Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to go with a boot instead. The Fiat would get a hatchback in 1972, but the Peugeot would have to wait for four years before receiving the fifth door for which it was so clearly designed.

The 104 was credited to Paolo Martin(2), Chief of Styling at Carrozzeria Pininfarina. It was a neat and quietly handsome design, with hints of the 304 and 504 in the front end, where the leading edge of the bonnet sloped upwards over the headlamps(3). A deep scalloped feature line ran along the flanks, visually lengthening and lowering what was quite a tall car.

The 104’s design proved to be quite versatile and Peugeot produced attractive prototypes of both a three-box saloon and an estate version. Sadly, neither made production, again presumably for fear of cannibalising sales of the 204.

Peugeot 104 saloon and estate prototypes (c)

The 104 was built on a new platform with a wheelbase of 2,420 mm (95¼”) and overall length of 3,600 mm (141¾”). It was powered by a new all-aluminium 954cc four-cylinder engine with a chain-driven overhead camshaft. The engine was co-developed with Renault and, in enlarged 1,218 cc form, would power the 1976 Renault 14. An unusual feature copied from BMC’s Issigonis-designed cars was a four-speed gearbox contained within the sump and sharing the engine oil. The engine was canted backwards towards the front bulkhead at 72°, allowing the spare wheel to be stored above it.

The 104 was a pleasant car to drive, with a good balance between its comfortable ride and decent handling. The only serious complaint was an intrusive whine from the transmission, a characteristic the 104 shared with BMC’s transmission-in sump cars. Passenger space was generous, a consequence of its relatively tall build, but most reviewers remarked on the absence of a hatchback limiting the car’s versatility.

1974 Peugeot 104Z Coupé (c)

The 104 range was expanded in 1974 to include a three-door version. This variant was all-new from the A-pillars rearward and was literally a coupé, with 190 mm (7½”) taken out of the wheelbase and 317 mm (12½”) out of the overall length. This seriously compromised rear seat space and, although this version now had a hatchback, access was limited by a high loading lip, which lost the booted version’s bumper-level sill between the rear lights. Although sharing the 104’s model designation, the three-door was what would be now called a city car rather than a B-segment Supermini.

With 204 production ending in mid-1976, Peugeot finally gave the four-door 104 the hatchback it needed to make it properly competitive. Unlike the coupé, the five-door model’s hatchback opened down to bumper level between its newly enlarged tail lights. Its folding rear seats made it much more versatile and commodious. A larger 1,124cc engine was offered, while the smaller engine was detuned to improve economy.

The 104 proved to be trustworthy and mechanically reliable in service. It was, however, not the easiest car to work on, thanks to its unusual engine installation, which made the top-end difficult to access. This caused some skimping on regular maintenance, which led to warped cylinder heads and blown head gaskets. The rustproofing was of poor quality and many 104s were rotten while still mechanically sound.

1978 saw the addition of plastic bumpers in place of the steel original items on all models while the five-door received the larger trapezoidal headlamps from the coupé. Subsequent revisions introduced further enlargements of the engine to 1,218cc and 1,360cc, but little otherwise of note. One retrograde change was a final facelift in 1982 that saw the trapezoidal headlamps replaced by smaller rectangular units that no longer fitted the space as neatly.

By now the 104 range was being pared back in preparation for the launch of the 205 the following year, after which only cheaper entry-level models would be offered until its demise in 1988. That should have been the end of the 104 story, but it also served as the basis of three desperately needed new models for sister companies Citroën and Talbot.

When Peugeot took over control of Citroën from Michelin in 1974, the double-chevron’s range comprised the 2CV, Dyane, Ami, GS and newly launched CX, with the SM and DS in the process of being phased out. The three smaller cars were largely iterations of the same basic design and shared a 2,400 mm (95”) wheelbase. The 2CV still possessed a certain eccentric charm but the Dyane and Ami just looked anachronistic by the mid-1970’s. There were two yawning gaps in its model range, a mid-sized model to sit between the GS and CX and a competitor in the fast-growing supermini class.

