(first posted 10/17/2012) The U.S. market is a funny, fickle thing. Take the Peugeot 405, for instance. This is a car that you would have seen absolutely everywhere in Europe, but one seldom seen Stateside even when it was new. I guess every market has its preferences; after all, I’ll bet there weren’t many Cadillac Broughams in Nice or Paris, either. But the 405 was Peugeot’s last stab at the potentially lucrative U.S. market. Suffice it to say things didn’t work out.
In July 1987, Peugeot introduced the 405, as a 1988 model. The midsize, front-wheel drive sedan had been slated to replace the venerable RWD 505; however, Peugeot decided to keep the 505 in production for a few more years, much as Volvo kept the 240 around after the 740/760 debuted. The 405 sedan became available to Francophiles in October 1987, and the station wagon arrived a bit later, in May 1988. Despite having much in common with the Citroen BX, which came out in 1982, there was no hydropneumatic suspension on the Pug.
In the late ’80s, the Pininfarina styling of the 405 was up-to-the-minute and quite attractive, although almost a dead-ringer for the Alfa 164. The Pininfarina tradition of handing out the same suit to multiple clients was an old one that was still fairly acceptable in the ’50s and ’60s–but in the mid- to late-’80s, not so much. By then, almost every manufacturer save Peugeot had developed their own in-house design studio. After this rather embarrassing episode (which was repeated with the larger Peugeot 605), Peugeot made definitive steps to develop its own design studios and break its dependence on Pininfarina. (ED: Update: the upper car is actually a 605, which also shared the same Pininfarina suit)
Several varieties of inline four-cylinder engines were available in 1.4-liter (70 hp), 1.6-liter (92 hp), and 1.9-liter (110, 125 and Mi16-exclusive 160 horse) versions. A 70-hp 1.9-liter diesel and 90-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter turbodiesel were also available.
There was also the special 1993 T16 405 with a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 16-valve four, all-wheel drive and other assorted goodies. Only 1,061 were produced, 60 of which went to the French police. These rare Pugs produce 200 horsepower under normal boost and 220 with overboost.
Sadly, the wide variety of 405s did not transition to North America. As is often the case when European cars are exported here, the U.S. got only a few models. If you happened to among the few and the brave who had to have a 405, no matter whether you were in Ohio or South Dakota, your choices were limited to plain DL and fancier S models with a 110-hp, emissions-friendly version of the 1.9; or the sporty Mi16 sedan, with an extra 40 horses.
Station wagon versions of the 405 were imported to the States as “Sportswagons”, in DL and S guises. These look quite attractive, though I have never seen one in the metal. I wonder what the take rate was versus the sedans?
By all rights, the 405 should have done well in the U.S., but that just didn’t happen. Burgeoning Japanese luxury marques like Lexus and Acura probably took a bite out of Peugeot’s hide, not to mention the lack of Peugeot dealers compared with those of such mainstream Euro makes as Volvo, BMW and VW.
By the early ’90s, Peugeot was sinking steadily in the U.S. Despite the 405’s good looks and performance–particularly in the Mi16 version–there just weren’t many takers. In 1990, sales of 405s and 505s totaled a mere 4,261 vehicles. After an even more dismal 1991 output of 2,240 405s and 505 wagons (the 505 sedan was discontinued in the U.S. after 1990), the marque withdrew from North America in July 1991.
Although Peugeot returned to the Mexican market in 1997, they still have not reentered the U.S. or Canadian markets. On a family vacation to Puerto Vallarta in 2006, I was pleasantly surprised to see small late-model Peugeot hatchbacks cruising about. They looked pretty nice. Looking back, I’m pretty sure they were 307 models.
Despite tanking in the U.S. market, the 405 did just fine in Europe, with 500,000 units sold by 1989; that number doubled to a cool million by 1990. Long after the last American Pug dealer had closed their doors (or moved on to more lucrative marques), Peugeot continued to refine the 405. A “Phase 2” version, featuring new rear styling, a new instrument panel, and other refinements appeared later, keeping the French Sochaux factory (English 405s were also built from 1987-1997 in Ryton, U.K.) chugging right along and cranking out 405s with no worries.
But the party had to end sometime. In 1995, the 406 replaced the 405. At the time, the 405 sedan had been discontinued in Europe, though the wagon would remain available through 1997. But even that was not the end of the 405, whose production continued in Argentina until 1999, in Zimbabwe until 2002, and in Iran until earlier this year, when Peugeot stopped importing parts. All in all, about 2.5 million 405s were made.
But you would never know that from driving around in the U.S. My friendly local Volvo dealer actually sold Peugeots from 1985 to 1991 in Moline, but I can tell you that I never saw many, even as a car-crazed kid at the time. The only one I really remember was a gunmetal gray 505 I used to see parked in front of a nearby house in Rock Island. It was an uplevel model with alloys, and I liked the way it looked–it reminded me of our family Volvos. I recognized it because I had a Corgi model of a burgundy 505! It was still there in the late ’90s when I started driving, and then one day it was gone. I regret never getting a picture of it.
So a couple of weeks ago, on a crummy, drizzly day, I was shocked to see this 405 parked near the mall. A Peugeot, wow! I wasted no time turning around. As I started taking pictures it began to rain harder, but I didn’t care.
I don’t remember ever seeing one of these in the Quad Cities. The only times I recall seeing Peugeots were when my folks took us to the Chicago Auto Show during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Once again, I remembered the 405 because of a toy I had as a kid, in this case the well-detailed 405 Mi16 by Majorette. You may remember it from my Majorette retrospective a few months back. See, toy cars can be educational!
I was very happy to find this car and finally see a 405 up close. This one was well-equipped, with a moonroof, leather and always-classy black paint. I am guessing it’s an ’88, judging by the “1988 European Car of the Year” decal in the rear quarter window.
I’ve always had a soft spot for French cars. My favorite is the classic DS, but Peugeots are neat cars too. I think it’s a shame that so many European cars aren’t available on our shores. Hopefully, that will change someday. But survivors are still out there, and this one proves it!
ED: brochure images and vintage ads other than those captioned above are courtesy of productioncars.com.