Axis Denied

Peugeot versus Porsche: It wasn’t simply business, it was personal. 

(c) Veikl com

It will not be news to the majority amongst the DTW readership: the time when Porsche was forced to rename its 356 successor, the 901. French carmaker, Peugeot legally secured the rights to model names with a zero in the middle in 1929, when the 201 was introduced. Porsche yielded to threats of legal action from the lion of Belfort, chose 911 as the new model designation and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

Because there is more to this than it would seem at first sight; the fact that other manufacturers such as BMW, Bristol and Ferrari marketed models with a zero in the middle for years without so much as a peep from Sochaux raises the question, why did Peugeot single out Zuffenhausen?

The author.

To answer this we have to go back well over two decades before Porsche presented the 901 in 1963, to the dark days of occupied France during the second world war. In June of 1940 France had surrendered to Nazi Germany and the new rulers quickly took action to utilize the French industrial complex in order to support the Reich’s war effort. Together with Citroën and Renault, Peugeot naturally was among the prime candidates.

While Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union would assume control of Renault and Citroën respectively, an executive from Adler, Paul von Guilleaume, was assigned at first to take over the reigns in Sochaux. The fact that a comparatively small manufacturer such as Adler was granted supervision of a far larger enterprise such as Peugeot was a result of a power struggle between the two larger manufacturers; Auto Union wanted Peugeot as well but was rebuffed by the German government which preferred a more balanced division of industrial powers.

Production of the 201 and 402 in happier prewar times.

From late 1940 onwards, Sochaux began producing vehicles and replacement parts in service of the German war effort. Meanwhile, in KDF-Stadt, renamed Wolfsburg after the war, Ferdinand Porsche and Anton Piëch (father of Ferdinand Piëch) had their eye on Peugeot and would soon take advantage of their considerable influence with the Fuhrer to take control of Sochaux from Adler.

The KDF factory which produced the Kraft Durch Freude Wagen (by this time no longer for the German public as promised previously however but instead solely for military use) and also the Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen, lacked something that Sochaux did have – a foundry.

In February of 1943 Porsche and Piëch got their way. Von Guilleaume was out and Sochaux at their disposal. The Peugeot factory henceforth produced parts in large numbers for both Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen as well as for Focke-Wulf military aircraft. To increase production the foundry was enlarged and prisoners of war added to the existing workforce.

Unsurprisingly Peugeot’s increased output for the benefit of Nazi Germany inevitably put it in the crosshairs of the Allies: Sochaux became the target of bombing raids, of which the one of July 15 1943 did the most damage and killed 125 workers. This event marked a tipping point; from what had up to that point been mostly passive resistance from the workforce turned into the active variety: sabotage. Arson in the tire warehouse, blowing up part of the forgery and more; it became increasingly difficult for the German minders to supply the Nazi war machine.

Extensive damage after the bombing raid.

D-Day and the subsequent re-conquest of an increasingly large part of France by the Allies prompted the German occupying forces to take rearguard action. In august of 1944 the dismantling of the Sochaux factory of its equipment and stocks began, to be transported to Germany and distributed over the Third Reich’s now ailing industrial apparatus.

Most of the remaining workforce was also moved to be put to work in Germany. On November 14 Sochaux was finally liberated, but the Allies found the Peugeot factory completely stripped, with any facilities and equipment that could not be transported destroyed, courtesy of Porsche and Piech. Jean-Pierre Peugeot and his workforce were as gutted as their factory.


With this knowledge it is not hard to understand that Peugeot had, to put it mildly, a bone to pick with Porsche, and seemingly used the zero-in-the-middle as a stick to hit back and exact some revenge. Other car brands, even fellow-German carmakers, BMW were left alone since Peugeot had no personal animosity towards them.

It also explains why Zuffenhausen in turn retreated without making a fuss, as they perhaps understood that it was better to keep this unsavoury chapter of their history away from public view. Compared to what Nazi Germany did to Peugeot through Porsche and Piëch, the French firm’s retaliation against Porsche may seem almost insignificant but it was the thought; a reminder of a partly odious and indelible past, that counted.

Author: brrrruno

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

47 thoughts on “Axis Denied”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Thank you for putting flesh on the bones of this story. Like most readers, I was aware that Puegeot had forced a change of name on the 911, but hadn’t understood the reason for singling out Porsche in particular for the threat of legal action, and why the German company capitulated without protest.

