Fifty-one Times Maybe is Still Maybe

Earlier in the day we had a close look at a bit of the Peugeot 605. What was missing?

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The short answer: Peugeot’s design and production dodged the ugly groove that normally indicates a weld, right under the lamp. This means that a not inconsiderable amount of work had to be done to match the weld seam to the metal on either side of it. Audi avoided this by bringing the bootlid right down to the bumper. Mercedes didn’t. No doubt Peugeot and Pininfarina’s teams glowed with pride at this and other features of the car when it appeared in 1989 (alongside Bertone’s work for Citroen, the XM). Look at the modern sill, clad in plastic. The car represents sobreity incarnate.

1995 Peugeot 605

You can read a lot of received wisdom about the 605 at Wikipedia. Their bias police haven’t got around to weeding out the unchallenged assertions that the car looks like an Alfa Romeo. Here’s one:

1987 Alfa Romeo 164: source

It depends if you are a lumper or a splitter. While we haven’t finished raving about the 164, one can easily say the 164 shows a bolder, simple form. The 605 seems to have been finessed and, note, has a very different DLO: no Hofmeister kink for Peugeot and the boot looks longer, lower and has enough of a downward slope to suggest a more conservative style.

1995 Peugeot 605

The 605 must be called an altogether more subtle bit of work than the 164 and that’s quite alright, Lady Jane, because Peugeots never needed to shout about things. For making a bit of a statement PSA had Citroen. The XM, by Bertone, possesses an unmistakable air of 1989. The 605’s quietness never goes of out of style other than, as we like to maintain here, when aggressive and fussy style becomes the norm.

From 1989, the Peugeot 605: Franco-Italian design rationalism.

The 605 screams subtlety, if it does anything. Regular readers here will be familiar with the 605’s main claim for formal innovation: the feature lines on the bodyside accommodates the flair of the body-work around the wheel-arch cut outs. And this the 605 has delightfully tidy and smooth flanks. There’s none of this:

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If only Peugeot had kept the same level of visual refinement for the 1995 406 it would have had the apparent quality to match the actual quality. The sculpting and detail resolution of the later car not only lacks the refinements of the 1989 but it also has small, extra crude features too. The bumper-to-body relation springs to mind. The 605 did not have to hide the panel gap from the bumpers to the body as the 406 did. For cars of that period, a plainly visible horizontal line from the wheel arch forwards made total sense aesthetically and functionally. I mean this:

We find the 605 belongs to the period when the three-box saloon reached its apotheosis. The three volumes can still be perceived along with the delightfully resolved transitions from bonnet to windscreen and to roof and back. After that the lines blend into one another which then pushes the work of distinguishing the car onto the flanks…

We’ve been discussing elegance here recently and a good case can be made for the unloved 605 as an example of straightforward elegance. It has refinement, flow, pleasing proportions and does not try to be imposing or aggressive.

Incidentally, here we find a car that doesn’t ask for more brightwork.

[Slide show source: Ford and BMW]

Author: richard herriott

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

27 thoughts on “Fifty-one Times Maybe is Still Maybe”

  1. What’s the purpose of the curious recess at the leading edge of the D pillar on the 605, where it meets the rear door shut line?

    1. It’s there to help people distinguish it from a 164, obviously.


    2. I think the recessed groove in the C-pillar is there to make a visual distinction between door frame and car, all to make the C-pillar visually smaller than it is. It is a cheap trick to loosen up a mass visually.

    3. Richard, yes I suppose I am. These two cars clearly share a lot. Pininfarina obviously developed a three-box shape they were happy with and then massaged it for different clients. Both are successful designs in my view, so no harm done.

      This reminds me a bit of all those Gandini supercars which were around at the same time – different enough from one another, but all clearly sharing the same inspiration.

  2. Nice try, but the 605 got none of the balance or finesse or proportion of either the 164 or even the 405. It’s one giant bloated mess. Culprit number one, using the same extremely elongated wheelbase platform as the XM with very Citroenesque proportions as a result. Culprit number two, trying to hide the wheelbase by moving the greenhouse forward, with the result of only increasing the cab forward stance. The C-pillar is slimmed down and the rear screen has just a hint of wrap around. The car would’ve benefitted immensly with just a little more conservative rwd proportion and stance, as is it’s just one giant bloated mess of a compromise.

    1. Reading between the lines, I detect a certain disapproval. While not stunning, the car is not messy at all. I think the silhouette rather fluid.

    2. I have to completely disagree, Ingvar, I’m sorry. The 605’s wheelbase is too short. It’s actually 5 cm shorter than the XM’s, although the car is 7 cm longer overall. What’s true is that the long front overhang goes very well for a Citroën with a truncated fastback, but usually looks a bit awkward for a classical three-box saloon. In the quest for equilibrium, some of them therefore end up with huge overhangs on both ends, which is a disgrace. Think of most Audis pre-2010 or the 605’s successor.
      What would have helped to give the 605 more classical proportions (if one likes that) would have been a LONGER wheelbase with the front axle moved forward.

