The Presidential Lion

Monsieur Peugeot goes to Paris.

President Macron’s official Peugeot 5008. Image: (c) Media.Stellantis

Once elected president of France, there are innumerable decisions requiring your attention, including that most tricky one regarding which national brand to have ferry your presidential self around. Over the years, some have taken the double chevron route, others the lair of Robert Peugeot. Today’s episode takes up the grinds from those pepper millers and looks back at over a century of leonine presidential chariots.

Alexandre Millerand became the republic’s third president on 23rd September 1920, choosing a Type 156 Peugeot the following year as his presidential vehicle. Wielding a six-cylinder 5954 cc sleeve valve engine, this behemoth measured 4800 mm on a 3670 mm wheelbase. Peugeot’s original Sochaux-made vehicle, only around 180 of these sold from 1920-23 – a most egalitarian Presidential choice. A front-engined, rear wheel drive beast, that mill mustered all of 25 bhp and a top speed of 96 Kmh, ideal for more leisurely engagements.

Over fifty years would pass before another president would be carried the to the Elysée Palace by Peugeot. 1975 witnessed the turn of the 604 along with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a man of considerable automotive esteem alongside modernist views. Aged just 48, the president had previously been a Citroën user, alighting in a sprightly manner from the confines of a DS for his inauguration (and not locking the car). Within a week he had stepped up to a DS23 Pallas but seldom used this car. In fact, Valéry chose both eminently French marques for his peregrinations; an extended CX being a 1974 choice.

Type 156 Peugeot. Image: (c) Media.Stellantis

Returning though to the Lion, The Palace sought three 604 SL examples, each fitted with automatic transmission, PRV6 engine and good for 136 bhp. The president was not averse to piloting the cars himself, visibly at ease behind the wheel. His choice to have them painted moss green opposed to the standard black was considered somewhat avant-garde.

But for more formal events, d’Estaing entrusted coach builder, Heuliez[1] to extend a sole 604 by some 62 centimetres, leaving the mechanicals untouched. Sporting a faux leather rear cover, the eight window DLO allowed ample light into the sumptuous butterscotch leather interior. Legroom and comfortable seating were a given, but the car’s overall looks were not smoothly becoming. Heuliez went on to build 124 limousines on the 604 platform, with a handful surviving.

Matters had obviously darkened by time François Mitterrand took control of the state in 1991. Peugeot collaborated with Côte d’Azur-based coach builder, Labbé (now part of Centigon[2]) to produce an armoured and extended 605.

Very little is known of these series one vehicles; it is believed only three were ever produced. Polycarbonate reinforced glass along with steel plating did rather pile on the pounds opposed to a standard svelte 605 at 1500 Kgs, to the tune of an extra tonne! But the engine remained the V6 with around 170 bhp. Notable names getting cosy in the rear of the the 605 with François were Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev and Hosni Mubarak, though none offered any form of useful feedback regarding this somewhat lardy Lion’s progress. Other extended 605s followed, many residing in African nations.

The Peugeot 607 has seen presidential duty for both Jacques Chirac and Nickolas Sarkozy. The former again dallied with the similar Citroën C6 amongst others from the French fold, the Palace fleet at this time being quite large. His Lion was perhaps though upstaged by wife Bernadette’s weapon of choice, a 1985, 205 SR in sun-faded red.

Sarkozy took the 607 to an altogether different political state. First revealed at the turn of the millennium Palexpo, the 607 Palladine concept, built once more with Heuliez collaboration took the 607 to new, luxurious and outré reaches of usability. Aping the smaller cousin 206 cc’s roof opening mechanism, the Palladine retracted half its roof length into the boot, allowing for the plush interior by Hermés to positively shine.