    Ironically Peugeot never used 901 on a production model, but here’s the 2004 907, a 6.0L V12 concept not intended for production:

  2. It´s stories like this that remind me of how important the boring old EU is. I like peace.
    About Peugeot generally, I was trying to think of when they moved away from their design roots. I was admiring a 306 which is now 25 years old or more and it still looks so right. I think the change occurred around then, with a few exceptions. The 406 was still neat and the 607 worked. But the 206, 307 and 407 were not so nice and little after that has floated my boat other than the rather glamorous 3008 and the much-loved 1007. Since the 406 none of the mid-sized saloons have been all that lovely and none of them have captured much admiration for their ride and handling compromise, as far as I know. But the lack of information on that is also to do with the shift in the attention from those qualities to other ones such as features and ugliness.

    1. I have to agree. After Peugeot’s consistently attractive ’05 and ’06 ranges, the bloated ’07 models were a big step backwards.

    2. The turning point in Peugeot’s design quality was when they stopped their cooperation with Pininfarina.
      When I heared that of all things they had made Murat Günak their design boss I couldn’t believe it.
      CAR had an intervies with Gérard Welter on the then new 407. Monsieur Welter told them that he didn’t think the 407 was the best looking car on the market and that it reflected their lack of design skills without Pininfarina’s design consultancy.

    3. To stop spending money on Pininfarina´s help was the worst cost-saving made by PSA. The counter-argument was the Pininfarina was off the boil by then and good designers could be hired directly. This turned out not to be the case. Car design is more than the work of one person. The buck really stops with the heads of design who define briefs and choose from the responding proposals. Peugeot hasn´t had a lot of luck with design directors since the mid 1990s. Before that all their cars looked good or great and still do today. Even the 309 is rather nice. After the 406 I´d be hard pressed to say anything was as nice as a 305, 604, 505 or 205. I quite like the 3008 cross-over though – it´s rather glitzy. The Ford S-Max is also pleasing. It´s perhaps a better version of the modern family vehicle than the Mondeo is, even if I quite like too. I just wish it was more formal and leave the torpedo impressions to the S-Max. The same goes for the 508 which has lost the neat, smart, classical look that made the 505, 405, 406 and 605 so right.

    4. Welter said that in public? Astonishing.

      I too miss PF’s input, but the recent unveiling of their alternative proposal for the 407 Coupé – which is better than the car we all know and only marine life enthusiasts truly love – suggests Cambiano’s finest didn’t push themselves beyond any boundaries in order to save that business relationship.

    5. That´s a rather uninteresting proposal. Even assuming it might have been given life in the surfacing, I am not convinced. Pininfarina aren´t known for their surfacing, finesssing talent. It´s not that they are bad so much as average. Going back to 2002, I could point out Alfa´s Centro Stile, Opel and BMW as being better at that art.

    6. This is spot-on: I recently stumbled across a parked 306 and had to stop to admire it, so struck was I by both the design’s ‘rightness’ and how well it is ageing (in common with a number of the better 90s car designs, I would submit). A shame that survivors seem to be very rare now.

    7. Peugeot stopping cooperation with Pininfarina is one thing, another turning point would be the cause of Peugeot’s decline in making drivers cars from 1998 onwards beginning with the Peugeot 206 that coincided with the rise of Renault with the RS models building upon the success of the Clio Williams.

      There must of been individuals at Peugeot who either played a prominent role with building models with a decent reputation for handling like the 205, 309, 405/406, 605 and one or few others as well as people responsible for pretty much undoing the credibility the company gained from enthusiasts.

      Curious to know to what degree the Peugeot 406 was essentially an update of the Peugeot 405, because if it was indeed the case it raises the question of why the 205 (along with the 309) were not similarly updated / rebodied as an alternate 206 given the 4 year age gap between the 205 and 405, instead of Peugeot wrongly embracing the idea the 106 and 306 could serve as adequate replacements for the 205.

    8. Peugeot had an equivalent to Richard Parry-Jones. His name was Jean Baudin who lived about twenty kilometres away from the Sochaux works and set up the chassis of cars like 205 and 306 so he had the most fun on his daily commute to and from his work on those wonderful roads through the Massif du Jura.

    9. Thanks Dave for providing the name of the chassis engineer responsible for the Peugeot’s highly regarded reputation for drivers cars (the Adam Sloman book on the Peugeot 205 omits the role Baudin played), apart from the 406 appearing to be the last car Jean Baudin was involved with in developing before retiring cannot find any information on when he retired let alone how old he was.

  3. A very interesting article Bruno and many thanks for posting it. An important reminder of the past in these difficult times.