When the takeover was announced, Peugeot went to some lengths to assure all concerned that there would be no dilution of Citroën’s distinctive heritage and identity, and no sharing of designs. This assurance, like so many battle plans, did not survive first contact with the enemy, which was Citroën’s threatened bankruptcy. New models were needed as a matter of urgency to boost sales, and Peugeot looked to the 104 to provide a much-needed stop-gap model.

1976 Citröen LN (c)

It was the three-door 104 coupé that would be the basis for a new Citroën, to be named LN. Instead of the 954cc Douvrin in-line four, the LN was given the 602cc air-cooled flat-twin from the 2CV. Cosmetic alterations were limited to badging and a new grille and headlamp arrangement. Circular headlamps from the Dyane, together with their distinctive ‘quartic’ bezels, replaced the 104’s neat rectangular items. The 104’s indicator and sidelamp units were relocated from below the bumper to sit vertically outboard of the headlamps. The arrangement looked rather homespun and ill-fitting.  Inside, a single-spoke steering wheel was the only Citroën-esque touch.

The LN was launched in July 1976 by a visibly defensive and uncomfortable Citroën PR team. It was very sparsely equipped, lacking headrests and even a radio. It was marketed on the basis of low prices and cheap running costs, and sold reasonably well, particularly in southern Europe.

Ceci n’est pas une Citroën. (c) Autoevolution

The LN received a significant upgrade in November 1978 when it was given the larger and more powerful 652cc flat-twin from the recently launched Visa model. It also received a new name, LNA. In December 1982, the LNA was given the Douvrin 1,124cc inline four, with the smaller 924cc version offered as an option in some markets. There were trim and equipment upgrades but the LNA continued to sell primarily on price. It remained in production until 1986 when it was succeeded by the Citroën AX.

That would not be the end of the 104’s usefulness to the wider PSA group, as we shall see as we continue this series.

(1) The 1972 Renault 5 was not a definitive supermini either in that it had a longitudinally mounted engine in Mk1 form.
(2) Martin’s other production palmarès included the handsome Fiat 130 Coupé, the avant-garde Lancia Monte Carlo and the unfortunate Rolls-Royce Camargue.
(3) This detail would not be fully appreciated until the 104 received larger trapezoidal headlamps from the 104 Coupé in place of the square originals as part of its 1978 facelift.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

56 thoughts on “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”

  1. The 104 was a grown up car that came in a small size. It was one of the few properly engineered cars of its size with a gem of an engine and proper suspension design which delivered excellent comfort not only for the size of the car but also on absolute terms. There was nothing primitive in the 104 which was rare at the time.
    The 104 often referred to as a tall car but it actually was no taller than 138 or 139 centimeres. It probably looks tall because it has lots of metal in the flanks and small wheelarch cutouts and tiny wheels.
    The gear in sump design didn’t draw so much from BMC but from the 204/304 which also had the gearbox below the engine which made it exceptionally tall and also gave whining transfer gears between engine and gearbox.
    The 104 engine more or less was a scaled down copy ot the 204’s with many design commonalities and similar running characteristics like being exceptionally smooth, relatively silent and free-revving.
    The 104’s heavily tilted ‘suitcase’ engine wasn’t officially meant to be difficult to work on because in theory the engine’s top end was maintenance free. The 104 was one of the first cars which did not need to have its head torqued down routinely and the valves were set for life and officially didn’t readjusting. In reality the 104 was like all Peugeots from that era and blew its head gasket in regular intervals and it had a tendency to leak oil from its numerous casting seams.
    I remember quite well when one of our neighbours bought an eary five door 104 and we found out that the hatch’s gas struts were used to transmit electric current to the heated window – a very French solution to our eyes at the time.

    1. Mention has been made of a 104 Diesel prototype yet is known whether Peugeot originally intended on carrying over the 204/304 diesels (assuming they did somehow fit into the 104’s engine bay) or dieselizing the 104 X engine?

      The latter only makes sense if it was one of a number of projects that ended up being canned or delayed as a result of Peugeot’s takeover of Citroen and later on Chrysler Europe (as was the case with 1971-1974 Peugeot Programme J which in J18 guise was to feature a new 1.6 engine with 5-speed gearbox and a few other projects).

