COAL Twofer: ’71 and ’69 Peugeot 304 GL – Modern Cars

peugeot-304-04

Peugeot 304, metallic silver like my ’71 model. Unfortunately I have no pictures of my two Peugeot 304s

In Fall of 1979 the car dealers in the Heidelberg area held an event to showcase their vehicles. Almost every popular European brand was present as well as recent newcomers from Japan. Obviously, I wasn’t shopping for a new car but wanted to check them out. This event attracted also a few people who wanted to showcase their used car for sale on the side. That’s how I found my metallic silver ’71 Peugeot 304.

I took it for a test drive and it drove quite nice. It had comfy grey velour seats, the engine sounded great and it picked up speed so nice! The owner was touting all the good things about his car and how it got better the worse the weather was. It even had a new voltage regulator. I bought it the next day and was quite proud of it.

peugeot-304-motor-2944734189374533296
The 304, a development of Peugeot’s first FWD car, the 204, was far advanced, eons ahead of the VW Beetle. It was FWD with transverse mounted inline 4 cylinder engine and a 4 speed transmission underneath. Engine and transmission share the block and the oil. The engine was water cooled and had a single overhead cam and rockers. The suspension was independent with McPherson struts all around. It had disk brakes in the front, drums in the rear and brake booster. The transmission had four speeds and a column shifter. The clutch was hydraulic. The greenhouse offered excellent view all around. The interior was roomy with very comfortable seats and a real trunk.

Of course buying a used car without the critical eye of Herr Eustachi couldn’t go well. The car pulled to the side when accelerating, a sign of worn control arm bushings. Frat brother Hans said: “being used to a VW makes any car feel great, even with worn out suspension.” Right he was. And he knew something about Peugeot as he was driving a 204 convertible.

i750372l'ibis rouge

IMBD, Peugeot 304 and Peugeot 204 break featured in “L’ibis rouge”

Soon I had trouble starting the car with the battery frequently drained. One day I took one of my frat brother to a meeting some 200 km away. It was getting dark coming back and about 30 km from Heidelberg the lights went out. The fuse box was fried. I pushed on anyway and in Heidelberg I was noticed by the men in uniform. All I needed was another 500 meters! They allowed me to drive home and followed me. Then they wrote the ticket. Before you ask: yes, it hurt.

Peugeot 304 engine bay

Engine bay. The fuse box sits behind and the voltage regulator in front of the driver’s engine mount.

I never could figure out why the fuse box fried. In addition the muffler was getting loud and the dreaded TüV was coming up and I knew it wouldn’t pass. I sold it to a mechanic who intended to fix the electrical gremlins and sell it on to an American GI. To him the rust didn’t matter much because the Americans don’t need the TüV stamp of approval on their US license plates.

peugeot 304

Hunter green with tan interior, just like my ’69 Peugeot 304.

Even with all that trouble I was not deterred by Peugeot. I loved the size, comfort, power (relative to the Beetle) and fuel efficiency of that car. And they were cheap to buy.

My Francophile frat brother Hans made me aware of this hunter green ’69 Peugeot 304 in the scrap yard. On the outside it was cosmetically challenged and it needed extensive welding in particular in the trunk area to get through the TüV. I bought it and took it straight to the shop that prepped my Beetle. The mechanic patched every hole and seam. Mechanically the 304 was in good shape and needed no work.

Time has come for the TüV Hauptuntersuchung (HU) (= main inspection). The first few checks went fine: CO2 emissions, lights, brakes, steering were A -O.K.

laughing

Then he opened the trunk. He broke out in laughter when he saw the amount of welding that had been done. He even called his colleague to have a peek! They were shaking their heads in disbelieve and asked: “Who did this?” They were somewhat relieved that the welding was done by a pro. I think they only let it pass because they had mercy with me, and they could not find anything else wrong with the car. You could say that the welding job gave this car a 2 year lease on life, to the next TüV date.

i158321Day of the Jakal

IMBD, Peugeot 304 in the movie “Day of the Jackal”

For some reason I visited with the mechanic who bought my silver 304. He opened the hood of the green one to have a good look at the wiring. It turned out the previous owner of the silver 304 replaced the voltage regulator himself and hooked up the wires wrong! That should explain drained batteries and fried fuse box.

peugeot-304-wallpaper-8216

The ‘S’ version sported a 4 on the floor.

My hunter green 304 was very nice inside, almost luxurious. The tan vinyl seats fooled many to think it was real leather. This car was super comfortable and certainly made up for the “almost COAL” Ford Taunus 12 M and probably for the Audi 60 that was on my horizon for some time.

audi-60-09

However, when it finally became available it would have required a whole day to bring it back from south of Munich and my account would have been perilously close to zero.

Back to my green 304: it had a band speedometer in the fake walnut instrument panel. I found this much more to my liking than the cold brushed aluminum panel with oh so functional round instruments of the ’71 model.

Photo_big_Peugeot_304_1976_4506_4

The brushed aluminum instrument panel accentuated functionality.

These Peugeot 304 were rather easy to work on. I adjusted the valve lash on the side of the road. Then a pal who also bought a 304 needed the head gasket replaced. I did it for him with common tools. The only thing to worry about was the timing chain tensioner. With the tension gone it could fall out of its recess and drop into the the timing chain housing. I was lucky. The tensioner was about to fall out. I needed a long flat hook like tool to reach down and pull it up a little bit so it could go back in its place. I found a windshield wiper arm with its J-shaped end was exactly what I needed.

Let’s go for a ride. This video is of a mechanically identical Peugeot 204 Cabriolet. I chose it because demonstrates the precision and ease of operation of the column shifter so well.

Shifting this Peugeot 304 was second nature. I loved every kilometer with it. The runs through the Schlossbergtunnel in Heidelberg were so much fun. At speeds of 100 km and up the corners of the hood by the cowl started to rise about 3 cm. That was scary at first but the hood never popped open. There was significant wind noise at these speeds too. I don’t think this car spent any time in a wind tunnel during development.

Peugeot 204-304 column shift

Diagram of the column shift mechanism.

The horn was great: two tone and very loud! When you got too fast into a corner it under-steered severely and as soon as you took the foot off the accelerator it corrected itself with over-steer. That was rather entertaining, I must say.

peugeot-304-gl-02

IMBD, Scene of a “Tatort” TV episode.

These Peugeot 304 had no power steering, they used a very indirect rack and pinion steering. You had to spin that wheel like a butter churn. I almost put my girlfriend’s VW Polo into the ditch going into a right turn because the steering was so much more direct than the Peugeot I was used to.

POST-N2S-PEUGEOT-304-1.2

Early Peugeot 304 had vertical tail lights.

Life can be ironic sometimes. I had a nice running comfortable car for travel and never took it on a long trip. My excuse for travel fell through. I was benefiting from new medical treatments that kept me out of the hospital for a full year the first time in 5 years.  Besides, I was low on cash.

basil-onion-tomato-salad
I drove the Peugeot 304 to a pot luck party. I prepared a tomato salad in an earthenware dish and sealed it with saran wrap. I placed it on the rear seat. The route took me across Baden-Württemberg’s most dangerous intersection. It’s really a combination of two intersections. This road was 2-lane and one way. At the T-intersection both lanes were stopped simultaneously by the red light. Both lanes were released to turn left and then stopped again together at the next red light, just 50 meters ahead. Now my mind was programmed to act in sync with the car on my right side. However, here only the right lane to go straight received green and my lane to go left did not. There was a little distance to the actual left turn and I shifted into 2nd gear. I turned left to cross the 2-lane road. The on-coming traffic was released just so that I T-boned that first on coming car. Confused? Read it again!

The impact ripped my hands off the steering wheel and knocked them against the windshield or dashboard. My hands hurt but the seat belt saved me from further injury. The Opel was severely dented on the driver’s side. The couple in it had no injuries. The 304 was totaled but the tomato salad survived unharmed. I found it on the floor behind the driver’s seat.

I came late to the party. At least the tomato salad was a smash hit.

 

More on the 304 at CC here.