Peugeot 607 Paladine. Image: l’

With its prestige, reclining seating, brushed titanium effects, high end hi-fi along with plasma screen, library and mini-bar, this chauffeur driven sofa-on-wheels caught the eye of Nicolas seven years later. He had the car stretched by an uncompromising 500 mm, taking the car to an overall 5.4 metres in length. He also had the front end restyled to that of a 2004 edition for his 2007 trip to and from the Elysée. One bizarre fact being that even with that extravagant extension, the car’s fuel tank measured a paltry six litres – that 3.0 V6 guzzling what little fuel it carried rather effortlessly. The Palladine saw very little use.

Onto modern times and like so many of his citizens, the French President has at his disposal an SUV – the time of the large and opulent French saloon apparently over. The 5008 of Emmanuel Macron left the Rennes factory before heading to Centigon for its armour plating and secret equipment. All that is known is that the rear cabin has only two instead of three seats along with a console. Outside, at the foot of the A-pillar lies the Presidential crest with the flag attachments close to the headlights. Macron retaining the same car for his tenure has been pictured in the driving seat but it’s doubtful he has ever been the driver.

Image: BFM Business

Returning to the flags, there is strict protocol to adhere to. Should Macron be travelling alone, the Tricolour is displayed on the vehicle’s right, as he would enter and exit the car. Carrying another state head puts that country’s flag to the left. It’s doubtful the addition of any flag enhances the car’s looks.

Formerly (up to the end of the 1970s), registration plates were sacrosanct to the Elysée. Various vehicles wore the plates of 1PR75 to 5PR75, this having now ended. Presidential cars now wear normal plates but the flags and surrounding cavalcade do somewhat give the game away as to who’s approaching or leaving at speed.

As for when the president leaves office, the fate of the car isn’t necessarily ordained. Some remain within the car-pool, whereas others may be sold. The Musée de l’Aventure Peugeot, an 8,000 square metre exhibition arena are custodians of the 156, 604 and the 607 Palladine, amongst over a hundred other important and historic cars bearing the Lion of Belfort emblem.

[1] Chapron also took on the 604 in 1979 with creditable aplomb. Whilst not extending the vehicle, the landaulet roof was frowned upon by the authorities lest it be used to transport dignitaries. The car did however end up with a Presidential user, that of former French colony, Niger.

[2] Centigon can armour-plate any vehicle, from a ‘humble’ Bentley to a 53 seat coach.

Data Sources:

Author: Andrew Miles

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

38 thoughts on “The Presidential Lion”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. An interesting selection of cars, largely unknown to me. I’m surprised the 607 had such a small fuel tank. they probably transported the car on the back of the lorry wherever it had to go and then used it for a small trip. Or maybe it never left Paris, I don’t know.

    Still it’s way more presidential than the 5008, which is a car that lacks any sort of allure as far as I am concerned. The French president needs a French car, apparently, so he got the largest Peugeot.

    There was a time when France did better.

    I wonder if there ever was a presidential Renault, keeping in mind Renault was state owned and still is for 15%.

    1. Freerk – yes, M. Macron had an armored Espace (it was a bit unreliable) and M. Sarkozy had a Vel Satis, which was brought out of retirement to carry the Queen – the Vel Satis has good headroom and could accommodate HMQ’s hats.

    2. Freerk: Renaults have been employed as official cars for many years, and both 25s and Safranes were used as Presidential transport on occasion, as far as I can ascertain. Apparently, certain Presidents had their personal preferences. De Gaulle insisted on a DS. Pompidou too was very much a Citroen man, commissioning the stretched open-topped SM. Giscard d’Estaing was, it’s said, more ideologically aligned to Peugeot, especially given the situation at Quai de Javel at the time; the prevailing feeling in government then being that the double chevron had maxed the credit card and had to pay the piper. Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac seemed less aligned, both seen in Renaults and Citroens (and the latter, Peugeot) during their tenure as President. I’d imagine that a lot of it was down to what is known in politics as optics, the prevailing political situation and what subliminal message they wanted to send, both domestically and internationally.

