The Persian Bodyswappers

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 405RD. (c)

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.

Renault Sepand PK. (c)

Sepand K

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)

Renault Sepand PK. (c)

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.

The facelifted Sepand K’s new taillights. (c)

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.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

37 thoughts on “The Persian Bodyswappers”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Thanks for bringing us these wonderful mutants and the convoluted tales behind them. I find cars like these endlessly fascinating. Necessity really is the mother of invention, although you have to feel sorry for the poor Iranians who have to put up with rubbish like this as well as a totalitarian regime. I knew about the RWD 405, but not the Renault 5 / Mazda 121 mash-up. I notice that the later Sepand K actually has properly (using that word advisedly) flared wheel arches. Here’s another example in a rather fetching red:

    It has a nice, muscular stance and I rather like it!

    Incidentally, cars in Iran apparently don’t need to have an illuminated rear number plate.

    1. How did they decide that, to not have lights on the license plates? I can´t think of a good justification.. It´s cheap`? And useless at night?

    2. Actually, if you look at Bruno’s photo of the Sepand K, there’s a trim strip visible above the number plate aperture. Here’s another example showing the trim strip containing a number plate lamp:

      Perhaps the red example has been damaged and repaired poorly?

    3. Agreed, like the muscular stance of the Sepand K.

      Makes one fascinated by what a modernized Supercinq-based car would look like had it been available in non-Western markets, possibly with an Renault Express Phase II/III style front-end.

  2. Here’s an interesting montage showing the essential features of the RWD 405:

    It looks as though someone just drove the car over some steps to get a good photo of the sump!

  3. A very interesting article.
    How a nation under international siege tries to stay mobile with the minimum of means and maximum of entrepreneurship.
    I suppose a Hilman is a lot of a car. Or maybe is just quite enough.
    But aren’t “Iran Khodro” and “SAIPA” both state owned? Are they not interdependent?

  4. Very interesting article – one of many, recently; it’s nice to keep learning about new things.

    These lash-ups remind me of the Rover SD1-based Standard 2000 in India.

    Regarding the law in Iran not requiring rear number plate illumination – perhaps it is assumed that it would be illuminated by a following car’s headlights or streetlights. It does seem odd.

    Lastly, I looked up the Samand – it looks neat enough and some of the detailing initially reminded me of a B5 Passat. Not very safe, though:

  5. I love these stories about developing world ‘mongrel cars’ born out of expediency. They’re a dying breed as Chinese CKD kits take over. Not so long ago China had quite a few oddities of their own, like the Morris Itals and Austin Maestros with Toyota powertrains, and the Wuling LZW 7100 Citröen Visa facsimile on an early Daihatsu Charade platform. The superstructure had no Citröen input or official sanction – it was just copied from a Visa bought secondhand.

    Renault had no intention of building a five-door 5 until the SAIPA joint venture. The Iranians insisted and a five-door was hastily cobbled up, presumably with some reference to the Spanish-market Siete saloon. Renault then decided there might be demand for a five-door in Europe. As soon as it was offered in 1979, 5 sales increased by 30% in France.

    1. Robertas: I’m not for a moment suggesting you are not correct in this regard, but I would perhaps cast some doubt. Looking for something else quite recently, I happened across a black & white photo of a first generation R5 in five door form, in what looked appeared to be a styling studio. Judging from the spec of the car in question, it was definitely a pre-facelift model, which does at least suggest the idea was knocking around Billancourt for some time before coming to fruition. Perhaps, the SAIPA connection provided the financial impetus to bring it into being?

      There is a marked similarity, is there not between the frontal treatment for the Peykan and the Mark One Consul Granada? I see others as well, but can’t quite place them. Any thoughts, fellow travellers?

    2. I also noticed the resemblance to the Mark One Granada, which then made me remember the Panther Rio, which actually does use Granada light units, and has a similar look to the Peykan. Could the Peykan lights actually be Talbot Avenger units though? It would make some sense from a Rootes / Chrysler / PSA perspective.

  6. “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 cross-members and engine mounts were believed to have been so rigorous (or perhaps poorly executed) that serious structural problems arose.”

    The structural problems with the Peugeot engine installation in the 405RD sounds like ineptitude rather than a fault of the engine itself. The Peugeot ohv engine was also used in South African built Hunters and Avengers, so there was some experience to draw on.

