Kinky Boots

Tracing the Peugeot 504’s kinked tail motif through the Pininfarina back catalogue.

Maximum kink? Peugeot 504

In order to capitalise on the popularity of UK TV series, The Avengers, stars, Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee were persuaded to record a novelty single celebrating not only the fashions adorning the somewhat distracting Ms. Blackman, but the broadening societal permissiveness of mid-Sixties Britain. And while it was a rather throwaway ditty which didn’t chart particularly well at the time, it did take on a second life several decades later.

These things take time – as with fashion, so with design. One of the more interesting aspects of recent discussions surrounding the styling of the 1968 Peugeot 504 was the notion that its rear aspect was regarded with a degree of ambivalence. Uncomfortable and strange were among the soubriquets employed on these pages, but further afield, and particularly in the US, the 504’s kinked tail was considered peculiar. In light of this, it might be germane to trace its evolution through the work of its originator.

It begins (doesn’t everything) with the 1955 Florida concept, a radical pillarless four door saloon on a Lancia Aurelia chassis. A thrilling symbiosis of American flash and Italian flair, this dramatic saloon would set a stylistic template and its silhouette would go on to clothe millions of cars for innumerable carmakers, but most notably BMC, Fiat, Lancia and Peugeot – in the latter’s case the immortal 1960 404 Berline.

But in fact, one must look further back again. One particular Pininfarina signature which would appear on every Peugeot design right up to the 504 was the manner in which the roofline flowed into the c-pillar in an unbroken line to the rear deck, creating a very subtle buttress (or tunnel-back) effect. This was a carry-over from earlier work carried out by Pininfarina on Ferrari chassis’, most explicitly a dramatic bespoke 1954 375MM Speciale, for film maker, Roberto Rosselini.

In 1957, Pininfarina displayed the Florida II, arguably the all-time finest expression of the three volume silhouette. A distillation of previous Florida concepts, Florida II’s tail styling saw Battista Pinin Farina evolve his thinking, prophesying the coming of ‘peak tailfin’ by harmonising them into a more flowing, falling bootline, and lending it a more contemporary, less formal appearance. And while this theme was adopted for the production Lancia Flamina Coupé, it was executed in less dramatic a fashion.

Pininfarina’s longstanding links with General Motors saw them produce the 1959 Fleetwood Brougham model for Cadillac, and the same year, they presented the Starlight, a dramatic full-sized coupé, again on a Cadillac chassis. This imposing design combined elements of Florida II with a softer iteration of the inclined tailfin motif and a distinct visual break for the bootlid.

These themes would be reprised the same year in two very similar bespoke designs, notable for their formality of line. One on a Ferrari 410 America chassis, and the second on a Maserati 5000 GT base, one or both allegedly for Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli. Themes from all three of these cars would be seen again in a number of Pininfarina production designs and in particular, at the rear of 1961’s Peugeot 404 Convertible and Coupé.

That same year, Pininfarina would make its most decisive visual break, introducing a fresh approach with the Brougham Jacqueline concept for Cadillac. This styling concept melded dramatic proportions and a delicate glasshouse with a new, more restrained formal execution. Striking here was the treatment of the nose, where headlamps and grille were united into a single integrated whole, and of more significance, the cut-down tailfin treatment of the rear deck/bootlid.

While Jacqueline was perhaps a little too restrained for flamboyant Cadillac, GM did take notice, and while elements of the rear treatment were adopted for BMC’s 1100 saloon, which debuted the same year, Jacqueline’s styling themes were applied wholesale for 1963’s elegant-looking Peugeot 204 Berline, and later its Coupé/Convertible siblings.

The following year, Lancia’s 1962 Flavia Coupé also joined the fray, while a year on, BMC was once again at the receiving end of Pininfarina’s ministrations with 1964’s 1800 saloon. While early prototypes sported a nose treatment reminiscent of the ’59 Starlight concept, the production car received another more overt evolution of the Jacqueline’s kinked tail arrangement.

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By the time the Peugeot 504 came to be, this design motif had therefore become something of a Cambiano staple. However, the Peugeot also displayed, arguably not only the most dramatic execution of this treatment, but also the last – from the house of Pininfarina at least.

Or was it? Faint reflections could be traced through the Strich Acht and later W123 Mercedes’ saloon boot treatments, but more overtly, that of the Lancia Trevi of 1980. This latter design, while broadly attributed to centro stile Lancia under Mario Maioli, came into being alongside the Pininfarina-led revisions to the Beta, leading a number of commentators to suspect some Cambiano input into the Trevi’s shape.

Meanwhile in the US, General Motors rebodied the 1980 Cadillac Seville with so-called neo-classical bustleback styling, and while clearly a nod to the past, it was realistically more likely to refer to 1940s British coachbuilding traditions than any overt homage to Pininfarina’s earlier work.

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Like the titular ladies’ footwear, ‘kinky boots’ were very much a Sixties phenomenon, and like many fashion statements, it was one which faded out gradually. Fundamentally then, the rear deck treatment of the Peugeot 504, far from arising from stylistic whim, came about through a lengthy process of evolution and refinement. What can probably be said however is that of all the many iterations that preceded it, the 504’s tail treatment was perhaps the kinkiest of them all.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Kinky Boots”

  1. What an excellent piece of automotive journalism. It travels in time, to continents, through persons, and all these with just a…kink. Thank you mr Doyle.

