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