  4. You can almost taste the rancour between Peugeot and Porsche here, Bruno, an excellent and revealing piece of history. In our ever increasing political correctness world gone mad, I wonder if such feelings still bubble away in the older generation? People (can have) have long memories over such travesty’s

  5. Visually the 206 was the last Peugeot that nailed it for me. A neighbour has one and I get chance to admire it every morning before breakfast whilst waiting for the dog to “Do his business”. In three door format the only way I think it vould be improved would be with better recessed wipers.
    Performance wise I wonder if they’d lost their way far earlier. My Dad was a long time Peugeot driver but switched to Golfs when I was about 10. Earlier this year I had chance to ask him why. He reckoned that Peugeots used to have plenty of torque for romping up hills- useful in the Pennines- “Because they were built near the Alps”. But then lost their edge. Our last family Peugeot was a 305 1300, so whether it was that that he regretted buying or whether he test drove another Peugeot- 309 most logically- at trade in time and was put off, I don’t know. Our car was a pre facelift model which meant it had a chrome “305” script on the bonnet in very hard to read style, a neat but very old fashioned seeming touch.

    1. Richard – funny you should say that because the 206 has bothered me since the launch. I remember reading Car magazine´s review (vividly) and also being unsettled by the overall look and the horrible A-pillar design. It still looks wrong 25 years later. I ough to get a life – well, I do have a life and I stil think “206 – sh*t A-pillar”. In contrast the 205 is still spot on in terms of size, handling character, appearance and engine range. The interior of the 206 is also troubling – all that waxy plastic. It might be better built than the 205. That is not enough to make up for its heaviness and blobbiness. I thought that the first time I saw it. Other marques managed the late 90s better than Peugeot. The Fiesta, Clio and Polo which came after the 2006 all seemed at least okay. The Fiesta is especially good and vastly better than the Mk 2. None of the 205´s successors have appealed to me.

    2. Good morning Richard. I hadn’t noticed the 206’s A-pillar before you mentioned it:

      It’s not great, but is it that egregious? It’s hard to see how they might have improved it without a major redesign. I think that convex section of the front wing flowing into the sail panel draws too much attention to it.

    3. The Peugeot 309 was not intended to become a Peugeot. It was initially developed by the Rootes group (Singer, Sunbeam, Hillman, Humber, SIMCA) as a replacement for the Talbot/Simca Horizon named the Arizona.
      Rootes was a part of the Chrysler Europe enterprise that PSA got for the princely sum of $1 in 1978 in exchange for debts and market share of course.
      By the 309’s pending release in 1985 PSA decided to focus only on the Peugeot/Citroen brands so the 309 was incorporated in the formers range and got an out of sequence number as a result. It was even offered with Simca engines until 1991. It was like an unloved child born out of wedlock.
      More info here:

  6. A very good background story about that time and the still noticeable entanglements of some protagonists during the wartime.

    I think it probably didn’t take much effort for Ferry Porsche to replace the “0” with a “1”, because he knew it is better for the future of his company and his products not to let the entanglements of his father and uncle come into the public eye unnecessarily. He was too much of a sales and business man for that.

    It is also interesting that Anton Piëch has almost completely disappeared from the history of Volkswagen.
    Many people of my generation, even those who were involved with cars, are largely unaware “that Ferdinand had a father”. They only knew his mother as the constructor’s sister. Pretty bizarre.

    Yet you can know (almost) everything if you want to know it. Because the old criminalistic (formerly also journalistic) rule applies here too: follow the money.

    But I can understand people. I probably belong to them too. I myself never really wanted to know where the money came from, how the (post-war) rise could happen. For completely selfish reasons. Personal relationship.
    When my father started as a locksmith at Reuter, Ferdinand Porsche went through the workshop in his last days. After Reuter was taken over by Porsche and my father completed his studies (adults education after the daily job), he moved to the construction department in the early 60s. There is a picture of a Christmas party for the staff at the beginning of the 60’s with me and Ferry Porsche, where I get a model car of a 356 (remote controlled by wire) as a christmas present from him. For me he was the good boss of my father. Always. He made sure that my father had a good job and that we as a family could live in growing prosperity. There was no reason, absolutely no reason to “look for corpses in Ferry’s cellar”.
    I was then there when we did the last interview with Ferry Porsche before his death for a documentary. It was about “50 years of Porsche” and his life’s work. There was no reason to talk about the “0” and the history before it. Who would have benefited from it?

    It is very useful – as an old and above all as a young person – one reads and understands that somehow everything is connected – or at least most of everything. That is the fascinating thing about studying (all) history.

    It´s a pleasure and honour to read here.

  7. Richard H, the A pillar is “Badly” resolved, as it combines two arrangements which I think we now see as mutually exclusive; a plunging A pillar and a one piece door skin that partly wraps the pillar. Nowadays I’d say we read one method as being more “Premium” and the other as being more utilitarian. Additionally the shut lines don’t flow right, it’s all a bit discordant. However the 206 wasn’t the only offender from that era, it’s as though the maturity of car design language didn’t yet include the pillars.

