1973 Peugeot 204 Road Test

“More and more than before!” In what appears to be a period review of the Peugeot 204 by  legendary motoring critic, Archie Vicar, the car is assessed in the course of a drive in Portugal.

1973 Peugeot 204

The article first appeared in the Neath Guardian, January 12, 1973. Douglas Land-Windernere (sic) is credited with the photography.

The French do like these peculiar little cars, the English less so: 130 a month is all Peugeot can sell around here compared to 1300 Renault 12s. One doesn’t have to look hard to see why this might be. The coachwork demands concentration to behold, the price is high and the interior is Spartan. But Peugeot want to 

1973 Peugeot 204: better than before.

change this state of affairs  with some new revisions such as a dipping interior mirror, useless rear-seat belt mounting points, holes for front head-restraints (but no head-restraints), new rear light covers and, importantly, a cigar lighter. Perhaps these changes justify the nearly £200 difference between the 204 and the stodgy but excellent Austin 1300. Certainly they can be deemed to provide an excuse for a test drive so we took the car from Neath to Oporto, Portugal, to judge the matter.

Child-proof door lock

Southern Ferries conveyed the Peugeot, Land-Windermere and I from Southampton to Lisbon, a 62 hour trip involving unseasonable high seas and extended confinement to the cabin where the only distraction was the struggle to keep my pipe, matches and duty-free Craven “A” cigarettes off the deck. Poorly tethered goods fell from an articulated lorry and dented the Peugeot’s roof just as we steamed into open water.

The first task after a late breakfast in Lisbon (noisy) was to motor north to Oporto on the N1 via Nazara and Coimbra. These Portugese roads show up Westminster’s fussing for what it is. It also made the revisions to the front axle geometry hard to detect – I am minded to get the RAC to compare the two versions! The steering has been moved too far back in the name of modifications to the engine mounts. If he wasn’t asleep in the rear, Land-Windermere might jolly well have done the twirling for me.

That said, the rack and pinion steering is rather good and free-playing around the straight-ahead and it builds up resistance in line with cornering attack. With its sadly fashionable front-wheel drive set-up, the car swipes wide a bit. For some reason Peugeot have arranged the handling so that throttle adjustments or steering can affect the car’s line. Don’t try them both at once is sound counsel.

The 204 comes equipped with a 55 bhp engine, all undersquare, aluminium and sohc. It could be called a hearty motor, devoid of the thrashing one finds in Renaults and Vauxhalls. We cruised at high speed with no strain at all or even much wind or tyre sounds. I detoured to Tomar, a fine riverside town, where we dined on Spanish omelettes, red pepper salad and crisp green wine, a local specialty. They price it all very cheaply (and the wine) so we drained a few bottles with no bad conscience about the expense claims.

With a few hours’ motoring to get through we reached Coimbra and stayed at the Pousada St. Antonio, a type of Portugese bed and breakfast but without the fried breakfast and English. Instead they served dry white rolls, Lurpak butter (!) reconstituted orange juice and astringent coffee. I opted for an apple and a pipeful of Forte. Bring cash as traveller’s cheques don’t get a warm greeting.

1973 Peugeot 204 engine.

The 204 offers a ride one can only call plain, a corollary of the soft-suspension with which the car is sold (Kleber tyres included). Potholes seemed to be repaired as the Pug hammered over them and no vibrations could be felt through the tiller (that’s why the steering is relaxed at forward strike – BMW take note!).

I’ve always said that a few degrees of sponginess were worth the reward of relaxed high-speed motoring from A to B. Only Jaguar, Opel and Wolseley really understand this while Lancia, Ford and Citroen keep offering more and more nervous direction-changing and this often means that cross-comparing cars can be a sticky facecloth. If

(continued on page 23)

1973 Peugeot 204 interior.

(continued from page 21)

and a set of custom fit floor mats from Cannon Rubber Manufacturers, Tottenham, London. These consist of four mats, one of which has a heel-pad for the driver’s side. They protect the carpet from dropped cigarettes and cigars as well as mud. They don’t fit Ferraris or Humbers though.

I thought the seats rather hard to decide upon: by turns too soft or too hard. Peugeot haven’t thought to add lumbar support. They seem to be inspiring Citroen and Mercedes whose chairs are execrable. I’d call the seat travel about adequate for a Hillman or Austin. To be fair, it’s still a very comfortable car (good leg room in the back) and the floor-mounted controls might be first rate. So too the stout gear wand and typically eccentric dials in the dashboard binnacle.

As winter had gnawed deeply in south-west Portugal, I could try the heater which could roast a toad. That cigar lighter worked too and probably deserves an accolade as the final touch that nudges the 204 into the top-rank of small, four-door, four-cylinder front-wheel drive vehicles. In these increasingly competitive times such details can make the difference.

In a last minute change of plan I decided to drive back off the homeward-bound ferry (as Land-Windermere bagsed a good seat in the lounge) and I returned to England via Spain and France (collecting some gewurztraminer in Alsace en route). That’s how impressed I was by this fine car. Good brakes, I’d say. Wine in the boot helps the handling.

So, to sum up, the 204 seems to be a well-made and neatly styled car for the press-on family driver. The gearchange is terrible yet this hasn’t stopped Mercedes. It ought not Peugeot.

Tank capacity: 9.2 gals

Consumption: 24.3 mpg

Carburetor: Solex 34 PBISA 4.

Bearings: 5 main.

Brakes: discs, drums.

Battery: 12V 40 amp hr

Makers: Automobiles-Peugeot.

Concessionaires: Peugeot Automobiles UK Ltd.,  Ealing, London.



Author: richard herriott

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

13 thoughts on “1973 Peugeot 204 Road Test”

  1. A fine engineer’s car with an absolute gem of an engine, including a fan belt going around the corner.
    Compare this to a contemporary Opel Kadett B or a Ford Escort Mk1.
    To me, the last car that showed Peugeot’s excellence is the 205. That car sold by the bucket load and I’m sure it made a decent profit for Peugeot. Without the 205’s success, Peugeot would not have survived.

    My theory is that French car makers ultimately suffered from a false reaction to the perceived Japanese danger in the Eighties. At a time when every European manufacturer feared to suffer the fate of German camera makers, the French (and Italian) government reacted by protectionist measures when in contrast German manufacturers started developing products to fight back the far Eastern manufacturers.
    This led to an unhealthy cohabitation of French government and car makers that eventually saw the manufacturers concentrating more on influencing the political landscape instead of developing proper products. Jacques Calvet’s ping pong career between French and EU politics and Peugeot is just an example. Jacques Calvet was no good for the company and hiring Murat Günak did for the rest.

    1. That’ll take some time to digest. I dislike Calvet for his suffocation of Citroen and watering down Peugeot to under average. There was internal resistance so we still got cars like the 306, 406 and 607. The 205 really didn’t fit with Peugeot’s heritage, great as it was. Like the Delta Integrale for Lancia, it shifted perceptions the wrong way.

    2. Why does the 205 not fit Peugeots heritage?
      It replaced the 104 and got beyond that car’s limitations, most of them rooted in the ‘suitcase’ engine.
      Combining the best Diesel engine of its era with a good small car was a stroke of genius.
      It was only let down by its cheap interior with acres of painted metal on display but this was fixed in later models.
      If you see the 205 GTi as a contemporary interpretation of the 204/304 coupé/cabrio it made sense and gave the rest of the range a bit of star dust.
      Peugeot had a long tradition with rallye sports – think of the 404s and 504 Breaks in long distance events like the Safari.
      Of the cars you mentioned the 306 is easily the best, only let down by its cheap interior fitted by Jacques calvet’s personal intervention against anything more adventurous.
      I’d prefer the 605’s Pininfarina looks over the 607’s Japanese-style back with a stoned guppy face.

      The triumvirate of Jacques Calvet, Xavier Karcher and Art Blakeslee did Citroen no good but they pushed up sales numbers and gave the world some ‘windows salad on a crease’ (XM).

  2. Land-Windemere’s privations knew no bounds. 62 hours cooped up with chain smoking Archie Vicar in a cabin. I’m guessing he was glad to be unaccompanied on the way home. Btw, is that the second transcription that suggests the safe return of a vehicle after one of his road tests?

    1. Neath is near Port Talbot, Wales. Presumably it takes 6 hours to get to South Hampton (the old spelling). Then an hour for ambarcation, plus sixty two for the crossing. That’s a lot of time in transit with a one-man kippering machine. Is it possible the crash clue is in the throttle/steering comment early on? Still, it’s ambiguous.

      It’s a wonder this chap’s life hasn’t been filmed yet, or televised. I can see this as a popular costume-comedy for Sunday nights.

    2. A cult following would surely develop quickly. If Robert Hardy were still alive he would have made a perfect AV with Rowan Atkinson as L-M?

    3. There is one passage about a damaged roof, but nothing about an accident. So undamaged it wasn’t, but it wasn’t his fault this time.

    4. How do we know Land-Windemere wasn’t a chain smoker himself?

    5. There must be a reference somewhere to L-M giving AV his allocation of duty free. Even so, Land-Windermere doesn’t come across as a smoker – he’s reminiscent of Lucky in Waiting For Godot.

    6. One thing for sure is that he liked to live dangerously, or at least was a sucker for punishment.

    7. Mick: L-W would be a peculiar role – perhaps also resembling the very restricted activities of Fr Jack as well as Beckett’s Lucky in Godot. Rowan Atkinson would want to make something of the part and there isn’t much (obvious scope). A really talented and self-effacing actor could find the room for physical expression allowed by L-M; one might want to cast an actor with mime training. L-M certainly is a small guy, like a jockey, short curly black hair and maybe a perennial 5 o’clock shadow. Very occasionally he’d say something – an outburst or a timely observation, perhaps.

  3. I have L-M as tall but taciturn, like Sergeant Wilson suffering under Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – John Le Mesurier vs Arthur Lowe.

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