The Peugeot 604 is 40 This Year, Part II

In the name of cultural exchange between our two great continents, I have contributed to the blog French Cars In America. I had to compress to 700 words my thoughts on a car dear to my heart. 

1983 Peugeot 604. Image:
1983 Peugeot 604. Image:

You can read more of my scintillating prose here.

A copy of Car, Nov. 1975 turned up on my floormat last week. I ordered it so as to read a Giant Test involving the Peugeot 604, the Jaguar XJ 3.4 and the BMW 528. The Peugeot and Jaguar trounced the 528 which lost points for its shabby handling, confined interior and wind-noise. Car concluded that in several areas including ride, roominess and comfort, the Peugeot had bested the Jaguar.

Interior of Peugeot 604. Image from
Interior of Peugeot 604.
Image from

More interesting: I found a long report on Peugeot which described in breathless detail their quality control. All their engines underwent testing, for example. They had a list of fifteen things that other manufacturers mostly didn’t do in addition. So, what happened with the 604? The long term tests indicate that the 604 fell down precisely on quality control. But in the 70s Peugeot’s name served as a byword for quality, much as VAG and Mercedes does today. Isn’t that a turn up for the trousers (as Stephen Fry said once).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “The Peugeot 604 is 40 This Year, Part II”

  1. I’d take issue with ‘byword for quality’. I think I’ve mentioned previously that my parent’s 1972 504 Estate already showed signs that Peugeot’s quality control was going downhill. Possibly not at delivery, and probably not for critical areas, but in selection of durable parts for such things as boot handles.

  2. Were the selection of photos in the FCIA article yours Richard? In any case, although not as horrible as the front of US spec Citroens of the early 70s, the Federal headlights do the 604 no favours.

  3. Gosh has it been forty years since I owned one of these! I remember a superb ride, loads of space and lovely punchy V6 engine, Fantastic car. A few years prior I owned a 504 and remember at the time Peugeot was one of the few possibly only car companies that manufactured everything for their cars even down to the shock absorbers which were touted as good for the life of the car.
    This supposedly gave them an advantage over quality control however their automatics were supplied by ZF in Germany and mine failed at 18,000 miles!
    I was in Greece at the time and there a little story surrounding the repair but maybe another time.

  4. Stop! I don’t want to read that. I guess when I’ve finished my GS, I have to convince my wife that we also need a 604. Gold or brown, please.

    Looking forward to that Greek story…

    1. This Greek tragedy took place appropriately in Athens with the 504 (not 604) slipping while in reverse drive. I consulted Peugeot in Athens they referred me to a ZF specialist in an industrial area of town. It seems my car being of American spec and probably the only 504 automatic in Athens they didn’t have the expertise.

      So off I go to what looked like a truck and heavy goods depot, not a car in sight.
      I was able to surmise with a friend interpreting that the technicians could rebuild the auto box but had never removed a unit from a car!
      With visions of heavy handed workmen used to working on trucks I decided to obtain a workshop manual from Germany and remove the unit myself.
      This is something I had never done but at least I was in control and no damage would come to my beloved car. To keep this short the box was removed, delivered, collected next day and I reinstalled it with renewed performance.

      Since the 504 has a torque tube drive to the rear… the engine, transmission, torque tube and differential are mounted as one. This makes removing the gearbox a bit tricky.
      One little aside.. Peugeot was able to employ very soft engine mounts to add refinement and isolate the big four cylinder engine. This was possible since there were no torque reactions acting on it from the drive line as in conventional cars. This “all in one piece” engine to differential design acted as a long pendulum cancelling out torque forces when accelerating.
      The 504 had superb suspension as did the 604.

  5. Nerd alert: GM also supplied a gearbox, the Strasbourg unit. Does anyone here like use of placenames for such things? It ties the lump to a town, with a culture.
    A question for dgate: the Peugeot 604 at best gets 24 mpg. Greece is a lot of miles away from the UK where I assume you reside. Wasn’t the fuel cost astronomical or was the car rented locally?
    Simon S: I have shown my wife this car and she seems to approve if only because it would have an LHD steering wheel and would be easier to park than the XM which has invisible corners. The catch is that there are none in Denmark. Or maybe two. If I was really honest, the 406 does everything the 604 does apart from being so antique-looking.