    The Avenger engine in 1.6 litre form was also used in the Paykan and RWD 405, although it’s often describes as a Peugeot engine. I’m guessing IKCO got the tooling from Ryton. It’s a completely different engine from the Hunter unit: all-iron, with a camshaft mounted high in the block, and wider bore centres. Rally people were able to make 2 litre Avengers using the block from the Brazilian version of the engine which had a higher deck height which allowed an 85 mm stroke, and overboring it to the British 1.6’s 87.3mm bore dimension.

    IKCO never attempted that sort of thing, but eventually developed their own EF7/EF4/EFD engines which have some relation to the iron-blocked versions of the Peugeot TU/TUD, but are completely re-worked by FEV of Aachen, with further input by AVL for the diesel versions.

    My only encounter with the Samand was at the 2009 Geneva Salon, where IKCO had a stand at the “ECO-Pavilion” on the strength of a CNG version of the EF7. A thoroughly nice bunch of people, happy to talk about car culture in Iran and answer my awkward questions about the engine.

  7. Eóin,

    I’d be interested to see that picture of the 5 door 5 styling prototype.

    I don’t doubt for one moment that Renault considered the possibility of a five-door 5 even before the Siete and the SAIPA. When the 5 was launched, there was astonishment that there was no 5 door. At the time the only 3 door Renaults were the 15/17 coupes, before that only the Floride /Caravelle had one door per side.

    I think that Renault understood changing societal expectations in the domestic market; the big-selling 4 was a ‘peasants’ car’, the 5 was their answer to the BMC Mini, which was annoyingly popular with affluent and style-conscious French urbanites.

    The Siete was devised to meet Spanish market expectations, which also brought about the 5 door SEAT 800, 850, and 127. The Siete’s four doors and boot are tidily executed, the odd solecism is the use of conventional pressed steel bumpers and valances in place of the two-volume 5’s plastic shields, which in evolved form have now become universal.

    1. Robertas: Having tried unsuccessfully to establish exactly what rabbit-hole I had descended to uncover that R5 image, I’m afraid I have to admit defeat. In retrospect I wish I had saved it. But if I was to save every interesting web image, I’d have no storage space left at all…

    2. Hello Eóin & Robertas,

      I found this – perhaps it’s what you were thinking of, Eóin?

      The text says: “A five-door version [of the R5] was foreseen from the outset but an agreement dated 1968 between Peugeot and Renault about small cars design brief Classic blocked the development until 1980”. There are some interesting sketches and models on the site.

    3. So, Renault and Peugeot agreed in 1968 not to produce a five-door version of their small cars before 1980? What about the 104, introduced in 1972?

      This gets murkier and murkier…

    4. Hello Daniel,

      Yes, that does seem odd, unless the deal only applied to the development of the Renault 5 and Peugeot promised to do something else in return (not that I’m suggesting anti-competitive behaviour, Your Honour). I’ll see what I can find.

    5. Having looked in to the Renault / Peugeot alleged ‘agreement’ not to produce small 5-door models, it looks like Peugeot were concerned about harming sales of the older 204 estate and thus the 104 was released as a 4-door, initially.

      The Peugeot 104 only became a 5-door when 204 production ended in 1976, with the 5-door R5 being released in 1979; that’s still some time after the 104, though.

      Then again, the R5 was still one of the first in its segment to have 5 doors when 3 doors were seen as more normal; the arrival of the 5-door only Visa in 1978 would have made having a competitor more of a priority, I would think.

    6. In France, 3 doors were probably not seen as ‘normal’ before the R5 arrived. All other small cars before had 4 doors: Renault 4CV and Citroën 2CV are examples here. The Renault 4 and Citroën Dyane even had 5 doors already in the 1960s. So the real oddity seems to be the R5 here. And after that the Peugeot 104Z (later also Citroën LN), but they were marketed more as a kind of small coupé.

    7. Hello Simon,

      Interesting – yes, you’re right about that list of small French cars.

      What I was thinking of were the R5’s competitors in the supermini class – the Polo, Fiesta, Metro, etc, were all launched as 3 doors, albeit after the R5. So perhaps there was less pressure to launch a ‘more than 3-door version’ of the R5 subsequently, if that makes sense.

      It looks like the R5 was in the forefront of the 3-door trend (along with the 2 then 3-door Fiat 127), though, as you suggest. I wonder to what extent that influenced the other manufacturers; it’s certainly a cheaper format, which is useful at that end of the market.

