Let’s review the reviews of the 604 and maybe go a little further.
Having looked (in the last instalment) at the engine from the strategic and the cost-accountant’s point of view, I turn now to how it compared in road tests. The matter of performance is far from clear. Conventional wisdom now has it that the 604 couldn’t move fast enough. A look at reviews spanning from 1975 to 1983 shows a more complex story than this.
In 1975 Motor claimed the carburetted SL was the quickest of a group of likely competitors which included the BMW 520, Ford’s Granada 3000, the Jaguar XJ 3.4, the Renault 30 and the Volvo 264. In 1977 Motor Trend felt the car was only just about able to keep up with American traffic, adequate but not brilliant.
This remark was qualified by noting the 604’s handling was far above average which, as mentioned above, made up the speed deficit quite pleasingly. In 1977 Car found the carburetted 604 SL to be slower than the Mercedes 280E and BMW 728 but only by a matter of half a second. It won the test overall so the slight tardiness did not hold the vehicle back.
A year later the fuel-injected version of the 604 was found to be as fast as the overtly sporting Lancia Gamma and faster than Rover’s rakish 2600. It wasn’t until 1983 that Ford’s re-engineered Granada and the all-new Volvo 760 (also with the PRV engine) outsprinted the 604, but only by 0.7 of a second. In brief, the car won two join firsts, a decent second place and a respectable third.
A conclusive decision on whether the 604 was, in fact, a bit too slow off the mark depends on what crop of cars and what year one has in mind. It also depends on whether one thinks the buying public sets the same store on half second differences in performance times as do motoring writers.
What one can say is that for at least five years, the 604 was more than quick enough for most people’s needs. On the main road, the 604 driver had crushing superiority over the majority of small and medium sized mainstream cars. It was comfortably twice as fast as a 1975 Ford Escort and convincingly swifter than a VW Golf.
It looked bigger and more imposing too; anyone left looking at the vanishing red glare of the 604 tail lamps would have felt demoralised. Humourously, according to some tests, the 604 was faster than the Mercedes 280SE and Alfa Romeo’s Six. The best one can say is that the 604 was faster than some surprising competitors but slower than some others that no-one can remember today (the Renault 30 is the car no-one is thinking of here).
Judged by today’s standards, the 604’s speed is nothing remarkable, but it’s obvious that the 604 wasn’t so judged. It would appear that a good deal of the criticism of the 604’s performance is informed by today’s changed expectations.
In the next instalment we consider the design of the 604.