      Unfortunate the X engine was apparently unable to spawn larger capacity road-going non-holomogation versions displacing 1434cc and up for the 104, as was achieved in the Group B Rally spec Citroën Visa Mille Pistes holomogation specials.

      Speaking of the 204/304 unit, one gets the impression there was a bit more left to be exploited from the engine for at least another 2mm stretch in stroke by way of the (80×77) 1548cc XIDL diesel used in the 305 in both petrol (above the 1.5 XR) and diesel form, were it not for Peugeot’s development of the XU engine.

    2. The biggest problem of the 104 as well as the 204 engine was their excessive appetite for head gaskets.
      Bigger capacities wouldn’t have done nothing to improve on that. The last thing Peugeot needed were versions of these engines that increased the probability of head gasket failures.

      Peugeot always blamed the gasket supplier (Reinz, the leader in head gasket technology at that time) where manufacturing these Peugeot gaskets was a nightmare because they had to set up a production line with unique production processes (lots of extra inspection steps, different acceptance criteria to everyone else) but it didn’t help. The world had to wait for the XU to get the first Peugeot engine with durable head gaskets.

    3. Thanks for clearing things up.

      With the issues of the 104 and 204 engines in mind, is it known if what later became the XU engine or another possible precursor was originally conceived for the J18 project in 1971-1974, which was to feature a new 1.6 engine and 5-speed gearbox?

      Or was the 1.6 conceived much later from the ashes of previous engine projects? Considering what Peugeot had to deal with during the 1970s.

  2. Good afternoon Daniel. Thank you for giving me something to do while I’ve been waiting for the rain to clear up – I’d largely forgotten about the 104 and have spent a happy couple of hours raiding the archives and reminding myself about the 1972 motoring scene. It wasn’t as big a seller here as it should have been – mainly, I think, because it had 4 doors when the 2 were considered enough. You had to be middle-aged to need 4 doors, at which point you’d want something bigger than a 104. This was the corner of the market occupied by the young, well-off enough to afford a new car but far from wealthy. They craved performance but cost was a significant issue.

    So what was the 104, with its 48bhp from 945cc and costing £950+ up against?
    Fiat 127 (47bhp; 903cc; £843)
    Renault 5 (43bhp; 956cc; £923)
    Datsun Cherry (59bhp; 982cc; £824)
    Honda 1200 (60bhp; 1169cc; £950+)
    It was the Honda that surprised me most – for the same price as the 104 you could get significantly greater performance. In reality, the buyers also had plenty of other options to consider, ranging from the original Mini at £695 via odd-ball DAF 33 (£790) to the Hillman Imp (£661). Or if you really wanted to be contrary and escape corrosion, how about the Reliant Rebel (£845).

    Timing is everything; a few years on and everybody wanted 4-door versions of everything – just not in 1972. But I’m now looking forward to part 2 and being in need of a visa….

  3. I have no real recollection of the 104 in the UK until the Samba came along, but oddly remember knowing straight away that the Samba was a warmed-over 104, so I must have had some prior knowledge of that car? Looking at it now, it looks less dynamic than the original Fiesta or FIAT 127, and less chummy than the R5.

    I have seen it argued elsewhere that the 104 is likely to have been a car admired by Issigonis in that it was well packaged and, as such, seemed to prioritise function over form, and, also given that form was drawn with input from Pininfarina (and then, of course, there is the gear-in-sump similarity …). I can see the argument, but can’t help feeling he’d have found it too large and not well packaged enough for his liking.

    Overall, I think it’s a sweet thing and deserves to be better thought of (or even, more thought about) than it is today – so well done Daniel for recognising its place in supermini and Peugeot history!

  4. Good afternoon all. Yes, the 104 and its siblings do deserve to be better remembered as we’ll see in the further instalments of this tale.