    8. Interestingly (well, to me anyway!) I recall that Hillman, when they launched the Avenger in 1970, defended not offering a two-door version by arguing that it would offer no benefit over the four-door model. However, after three years the company relented and did finally launch a two-door.

      While I’m following this digression, it was always a puzzle to me that the Avenger, supposedly a smaller car and intended to slot in beneath the Hunter, shared the latter’s 98″ (2, 500mm) wheelbase but was 9″ shorter at 161″ (4,100mm). I think the Avenger was better packaged and still had a decent boot. I wonder if there was always a plan to grow the Hunter replacement (which finally arrived in the form of the Chrysler 180) significantly, as Ford did with the Mk3 Cortina.

      Notice how I deftly brought the conversation back to the Hillman Hunter, aka Paykan, which is where we started!

  8. Daniel – the 1973-onwards two door Avenger would probably never have happened were it not for a market preference for two door saloons. this was the only bodystyle for the 1972-on Dodge 1800, later Dodge Polara. The bodywork of these differs from the British two-door Avengers from the B-pillar back although both were styled and engineered in Coventry.

    The Avenger design work was instigated alongside the Arrow, but the larger car took priority, and was revived under Chrysler as an Escort rival with ‘world car’ ambitions. There are some pictures in the Roy Axe biography of elongated fastback Avenger-based proposals which could have been Arrow replacements, but the ‘C’ car / Projet 929, which became the Chrysler 180 took precedence.

    I found this chart of ’60s-’70s (mainly British) car dimensions on another site. It tells quite a few surprising stories:

  9. Citroën and Proton were involved in organ trafficking themselves with the Proton Tiara (You can tell this was the Lady Di era) which was a lightly reworked AX.

    Not many changes outside, mainly a new grille and tail lights but their 5dr version had rounded wheel arches (like our 3dr) which we didn’t have. The GT in Europe had a more angular wheel arch treatment.



  10. Thank you all for your kind comments; great to see interesting additional info being brought to the table.
    That Proton Tiara is interesting, thank you NRJ!

  11. Since last year Peugeot 405s and 206s are built again in Azerbaïdjan with local company Khazar. The twist is that the 405 is called 406. ‘Peugeot Khazar 406’ to be precise. Also the 206 is called 207 and has new tail lights as well as a 207 front-end.

    1. Aargh! That 207 front end! I was just thinking how neat the tail looked, then I scrolled down. It completely destroys what was a quite pretty and pert car.

      NRJ, you really should post a warning message before any such photos. I can’t unsee it and it has spoilt my day!

  12. Sorry. We had it in Europe too (at least in France), it was called the 206+ over here.

    1. Warning ! more automotive monsters from third world countries coming up.

      The ZX had quite the life in China. It was of course known as the Fukang but not many people know ‘ ‘Shanghai Maple’ chose this stunner as the basis for many of its models. The twist here is Shanghai Maple did not produce them under license and apparently was sued for it. For some reason the same model seems to come under different names but with a different grille or logo.

      Maple Hysoul

      Maple Hisoon

    2. Oh, it’s “Guess the Grille and Headlamps”…this is a good game!

      Here goes:

      Maple Hysoul = Audi A4, B7 generation, headlamps and grille
      Maple Hisoon = Proton GEN-2 grille, Fiat Croma 2005 headlamps
      Maple Marindo = Hyundai Santa Fe 2007 grille, Fiat Croma 2005 headlamps
      Maple Whirlwind = Opel Vectra B headlamps, grille-who cares? It’s horrible.
      Maple Haifeng = Audi A4 B7 generation headlamps, Cadillac DTS grille

      NRJ, we both need to get out more…oh, wait a minute…

    3. That’s very good Daniel ! I hadn’t even notice the other similarities apart from the Audi grille clone. There are even another 3 or 4 versions with different grilles and names. How can you get away with getting the tooling for whole cars without the owner’s (Citroen) permission ??

  13. The boy racer yellow Hisoon could fit easily around here with requisite loud bass thumping out. And has someone literally done a runner and hastily cast off their shoes when the Haifeng appeared? The Hysoul is, to me, the “best” of an wholly different bunch. Excellent work, NRJ. And jolly good headlights and grille spotting there, Daniel

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thank you. The yellow Hisoon version is my favourite. So bad, it’s good 🙂

      Here it is in its official portrait and inexplicably named R50 here:

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