Car Show Capsule: 1972 Peugeot 304 Coupé – They’re Only Original Once

The usual fodder at car shows the world over is meticulously restored, resprayed and re-chromed to look like it came off the dealership forecourt last month. But every once in a while, one can find a lovely little car, like this 304 C, that shows its five decades of patina without blushing, rust, scratches and bald patches and all.

This is not the first 304 we’ve had on CC, but I believe it is the first coupé, though we’ve seen this body in its 204 incarnation. These used to be relatively common when I was growing up – they were pretty, reliable and affordable, so they sold very well on their home market. But then the rust happened, and by the late ‘90s, the 204/304 C, i.e. both Cabriolet and Coupé, had become an endangered species.

It all started with the 1.1 litre 204 version. This was the first FWD Peugeot, but aside from the drivetrain, it would follow the carmaker’s usual recipe: a dab of Pininfarina styling (with some in-house mixed in), super solid construction and a complete range of body styles – the bread-and-butter saloon and wagon, launched in 1965, followed by the glamourous coupé and convertible in 1966.

At the 1969 Paris Motor Show, Peugeot unveiled the 304 saloon and wagon, essentially a 204 with a revamped nose, a bigger tail and a 1.3 litre engine. The 204 did not disappear, though – it was enjoying its best year, as a matter of fact, being the top-selling model in France for MY 1970. But there were going to be some changes in the range nonetheless: by March 1970, the 204 C range was seamlessly replaced by the 304 C, again with a revamped nose and the bigger 65hp (DIN) engine.

Unlike the saloon, the 304 Coupé’s rear end was not made bigger, of course. That would have been pointless, and would have ruined the design. They did replace the 204’s dainty elongated taillight clusters with those chunkier square items, but that’s about it.

The 304 C was the only model to get a floor shifter from the get-go; the 304 saloons gradually adopted them from 1973 on. It can be argued that the 204 C’s dash, with its triple round dial binnacle, was a lot better-looking than this ill-fitting (and old-fashioned) rectangular set-up. But hey, at least you got a strip of fake wood.

In the spring of 1972, Peugeot upgraded the 304’s engine with a twin-choke carb as the 70hp “S” spec, enabling the 304 C to reach 160kph. Our feature car was made just before they switched to the S engine, unfortunately. Not that it makes that much of a difference.

Peugeot carried on making the two-door 304s until July 1975. This body style therefore had a nine-year run within the range – rather a long time, for this type of car. There was a clear popular bias in favour of the coupé: Peugeot sold over 42k of the 204 version and 60k of the 304, whereas they only shifted 36k of the 204/304 cabriolet combined. And I must admit that, from an aesthetic point of view, the coupé is my favourite too.

Does that mean this rough ‘round the edges example should get an appointment at the local carrosserie to tend to those sills? Maybe. Sure, chicks dig scars and matt paint is all the rage these days, but this car doesn’t need extra character. It needs preservation. It made it all the way to the ‘20s – it’s beaten the odds, but it won’t beat the rust forever.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1975 Peugeot 304 S – The Lion’s Zenith, by T87

Cohort Classic: Peugeot 204 Coupe – Sweet Baby Peugeot, by PN

Craigslist Classic: 1971 Peugeot 304 – A Rare Survivor, But Well Done, by PN

Cohort Capsule: Peugeot 304 Convertible – You Look So Rich!, by Perry Shoar

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