    I have personal and very positive experience of the 104. Aidan, my best mate at school, was looking to buy his first car in 1980. For what he had to spend, he could just about afford an early (1976) Fiesta. We looked at a few examples and they were all a bit tatty, even at four years old. One evening we were in Malahide, a seaside town north of Dublin, and I spotted in a small car showroom a pristine 1978 Peugeot 104 five-door, for pretty much the same price as the aforementioned Fiestas. I suggested it was worth a second look, and it was as good as it appeared, with one lady owner (yes, really!) low mileage and not a mark anywhere. Anyway, Aidan bought it and it served him very well for a few years before it was passed on to his younger brother. It looked just like this example:

    I can only assume it was cheap because 104s were a rarity in Ireland and there was little interest in it. The moral of the story is that, when looking to buy a cheap second hand car, it often pays to look at less popular and well known but still well regarded models.

    1. That’s exactly my story in terms of ending up buying a Samba as my first car – although all did not go swimmingly.

    2. The problem with choosing a well regarded but less popular model is finding someone to spanner it when it needs attention. Many mechanics in 70s Kerry were less well-trained than one might like – hence the huge demand for Toyotas , which rusted away before ever needing mechanical work.

  5. Attention, those who don’t like love stories should not read on from here!
    As I have already written elsewhere, I had the pleasure to drive a Citroen LN in the early 80s. I lived in a Co-living house at the time and one of the residents owned the car, which was available to all of us.
    I was young and ignorant, but not ignorant enough to appreciate the advantages of the car. The lack of any glamour, the pure pragmatism. Just the promise of getting from A to B dry at all times, nothing more, but nothing less.
    (I didn’t use the car for too long, at some point I needed my own vehicle for professional and time reasons and didn’t want to take away the possibilities of the others to use the car – It then became this Skoda, which I have already posted here, but that’s another topic).
    I lived in this Co-living community for about a a bit more than a year and I don’t remember that the LN received even a hint of maintenance during this time – presumably the vehicle never saw the inside of a workshop after the owner bought it.
    A few years later, there was a get-together of all the residents of this Co-living house at a pub in Munich. I asked the girl “if she still have the blue Citroen”, she replied “Of course, why?” And I bet she still didn’t know what the word “oil change” was spelt or what it meant.
    The LN was exactly like the blue vehicle pictured in the article. You can still call me an ignorant, someone who has no idea about design (my seamstress would say “No”), but the pragmatic recycling of the Dyane’s headlights alone, this planned unkindness, that’s what I love about the LN.

    And I like the idea – probably completely out of the blue and totally absurd – that the LN was the inspiration for Giugiaro when he designed the grandiose Panda Mk1 – for me the Italian version of the LN.
    And I have driven them both. Wonderful. Memories.

    So, now they can mention the lack of headrests, the lack of crash safety and today’s healthy life with 48 airbags. I won’t even ignore that. Ha!

    I can’t say anything else about the 104. I have (unfortunately) never owned or driven one. But I always have to smile when I see one (even if only in a picture). What better thing can you say about a car than that it makes you smile?

  6. Hi Fred. What great memories, thanks for sharing. I was a bit sniffy in the piece about the “homespun” front end of the LN, but that’s really part of its charm and that’s what stop-gap cars should be, a collection of ‘borrowed’ bits and bobs.

    Speaking of which, does anyone recognise the tail lights on the lime green 104 saloon prototype above? They’re lifted from another production model.

    1. Hi Daniel, I’m curious about your tail lights question. They remind me of mk1 Golf or BMW of the era but I know that can’t be right. What’s the correct answer?

    2. Hi vwmeister. I’m going to keep you in suspense a little longer if I may, because I’m sure one of DTW’s ‘spotters’ will recognise them easily. I will say that what makes them interesting is that they’re NOT from another Peugeot, but another mainstream manufacturer, so a cheeky ‘steal’.

    3. The tail lights look as though they come from a Chrysler Alpine.

    4. Well done Charles, spot on. Ironic, given that it would be a few years before Chrysler Europe would be bought by Peugeot.

