The Carchive: The '77 American Peugeot Range

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Welcome to The Carchive, where we blow the dust off something musty, stained and showing signs of decomposition; take blurry photos of it, post them on the internet, talk about them, then put it back on the shelf to rot for another thirty or so years.

Today’s brochure is a little slim, but definitely deserves its own niche in space and time. Come back with me to 1977, to join me in seeing what Peugeot Motors of America had to offer.

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“Luxuries for the sake of comfort, not for the sake of appearance”

This is a fascinating brochure. Fascinating to see exactly how Peugeot America marketed a car which, on so many levels was completely different to anything else on the US market, including other European imports.

In the first pages of the brochure the 504 is discussed in its various flavours, each of them having suffered a thorough beating with the ugly stick when US-Mandate sealed beams and big FO bumpers were grafted onto that formerly shapely nose.

They speak of all the great stuff that goes into a 504 and which American manufacturers never really thought to discuss in their brochures, even if they actually did feature them in the cars they sold. Orthopaedic seats, for example, probably existed on domestically built cars, but were rarely promoted.

Some features were uniquely Peugeot, of course, including extra long-travel shock absorbers for that stereotypically French floaty ride. Other amenities were more generic; power steering was standard, and SL trim brought the pleasure of powered front windows and sunroof. And an electric rear screen defogger, at a time when that feature was by no means a given on any new US car.

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“What it comes without is every bit as impressive as what it comes with”

To market the 504 diesel, they went with the Less-Is-More approach, at the same time educating a nation for whom diesel powered cars were very much a novelty, into some of their advantages. The first goal was to outline how robust and simple a diesel engine was.

“…comes without spark plugs, points or condensers .” They were taking pains to remind people that, although oil changes were suggested every 3000 miles, that would be all the routine maintenance that was necessary. And there was no carburettor to adjust, no distributor, coil or resisters. Remember when diesels were so much less complex than petrols? No diesel particulate filters, differential pressure sensors, lambda and Nox sensors, all that good stuff that makes a warranty administrator’s life so much fun….

And, of course, they hit upon the fact that the nasty, dirty stuff that truckers used while East bound and down, was less expensive than gasoline. Cheaper fuel made for cheaper driving, especially Post Suez. This also lead to another slightly presumptuous strapline:

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“..an economical car because it’s a diesel, and a luxury car because it’s a Peugeot”

The wagon models held a more definitive appeal than the sedans; they had a slightly more obvious role to play than the sedan models. Usability was the key here.

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“It’s not just shaped like a Wagon, it’s built like one”

The 504 load bay was one you could just go on heaving things into for the rest of your life. There was 81.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, all dragged along on a heavy duty rear axle with coil-springs. Four of them.

The lugging ability of the 504 wagon was enhanced by it being a foot longer than the sedan , and six inches longer in wheelbase. It could lug 1290 lbs of stuff around without breaking a sweat. And without getting anywhere all that quickly, either, with a choice of 140.6cu in 4-cylinder engines in gas or diesel flavours. Again, robustness strongly outranked performance here.

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With all this worthy speak of practicality, lets redress the balance by remembering that prestige was also on offer, with the US Import version of the Pug 604.

“A car too new to be called a classic, and too distinguished not to become one”

Pininfarina held the pen on the 604, which was clean and elegant, if a little anodyne compared to the Fiat 130 or Lancia Gamma Coupe of his hand. There wasn’t much to work with, though; whatever ideas they came up with had to be able to be built around basic 504 doors, floor and bulkheads.

“…its styling alone places the 604 in a class with the worlds most prestigious motor cars”

Probably mostly from the rear three quarters; where the aforementioned Italians and perhaps a little E28 5-series are evident. Of course; any time spent looking at the Euro spec 604 compared to the US version shows just how much elegance would be lost through those obligatory sealed beam headlights and battlefield-issue bumpers.

Of course, with a car being tilted into what was quite a rarefied market sector, much had to be made of all the unique features that few rivals could offer. For example, seats tuned to the suspension responses from the four-wheel independent suspension.
As if to justify the price, there was standard fit A/C, power door glass and plush carpeting throughout, as well as mechanical delights like power steering and disc brakes at each corner. It all added up to a fairly appealing addition to the slew of import options. The important question, though, was of who could justify such a purchase.

In April 13th, 1978, an advertisement in The Hour, the newspaper of Norwalk, Connecticut, compared the 604 SL with the Cadillac Seville. It also states that “The Seville starts at around $13,350. A comparable equipped Peugeot 604 lists for about $1,600 less.”

Reaching for my Standard Catalog (’76 to ’90, everyone should have one) I can verify that figure. But it’s worth considering, I think, that a Buick Riviera was $8092 and a 1Y Corvette was $9446 ex factory. You would have had to be of considerable means to go French, and very brave to have not followed import convention and gone for something German. And, for the sake of the slim chance of seeing one of these every now and again, I’m ever so glad that a few people did actually sign on the bottom line.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Peugeot. US imports ceased in ’91, you’ve missed out on absolutely loads since then. Ha!)

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