    3. Thanks for enlightening me, Charles and Eóin. I now vaguely remember the 25s. The Vel Satis seems like a good car for accommodating hats. Our queen, now princess Beatrix had a Scorpio with a raised roof for that

  2. Good morning Andrew. Isn’t it disappointing that a country like France, with such a strong automotive heritage, can offer its president nothing home-grown more prestigious than than a medium-sized crossover as official transport? If I recall correctly, Macron used a pre-production version of the DS7 crossover for his inauguration, the first time the car was seen in public.

    The DS Présidentelle is just brilliant, a proper head-of-state car. Here are a couple more images of it:

    Note the logo on the information board: the modern day DS appropriating the Présidentelle as part of its heritage. Shameful.

    1. Thanks Miles. Most enlightening: my knowledge of French presidential motoring is limited to the apocryphal story of De Gaulle and his three wheeled DS.

      Daniel and Dave: that Présidentelle is just magnificent: beautiful, quirky, classy, futuristic. French manufacturing at its best. The modern DS in front must be wallowing in shame. I cannot imagine a prospective customer walking past the Présidentelle and still wanting to buy such a modern DS. Surely the contrast would put anyone off? (I know I’m being romantic here.)

      That 5008 for Macron is just tragic. I’d imagine something could be made of the 508, they’ve already stretched it for the Chinese market:

      And since DS is supposed to be Stellantis’ premium French offering, they could also use the “I’m not a Chinese-market Peugeot 508L in drag! Honest!” DS 9:

      The 508 is reasonably handsome as well, and should carry itself with more aplomb than the 5008. The SUV is handsome enough, although time has considerably blunted its impact, but it’s far from prestigious. Maybe that’s what Macron is going for, though? “Look I’m just like you! I drive a 5008 – or rather: I get driven around in it, in the middle of a motorcade. Just like you!”

  3. That 6 litre tank capacity jumped out at me, and it’s widely quoted, even in Stellantis’s media website. There must be mopeds and strimmers with more fuel capacity – 6 litres would barely get that beast across Paris.

    Perhaps the tank was made small to prevent Presidents syphoning off fuel to fill their wives’ and mistresses’ cars; fuel’s always been an expensive commodity in France.

  4. Morning Andrew. Great article again and very interesting. I like looking at state vehicles to see what “extras” they have over the standard models us mere mortals have. Even down to Harold Wilson’s pipe holder in his Rover P5.

    1. +1, Tim. Here’s a short film by Citroën, which shows more of the DS, SM and 5008. I noticed that the DS’s track width is quite a bit smaller than its body width, which looks a bit odd.

      I understand that (temporary?) UK Government policy is now to use Audi A8 L Security models.

    2. “I understand that (temporary?) UK Government policy is now to use Audi A8 L Security models.”

      Interesting, Charles. Having watched the news last night, as our current Prime Minister fled the Tory conference, sprinting to the waiting embrace of a stretched Range Rover, I now wonder if on that basis, the security detail has her best interests at heart?

    3. I understand they’re encouraging her to drive herself about in a yellow Peugeot 306 cabriolet. The colour’s nice and cheerful and the fresh air will make a change from stuffy offices. It also gives a nod to the classic car community and sustainability, too, so I think it’s a nice idea.

  5. Off topic, but I remember a trip through France in the mid-Seventies when I read in a newspaper that the Archbishop of the region Paris and île-de-France had died in a fatal road accident. He was at the steering of his official 2CV himself.

  6. a remote friend of mine, rightfully proud owner of an immaculate early Peugeot 604 SL (which, not accidentally, goes by the name of Giscard) happily tells a story about the Peugeot to anyone who asks about the car: he says the 604 was Monsieur Giscard d‘Estaing car of choice until the day one car of the fleet died when approaching an official reception, stopping about 30 meters away from the red carpet, so the president had to walk up by himself and, indignified, switched to driving Citroën CX‘s.