  7. We had a 104 SL, bought new in 1978. Mrs Mark wanted it because of its bright lemon yellow colour, five doors to give better access to the baby seat and the dealer was next door to her parents house. Apart from the noisy and slightly baulky gearbox the car was a delight to drive; roomy, decent handling and wonderful ride. It was rust proofed from new and we never found any structural corrosion but paint did flake off the roof. The engine layout made some routine tasks very difficult, it was almost impossible to adjust the points or replace the rotor arm and a careful eye was needed on the oil level. It took the three of us plus frame tent on a camping holiday in the Ardèche and later a solo trip for me to Gasconny. No breakdowns in five years but cold, damp starting could be less the instantaneous. Oh yes the exhaust fell off in rural France and the local Peugeot garage was fantastic. Instant service and a modest bill.

    A great advantage of the car was its unmistakable colour. At the time Mrs M was working as a GP in an unruly part of Belfast. The car was well known and could be driven anywhere around her practice without fear of theft or hijacking. I’m slightly surprised that the 104 isn’t better known as it was well liked by Car with favourable comments in “The good, the bad and the ugly” column. They were quite popular here and we certainly had no difficulty selling it before moving on to a 305 estate. The 305 was never held in quite the same affection as the 104.

    1. Hi Barry. That’s an interesting twist: rather than remain inconspicuous, it was better for your wife to be easily recognised, given the good work she was doing. Belfast was an interesting place back then. I lived and worked in the city from 1984 to 1986 and remember well the no-go areas for a ‘taig’ (Southern Irish, assumed Catholic) like me. Helpfully, in working-class areas, the kerbstones were colour-coded to remind you where you were; red white and blue in loyalist areas, green, white and gold in nationalist areas.

      The demarcation was much more subtle, but still existed, in the middle-class suburbs of the city. I was looking for somewhere to live and took a fancy to the fine Victorian houses on the Newtonards Road in North Belfast. My new colleagues gently steered me to the Malone Road in South Belfast, suggesting I would be “more comfortable” there instead.

      I’ve never returned to Belfast, but hope those old enmities are fading amongst the wider population, even if the politics are still partisan.

      Sorry for my deviation from the 104!

  8. Back on topic, the three-door 104 was sold in the UK with the subtitle ‘Shortcut’. The side profile gives a good clue as to why:

    The LN looked less severely truncated because the rear side window dispensed with the 104’s black plastic trim at its trailing edge, so had a slightly larger glass area with rounded corners:

    A subtle change, but visually effective, even if the LN had no more room inside.

    1. Daniel, nobody needed “more space” in the LN.
      The users were (mostly) young people like we were back then.
      Let’s not kid ourselves, on the way to the party, 5 people could easily fit in – including the anticipation of whatever (put it into the trunk!).
      And after the party, we were happy to get a lift. Nobody asked for “space”.

    2. Fred, I suspect you’re speaking from experience there, given how misty-eyed you’ve become over the 104!

    3. Probably – pause, pitiful attempt to sound objective, taking a breath, ah, NO he spoils it – Yes.

    4. Surprised Peugeot themselves did not opt for a more Talbot Samba type of 3-door hatchback for the 104 as opposed to the more truncated 104 “Shortcut” Coupe or one that unlike the previous two shares virtually the same wheelbase as the regular 104 4/5-door.

  9. I’ve never really understood the passion for hatches on small ‘family’ cars. Putting up with greater weight and less torsional rigidity in return for better access to an undersize luggage compartment makes little sense to me. I have owned a couple of cars that might be described in Japan as ‘liftbacks’ – that is they had a decent amount of rear overhang.
    It should be remembered that in the 70s most baby-seats needed anchorage points on the rear parcels shelf, which hatchbacks didn’t possess. I had to make a removable steel bar with welded brackets to fix a baby-seat in my Chrysler Alpine.

    1. Hello Mervyn, I guess with smaller cars with a boot lid, you end up posting things through a vertical hatch which is close to the ground, which is difficult.

      With a hatchback, you can access it from the top and make the most of the space – put things on top of one another, remove the parcel shelf and that sort of thing.

    2. As far as vertical boot lids go, this must be the most practical ever:

  10. Good evening, Daniel – my guess is those tail lamps are from the Chrysler Alpine/Simca ???? (Can’t remember the name of the Simca off the top of my head!)