    Yet I think it helps give the car it’s charm. There is something about the 206 that shouldn’t be too neat and crisp. On another vehicle I don’t think it would have the same effect. Sometimes well resolved cars have details that are textbook wrong but they help the car work visually: the Alfetta not being able to fill her wheel arches, the CX’s A pillar looking wider at the top than bottom, the effective use of black plastic on executive sallons like the Alfa 156 and the Mercedes W201, for example.

  8. What a fascinating read tonight – the back story on the 901, and a long standing grievance over the 206 ‘A’ pillar.
    For what it’s worth, I wasn’t surprised that the 206 was less attractive than the 205, but one of the first ones I saw was parked alongside an example of Fords’ new Mk1 Focus and compared to the Ford the 206 was a swan !

    1. Interesting counterpoint. The Mk1 Focus was a design triumph- brave, innovative and arresting. It still looks great today, especially the three-door. I take it you don´t think along the same lines!

    2. While I was wracking my brain trying to understand how the 206/Mk1 Focus A pillar design could be both horrible and triumphant I came upon these two photos…



      The uneven door shut line on the 2005 iteration (note the rusty rocker panel) doesn’t help acquit the facelift, if it is a facelift; the actual differences are just paint, and wheel covers. To paraphrase an old Pretender’s song, it’s a thin line between cheeky and cheap.

    3. Hi Gooddog. I think the Ka facelift fails because it attempted to ‘normalise’ a design that was successful precisely because it was unusual and cleverly functional. The unpainted textured bumpers were intended to minimise the impact of parking bumps and scrapes on the appearance of the car. Replacing these with smooth painted items was simply illogical and frustrated the original intention of the design.

      If you look closely, you can see that the bumpers on the facelifted Ka also have creases that try (unsuccessfully) to complete the curvature of the wheelarches. The difference is more obvious in these comparative photos:

      Attempts to ‘normalise’ unusual designs almost always fail. The utter mess Fiat made of the Ritmo is a great example of this.

  9. The original Ka always made me laugh because the black rear end looked like a sagging nappy. The all-silver version looks infinitely better.

  10. I don’t remember the Motor Show concept, from which the Ka evolved, having black plastic wheelarches.

    1. Hi Mervyn, your recollection is correct. Here it is:

    2. Ford Europe was right to go with the Edge Design version of the Ka. The other one was development of the US “jelly bean” style that had not gone down so well. The facelifted Ka diminished a good design that did not need revision. I think it´s a cracking piece of work which has stood the test of time. I won´t say I dislike the replacement but it´s not as pleasing precisely because value was added where value was not needed. The proportions of the painted parts were conceived with the intention the bumpers would be black. Painting the bumpers upset the balance a bit.

  11. The basic design of the Ka was so good that even Pinninfarina could not improve anything fundamentally with the StreetKa. In other words, Pininfarina couldn’t do anything wrong.
    Unfortunately Ford spoiled everything on the Ka´s exterior with the design of the interior, especially the dashboard.

    1. Hmmm. The first version had a symphony of curves. It looked coherent and could be seen to at the end-point of the square-to-curvy transition that was taking place in car interiors from the 1980s onwards. After that there was a change in direction involving more defined lines and also more overall complexity. The nice thing about the Ka1 interior had to do with its simplicity of manufacture. The main body of the dashboard seems to be formed from one large piece open in the tooling direction. Then the instument panel sits into that neatly and simply. I like it.

    2. I loved the boldness of the original Ka dashboard, in particular the way the silver insert panel cuts through the passenger side central vent:

      Of course, the quality of the plastics was on a par with the hopeless rust-proofing, so at least everything fell apart simultaneously!

  12. My memory of the Ka interior ( fortunately I never had to actually drive one) was that there was a relatively large and completely unnecessary centre console occupying the space where the drivers’ left knee and thigh needed to be.

    1. You don’t know what you missed not having driven one. Fabulous to drive despite the ancient engine. Who knows what it would have been like with an Alfa flat 4 under the bonnet? The dashboard was as smile-inducing as the external styling to my mind, despite being pretty archaic I have to admit. I have owned two; they both fell apart with regularly and terminally as they were each over a decade old. But oh what (pretty) fun!

    2. These Kas were a brilliant drive, even for long-distance motorway runs. The only small cheap car to come close was the Peugeot 107 and its Toyota and Citroën factory-mates, and they lack the Ka’s gutsy big engine and rigorous RP-J chassis refinement.

