The Carchive: The '73 Peugeot 404

It’s Friday, and I for one think that it’s come about five days too late this week. So let’s unwind by pumping up the tyres on our bicycle of discovery and take a meandering trip trip along the rust-coloured avenue of automotive history. We’re heading to early ’70s France for this week’s visit to The Carchive.
This particular brochure was printed in 1973, by which time the superseding 504 model had already been in production for a good few years. Yet there was still a ready audience for whom only the 404 would do.

“In many countries, particularly those where road conditions are at their worst, the 404 has become one of the most popular of imported cars.”
This is a fascinating brochure, if only for how specific an angle the marketing message is slanted at. Images of fashionable, upmarket lifestyle pursuits are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the 404 is presented in front of a remarkably colourful industrial backdrop, looking for all the world like a powder-paint quarry. The trunk is shown full of hard hats, loud-hailers and other industrial garb, and any humans in shot are photographed wearing boiler-suits, albeit ones incorporating flares in the legs.
It doesn’t say anywhere in the brochure that you can’t use it for family transportation, but the message is strongly towards the 404’s intended use as an industrial tool rather than a pleasure-craft. With those duties being fulfilled by the 504 and the smaller 304, the 404 was becoming a commercial vehicle.
“But the 404 has not only retained its high standard of mechanical design, but has adopted over the years the technical improvements which enable it to maintain a leading position in the motoring world.”
The 404’s previous success as a robust yet very enjoyable family car led to assured success as a beast of burden. The photographs herein, showing the non-nonsense interior appointments, also remind us that there was effortless stylishness seeping from every pore. Even as a machine increasingly marketed for its utility and usefulness rather than its elegance and refinement, the underlying excellence of the core product was still in evidence everywhere you looked.
The 504 had an awful lot to live up to.
“The 404 is a fine touring car, sturdy and comfortable, but very powerful. A car to rely on.”
By 1973 there were only two engine choices, 73hp 1.6 litre petrol or 57 hp 2.0 litre diesel. The more exotic engines, some of which came with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, had been phased out soon after the arrival of the 504. These remaining power plants were hardy, easy to maintain and not too fussy if you didn’t.
In fact, the same was true of the whole car, which remained in production outside France for an awful lot longer, and in the indestructible pick-up form until the late ’80s.
Back when it was new, the 404 was the recipient of rave reviews, and few came so gushing as this from Canada’s Track and Traffic magazine
“The Peugeot 404 is a car that we find almost impossible to criticize, from any standpoint. It is a car that ideally combines comfort, quality and economy. In short, it is the kind of car one can buy with absolute confidence and drive and drive and drive, for longevity comes with quality in the case of Peugeot”
This is the kind of review that a car company would kill for, and one that Peugeot would be over the moon to receive today.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Peugeot. Look at the 404, a mid-size sedan designed by Pininfarina, now look at the Austin Cambridge A55, a mid-size sedan, designed by Pininfarina. Now tell me just how come the French car look so much sexier?)

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  1. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Garofalo Paradox: “simultaneously both obviously unattractive by common measures and still irresistibly magnetic.”

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      You talking about me?

      1. Monkey10is Avatar

        Haining Paradox: “simultaneously both obviously unbelievably geeky by common measures and yet still irresistibly DOES OWN THE BROCHURE!”

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          It’s why women find me irresistible.

          1. Vairship Avatar

            As irresistible as Irresistible Bowel Syndrome? 😉

          2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            At least!

    2. hubba Avatar

      The round front fendertops dated the 404 in 1973, but it was a very pretty car. It’s a straightforward execution of the Lancia Florida show car. The 404 would be prettier if it were longer, but that’s true of most designs.

  2. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Peugeot doesn’t make cars of this quality anymore, more’s the pity.
    After too many years of not making cars like this and the 504, no-one can believe they can again. The Germans have the middle-class saloon market sewn up. Worldwide.

    1. duurtlang Avatar

      It’s not overly long ago that Peugeot produced the 406 middle class saloon. A well built, reliable, great driving and conservatively lined yet pretty car. Especially after the facelift. Due to its much lower price no match for the prestige of a Mercedes, but I’d take one over a comparable Toyota/Opel/VW/Ford any time.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Then they replaced it with the flawed 407.
        With the 404 and 504 Peugeot was competing with Rover, Triumph, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Saab,BMW, all a slight cut above Ford and Opel and Austin, until they decided that they needed to compete with Renault et al and the mass market and smaller cars and cost-cutting compromised quality, as it did in so many European marques in the 70s.
        Giving up RWD was a big mistake for cars of this size.The first BMW 5 series was aimed straight at the 504.

        1. duurtlang Avatar

          The 407 was a big step down, agreed. A car I’d never consider. I tend to name the 2000-2010 era for PSA (considering the cars *introduced* in that era) as their malaise era.
          I don’t get the Hyundai comparison though. In my market, the Netherlands, Peugeot easily outsells Hyundai. Very easily. With a market share of 11% in 2015 they’re the #2 best selling brand here, behind VW. At 2.5% in 2015 Hyundai is #17 here. The 508 very easily outsells the i40 as well here.
          Having said that, I am a bit of a fanboy. I’ve got a 205 gti, 205 cti, 306 convertible and a 406 coupe in my stable.

          1. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            Hyundai makes a full range of cars right up to RWD 5 & 7 series competitors and, here at least, easily outsell Peugeot. The 407 wasn’t as good in many ways as the Sonata and I couldn’t recommend anyone buying a 400? over a Santa Fe for a similar price. The 208 doesn’t seem to be as well made as the little Hyundais- check out the J.D.Powers ratings I like the beautifully well resolved eighties and nineties Peugeots too and they do seem to be getting better now but so is everything else. They started losing their way with the 505 and then with FWD and quality control, IMHO.

  3. David Buckley Avatar
    David Buckley

    Pug 404s are rugged (unbreakable?) dirt road cars with worm drive rear differentials (must use correct oil). Big comfy fold-down seats, Classic gothic front. IMO the 1967 is best, beware the early thermo disk brakes. great long distance tourer. Learnt to wrench on these, and now moved up to a 1950 203. Bon voyage.

  4. NapoleonSolo Avatar

    I remember sitting in one of these in a dealership around 1969. I believe it was the first leather interior I had experienced. Whatever it was, it smelled great inside. I’ve several times looked for one of these, but despite its durability they seem to be extremely rare in the USA. Is that true, or is it just my impression. Even P6 Rovers turn up regularly, but nary a 404.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      404s and 504s have all been bought up and sent to Africa.