Peugeot 504 pick-up into Landtrek
Upon leaving school back in the (very) late eighties, finding gainful employment wasn’t much of a priority at all, rather something we were forced to achieve by parental coercion. Aged seventeen, being told for the umpteenth time that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that it’s time to begin contributing, not just to home finances but to society as a whole was to be frank, boring. Work journeys necessitated the use of public transport for a while, but then my mate, Michael found a welding job, which came with a vehicle; a Peugeot 504 pick up in pale blue, quickly labelled, ‘The Battle Bus’. Better still, Michael’s boss allowed him to use it after work. We were on the road: slowly.
In the days when computers were found only in department stores, where we’d discovered how to put rude messages on an endless screen loop, the use of a ‘free’ car was extraordinary. Our wages were pitiful, Astras or Cavaliers but a dream, so this French camion was our ticket to open up the world with all the power and noise its XD2 2.3 litre diesel powered mill could muster.
Originating from Sochaux in 1968 with the saloon (and cabriolet) version, it would take ten years for the pick up to alight upon British soil. Famed for its rugged build, excellent and class leading payload of 1,100Kg’s which was often exceeded by the industrial nature of the job and a four speed, very manual gearbox meant that every journey was memorable, if only for the engine’s noise and habitually solid handling.
The battle bus proved impervious to the weather – when bathed in sunshine, we could wind down the windows, even on the motorway. Downhill with a tailwind, 83mph was once seen on the clock. One time in torrential rain we ploughed through water deep enough to strand lesser cars in order to get to the cinema in time for the screening of Reservoir Dogs. In fact, at certain engine revolutions, you might wish for your own ears to be cut off, the drone being piercing to brain and denture alike. Not that we knew the actual engine speed, for the Battle Bus came with few luxuries. Michael stooped (eventually) to buying a cheap radio from ‘a bloke down the pub’, duly stolen within days of being fitted. Security too, was not high on the build schedule.
We had about as much knowledge of the Battle Bus’ front engine and rear wheel drive arrangement as we did of MacPherson struts or live axles at the time. And only through writing this piece has my horizon been broadened of Indenor as engine designer. All we knew about was tearing (ok, dawdling) up the road in a gradually worsening state of bent but not rusty metal. Hard labour, the norm from 9-5, parking knocks a plenty and with Michael’s eccentric style of driving, every week a new scratch, scrape or bodywork ding to be closely examined, often in graphic detail. In the modern era we would be taking smartphone pictures and devoting time to the Battle Bus Instatweet with 385,000 followers. Possibly.
The Battle Bus survived six full years until an articulated truck load of steel flattened the poor thing, fortunately with no-one inside. A machine that was equally at home in a workshop or construction site as much as a desert range or provincial town, full of chickens, boxes of spice or laden with ammunition – perhaps all three. The 504 pick up was an international ambassador for strength, reliability and longevity.
In Michael’s tenure, the only parts required were tyres, oil, that replacement window and wiper blades. My memory serves me badly on the mileage covered in that time but it must have been at least a hundred thousand – and it would have continued for many more hundreds. No wonder these trucks were popular in far flung areas of the world: they came without vice.
Over three million 504s (of all variations) were made in Europe as well as China, Taiwan and Argentina. Kits were knocked together in Nigeria as recently as 2006. This being comparatively recent, there should be plenty still around, battling with high temperatures, massive payloads along with wayward roads and drivers.
I miss the Battle Bus for its easy going manner, simple interior, rugged good looks and neither airs nor graces. Under FCA stewardship, Peugeot’s most recently produced pick up was a Dongfeng Rich/ Nissan partnership with the French name stamped proudly on the rear, “echoing its illustrious forbears”, with the Lion of Belfort on the front. Having no availability in Europe, in pale blue or otherwise, the allegiance has since soured somewhat.
Stellantis now offer Latin American and sub-Saharan countries the Landtrek. In another Chinese /French collaboration, Changan will produce and sell the new Bakkie, as South African’s call such. Home spun versions will be named Kaicheng F70. Chile, the latest market to house the Sochaux Lion which offers modernity with ease of repair; one can pair your iPhone whilst changing a spring, for example.
The Singaporestraat, Lijnden based Stellantis masters assert that the world pick-up market percolates at some 2.4 million sold per year with around 400,000 for Latin America. Strong competition heralds a new battle for the Peugeot pick-up. Will Belfort roar again with Landtrek, as the 504 did for so long? Toyota South Africa shift around 4,000 Hilux’s per month – Peugeot SA are aiming for 100-150. Small beer for the modern kind of material warfare, but battles rage on, today in leather lined luxury.