    1. Absolutely agree. It’s fascinating to follow the lineage connecting the extravagant Brohgham Jacqueline and the decidedly modest Peugeot 304. They (and the BMC 1800) share those slim integrated horizontal tail lights that were quite unusual (unique?) for the early 60’s when vestigial tail fins and vertical tail lights were still the norm. Interestingly, BMC abandoned those tail lights in favour of vertical units when the car was facelifted, a questionable decision:

      Perhaps they were trying to disguise the “kinky”boot lid or wanted to increase the similarity to the much more successful 1100 model. In any event, it seemed to be a retrograde step in that it introduced tail fins to the car just as they were disappearing elsewhere.

      Regarding the 1980 Seville, I suppose Cadillac deserves some credit for trying something different from the typical rectilinear saloon of the day, but the result was pretty, er, challenging.

    2. That is absolutely fascinating! I took it for granted the finless version of the landcrab was the later one because the thought someone would paste fins to a finless design in the late sixties is totally preposterous. It’s things like that that sunk the BMC into oblivion. “Let’s save the landcrab! Yeah, lets put some fins to it, that’ll totally do it!”

  2. There’s a slight difference in approach to form within these exemples. In the Florida/404, the slope and form of the rear deck can be read as one single form, flowing from the top of the rear screen over the deck sloping down towards the bumper, while being confined between the fins/side of the car, like a ski slope confined between cliffs. The Jacqueline even has the slope integrated in the entire roofline.

    While the Starlight, BMC 1800, and 204 really being a continuation of the Corvair kind of soapbox styling with a lower and an upper lid. The 204 has the lid separated by a horizontal chrome strip, with the two different forms joined together at the kink at the rear. Read in that way, the slope of the kink is one separate form, leading into a vertical part that is really the beginning of a different separate form.

    The difference to the 504 is that the cut off at the kink is done as a section of an unrealized singular form, not very unlike how the rear of the XJ6 was formed by cutting off the tail of the E-Type. Read in that way, one can imagine the unrealized shape continuing the taper rearwards to meet some kind of invisible point. I mean the kink on the 504 is not only a kink, the entire rear valance is formed by cutting off the tail at that very precise section.

  3. Yes, Ingvar, it did seem a perverse thing to do. Here’s a nice comparison picture of the rear ends:

    And the front ends:

    The Mk2, on the right, with the narrower grille and larger indicator and sidelight units does look slightly less odd in that it de-emphasises the unusual width of the car somewhat. The 1800 was never a looker though, and an object lesson in why engineers, no matter how talented, should never be allowed to design cars on their own.

    1. Wow, these are great pictures of the two ‘Landcrab’ versions side by side – I don’t think I have ever seen the like before. The Landcrabs were pretty (probably the wrong adjective there, sorry) ‘out-there’ designs, weren’t they, in particular the earlier version?

      I can see an ancestral link to the early Morris Minor (was it known a Mosquito at the time? I really should do my research before diving in like this). In this way, Austins (or should I just call out the Issigonis designed cars?) were to ‘English’ car design what Citroëns were to the French. What I think I mean is that cars like the Mini, early Minor and 1800 were quintessentially – to the point of eccentrically – English, in the same way that the 2CV, Ami8 (which, for me, is the most French piece of styling ever) and DS could only ever have come from La Belle France.

      Just don’t ask me to explain why I think that …

  4. Having commented that the narrower front grille seemed to de-emphasise the width somewhat, I now wonder if that was also the intention of changing to vertical rear lights. The 1800 was a very unusually proportioned car, especially for its time, being very wide in relation to its height. Was BMC trying to make it look more “normal”?

  5. This is rich material, both from Eoin (grazi) and our readers. I feel this calls for a huge wall chart with timelines and marked-up graphics to explain it. I was not aware of the resonances. If I can offer a sceptical note, the Trevi does not fit into this schema. It is unique unto itself, a car apart.

  6. While the kink appears to be a well developed Pininfarina trope, it is handled quite differently on the 504 than on the other cited examples. I notice an apparent kinship with the Renault 12’s falling tail. The falling tail style had previously appeared on some Renault 16 (project 115) proposals.

  7. What an intriguing article!

    Without doubt this is one of those often overlooked, but endlessly fascinating pieces of automotive design peculiarity.

    To me, this Pininfarina kink has a strong subliminal meaning:
    when observed from an engineering standpoint, and especially in the side profile of the car, this ‘intervention’ seems to literally scream “shaving-off weight from the rear-end”. This, in turn, endows the
    car (the 504, in this case) with a strong identity of the ‘handling-biased-engineering’ (or even motorsport…) sort. It never comes
    across the observer explicitely, but solely on a subconscious level.
    And the 504, in particular, was always highly praised, among else, for its objective, outstanding dynamic qualities. There must be a hidden link that has probably amplified that aspect, subjectively.

    Such hidden notions, wrapped inside a peculiar design ‘twist’, are actually plentiful in the automotive landscape, but that’s a very
    delicate and lengthy topic altogether…

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