    1. Hello Michael – I couldn’t remember, either – I had to look it up. It’s 1307. What an odd number. The comment duplication happens to me quite regularly, often along the lines of ‘That reminds me of a…’.

    2. Great minds, Michael, we’ll call it a score-draw.

      The ‘7’ related to the archaic French horsepower rating. The smaller engined 1,294cc Alpine was rated at 7CV, hence 1307. The larger engined 1,442cc version was rated at 8CV, hence 1308.

    3. I do remember those Alpine back lights ! First car with standard rear fog-lamps ? First one I’d come across with bulb-holders soldered to PCBs. Very advanced, or so I thought at the time. It transpired that PCBs don’t appreciate damp, and the boot of a hatchback will always be damp….

  11. Oh, la 104 !
    J’en ai acheté une à mon fils dans les années 90 et il l’a gardé … 8 ans !
    Et vous avez quoi, il m’a avoué (plus tard) qui n’a jamais fait le moindre entretien :O
    Rien ! pas de vidange, pas regardé les pneus, pas regardé le niveau du liquide de refroidissement …. rien de rien.
    Ah si, il a vidé (rarement) le cendrier.
    En France, elle n’a jamais eu la cote d’amour de la R5 (et bien sur plus tard de la 205), elle etait bradée souvent chez les revendeurs.
    C’était pire encore pour les LN et Samba

    Google Translate :
    Oh, the 104!
    I bought one from my son in the 90s and he kept it … 8 years!
    And you have what, he confessed to me (later) who never did any interview: O
    Nothing ! no draining, not looking at the tires, not looking at the coolant level …. nothing at all.
    Oh yes, he (rarely) emptied the ashtray.
    In France, it never had the love rating of the R5 (and of course the 205 later), it was often sold off at dealers.
    It was even worse for LN and Samba…

    1. Bonsoir Alain. Merci de partager vos souvenirs. La 104 a dû être une petite voiture solide pour survivre avec si peu d’entretien!

      Good evening Alain. Thank you for sharing your memories. The 104 must have been a tough little car to survive with so little maintenance!

  12. Here’s a review of the 1976 facelift. I must say that I preferred the earlier, smaller headlights.

    The reviewers were generally impressed. Lovely location, too. We’ve long forgotten how novel a hatchback seemed, 45 years ago.

  13. Sometimes the past is closer to hand than one might think. Did the LNA really live on so long? And the same goes for the 104. I ought to have seen some of these cars in Ireland in the 80s. If I did they left no impression.

    1. They were around in reasonabe numbers. I remember an aunt of my father’s had one in white. I suspect they may have been a bit more expensive new than a Fiesta, 127, or Cherry, which would have an important consideration in Ireland at the time.
      My impression in period was that Peugeots were perceived as good cars, but expensive ones to fix by comparison with a Ford, say. I’m not sure when they came to be regarded as slightly flimsy – was it with the 309?

    2. My guess was the 205 and 405 were where the flimsiness accusation arose from. Lovely as the 205 was it could hardly be called robust. It held together, yes, and also felt like a biscuit tin. The 405, not a car I know directly, had the same air of thinness to it. Funnily, today I see the 309 as a really stout motor, a kind of French Kadett.

    3. Just to clarify, Richard, to the best of my knowledge while the 104 was available here in the Republic (albeit, not in large numbers), the Citroen LN was never offered in the Irish market. The double chevron being considered tantamount to witchcraft amid the Irish motor trade, to say nothing of the buying public.

      Further to the flimsiness allegations, I would say from experience (both of driving new and used examples of both 205 and 405 models and long-term ownership of a 205 GTi, there wasn’t really enough inside of your average 205 to work loose – even the fully equipped 1.9 litre GTi was a pretty spartan experience. They were to my eyes quite well screwed together, although the finish left something to be desired in places. The early 405s on the other hand were pretty shoddy. I think they got better later on. Citroens of the same vintage were at least as bad I seem to recall.

