Tech Daze: 1989-’91 Peugeot 405 Mi16

A gray sedan driving on a road

It’s boxy. It’s French. It barely exists anymore.

Forgotten by many and unknown by many more, this French car still has a small, underground fan base–and a strange connection to American agriculture today. A few years ago, the Punisher GP team started racing a pair of these in the 24 Hours of LeMons series. Their cars have been extremely fast, but also prone to dramatic engine failures–culminating in a widely watched video clip from someone else’s in-car camera showing the Pug’s connecting rod cap hitting their windshield. In speaking with them and trying to learn about these cars, we discovered that it’s potentially very quick, but with explosive engine internals and that strange link to crops. Follow the jump for (paraphrased) tips from experienced owners on how to shop for, maintain, and improve these cars.

Punisher GP has blown up probably half the remaining Mi16 engines on this continent. 

Paul Llanos Punisher GP
South Salem, NY

People are really drawn to this car. It’s not a Civic or a Mustang. We didn’t want to do a run-of-the-mill thing.

The 205 is more of a tuner car overseas, but this has the same engine even though it’s kind of a luxury sedan. This car has a weird blend of traits that actually makes it good for endurance racing.

When we stripped it out, we got it down to about 2400 lbs. The OE gas tank is really large–17.5 gallons–so we can go for 4 hours on a tank. We’ve capitalized on the fuel stops: We can run a 1-stop strategy where everyone else has a minimum of two.

The engine makes ample power–about 150 horses–and it’ll rev to 7200 rpm. We’ve run into an underground community online. There’s enthusiasts in New Zealand, the U.K., and some guys in California. There’s a weird subculture online around these cars. We found a Yahoo Group called Peugeot-L. People go there to find parts.

A guy named Brian Cohn used to race 505s in the SCCA through a factory-backed program in the ’80s. We found him through that group. Peugeot-L is a real trove of information.

Our biggest connection there was Brian Holm out of Vermont. He’s got this field of sad, broken Peugeots. He’s the one guy in North America who kind of collects these things. He’s given us a bunch of engines, tons of parts.

The car has a big radiator, and always runs cool even in hot New Jersey days. The calipers are same Girlings from an E30, and every one of our drivers loves the brakes. We run Hawk Blue pads in the front, stock in the rear.

All the good stuff you’d want to get comes from overseas, so it’s hard to get performance parts at a reasonable price. We stiffened the front springs by cutting two coils off of each and then put in a coil-in-a-coil setup: We got two take-off Porsche GT3 springs and put them inside the stock springs. Stiffening up the front really helped. We also removed the front anti-roll bar. Once the springs are stiff up front, it takes care of most of the body roll.

The torsion bar setup in the rear is tough to modify, so we left it stock. The car is very neutral, and it rotates better without the front bar.

Adding camber to the front helped with tire wear. We took a hydraulic ram and attached it to two bolts on the strut towers and just compressed the front strut towers about an inch on each side, then attached a strut tower brace. We got -1.5 degrees on each side, but it’s not adjustable. I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

The No. 2 cylinder was our Achilles’ heel. We blew eight engines in various ways, but five of them was throwing that rod. We were in contention for a Class C win in August 2013, but we lost both engines that weekend. We have since baffled the oil pan, and that seems to have taken care of the problem.

In racing, the ignition coil and coil wire are always an issue. We keep those on hand and just swap it out. The OEM location is on the intake manifold really close to the head. The combination of heat and vibration wears it out quickly. The wiring harness makes it difficult to relocate, but we’re doing that soon to help it last longer.

After about 8 races, bolts throughout the chassis started coming loose. We had to nut-and-bolt the whole car.

There’s so much spaghetti tubing in that car. The coolant lines wrap around the engine from the back to the front, and there’s all this carbon recapturing stuff too. We thought all that would be a problem, but it hasn’t been. We’ve never lost coolant or overheated.

Brian Holm Peugeot Holm Auto Parts
2120 Maple Hill Road Plainfield, VT 05667 /
(802) 454-7132

The 405 runs the hot water continuously through the heater core, so the heat is controlled by the blower. There’s a computer for the system and a stepper motor that operates the flaps. When the motor strips the gears, the flap won’t work. Peugeot wanted to sell a complete motor with the computer to fix it, which was pricey.

The power seats on the Mi16 are prone to problems, especially the fore and aft function. It’s very slow even when it’s working right. I’m not the only operation selling parts, but what sets me apart is I used to service them so I know a little more about them. Other places that deal with Peugeot parts are Western Hemispheres in California, and Parts Network in Texas. RockAuto lists a lot of parts, but they’re all in Europe and they’re all Euro-spec parts. The shipping cost is high and the parts don’t always interchange to the U.S., so it can be a gamble.

When buying engine components, you need to be careful with parts listings. Many catalogs online combine the listings for 8-valve and 16-valve parts, so you have to be careful when buying. The 16-valve engines in the Mi16s are pretty bulletproof in street use. It’s an interference engine, so you have to tend to the timing belt.

The 8-valve version is much less durable, and it was available with an also-flaky automatic transmission. Both are all-aluminum engines with wet sleeves and drop-in liners. Aluminum heads often crack on iron-block Peugeot engines, but the all-aluminum engines don’t have that problem.

Diane Cole Superb Horticulture

2811 U.S. 31 Plymouth, IN 46563

(800) 567-8264

We have sprayers that have a cannon head on top. It looks kind of like a dinosaur head. [You can see a photo on their website.] The motor turns the head left and right, and it sprays insecticides and pesticides primarily for crops.

These machines are made by a French company, Berthoud, that used these Peugeot window motors. The motors are no longer in production, and Berthoud wants us to charge $2,500 apiece to change these systems over to their new motor.

Farmers are reluctant to spend that kind of money and we haven’t found another motor to modify to work, so we’re working with Epping Auto in New Hampshire to get the motors out of these salvaged Peugeot cars.


1991 Peugeot 405 Mi16

Layout: FF

Engine: 1.9-liter DOHC inline-4, aluminum block and head

Output: 150 hp @ 6400 rpm, 128 lb.-ft. @ 5000 rpm

Transaxle: 5-speed manual

Suspension, F/R: MacPherson strut with coil springs/trailing-arm beam axle with torsion bar springs

Steering: Hydraulic-assisted rack & pinion

Brakes, F/R: vented disc/disc

Wheels: 15×6-in. alloy

Curb weight: 2715 lbs.

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