering is smooth, moderately light, has sensible castor-action, the rack and pinion are virtually free from play but the ratio is just a trifle on the low side, at just under 4½ turns, lock-to-lock. But I don’t like that fancy steering wheel. There is a Neimon steering lock. Visibility forward through a very big, flat screen over the short bonnet is good but the tail-up attitude of the 504 makes reversing less precise. The brakes, servo-assisted discs all round, are excellent, with no lost movement at pedal, a very light action and commendable power. I recall how outstanding were the brakes on the old 203, incidentally. The clutch is on the heavy side but smooth and I was surprised to find some backlash in the transmission.
As for fuel economy, on a quick run I got 29.1 m.p.g. of 4-star and the overall figure was 28.0 m.p.g. –about as good as the 404 station wagon we road-tested in July, 1967; but a reasonable consumption for a fast-travelling 1.8-litre family car. The fuel injection makes no objectionable noises. Peugeot recommend Esso Extra oil, of which the engine did not require any in 950 miles. The bonnet panel is self propping, the dip-stick accessible, the plugs deeply buried (hence that plug-spanner, which wasn’t needed), the battery a Cuirasse MIOAS, the electrics Ducellier.
In comparison with the Alfa Romeo 1750 which I drove concurrently, the Peugeot is heavier to handle, has a heavier gear-change, is less responsive to steering and throttle (less irresistible!). But as an honest car that devours the kilometres nonchalantly and is nicely made, the 504 is an excellent successor to a long line of outstandingly good Peugeot family saloons and it remains a typical Peugeot, from the single stud securing the wheel-trims to its comfortable manner of delivering ample performance, in a well-mannered fashion. Moreover, although the smaller models are expensive in Britain, the 504 sells here for £1.656, the carburettor version costing £1,450. Extras include a factory-fitted sun-roof, laminated screen, and, for the carburettor 504, a ZF automatic transmission.–W. B.