    4. I had a new 1987 AX. It had quite a flimsy look, especially inside, where the plastics looked (and were) super-lightweight and seemed brittle. This was all part of the design which was to be a real lightweight for the benefit of performance, fuel economy and handling verve. However, nothing rattled, or broke, or fell off in the 3 years I owned the car, and was both a fun and comfortable (if noisy) to drive. It was also the last Citroen I drove which had a great gear-change. It’s always my reference point for the distinction between perceived quality and actual quality – the AX had little of the former but, surprisingly, a lot of the latter.

  14. thanks Eóin for sticking up for the 205. I came to them
    late in life and between 2007 and 2018 my Gti and then
    1.6 Si (as it was known here in Australia) clocked up over
    160,000 km, proving admirably robust, even when used
    as offroad utes in the sticks to collect firewood. alas
    no Peugeots with the 10 prefix have ever been sold here.

  15. Finally, an article on the mighty Peugeot 104!
    In the eighties as a student in Sheffield I acquired an old blue 954cc 5 door to replace my rusty Alfasud. At first glance oil spurted all over the engine and it made loud bangs from down below. The previous owner probably assumed the engine had blown, but the oil leak was caused by cracked tube to an aftermarket oil gauge and the cracked exhaust was due to both front engine mounts having split, both easily sorted. Maintenance was a doddle if you actually thought about it. The spark plugs were very small compared to the usual British stuff and needed a special long socket… I still have it, just in case!
    With the spare wheel under the bonnet the boot has deep and wide and the more upright body and long wheelbase made it very spacious compared to the usual Fiesta/ Nova of the time. Seven thirsty students was then most I managed on one trip out to the pub. People have commented on the noisy engine/gearbox. I didn’t find this a problem in practise… turn up the stereo!
    As time went by, after numerous visits to the scrapyards of Manchester the interior was upgraded and the bodywork was tidied up. The rust patches on the roof were dealt with by painting the roof white to match the wheels. It took us all over the Britain and hardly ever missed a beat, no AA recovery in those days. As my parents lived in Manchester it crossed the Snake pass many times winter and summer, the good roadholding made up for the lack of power.
    The commonality with later PSA cars was very good news for poor students. In about 1987 the MOT man was very surprised to see an almost new front and rear suspension fitted to my old 1975 model. I’d lifted the parts en mass from a crashed Talbot Samba, the only item that didn’t fit 1:1 was the central pivot mounting for the rear suspension arms.
    By late 1988 I realised the engine was probably going to need some attention so I started looking around for a suitable replacement. I selected a bordeaux Citroen LNA in the local scrapyard that needed some bodywork but was otherwise in a good mechanical condition. This car had the larger 1124 cc engine with economy gearing. The 4th gear was very high, almost like an overdrive, this was flavour at the time (think R5 GTL and Metro HLE). Thanks to more scrapyard scrounging the front seats were replaced by two from a CX and the useless rears discarded. The poxy headlights were replaced with a four-lamp setup from a FIAT 128 3P and the narrow 104 ZS grill added. Shortly after its completion I left to work in Switzerland and my trusty little Bean Can proved itself to be a reliable runner. I made many trips back and forth between Switzerland and the UK, usually full of stuff. Since I couldn’t really import it into Switzerland after a couple of years I had to sell it in the UK. Its final journey was an epic trip from Switzerland through France, England and Wales to Holyhead. We then made a week long road trip round Ireland and then back to London. A friend passed it on and he reported that it ran for quite a few years after that.
    Sadly, I have no photos of either car in the digital domain yet.
    Hail the 104, not the prettest, but a very useful motor!

    And thank you DTW for all your insights and articles!

    1. That story deserves an article of its own. I am very impressed you kept on with the car even after finding employment in CH. You must have liked the car.
      If you feel nostalgiac, there´s a 104 (and only one) for sale on, about an hour east of Bonn in Walmenroth. It´s a 1977 five door. In very good condition too. Guess the price anyone. The car has 36,000 km on the odo.

    2. Brilliant recollections, Andrew, thanks for sharing! I love the idea of ditching the LNA’s rear seats and replacing the fronts with seats from a CX, very extravagant! It sounds as though you were pretty resourceful in upgrading both cars.

