Engines! The 604’s was less than ideal.
Turning to the engine, one can see how an attempt to save money here also proved forlorn. The one clear advantage of using the 504 architecture was never exploited: the 604 never had the same range of engines as the earlier car. What it had was a 60° V6 engine designed in co-operation with Renault and Volvo.
As Motor pointed out in 1975, engine development requires a very large investment. Peugeot did not see the sales volumes of the 604 being large enough to justify designing a wholly new V6 on their own. This strategy certainly saved investment costs but did not lead to Peugeot having a competitive motor.
The powerplant faced the problem that it didn’t turn out quite enough motive force (though it was hardly slow by the day’s standards) and the 604 was a seen as a heavy car, presumably a result of an attempt to match the solidity of their German rivals.
It weighed nearly the same as a Mercedes 280E but produced less power and less torque. The PRV V6 simply did not have sufficient vigour to pull the 604 along at a satisfying clip. In counterpoint, reviews pointed out that the road holding talent made up for this deficiency but the reviewers weren’t in the showroom to remind customers of this fact.
Another expediency, as suggested in period reviews, was that the triple carburettor solution which was the result of another cost saving. This produced heavier fuel consumption than might have been expected and after the 1973 oil crisis buyers became acutely aware of the cost of petrol. This and other features of the engine indicated that the PRV V6 was a rushed design and yet, astonishingly, it continued to serve Renault, Volvo and Citroen into the 1990s.
Here one must pause to look at how the Germans and others’ approach to engines differed. Mercedes made better engines and in a wider range of capacities. The Benz W123 came with a four-cylinder petrol, three six-cylinder petrols and two diesels.
Rover’s SD1 of 1976 eventually had a four, two sixes, a V8 and a diesel. Renault offered their largest bodyshell with five engines and Citroen’s CX had five as well. Even Alfa Romeo’s lamentable Six came with two V6s and a diesel. The 604 soldiered on with just one engine (carburetted or fuel injected) until an advanced turbo diesel four became available in 1979.
Oddly, whilst Mercedes happily sold their W124 with some famously sluggish petrol 4-pots, Peugeot couldn’t or wouldn’t take advantage of the 604’s roots to fit the rest of the engine range of the 504. This might have been expected to be one of the benefits of using the 504 architecture.
Had this been possible the 604 could have been sold with the same class-leading suspension but with fewer accessories and any of the following engine variants: a 1.8 litre and a 2.0 four-cylinder petrol engine or any of three diesels (1.9, 2.1 and a 2.3 four cylinder items). Ford’s Granada also came with a large range of engines (six petrol units and three diesels) as did BMW’s 5-series.
From this one can see that the 604 lacked powerplants and, by extension, so did all of France. A dearth of engineering talent is not the reason. Rather, as I said above, a car is a product of the manufacturer’s values. By extension it is also a product of a nation’s values; the French set a price on egalité.
Harsh tax codes, imposed in 1948 on large engines, were conceivably intended to raise revenue but also to avoid inequality on the French autoroute. This killed off the French luxury car quite efficiently. An unintended side effect of this is that the French motor industry does not tend to produce very good engines in higher capacities whilst Germany does.
A really good large capacity engine is what you need for vehicles that sell and create an aura of prestige. Rich people don’t like to hang around. The prestige inherent in their large cars has kept the German industry in business such that Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen-Audi group clearly dominate the European market in a way the French do not.
The lesson learned here is that tugging on the string labelled why did the 604 lack a good engine? leads one to a great example of the law of unintended consequences. Taxing large engines has cost many times over any revenue it ever raised for the French finance ministry. It certainly cost Peugeot an entire market sector and arrested the firm’s advance from being ‘the Mercedes of France’ to being better than Mercedes itself.
In the next instalment the road tests come under the microscope. What did testers say about the car in the 1970s?