An Afternoon Like Dusk – The 604 story, Pt. 4

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.

(c) blog-moteur

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?

Author: richard herriott

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

13 thoughts on “An Afternoon Like Dusk – The 604 story, Pt. 4”

  1. There was a 604 SR with two litre four cylinder fuel injected engine producing 96 chevaux. They were sold exclusively to French authorities who bought them as a means of subsidising Peugeot.
    They also made a 604 GRD/SRD with breathtaking 80 hp from Europe’s first turbo diesel.

    The world record for sluggish engines surely most go to the diesel powered W123s. A 200D with automatic gearbox needed more than a minute to reach 100 kph from standstill and early examples with vacuum controlled injection pump needed a minute to start. This didn’t do Mercedes any harm and neither did the M110 DOHC engine which wasn’t dubbed a ringing tree for nothing and which could consume fuel at alarming rates but at least made the 280/280E a seriously fast car for the time.

  2. The situation here reminds me a bit of what they did with the Citroën C6: you could have a petrol V6 that wasn’t really up to the task (shifting 1.9 tons of metal) and essentially two diesels, the larger of them was later replaced by an improved unit. And halfway in its life, the 4 cylinder diesel and the petrol options were canceled.

    What was missing was a more affordable petrol variant (although this would hardly have been beneficial for the already meagre performance, and this was probably even less accepted in 2005 than in the seventies), as well as something more performant (and/or more economical). It’s hard to predict if this would have helped the slow sales, as it wouldn’t have changed the lack of premiumness and the inability to provide appropriate customer service and finance deals. Maybe the mistake has really already been made in 1948…

    1. I don’t think that the French taxation scheme was responsible for the sub standard engines produced by most French manufacturers. Italy had an even more restrictive tax regime and in addition to that heavily restricted use of larger engines and this didn’t prevent Alfa from producing the marvellous V6 nor did it prevent Ferrari from producing good engines – even if Alfa as well as Ferrari produced two litre versions exclusively sold in Italy.

      The PRV engine didn’t have enough power, it was thirsty and it had NVH problems. The first topic was somewhat addressed by the Talbot Tagora’s setup using two triple-barrel Weber carbs for 166 hp from thre 2.7 litre version or the 604 GTI with 150 hp from 2.85 litres which even had the stepped crank pins to reduce the NVH issues. I’m quite sure that a version with the Douvrin OHC four with around 115 hp wouldn’t have been much slower than the V6 but far less thirsty. Maybe they didn’t build such a thing (or made the public service version available to the general public) because it would have been too close to the V6.

  3. It had a 90 degrees V6 instead of a 60 degrees. There are 66 604’s registered in my country. I see one of them regularly during summer. The 604 is in good shape. Not sure about the engine of this particular example, but it sounds really rough, because of the uneven firing order I presume. I certainly is no match for the inline sixes of BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes.

    The only time I drove a car with this engine, although a much later version, was in a 605 SV 3.0, and it was fine. My only experience with the C6 was with the 2.7 HDI engine. I’ve heard the stories about the PRV engine not being up to the job, as Simon wrote in the comment, but no first hand experience. The C6 isn’t about performance engineering, but the 2.7 HDI performance is only just acceptable in my eyes. If only that car didn’t have the weight of an SUV.

    1. The later PRVs I know from the Citroën XM. They are a bit on the rough side, but not much so. I rather tend to see this as a characteristic and enjoyable engine sound, especially when the power is accordingly, as in the 24V version.

      The C6 (as well as later XMs, Xantias and Peugeots after about 1997) have in fact a completely different engine, not the PRV. It featured a 60° angle and timing belt instead of the PRV’s chain. It was a great engine in the Xantia where I enjoyed ample power, nice sound, and good economy. A few years later, in a C6 with 400 kg more weight, and with pollution measures employed on the engine, the picture is rather different. Performance is much below the 2.7 HDI. I don’t mind it too much in most occasions – as you say, the C6 isn’t about performance in the first place. But quicker, safer overtaking would sometimes be more than welcome.

    2. The main problem with the 2.7 HDi in the C6 is the well-documented hesitation when you want a dose of immediate power. It’s not just from a standstill (from junctions or roundabouts), although that’s probably when it is most notable. It’s like the turbos take time to come on stream and then the gearbox then takes a second or so to kick-down. You get used to working with it (or around it), but it is an irritant.

      Once in it’s stride, the car gives a decent surge and sounds surprisingly good for a diesel. Given the overall aura and feel of the C6, I think the 2.7 diesel is OK – the 3.0 diesel is a better engine, but is very rare in the UK and go for silly values.

