Novels such as ‘Vice Versa’ and ‘Freaky Friday’ have inspired a long list of films about body swapping, but in the rare cases the automobile industry has resorted to the practice, it hasn’t exactly resulted in any award-winning performances.
Since the Ayatollahs assumed power, Iran’s relationship with Western nations has been complicated. This has not stopped the country from developing a thriving automobile industry however – after oil and gas it is the third in economic importance – and to achieve licensing deals with a number of major car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Nissan, KIA, Chevrolet and Cadillac. In some cases, this has lead to results that can only be described as bizarre.
Peugeot 405 RD
There was of course also the Paykan – née Hillman Hunter – Iran’s first domestically made car. The arrow (which is what the word Paykan means in Farsi) would for better or worse become somewhat of a national symbol of Iran and achieve an almost 50-year long production run. By the early 90’s however its manufacturer Iran Khodro (IKCO) had to face the fact that they needed to think about a successor, even though the Paykan continued to sell quite well.
IKCO already produced another car under license that was roughly similar in size and more up to date than the Paykan: the Peugeot 405. It sold well but rather oddly (and possibly also because the Paykan continued to sell in good numbers) Iran Khodro felt that the 405 was perhaps a little too modern to entice the more conservative Paykan owners to make the switch. What they came up with was the Peugeot 405 RD. The RD standing for… rear wheel drive. Yes, you read that right. The 405 RD was essentially the body of a Peugeot 405 mounted onto the underpinnings of a Hillman Hunter!
Iran Khodro’s reasoning that the modern body and interior of the 405 combined with the robust and simple proven technology of the Paykan, for which you could get cheap parts and service on virtually every street corner in Iran, would make for an ideal hybrid. Alas, the few experiences reported about 405 RD ownership tell a different story. With a rigid rear axle and leaf springs plus an engine that caused numerous structural failure problems (engine mounts and cross members) this Iranian concoction worked about as well as could be expected.
When Rootes was taken over and the Hunter discontinued soon after in 1979, the supply of 1725cc engines dried up and a replacement was needed to power the Paykan. It was found in the 1796cc Peugeot “XM” engine that had seen service in the 504. This unit was a relatively straightforward fit in the Paykan but in the 405 RD, the changes made to the crossmembers and engine mounts were believed to have been so rigorous (or perhaps poorly executed) that serious structural problems arose.
Sales of the 405 RD started around 1997; it was facelifted and renamed 405 ROA in 2010. In 2016 the Frankenstein-405 mercifully met its end. Incidentally, although the Paykan sedan was discontinued in 2005, the Pick-up version would be offered until 2015 – meaning that technically its intended successor only outlived it by a year. Iran Khodro replaced the 405 RD/ROA with the X7 Samand, an inoffensive and somewhat boring-looking sedan but based on the real 405 which at least means a vaguely modern undercarriage.
The Régie Renault and Iranian manufacturer SAIPA signed a licensing agreement in 1976 to produce the popular 5 under the name Sepand. As in Europe, the 5/Sepand proved to be a popular car and sold quite well at first. However, the Sepand did not benefit from the arrival of the all-new Supercinq in 1984 and had to soldier on with the old body and hardware; its sales performance dipped markedly as the nineties dawned.
In 1993 SAIPA acquired the licensing rights to the first generation Mazda 121/KIA Pride (type DA), which was of a similar size as the Sepand but technically somewhat more current. It was thus decided to replace the Sepand with the 121. With the switch to producing the Mazda, SAIPA had no more need for the tooling of the Sepand and sold it to their domestic competitor Pars Khodro.
Until the advent of the millennium Pars Khodro produced the Sepand virtually unchanged but in 2000 Renault cut all technical ties with them, which meant no more supplies of engines and other essential parts. Shortly after, Pars Khodro was taken over entirely by SAIPA. The Sepand’s tooling was thus right back where it started. But what to do with it? (you probably can guess what’s coming next)
SAIPA took a leaf out of Iran Khodro’s book and decided to utilise the technical base – engine, chassis, gearbox and all – of the Mazda 121, mounting the old Sepand body on top while taking the opportunity to restyle it slightly. As the DTW readership is doubtless aware, the 5 had a longitudinally mounted engine, while the 121’s powerplant was mounted transversally.
This fact, coupled with a front and rear track of the 121 that were over four (front) and almost six inches (rear) wider than what the Sepand’s body was designed for explains why the result looks a little off with its overly wide plastic wheelarch extensions.
Undeterred by these complications SAIPA put the Sepand, now with the suffix “K” (for KIA presumably), in production. In 2005 it received a facelift and a more powerful, fuel injected engine. This did not help sluggish sales much – by that time much more capable vehicles such as the Peugeot 206 were also available. The fact that the Sepand K gained the unenviable reputation as the least safe vehicle on the road in Iran sealed its fate and the last example rolled off the production line in 2008.
One wonders what possessed the engineers in question to apparently believe that a scheme such as this was a good idea. It is difficult to decide which of the two is the silliest. Perhaps the honour should go to Iran Khodro for putting a new(ish) body on an outdated, ancient base and thus mislead gullible car buyers into thinking they were buying a modern car. IKCO might have been better off if they had put the Paykan body onto the 405 base- but perhaps we shouldn’t give anyone any further ideas.