Bus de Combat

Peugeot 504 pick-up into Landtrek

It’s a good deal tidier and its not blue, but otherwise… Image: carsaddiction

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.

The Indenor in all its glory. Image via Flickr.

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.

A little staged, but you get the idea. Image: mad4wheels

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.

The new face of Battlebus. 2021 Landtrek pickup. Image: autosportmotor

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.

Image: Peugeotnigeria.com

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.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

22 thoughts on “Bus de Combat”

  1. This is actually my dream car, I kid you not. If I could find one in decent shape and for decent money I would buy it outright.

    For some reasons there was a small import of those to Sweden in the late 80’s, it was quite popular amongst the farmers. And they could be seen here and there up until about ten years ago. Now there’s only scrap or mint available because all the useable pickups have been exported to Africa.

    I was talking to the local Peugeot dealer only a year ago in my quest to fine one and he told me the Africans have ransacked the entirety of Europe to keep their fleets going, so that’s the most likely explanation there’s no one to be found more than they have rusted away. I found it mindboggling there’s money to be made exporting used cars to Africa when the cost of the transport must be larger than the value of the cars? But I guess if you’re in to that gambit there’s no other way.

    The same dealer had an entire showroom with his car collection, most were Peugeot hold-ons that for various reasons had never left the showroom and that he’d decided with time he’d rather keep for himself than sell them on.

    His most prized possesion was an absolutely mint condition 504 pickup still standing in front of the showroom window. It had practically never been used and with the odometer still in the low hundreds, the question is if it had even been registrered?

    I told him to call me if he ever wanted to sell it, but he probably never will. Besides, what would it cost to have a brand new 504? Ten, fifteen, twenty thousand euro? Even if I bought it it would be absolutely useless for me. In that condition it would depreciate immediately with use, any scratch on it and it would be ruined forever. So I guess it has to continue living its forlorn life in that little showroom way out in the Swedish countryside….

    1. Good morning, Ingvar. I absolutely love pickup trucks, especially the ones with a short cab and long(ish) loading bed. I never really felt it for the 504, mine has to be an XJ Jeep Comanche.

    2. A dealer in Germany’s Peugeot capital Saarbrücken has one, modified into a tasteless show car (find it on mobile.de)
      Would take some money to convert it bsck to originl condition but the interior looks excellent

  2. Good morning, Andrew. What a delightful story. I’ve only seen very few 504 pick ups in the Netherlands. The only one I can remember was used at a garden center. It was hearing aid beige if I remember correctly.

    My dad had a 504 GR, bought new in 1980. It was the worst car he ever owned. Still he had it for 3 years. When it was swapped for a BMW it immediately was shipped to Africa.

    1. Ours was bad as well. Drove it to France ( to be serviced (mentored?) locally: made no difference back in Ireland. Blew a gasket within months of purchase (new). I’m still looking out for one. Went toyota after that and never looked back.

    2. I seem to recall ours had its cylinder head replaced three times. The engine also refused to run at a constant speed, causing vibrations. It was fine when you accelerated or decelerated, but maintaining the same speed wasn’t a smooth experience. Customer service was nonexistent at our Peugeot dealer and the Peugeot importer in the Netherlands wasn’t helpful either.

      Also rust was developing just before we traded the car. After a string of Citroëns, a Simca and Peugeot, my dad had enough of French cars and went BMW. He had plenty of Bimmers over the years, some cars had a few issues, but the dealer always handled this in a good way.

  3. Because of French peculiarities, the commercial sector of Peugeot lagged an entire generation behind the car sector, pickups was thus based on the previous generation of Peugeot sedans.

    The 504 pickup only debuted in 1979, right about when the 504 sedan was replaced by the 505 even though French production of the 504 continued to 1983. Pickup assembly was outsourced to Chausson and continued in France up until 1996. Subsequent cars were imported from Argentine.

    The same is true for the 404. I haven’t checked earlier generations but the 404 pickup only debuted in 1967 and probably replaced the 403 pickup att the same time, the 404 being produced up until 1979 when it was replaced by the 504.

    1. Not only French peculiarities Ingvar. I remember the Golf cabriolet, which was based on the original Golf and survived, I think, several successors. They’re still in the streets.

  4. Good morning! I read this article with pleasure. In my childhood, these Peugeots were very common. I hated them, because they were so spartan, contrary to the normal 504 which was a fine luxury car. I completely forgot this pickup, but now I’ve come to the insight that it was a very good car for its purpose.

    1. Not limited to the USofA. Called VW Caddy it was part of the normal sales program in Europe

      succeeded by the VW Taro

    2. The VW Taro was nothing more than a rebadged Toyota Hi-Lux, of course.

  5. Delightful memories, Andrew- and proof that performance, beauty nor plushness are relevant when it comes to enjoying your first automotive outings discovering the world around you.
    For me it was a tired Volvo 66GL, for one of my closest friends a 2cv and even though we’ve both driven plenty of more “accomplished?” machines those first memories are etched into our brain’s hard-disks.
    Somewhat later in its life, there was a 504 Pickup GR available which had a better equipped cabin and a few more amenities (this is a 1983 brochure):

  6. Good morning Andrew and thank you for the reminder of a great Peugeot. Pale blue seemed to be the default colour for the UK market pick-up, whereas the equally popular estates were most commonly beige. Although even as I type the words I suddenly remember dark blue or maroon examples – with their 7 seats in 3 forward-facing rows they were unequalled as family transport. Even a few antique dealers were tempted away from their Volvo 145s. Not seen an estate or pick-up for a long time but I believe there is a very tidy example of a 504 saloon living in the countryside between us…..

  7. Great reminiscences, thank you Andrew. The 504 was one of those cars (and pick-ups) that garnered respect rather than affection. Regarding pick-ups more generally, I loved my double-cab Ford Ranger, but one drawback was the lack of secure storage when the vehicle was left unattended. This can be addressed by bolting a secure storage box to the deck, but that reduces your load space.

    Regarding the radio, I think karma was asserting itself with its theft, as that was no doubt how it ended up on sale in the pub in the first place!

  8. The 504 pickup has the distinction of being the first vehicle I changed gear in. As a teenager I occasionally helped out at a campsite, where the workhorse was a white-ish 504 pickup. Journeys to get supplies were akin to a voyage in an early jet aircraft as piloting it seemed to be a three person job. Driver, map reader and sandwiched in the middle yours truly. The Pilot would call out “3rd please” or whatever and I’d pop it up or down into gear. Whether the ‘box was so nasty that driving it and changing gear was an intolerable burden, or whether this avoided the slight social awkwardness of having to reach over another male’s knees I never worked out but it never missed a gear or made grouching noises. I seem to remember that the three abreast seating was 2 + 1, rather than a bench seat but I could be wrong. A final impression, the pickup seemed to look more “Right” than the rarely glimpsed estate or rare as hen’s teeth saloon.

    Speaking of which my parents had a 504 saloon when I was born and so this car- too long ago for me to remember- was also my first conveyance. I never met anyone else in Britain other than my parents who had the saloon but a couple of years ago I did see a documentary about patron saint of vets “James Herriot”, with library footage of him arriving at his Skeldale House surgery in a 504 saloon which disgorged a surprising number of dogs when he climbed out. Photo’s of my parents car show a Ripon dealer sticker, not too far from Thirsk where “Herriot” worked, so potentially both cars came from the same dealer. It made me wonder if said dealer made special efforts to shift the saloon, car dealers in country locations often seem to fill odd niches.

  9. My friend’s father had a salloon 504…diesel! He went every weekend to his hometown and always said it was the most economical car for road trips. That was in 1985 or so, not many diesel engined cars except Mercedes cruising around.
    I remember the extra soft ride, a bit like a boat.
    The first time my friend drove it, without his father approval of course, was also its last! due to a blown head-gasket! I remember his father asking me why I, as a co driver and more mechanically inclined hadn’t had a close watch to the water temp indicator…well my father still had a beetle back then so…
    As a kid, the eyes of the lion -headlights- made a lasting impression in my mind.
    And more so in the pick up version. The only european pick-up to stand up against the Japanese Datsun-Toyota-Mitsubishi-Isuzu dominance!
    For all these…RESPECT

  10. The suspension in the 504 and the later 505 was interesting. Peugeot, unlike the vast majority of car makers, built its own dampers (shock absorbers). They were designed and built exactly to the vehicle they were to be deployed on, not merely taken from a T-1 supplier and adapted. Take one apart and observe the subtleties of valving deployed by Peugeot. No-one else set their dampers up in the way Peugeot did. For example, Peugeot dampers were digressive. They also featured (as far as was possible) no damping whatsoever for low amplitude displacements even up to quite high shaft velocities. Even today not many are aware of the reason why.

    The sedans had semi-trailing arm rear suspension. The axis of rotation of those trailing arms was almost perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the car- they almost qualify as trailing arms. There was a torque tube attaching the differential and the transmission. It featured intermediate roller bearings for the drive shaft to run on inside the tube.

    The station wagons (estates) and pick-ups featured a live rear axle suspension with four coil springs, two per side. Again a torque tube was used, although for the live axle application the tube was not fixed rigidly at both ends, as it had been in the sedan. Here the tube was rigidly fixed to the differential but articulated from the rear of the transmission. This was necessary to allow the rise and fall of the axle mounted differential. The dampers were located such that the central axis of each intercepted the ground plane at its corresponding tyre foot-print (or rather, a point towards the outboard side of the centroid of that tyre foot-print). They are mounted on a steep angle because of this. An important advantage accrues. Again, few understand the reason.*

    The most interesting variants of all have to be the Dangel four wheel drive 504 and 505. You can go absolutely anywhere with of those- Africa included!

    Alas, Peugeot killed their rear drive models and never ventured into rear drive area. There was (and remains) much potential in Peugeot’s rwd set-up yet to exploit.

    *Ford of Australia did. The last of their Falcon wagons and utes with live rear axles had the dampers located to duplicate the geometric approach utilised by Peugeot’s live axle vehicles and they did it for the same reasons Peugeot did.

    1. Fascinating stuff, J T. Thanks for sharing. I was aware Peugeot made its own dampers and now I know they set them up in a specific way that makes a lot sense.

  11. What a great trip down memory Lane, Andrew. Life was so much simpler then, and so we’re our cars. I fondly remember a trip to our local scrap yard nearly every weekend to get parts for my clapped out Austin 1100, so I could get to work the following week. The scarp yard long gone and now part of a huge housing estate. The 1100 long gone too.

  12. In the Kenya, the 504 in all its variants is remembered as a rally legend and in its variants as an all-purpose car. To date, there are still countless numbers on the road, despite the poor build quality of the locally assembled versions. A true testament to the toughness of the lion of Africa.

  13. Another really interesting article Andrew so thank you. I do like the simplicity of the 504 and the Golf Caddy too.
    I do wonder about the current designs and their “bloated” appearance which seems to appeal to the Outdoor types amongst us…

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