    I always wondered if this story – good as it is – was true and here is the right place and time to ask: can anyone confirm?

    1. Thx Charles. I actually flexed my Google-skills (as they say these days…) on that one, too, but thought these might be simply insufficient. The story sounds good, though, doesn’t it? 🤷‍♂️

  7. The former president of Uruguay, José Mujica, had an old Beetle as presidential car.

    1. In similar vein, here’s Pope Francis in his official car:

      And today’s DTW teatime teaser is to identify it!

    2. The elegant grey paintwork, the gentle slope of the window, the chrome door handle; all betoken a vehicle of the highest pedigree. It can only be… a FIAT 500.

    3. Correct, Charles!

      Even Pope Francis couldn’t make the 500L look any less ungainly, sadly.

    4. I must say I think it looks pretty dignified. Pope Francis famously drove a Renault 4, previously, which I thought was rather good.

  8. …..and then there are the real presidents. You know, the ones with serious power, not mere pretenders hiding behind clouds of word salad. The real ones have real limousines, not converted pretend stuff.

    Take a look at the Hongqi complete twin turbocharged V-12 and even available as a convertible version.
    Or how about the Aurus, another twin turbo V-12 with AWD available as sedan, limo, convertible or even as a van.

    Time was when Western Presidents had taste and went about in vehicles of some style (the French were once particularly clever with this), not any more. I fear what has happened is a reflection of where real economic power and dynamicism is migrating…

    What happened?

    1. Ah, yes, the Aurus Senat. Quite dignified looking, even if its influence is pretty obvious:

      I wonder if any other despots, sorry, I mean presidents, have one as their official car?

  9. There are still no better head of state cars than Queen Elizabeth’s Bentley State Limousines, (there are two). But at over a million pounds each, perhaps they should be.

    1. Those W100s are really nice, impressive cars, but they are production line vehicles, unlike the Bentleys.

      Mind you, more heads of state have probably known the inside of an W100 than any other car. They really put the French President’s modified mid-range cars into perspective.

    2. At the risk on nit-picking, the one thing that really annoys me about the Bentley State Limousine is the awkward junction on the D-pillar between the black painted roof and burgundy bodywork:

      The junction doesn’t correspond with any crease or step in the bodywork on the pillar, so just looks arbitrary. Why didn’t they just paint the roof burgundy?

    3. Or, knowing what the colours would be at the design stage, why not design in a panel line junction, or put the colour change at an existing line, as they did with HRH The Queen Mother’s Daimler DS420.

    4. Looking at the Phantom IV, I’m reminded of a report of a quote by Batista Pininfarina when asked how he would design a Rolls Royce formal limousine. “I would copy the Phantom VI exactly and change nothing’.

    5. Hi David. I agree: the Bentley State Limousine looks a bit rotund, whereas the Phantom is just perfect:

    6. Isn’t ‘claret’ the official name of that colour?
      I remember a Jaguar S3 advertised as ‘colour: claret (unique) , one lady owner, original customer: Buckingham Palace’

    7. Yes, claret. It has been the colour for Royal vehicles since before Edward VII’s 1900 Daimler 6hp Mail Phaeton. I suppose 122+ years is classed as a tradition.

  10. Maybe the Elysée could make a coup de téléphone to Wolfsburg to lease the French-ish Galibier concept car?

    1. Just like Mercedes who had a small fleet of W100s which were made available to the German government when necessary.

  11. It’s all very well having an imposing state limousine, but I guess one has to consider what, as a head of state, one will look like in it. Our (Ireland’s) current head of state is a small, tubby, gentleman. He’s one of the few people who can pull off the bald on top, long at the back, white hair look, but he does honestly look a bit ridiculous in the rear of the presidential S-class, like he needs a child’s booster seat or something…

  12. I like the Italians’ choice. I don’t see why such cars need to be changed very often, unless the country concerned wants to show-off its technical prowess.

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: