Friday, July 21, 2017

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1979 Peugeot 504 GL

Case Study 

Peugeot 1979

Gordon C writes about his car.

  • Model: 504 GL automatic (or as the badge on the back says – “automatique”)
  • Special features: interior sun blinds on the back window, 3-speed automatic.
  • Features of sophistication for the day: all-wheel disc brakes, excellent ventilation and demisting system, soft yet supportive seats, wonderfully soft ride in the old French way (comes with body-roll as standard), tinted glass, AM/FM radio with cassette player
  • Crudities: no air conditioning. Nothing else is crude about this car. Simple yes but not crude.

How I got it & Provenance:

About 6 years ago I was thinking about getting a classic car. I have no mechanical skills at all, a limited budget and neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to restore and maintain a car. So these constraints were already in my mind when one day the sales manager of Lance Dixon Citroen in Doncaster gave me a call.

He called said “oh Gordon, we have just had a man bring in his 1979 Peugeot as his trade-in on a new Citroen C5. It has always been his special baby and he almost shed a tear when he brought it in this morning to hand-over to us.

I thought perhaps one of your members might like it. Otherwise it will be sold into the trade”.

I agreed to let our members know about it. Which I did. A few days later he called and said “some of the mechanics here are interested in buying it for their families.

So if you want it you had better move now”. I had had no takers from other members so I decided to take it myself.

I went out to Doncaster to take a look. It was in beautiful condition and came with a folder full of documents.

The documents showed that it had been sold new by Renault Moorabbin (Renault Australia operated some of their own dealerships) to a Renault Australia executive with a French name. Renault Australia had an assembly plant in West Heidelberg in those days.

In addition to assembling the Renault 12 and 16 they also assembled the 504, which was the only Peugeot model on sale in Australia at the time.

The car had only two more owners before me and a huge pile of receipts from Peugeot specialists showed that it had been carefully maintained.

That weekend I, Leigh and a couple of others took the car out to a specialist Peugeot repairer who gave it the once over and pronounced it sound and solid. So the following Monday I transferred $3,000 to Lance Dixon, picked it up and took it to Mel for a Roadworthy.  It needed four new tyres.

The four tyres on the car were all different to each other. None were up to RWC standard and none of them were the Peugeot spec.

In addition Mel replaced the front indicator glasses because they had faded. So for less than $4,000 I had an excellent classic car. 

Why I love it:

Easy to drive, with light steering because this car has light weight in the front and is rear wheel drive. You do have to turn the wheel a lot but it is not a heavy effort. I also love the reliability and simplicity.

The 504 is simple, strong, indestructible and easy to maintain and repair.

It was designed this way in the first place for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Peugeot always stood for frugality.

It was and is controlled by the Peugeot family and they know that all families have to watch their budget.

So whilst other French manufacturers dallied with expensive and complicated engineering such as hydraulic suspension, fancy semi-automatics, and rear engines and so on Peugeot stuck with conventional engineering which they refined to a high standard.

A similar approach was followed by Toyota at this time.

This conventional engineering meant great reliability and durability at low cost – both in manufacture and in use.

The 504 was designed so that it could do duty equally as an executive-level family car on the boulevards of Paris and yet also cope with the rough roads of the French countryside – hence its soft ride and excellent grip and handling.

It handles rough roads in Australia (and speed humps in the suburbs) much more comfortably than most modern cars.

The 504 also had to cope with conditions in the French colonies - mostly in Africa.

So not only did it need to stand up to the roads, and the climates (from the tropics to the desert) it also had to be simple to assemble in colonial factories, and maintainable and repairable in simple country garages with poorly trained mechanics.

And it succeeded – the last 504s were assembled in Kenya in 2003 – 35 years after the model was released in 1968.

The 504 is still sought-after as a taxi in the Middle East and Africa. Indeed many Australian 504s have been snapped up, shipped overseas and are now plying the streets of Cairo and other cities.

And going back to the original design requirements, the 504 had to be both a family car and a taxi. So it is good looking (thank you Pininfarina) and spacious, with doors that open wide and big boot.

What I have done to it etc:

The car was in excellent condition when I bought it six years ago. Being assembled in Australia parts and service are freely available and inexpensive. Mel Carey looks after it and it goes beautifully.

It has only needed regular servicing and a few repairs and replacements – which is to be expected in a car more than 30 years old as it nears the 200k mark.  Mel had to fix the steering and replace a water pump.

Nick kindly replaced the starter moor for me whilst he was using it as a daily commuter vehicle. It needs a respray now. The roof and bonnet, being silver in colour, have started to go powdery and in a few spots the metal is showing.

The body is completely straight and has only a few surface rust spots so a respray shouldn’t be too big a job.

How other people could procure something similar:

These cars are getting harder to get now. I suggest you contact the Peugeot Club, where good cars do come up for sale from time to time.

In addition the used car sites often have excellent cars for sale – maybe not a Peugeot 504 but an interesting and affordable classic nevertheless. Most cars over fifteen years old can be bought quite cheaply and many are in good nick.

So keep looking and when you have found something that interests you ask a Motafrenz Guru to help you make the final decision.

And there is always the RACV who can check out a car for you. For mainstream cars which are not too old or exotic they can soon tell you what you need to know. And never forget – it is much easier to look after a car that is already in good condition than it is to bring a worn out one back up to good condition.

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