V.I.S.I.T. – Peugeot 405 DL

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The 405 was so amazingly popular when it came out in the US in 1989 that, uhh, no 405 sedans were imported in 1990 just to create buzz on the interwebs Usenet newsgroups and to generate an artificial shortage! Yeah, that’s right! That’s how popular it was! Actually, 405 sedan sales were so poor when the model first appeared that dealers still had unsold 1989 models on their lots, and only the 405 wagons were imported the following year in a failed effort to transition the 505 crowd on to a newer model.

The example above seems to have suffered from all the usual cosmetic pitfalls of the 405, but not to an extreme degree, suggesting that this car spent at least some of its life garaged. Actually, as far as driver 405s go, this one was in pretty good condition as it had minimal paint fading and flaking on the hood and trunk, and the side moldings weren’t especially faded either. This one likely spent its entire life in suburban/rural Connecticut, so aside from the road salt it was not really subjected to extreme traffic conditions that meant a short life for many 405s in the northeast.

In the numerous, numerous magazine articles that examined Peugeot’s sales decline and departure from America, the styling and packaging of the 405 is invariably compared to the Infiniti G20, a upscalish little econobox that nevertheless managed to give Infiniti a volume foothold in the US, a foothold cemented by the flagrant abuse of Jonathan Pryce’s British accent in TV commercials. What’s easy to forget is that at the time it was Infiniti that was just starting out, and attempting to distinguish itself both from corporate parent/vehicle donor Nissan, while imitating upstarts Lexus and Acura. The G20 may have been similar a lot of respects to the 405, but it was really the G20 that faced an uphill battle, and it was the 405 that had a reputation to live up to.

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Reasonable people will disagree just what kind of reputation the 405 had to live up to in the states, but it should nevertheless be noted that it didn’t have any obvious competitors among the European brands. Volvo didn’t market anything this “tiny” and the W201 C-class was priced quite a bit higher than the 405, as was the 3-series. In retrospect this may have been viewed as an advantage, as the the 405 was arguably the only European car in that size and price category, but Peugeot’s dealer network and sales numbers had shrunk by 1989 to a level where that didn’t really matter. The 405 pretty much sold on the two coasts, in European car-saturated regions.

Even though period reviews praised the car in virtually all areas, that didn’t change the fact that Peugeot in the America was essentially a one car brand throughout much of the 1980s, and that one car was showing its age. Infiniti dealerhips were having a similar problem, as they didn’t exactly have a huge range of cars to offer at the time, a total of three for the first three years. And it wasn’t immediately clear just where Infiniti fit in the hierarchy of newly-created Japanese luxury brands. Well, we all know which car ended up a better fit for the North American market, and needless to say it’s far easier to find a G20 from those years on the street today than a Peugeot 405.

But if there’s one Peugeot model of the past 30 years that’s harder to spot than the 405 sedan, it’s arguably the 405 wagon. I’ve seen a grand total of one 405 wagon, and it sure wasn’t a street find. Rather, I saw the 405 Mi16 wagon out of the DC area that appeared on BaT in 2011, in an eBay listing that didn’t make it abundantly clear one way or the other whether the wagon actually gained Mi16 power, or merely Mi16 badging. For the three of your reading this who are not familiar with what engines the 405 sedan and wagon were offered with in the US, I’ll just tell you that the Mi16 was not available as a wagon.

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Even among the Peugeot faithful (that’s right, all twenty three of them), a 405 wagon is as close as it gets to a unicorn car, notwithstanding the occasional private import like a 205 or a 309. In fact, I have not seen nor heard any evidence of any remaining 405 wagons being used as daily drivers by non-enthusiasts in the US. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, so let me know if you’ve seen/heard otherwise.

When was the last time you saw any Peugeot 405?

By |2013-01-25T07:30:16+00:00January 25th, 2013|V.I.S.I.T. - Vehicles I Saw In Traffic|18 Comments

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