  3. A selection of 80s saloons might be useful here.
    The 605 has more softness to its radii – there seems to be more lead-in on the curvature. The front and rear graphics are also distinctly Peugeot.

    1. Trouble is none of the big three French makes have distinctive radiator badges, just little logos. Citroen hasn’t found a way of using its chevrons big as it used to.
      Other brands have real badges. And Audi can go big with its logo.

    2. Who needs badges? There were times when Citroëns didn’t have them and still couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

  4. My only experience of a 605 was being whisked from Nimes to Montpellier at c 150kph in silent comfort by a woman taxi driver with string-backed gloves and nerves of steel, so fast I couldn’t even read the names of the vineyards we passed in a blur.
    It was silver, but looked just right for kind of journey.

  5. The 605 was a fine car.
    It was roomy and comfortable and for a French car had an attractive interior that showed few signs of the penny pincing lack of attention to detail typical of later Peugeots. It was much better in this respect than the 406.
    With the first series one of the few things to dislike were the window switches in the centre console (instead of in the doors where you’d need more of them) and the cheap plastic inner door openers. The later cars got window switches in the doors in exchange for a cheap and nasty looking airbagged wheel and terrible seat covers made of fake mouse fur.
    The biggest disappointment were the engines with the 2.1 TD being the best by far and the rare V6-24 being a weirdly designed (balancer shaft under the valve cover, anyone?) reliability nightmare.
    What damaged the car no end in the market were the quality problems of the first production run. In a service action Peugeot replaced nearly everything under the bonnet except the engine itself which must have cost serious money. Regrettably the sales numbers never recovered, not even in its home country.

    1. Some of that I can’t disagree with. The 406 interior (just the dashboard) is annoyingly plain but very, very well assembled and astonishingly robust. In comparison (relatively) the 605 seems a shade more fragile and visually cohesive. I think the 607 ended up being nicer than either. Like the XM and Scorpio, the 605 was doomed. Had both PSA cars not been crippled reputationally they’d at least have sold steadily for their runs.

    2. The 406’s dashboard may be robust but it looks cheap with its oily shine. There’s also an astonishing lack of attention to detail opely on display. Just look at how the matrix display sits in the centre console with two plastic spacers either side – a prime example of how not to do things. There’s also a terrible mismatch of surfaces in the 406 cabin as every plastic part has its own type of grain and its own grade of oily shine. And again those ugly seat covers that were so typical of French cars of that era. They truly look like fake mouse fur with patterns designed on a Mac by someone with a big LSD hangover.
      By using this cheap&nasty interior for the 406 coupé they devalued this car’s design no end. By adding fake chrome to the instruments and centre console they only highlighted the deficits.

    3. Dave: I can’t disagree about the appearance. Having driven the car extensively I can say it works very well. The seats on later models were woven cloth. It’s a real shame the apparent quality of the 406 is so different from its actual quality, utility and comfort.
      That said, I think you might be over-stating its demerits.

    4. Murat Günak needs your address for that flower bouquet, Richard!

    5. Kris: I am only being moderate. The 406 interior is visually adequate and functionally excellent. If I had to choose between a) an æsthetic paragon that wasn’t comfortable or functional or b) the 406 formula, I’d choose b. One month I drove (a) a Golf and (b) an Auris. The Auris was a pleasing drive despite its iffy detailing.

    6. Richard: don’t tell me you like an interior like this (sunglasses recommended)

    7. As I said, they didn’t all look like that. Later models had darker, plainer fabrics. Even the series 1 cars could be had with quieter fabrics.

  6. Oh dear, no. The 607 … nicer than the 605, no, I can’t go for that. I rather like the 605 and agree the V6 24 valve was quite a car (my French boss had one and used to terrify the central London population by blasting it around the City). It’s not as charming as the 164 to my eyes, but there is no comparison with the 607. Sorry.

  7. I have to speak out in favour of the fake mouse fur in the pre-facelift 406s. It was a fabulously comfortable finishing touch to the most comfortable car seats I have ever owned. And of course when you are sitting on them you don’t have to look at the pattern, though mine were a relatively subdued LX cream pattern, not like the SRi ones…….

    While we’re at it, the bootlid of the pre-facelift 406 just looks so much nicer than the 605 to my eyes, with its concave shape making it seem less bulky. We won’t mention the post-facelift boot treatment. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

    1. Adrian: yes, velour is a great fabric and yes, the 406 seats are simply excellent. I have not sat in better seats. The general utility and comfort of the car totally outweigh the ultimately unimportant matter of trim.

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