    1. 504 ownership was in Greece early seventies, 604 UK ownership late seventies.
      During that period in Greece there were a lot of 504 taxis but they were diesel with manual boxes.
      The XM is a superb car as well have had a few of those.

  6. Its the suspension and steering that draw me to the 604, that and those astonishing rear seats.
    Have you seen the critical appraisal section of the 604 Wikipedia page? I wrote that.

  7. The suspension on the 604 is from the 504!
    I assume they used a new set-up for the 605 though.
    The 505 which replaced the 504 also used the 504 suspension too, (and was the final Peugeot in production to have rear wheel drive).
    They clearly got something VERY right (when the 504 was launched way back in late ’68) !

    The fact that the old 504 suspension, (and thereby 505 too) is so good is evident in the fact that the 504, (and replacement 505 which also used the same suspension) was used for a very long time, (no doubt some still do) as transport in much of Africa, (and many other ‘less developed’ regions of the world), where it was also popular as a ‘bush taxi’.
    Testament too to the 50’s equally legendary toughness and simplicity, important factors in remote and/or rugged areas.
    I read one article about the 504 where there was a quote from a guy who had driven a 504 in remote areas of Africa for a very long time who said that if you really know what you’re doing, a 504 can go places a 4WD can’t!
    However, the 504 and 505 wagon models were both available in 4WD form, (by Dangel) with very raised suspension/ground clearance. They are quite a sight to behold!
    Again another good sign:
    The 504, (with THAT suspension!) was made in Nigeria, (1968–2006!), Kenya, (1968–2004!), Argentina, (1969–1999!), South Africa, (1970–1985), China, (1979–1997) to name but a few of the countries.
    We also made it, in CKD kit form, here in New Zealand.
    My Papa owned one in the mid 80’s and it once saved his life when he rolled it off a motorway one night and also went through a couple of fences. I saw the wreck later on, both sides were partially squashed in as well as the roof. If he had been in some small car or a ‘Japper’ of that time or older, he’d no doubt have been killed/crushed.
    Anyway, I could go on. The history and stats are amazing.

    Also worth noting:
    the wheelbase of the 605, 605 and 607 are all identical!
    Again, they got something very right back in ’75, (when the 604 was released).

    On a similar note: the wheelbase of the 404 wagon, 504 wagon and 505 wagon are also all identical!
    Yet again, they got something right very early on.

    Cheers from down under, New Zealand.

    1. Thanks for that mail. It’s great to hear this kind of insight.
      The reason I have not tried a 604 is geography, first. The nearest cars are in Germany or Holland and as I live in Denmark this means a huge trip with consequent costs in time. The tax office is opaque in its guidance on what I’d pay to import the car too: €900 to $2000?
      That the 604 did not succeed is maddening. As you say the engineering was very fine, bordering on genius. Peugeot lost this during the 00s and the 508 shows no hint of loveliness.
      Have you seen my 406 article from a few weeks back?

    2. Rear suspension on the wagon was not independent as on the saloons.
      Another item I remember being touted in their advertising at the time was the fact shock absorbers were built in-house for better quality and were supposed to last the life of the car.

    3. The estate did indeed have a live axle and, although it was probably slightly less cossetting than the saloon, our family 504 Estate still had a good ride and fine roadholding. We mentioned Peugeot’s use of in-house shock absorbers elsewhere recently and nothing I’ve seen about the ride quality of recent Peugeots suggests that ceasing their use was a good idea, unless you were the company accountant and planned on leaving before sales dropped.

    4. If I remember correctly, the live axle was also part of the simpler variants of the 504 saloon. And it might have been the standard item for all overseas assemblies.

  8. On the 604, Peugeot added a second u-shaped crossmember to give better axle location, and carefully refined all the bushes and silent-blocks binding with the shell.

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