  4. The PVR V6 (ne V8) is a classic case of corporate planning making itself forecast dependent.

    Before the 1973 oil shock, everyone knew, and the experts all agreed, that all the auto companies would need larger engines to deal with USA crash safety weight gains and hp declines due to emissions rules.

    In this case, as often happens, the “expert” forecast which “everyone knew” was correct turned out to be 180 degrees wrong.

    PVR ended up needing smaller engines, not larger engines.

  5. By the way, I like the tags associated with this post. Apparently, French engines can be put into three groups:
    – Douvrin 4-cylinder engine
    – PRV engine
    – Great French engines


    1. Simon: I’m pleased to see the efforts of the editorial team being acknowledged thus. The DTW elves do their utmost for your edification, but above all, for your amusement.

  6. That arrangement of carburettors – shared with the Renault 30TS – falls firmly into the category of ‘what were they thinking’ engineering, along with the Alfa Six’s sextet of Dell’Ortos. Peugeot were early adopters of fuel injection, from 1962, only ten years later than Borgward, and it seems mean of them to have burdened the early 604s with such a cockamany arrangement without even the option of injection.

    I’ve only ever tried later PRV V6 engines. The 3.0 12V in a 605 was very satisfactory indeed and had more than enough power to demand caution of the driver in the pre-traction control days.

    It’s an engine which seemed very application-sensitive. Renault made very effective use of it, but it never really worked in any Volvo. The 264 was a poor shadow of its straight six 164 predecessor, which in fuel-injected form was like a Vanden Plas Princess from hell.

    I’d like to think that the V6 504 coupe and convertible were as good as they ought to have been – a sort of thinking man’s Triumph Stag. LJKS spoke highly of the very rare 2850cc V6 505, describing it as far better than the sum of its parts.

    My knowledge of the development process leading to the 604 is limited, but I’ve always – possibly over-romantically – seen it as Peugeot’s answer to the Fiat 130. The Fiat was a hubristic vanity project, an overgrown 2300 replacement. Practically nothing was shared with any other Fiat product. I can imagine the canny Protestants of Sochaux enjoying the challenge of making their ‘130’ at a fraction of the cost, using 504 wagon doors and floorpan, combined with an engine which was available to them, but had no other obvious purpose to the company. The dimensions of the 130 and 604 are very similar; same length, tracks very close, the French car is 30mm narrower, but has an 80mm longer wheelbase.

    Compared with the 130 Berlina, the 604 was a rip-roaring success, selling ten times as many in its ten year production life. The figure I’m applying for 604 production is 153,252. Given the use of components already in production, it doesn’t look to me like a commercial failure.

    I think Peugeot wanted to keep the 604 upmarket and exclusive, rather than being a Granada or Renault 20/30 rival. The 505 was being readied to take on that task.

    1. Fascinating series, very well written and researched and of great interest to me here in the US since I have two 604s. The 79 five speed stick and 1985 fuel injection GTI. The former is fairly quick, the latter is a real Jack Rabbit and has a lot of power. both are sumptuous, with ice-cold Air which is required in this country, and very comfortable. I must say that a lot of the plastic bits in the interior are kind of cheap and haven’t always held up well. Well-maintained, these cars are superb. What I like about them as well is the elegant styling which has held up very well over the decades: the elegant “Mexican hat” hub caps, the refined color scheme (particularly the tobacco brown and unusual green), etc. Great cars for the price here in the US where they have not held their value at all. And, even here, neither of mine has any rust which is highly unusual for an older Peugeot.

    2. Hi John:
      Thanks very much. I have held a candle for the 604 every since Car magazine dumped all over it in a tiny article nobody remembers. Sadly their value has increased more than in line with my access to capital. They used to be always worth little and now a good one is worth a tidy sum. It´s partly my fault since I´ve been boosting them assiduously for a decade. I´ve done the same to the Trevi.
      You will find here a drive test of the 604. The take homes were a) it is a delightful car for the reasons claimed and b) the 406 does exactly the same thing, wrapped up in a more banal shell.
      If you feel like posting images of your cars here, please feel free.

  7. Ok so here are the latest news regarding the new Peugeot logo that is rumoured to debut on the next 308 sometime next year. So urgent are the news that it warrants a 3.45am post I think. The lastest Autojournal magazine has it that the new logo will be similar to the one seen on the e-Legend concept car: a ‘retro’ theme then but is said to be transparent to accomodate the differents type of radars on some versions.

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