      The dashboard has the look of a cheap eighties ghetto-blaster, but the ergonomics are pretty good – the lack of a rev counter and RDS on the radio was deplored on any of the examples I used. I don’t recall any knee and thigh room issues and I’m somewhat larger than 95th percentile, and need size 12 shoes.

    3. I would add my voice to that of Adrian and Robertas’. Whatever else I thought of my own 1999 Ka (and I loathed it with an intensity that can only be described as pathological) it was a dynamic delight. What was really notable about the KA was the linearity of its control weightings. It made for a very relaxed driving environment. You get a sense of a carmaker who actually cared about giving the customer a genuinely rounded product. It’s those final increments in proving calibration that can make all the difference to a car and one gets the sense that Parry-Jones and his proving team really sweated the details – and I applaud the blue oval for that. Despite its lowly price-point, it felt like a very grown-up car. A very grown up car in search of a decent engine and some even more decent rust protection.

      The interior was fine ergonomically; Ford’s switchgear was slick and well wrought, but the quality of the plastics, in addition to the questionable material choices amid some aspects of the IP/ Dashboard assembly were, well I suppose, of their time. Some of it was better than others, and some of it wore better than others, but the overall ambience was not really what one would ideally have chosen. I have no recollection of an obtrusive console and mine was a top-spec Ka3 – which did have RDS, I seem to recall – and a CD player. The only thing I can say about the engine was that it started on the button without fail. Forward motion was possible, but it never felt like the old pushrod slugger had any real enthusiasm about the job. It was fine around town, but on the open road…? The later models had a much improved power unit.

  13. I raised the Ka because it was the first modern instance I could find where the door frame bisects a plunging A pillar, amounting to a prominent and arguably superfluous shut line in the sheet metal rather than being presented as an element in the DLO space or wrapping completely over the A pillar. It has been my opinion that it worked as an element of New Edge design, in a similar manner to the undercut at the bottom of the Ka’s door.

    However, I agree with Richard H that it adds clutter to the liquid surfacing of 206. And it becomes a visual cacophony when the door cut line manages to contradict the visual flow in more than one dimension. Lately it has been taken to an extreme, as in this example where five or six “expedient” design shortcuts converge in the same vicinity.

  14. Regarding the original topic of this post, I’ve just learned that the 904/906 race car series was also renamed “Carrera GTS/Carrera 6” for the same reason, although colloquially history seems to have defferred to the original designations. “Carrera” later became an institution, ironically thanks to Peugeot.

    1. There already was a 356 Carrera and nobody ever complained about the 907 and 908.

    2. Funny thing is that Peugeot named their own diesel powered LeMans racer 908 years (decades) after Porsche had their 908 ‘Bergspyder’ uphill racer.

  15. I read in Nik Greene’s book on Bruno Sacco, that the Mercedes C111 was to be named originally C101 until Peugeot claimed against it.

  16. Thank you for writing this historical account. Amazing.

    The more I read and watch about WW1 and WW2 the more insane it all seems. Especially now we have colour recollections that make it all the more real.

    It never ceases to amaze me that my WW2 surviving family are only two generations behind me.

    Peugeot are always on my mind (along with Fiat) yet I’ve never owned one. Although I worked briefly for a Citroën dealer and owned a 2CV Dolly for a while.

    If I could click my fingers I would have a Peugeot 505 GTI and a Citroën DS parked outside right now.

    I long for Stellantis Group to prevail moving forward. The new Peugeot 208 and 2008 look great.

  17. A very interesting article, but I feel compelled to point out the error in your account of the destruction done to the Peugeot factory during WWII. The bombing of the factory on July 15, 1943 by the RAF was NOT successful, but rather a complete failure, and a disaster that killed 125 civilians, and wounded about 250 more, with very little damage done to the Peugeot factory. Most of the RAF bombs actually dropped on the village of Montbeliard, west of the Sochaux Peugeot factory.

    The major destruction to the Peugeot factory was actually done on the night of November 5, 1943 in the form of sabotage arranged by a British officer and Special Operations Executive agent in France, named Harry Ree. It was his idea to destroy the factory in this manner, to eliminate the need for another RAF bombing raid, and to save civilian lives. The sabotage operation was very successful because Ree was able to enlist the help of Rodolphe Peugeot, who supplied plans to the factory and provided assistance from a few of his employees.

    I am sure this sacrifice by Rodolphe Peugeot gave even more fuel to the flames of animosity towards Porsche.

    1. WWIIBuff: Thank you for stopping by and for your clarification. Much appreciated.

    2. WWIIBuff: Thank you for your correction to set the record straight!

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