      Thank you also for your kind words. Glad you’re enjoying DTW.

    3. I’ve cheated and looked at UK prices. A perfect, low mileage example is worth pretty much nothing. It’s one of those older vehicles with no following – no significant place in popular culture.

  16. I don’t think these cars were ever sold in great numbers in the Netherlands. I’ve seen them around back in the day, but only very few and it must be decades ago since I last saw one. I’ve never driven one, nor do I know who owned one. It’s good to read up on it here. Thanks for sharing, Daniel. The 205 was a different story. That car was almost everywhere.

  17. Hello Daniel

    Great story, as always. You might be interested to know that part of the reason the 104 became a sedan rather than a hatchback appears to be a gentlemen’s agreement with Renault.
    In the late 60s Renault and Peugeot started a cooperation that was mainly focused around the (costly) development of technical components and engines. It was by far a match made in heaven, but with Agnellis words in mind, scale was the not-du-jour and with Citroën hitching up with Fiat and Chrysler getting full control of Simca, beggars couldn’t be choosers. The cooperation led to the Suitcase engine and the PRV engine
    Another part of this deal appears to be a gentlemen’s agreement about the product portfolio. The two effectively split the market: Peugeot would concentrate on slightly upper class four door berlines, Renault would attend to a younger audience with practical hatchbacks.
    The forced marriage didn’t work. By
    The early 70s things started going awry. There was drama around the launch of the PRV V6 in the Peugeot 504 coupé. More drama followed when Renault launched the 30 earlier than planned, in March 75, prompting Peugeot to launch its 604 there too. There is an interesting l’Autojournal cover of the 1975 Geneva issue, headlining Peugeot-Renault: the war is on!
    Back to the 104. With Renault out of the door, the 104 was quickly re-engineered to get a fifth door. The biggest casualty of this story was of course the Renault 14; essentially a 104 in drag. But I’m sure you will get to that next time!

    1. Hi Maurice. Glad you enjoyed the 104 story and thanks for the additional information about the agreement between Peugeot and Renault. It’s hardly surprising that it fell apart under the competitive pressure on each manufacturer to expand its ranges.

      We actually ran a piece on the Renault 14 last October. You’ll find it here:

    2. Surely the Renault 14 was a 204 or 305 competitor – much bigger than a 104 !

  18. @ Richard
    That 104 for sale is an incredible survivour, perfect for the Festival of the Unexceptional. Mine was a darker blue but the interior was identical. I wouldn’t swap it for my MINI or MX-5 but it sure does bring back many happy memories.

    1. It´s a great excuse to visit Bonn as soon as Covid lifts. You can take the Eurostar to Brussels, take a train to Bonn or Cologne (a nicer town) and then on to Betzdorf where the lovely Breidenbacher Hof hotel awaits you with sterling service and excellent regional cuisine. Having collected the car you can enjoy a leisurely trip back and soak in the atmosphere of 1977. If it breaks you´ll know how to fix it!

    2. The 104 looks interesting, but even moreso is the car on which the 104’s paperwork is displayed:

      No prizes for recognising its highly distinctive contours!

  19. Thanks for sharing valuable information.
    With the issues of the 104 and 204 engines in mind, is it known if what later became the XU engine or another possible precursor was originally conceived for the J18 project in 1971-1974, which was to feature a new 1.6 engine and 5-speed gearbox?
    I love your post.

    1. Good morning, George, and thank you for your comment and kind words. I’ll pass your question over to our more technically minded commenters. I imagine Dave or Bob will know the answer!

    2. George

      No idea if there was a direct relationship between the new engine planned for the J18 project and the XU engine, the following link is the only reference so far. Rather the notion behind it is my admittingly limited conjecture based on what went on at Peugeot during the 1970s with the fuel crises, acquisitions of Citroen and Chrysler Europe plus other factors that largely either delayed or badly disrupted Peugeot’s product plans from when the J18 was first conceived in the early-70s up to the launch of the XU engine in the early-80s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: