As an ardent RWD Peugeotphile and having spent a lot of time in the early days of CC sharing with you all the unmitigated joys of 404s, the highs and lows of 504s, the full story on greatest RWD wagons ever made (203, 304, 404, 504 505, and even a CC on a 505 wagon, I have been pathetically negligent in writing up a 505 sedan. I shot several back in the early days, when there were still several on the streets in Eugene, but just never got around to it. No else did either. The 505 deserves better.
There I was, rolling down Hwy 58 through the mountain hamlet of Oakridge after a hike yesterday when for some reason I turned my head to the right, towards an abandoned car wash. Through one of the empty stalls I caught a glimpse of a familiar shape in the distance; it was undoubtedly a 505 sedan. It’s obviously been sitting there for quite a while, quite likely since 1994, the year its license plates expired. I’ve driven through Oakridge probably close to a hundred times since moving here, and never noticed it before. It’s been very patient, but given the price of scrap steel, I can’t expect it to wait any longer. The 505’s story must be told at last.
The 505 was the last of the direct genetic line of Peugeot RWD sedans, wagons and pickups that started in 1948 with the 203. This was a very advanced car for the times, with a sturdy unibody and a 1290 cc hemi-head four, whose basic architecture was still used in the 505’s 2.0 L gasoline four, for a run well over forty years. Its rear suspension was a torque-tube live rear axle suspended by long travel coil springs; this too would last over forty years (on some versions). Steering was by rack and pinion, uncommon on sedans then. These cars were solid, dependable, rode and handled well, and created the sterling reputation that all of its subsequent offspring continued to cultivate over the decades to come.
The 403, which arrived in 1955, had a new “pontoon” style body designed by Pininfarina, an enlarged 1428 cc engine, and a number of other refinements. The 403 established the brand in the US, and was one of the relatively few survivors of the Great Import Boom Bust of 1960, thanks to its established rep for all-round goodness. During the fifties, it was commonly referred to here as a “sport sedan”; the kind of car one might drive briskly to watch the many sports car races happening on Sundays. Performance parts were readily available, which enhanced its qualities further.
In France, it became very popular as a taxi as well as a counterpoint to the far-out Citroen DS/ID for those private buyers who preferred something more traditional (and reliable).
The 404 superseded it in 1960. The biggest change in addition to the new Pininfarina body design was a new long-travel strut front suspension that gave it a ride quality that was unbeatable by any steel-sprung car. Its engine was tipped to its side, revised in a number of other small ways, and increased in displacement to 1.5 and later 1.6 liters. Its superb ride, exceptionally smooth engine, light steering, excellent handling and general all-round goodness has made it arguably the most desirable of the family tree. It was still fairly narrow and light, and its rather unique ability to both feel highly maneuverable in city driving as well as eminently comfortable at speed or over any surface gave it the a balance of qualities that were never quite topped.
I had a number of them, so I speak from experience, thus I’m biased. But I’m far from the only one. The 404 has a cult following, for good reasons.
The 504 arrived in 1968, and marked the biggest changes in the line to date. It was larger all-round, especially wider, thus of course heavier too. It now had a fully-independent rear suspension, which enhanced aspects of its ride and handling. It felt like what it was: a larger, quieter and heavier car, for better or for worse. It was better suited to the changing expectations of the times, with more time spent on freeways, longer trips, and more interior space and comforts. Its ability to make any conceivable road (or non-road) feel comfortable was unexcelled, but its steering was a bit heavier, its enlarged 1.8 L engine (and later 2.0 L) wasn’t quite as creamy smooth, and it wasn’t as lithe and limber as the 404 had been. And with the exception of the fuel injected TI version that was not available in the US, the 504, especially when hampered with emission controls, was not exactly a brisk car; never mind the diesel.
Its styling—again by Pininfarina—was somewhat controversial, thanks mostly to its drooping butt, the polar opposite of today’s cars. This was a design concept PF toyed with briefly on a few cars at the time, but applying to the 504, which was destined to have a long shelf life, was in hindsight a bit of a mistake. As to the rest of its design, it was good enough, but certainly not exceptional. After the uniqueness of the first year or two, nobody bought the 504 because of its good looks. But then beauty is only skin deep, and the 504’s had plenty of beauty below its epidermis.
Although all of these RWD Peugeots were legendary for their inherent sturdiness and durability, including in the most grueling use in Africa (still so today) the 504 developed a rep for certain fragilities in the US, due to emission controls, the proliferation of accessories and convenience features (air conditioning, etc.) and iffy dealer support. Nevertheless, Peugeot sales in the US continued steadily, and then enjoyed a little bump after 1974 when its available diesel engine suddenly became in demand after the first energy crisis. This rugged “Idenor” engine was designed from scratch to be a diesel, and had been available since the 403 in various sizes. The 504 diesel was then an increasingly popular and cheaper alternative to the Mercedes diesel.
Note: All of the RWD Peugeots had wagon and pickup variants that had a number of differences from the sedans, most of all longer wheelbases, more rugged rear suspensions and other reinforcements. They are covered in “The Greatest Wagons” post linked at the end of this article.
This brings us to 1979 and the 505, which first graced us with its new body, designed once again by Pininfarina with an assist or two by Peugeot’s in-house design team. In this case, it was mostly just a new body, as the 504’s excellent underpinnings were in no need for any significant changes other than minor tweaks. Track was widened front and rear by a total of two inches each, that being one of the biggest.
I’ll revert to these shots of a nicely-preserved 505 I shot back in 2009, so that we can better appreciate what was done. It was a significant visual improvement over the 504, which was always a bit of a lovable odd duck.
It’s hard to find any faults with the 505’s styling: it was tight, clean, graceful, handsome, more athletic, and it fit the bones—and mission—of the 505 like a well tailored Italian suit. No bell bottoms or wide lapels this time around.
The front end—this is the later US version—was distinctive, but not too much so. The arching eyebrows were the one element that clearly harked back to the 504; otherwise it was a quite new and fresh, yet still evolutionary. Aspects of its basic design language had already been seen on the smaller FWD 305, which was not sold here.
Although the 505 was based on the bones of the 504, it wasn’t just the skin that was new; there was plenty of new muscle and connective tissue in between. The 505 was the first Peugeot designed for global markets, meaning without all the bizarre kinks that the French had long been accustomed to. Its interior, designed by Paul Bracq, was conceived to be international in its standards and operating ergonomics; undoubtedly Peugeot were taking note of the growing popularity and influence of the Germans at the time. No Captain Marvel styling, or weird stalk controls. The design was clean, international, and attractive. The all-new foam seats were simply superb, and made the steel spring and horse-hair (or whatever they used for “padding”) Mercedes and BMW seats feel like saddles from another century. They were also lighter and more space efficient.
Air conditioning was now installed on the assembly line, instead off being added at the port of entry, and the whole HVAC system was very effective.
Our featured car’s seats still look comfortable, if not exactly inviting thanks to its long repose here. The bare shift lever looks a bit less than comfortable. This is the original style interior.
Here’s what it looked like when new. The 1986 refresh brought changes to the interior that were not an improvement. There’s a shot further down, with the V6 version.
Our patiently-waiting featured car has the original US-market headlight treatment, with twin sealed beam units. Not very attractive, especially with the headlight surround painted silver. That worked a bit better on a silver-colored car, but it didn’t fool anyone into thinking it looked like the all-glass European version.
That had the typical Euro composite headlights, which looked considerably more organic than either of the two US versions.
The badge on its rear tells us that this is a diesel and in “S” trim, which included a number of standard items that might otherwise have been optional, not for any suggestion of speed or sport. Even with the gas engine, still the venerable XN series pushrod hemi-head four, the 505 was none too brisk, despite getting standard fuel injection in the US, which upped its hp rating to 96. Combined with the standard five speed manual, that was actually pretty adequate (~13 seconds 0-60) at the time; with the three-speed ZF automatic, which some 75% of the gas engine 505’s got in the US, it was more leisurely.
In the case of the diesel, “leisurely” might be too optimistic. “Highly Relaxed” would be more appropriate, as the 72 hp 2.4 L indirect-injection four took some 23 seconds from 0 to 60 mph in a R&T comparison test (coming soon) of four diesel sedans, the slowest of the four. But that didn’t keep the four R&T editors from unanimously choosing it as their personal favorite, over the Audi 5000, Volvo 240 and Olds Cutlass. The 505’s other qualities won the day, once again.
(A bit of) help was on the way, in the form of a turbocharged version, which bumped up the hp to 80, but increased torque even more. It was the one to get, if a diesel it had to be.
We’re going to have to get Prof. Stern’s input on this artisanal amber turn signal lens. Were Peugeot parts that hard to get? Well this was before the internet, or at least the World Wide Web.
The last renewal sticker on these Oregon plates is from 1994. In a curious coincidence, that was the year I first drove through Oakridge, on the way to exploring the Cascades for the first time after moving here in late 1993. It was also the year that the brilliant former Chief Engineer at the tv stations and Telemundo gave me some advice after my departure from that company: “get into the internet; that’s where the future is”. Shoulda’, coulda’ woulda’. I’m not exactly an early adopter, and our first slow dial-up connection and web browser was in about 1999 or 2000, in other words at the tail end of the great dot.com bubble.
Instead I had gotten into messing with houses, quite the contrast from the internet, but I did find Autoextremist.com in my early travels on the web after a hard day in the sewer trenches, and it opened my eyes, big time. The web wasn’t just for companies to sell or market themselves; it was a way for anyone to have their soap box and self-publish, if they were good enough and could get through the ever-growing clutter.
Autoextremist was a pioneer that way, and though I long gave up reading Pete DeLorenzo’s rants after he became increasingly irrelevant, repetitive and often lacking good judgment, I owe him a debt of gratitude, for inspiring me to eventually become an active voice (at ttac.com) instead of just a reader. In one of those odd moments of cosmic coincidences that happen all-too often (to me anyway), I went to his site just now for the first time in many years in order to copy the url for the link above, and noticed that he was celebrating his 23rd year since starting on this very date (May 31) in 1999. Congratulations, Pete!
Where was I? Yes, the Peugeot 505. One of the goal of the 505 program was to make it more attractive to Americans in order to increase its sales, which were some 12k in 1979; pretty small to support a brand in such a large country. The goal was 15k in 1980. I don’t have stats readily at hand, but it seems that the 505’s sales increased slowly in its early years, and then got a real bump late in life in Turbodiesel form as a cheaper alternative to the very pricey Mercedes diesels. 1984 would be Peugeot’s best year in the US, but then it was all downhill.
I saw a lot of them in my years in LA; I heard a lot of them too, as for some reason the Peugeot diesel clattered louder than the the Benz. I don’t know what to attribute that too, but given how often I was within a foot or two of both at red lights when riding my bike to work on Century Boulevard in West LA (there was no bike lane), I can attest to that fact.
As to inhaling their puffs of black smoke as they took off—full throttle, naturally, in LA’s endless commuting rat race—I can’t say that the Peugeot’s smelled any different than the Mercedes’, contrary to the old trope about how the French smelled. Actually, the Germans were no better at frequent bathing back then either, so perhaps it only came down to differences in their diets.
The 505 was a very comfortable place for four adults, in just about every way except for the rather noisy engine cooling fan when its thermostatic clutch turned it on. That was a device that Peugeot pioneered; I’m not sure how far back, but my 404s certainly had them, at a time when that was quite novel. How smart—and obvious—is that, to fully disengage the fan when not needed? Yes, viscous drive fans came along after a while, but the Peugeot had a little electromagnetic clutch activated by a little brush that rubbed against it. And if that failed, a couple of turns of the screws in the front of the fan made it run full-time, until it could be fixed. But according to a review of the 505 in R&T, it was noisy. I invariably had my sunroof and windows open in my 404, so I didn’t really notice.
But other than that, R&T raved about the comfort of the 505, seating, leg room, and of course that superb ride, which did not come at the expense of handling. No, it wasn’t overtly “sporty” with stiff springs and shocks, but it could hang in there with the best of them, as long as a bit of lean didn’t bother you. The standard power-assisted steering was excellent, and of course the four disc brakes were too. It all exuded competence, at the highest level.
In 1982, Peugeot introduced the STI version, in attempt to position the 505 more directly at the ever-more popular German sport sedans. It included bigger wheels and Michelin TRX tires, better standard equipment, and of course the requisite badges and marketing. Because it still had the same 96 hp engine, actual performance was unchanged. And in the rapidly evolving eighties landscape of improved performance, it was falling behind, despite all of its other inherent goodness.
By the way, that weight-sensing rear brake proportioning valve was on the 404 already; American cars wouldn’t get that until…if ever? The serious issue of rear wheel brake lock-up, which led to lack of control, was endlessly brought up in decades of reviews at R&T. It only got worse when FWD became common on American cars; GM’s X-Bodies were utterly notorious for locking their rear wheels on even moderately-firm braking. Impossible on a Peugeot.
The performance issue was addressed forcibly in 1985, with the 505 Turbo S. This had a 142 hp 2.2 L turbocharged version of the SOHC Simca Type 180 four, and not the Douvrin 2.2 L four, as the Simca block and head were stronger and better able to withstand the greater demands of turbocharging.
The Douvrin 2.2 L four, a completely different engine from the XN (and Simca 180), was created in the seventies by a joint venture between Renault and Peugeot, used in a wide variety of Renault cars and trucks and in the 505 starting sometime in the later years of its life. Peugeot kept using the older XN engine in non-turbo versions because it was already certified for US emissions, but it too was eventually supplanted by a naturally-aspirated version of the Douvrin in 1987 in all but the base version, and in 1988 the venerable old pushrod mill was retired, in the US anyway. It simply ran out of development potential.
The Turbo S got a bump to 150 hp in 1986 already, and in 1989, the addition of intercooling bumped that to 180 hp.
But the Turbo S failed to make much of an impact, and they were quite rare. The painful reality was that after a few years of the 505 Turbodiesel enjoying the fruits of the diesel boom years, it went into terminal decline in the US. Peak year for US sales was 1984, with some 20k units sold. It was all downhill from there; the 505 simply failed to connect to US buyers that were now gobbling up BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, Volvos and even Saabs, never mind the early encroachment of Japanese cars like the cleaned-up Cressida and Maxima.
The last step in trying to keep the 505 relevant was the availability of the V6 engine starting in 1987, the 90 degree PRV engine shared with Renault and Volvo, and used in the DeLorean. Now that the top of the line 604 was history, it only made sense to offer it in a range-topping 505. In this application, the 2.9 L six made 145 hp; less than the Turbo, but it was intended for a different market, even if that market also failed to materialize. These are also rare birds.
I shot this one back in 2009 too, in front of the same house as the silver 505. A Peugeot (and Saab) lover lived here.
This V6 even sported the five speed manual, which makes it a unicorn. This shot shows that the 505’s interior as it was refreshed in 1986 was rather retrograde, in terms of design and materials, mainly by the fact that there was too much hard and cheap-feeling plastic. This was at a time when the Germans, especially Audi, were showing what was possible in terms of quality interior materials and good design.
The 505’s decline in the US put Peugeot’s ability to survive in question. The somewhat smaller FWD 405 was introduced here in 1989, but it was all over in 1991, after only some 4k 505s and 405s were sold. Au revoir, Peugeot. And despite some talk about reviving Peugeot in the US a couple of years ago, it’s not going to happen, dot com; as Pete DeLorenzo used to say.
Of course that was not the case in other parts of the world; European 505 production ended in 1992, but the 505 enjoyed a long life in China, where it was built until 1997, and in Argentina until 1995. And gobs of them are still hard at work all over Africa and other locales, where its ruggedness became the stuff of enduring legends. But even in Africa, they’re starting to increasingly be replaced by Toyotas. Nothing lasts for ever, not even a Peugeot.
Why exactly did the Peugeot and the 505 fail in the US? For the same reason Peugeot’s (and Citroen’s and Renault’s) larger cars increasingly lost market share in France and Europe: the ever-growing dominance of the Germans in the premium class. The Germans largely earned their cachet through engineering excellence and a reputation for speed and sportiness. This conferred prestige, and the growing demand for automotive prestige in the eighties increasingly made the French (and other European) counterparts increasingly irrelevant. The qualities that Peugeot’s RWD family of cars had been cultivating for decades was no longer in demand, and their efforts to overlay a sporty image was simply not effective. Large French cars have largely become irrelevant in Europe, and of course extinct in the US.
Peugeot’s legendary ruggedness may have been in abstentia when this diesel crapped out here sometime before 1994. My guess is that it was traveling up or down Hwy 58 when it broke down, was towed here, and then just abandoned. It’s not like there was a Peugeot mechanic in Oakridge, a scrappy little town that once was a lively place where Southern Pacific steam engines were serviced and the lumber mills cranked out 2x4s by the millions. That’s all in the past; now there’s outfits that cater to mountain bikers: with vans to take them up to remote starting points and with a pubs to nourish them afterwards.
The big question: will this 505 be gone the next time I come through, now that it’s finally had its story told after a quarter century of waiting?
Curbside Classic: 1969 Peugeot 404 – The “French Mercedes”, And Just Like Mine
Curbside Classic: 1976 Peugeot 504 – One Continent’s French Mercedes and COTY Is Another Continent’s Most Rugged Vehicle Is Another Continent’s POS
Curbside Classic: 1989 Peugeot 505 Wagon – The Last Of The World’s Greatest Wagons
The World’s Greatest Wagons: Peugeot 203, 403, 404, 504, 505 – An Illustrated History
It would probably run with the right encouragement, really rare here now in driving condition the good ones apparently got exported when values fell thru the floor later FWD models are still around
I can’t explain my love of 505’s, we never had one, but they have always been very good looking cars to me.
In the early to mid 80’s (so I’m 13 or so), we lived in a house on a hill, with no A/C. In the summer, laying in bed, I could pick out the neighborhood diesels flooring it to go up the hill, by sound. Then, I would peek out the window to see if I was right. At the top of the hill, we had a realtor with a 505 diesel (nonturbo), a college professor with a 300CD (nonturbo), his wife had a 300TD (turbodiesel), and my grandpa’s oncologist had an Audi 5000 diesel. I had close to a 100% score!
Great history of Peugeot. Thanks.
Agree with your comments on the AutoExtremist. Peter’s analysis of the auto industry has diminished over the years to the point where I consider it irrelevant. Too bad because the automakers need someone to hold their feet to the fire.
Very similar situation as with the Mercury Mercur article a few days ago.
Unable to secure parts for repair and/or didn’t want to pay the premium for parts and repairs for a major breakdown. Finding a garage that would do the work was difficult enough.
In 1981, I encountered a similar situation with my 1975 Toyota Corolla. Several shops turned me away as they didn’t work on “Jap” cars. All I wanted was a turn up and they still got it wrong; the timing was way off. This was back in the days of the strobe light. By 1990, there were more Toyotas than all Euro cars combined. Missed opportunity.
Hmmm… Shades of my dad’s 1984 in Israel. Superbly comfortable on (then) potholed local roads but oh so slow with its carburetor 1.8 and ZF auto – a model not available elsewhere, which owed its existence to Israel’s car tax laws. It was probably faster than the normally-aspirated diesel but not by much and, in my view, dangerous as overtaking on any two lane blacktop was an exercise in gritted teeth and sweaty palms (exacerbated if you forgot to switch off the aircon, which acted as a sort of an engine brake). But it never let us down. How I wished it were the Turbo or the STX V6 (hell, I’d have settled for a 2L)…
Israel ” road tax” was heavy on engines over 1.8 Ltr and autos were popular hence the strange combo. Volvo had the same on the 200 series.
Greece ,Italy and Portugal did the same on any gas engine over 2ltrs hence the Ferrari 208GTB Turbo ,BMW 318IS and 2ltr engines in the Volvo 740 Turbos in place of the 2.4 and with more power.. 190 bhp.
The Turbo S used Simca’s 2.2 litre engine used in the Matra Murena, Citroen BX 4TC and Talbot Tagora and not the Douvrin since it was cast iron and more robust. Renault turbocharged the Douvrin but it wasn’t as durable as the NA versions.
As soon as I read your comment, I slapped myself on the head, as I had known that but forgot when writing the post. It’s updated now.
The 505 had no less than three distinct four cylinder gas engine families under its hood, which might be something of a record.
Douvrins also replaced the smaller Citroen engines in CX’s in 1979. Great engines, simple, reliable, economical, the only weakness I can think of is oil incontinence and lack of fuel injection on CX variants since they were in lower models. And much lighter than the old Citroen boat anchor so the cars weren’t so nose heavy and handled better.
> The 505 had no less than three distinct four cylinder gas engine families under its hood, which might be something of a record.
There must be a few GM J or N bodies from the ’80s and ’90s that had at least three unrelated four cylinder engines. The ’85-’91 Pontiac Grand Am for example, which offered the (a) Iron Duke, (b) Quad 4, (c) Opel/GM Brazil SOHC 4.
I remember thinking that Peugeot was making some headway in the US (at long last) by 1984 or so, and I was apparently right. I was wrong in presuming that it would continue to build – not into something hugely popular, but into an acceptable upper-mid-market European option in the US. Volvo made that work but Peugeot apparently could not. Mercedes and BMW had that German engineering rep, Volvo had a safety rep, but Peugeot had neither of those.
I have told the story before but the only person I knew who owned one of these was a Nigerian immigrant who lived next door when I lived in student housing in the early 80s. He loved his Peugeot, but a criminally inclined babysitter had stolen it twice. After the second time he bought another because the original car kept reminding him of the bad situation. I never understood how he could afford those nice new cars in the crappy subsidized student apartments where we lived, but I found them fairly attractive.
I agree on the interiors though – there was never a more drab place to spend time than a Euro car from around 1977-80 with those hard black plastic interiors. Mercedes may have been the one company that largely avoided that trend.
The 505 interior has an odd history.
The original from ’79 is an elegant delight. Everything except for the (super-clear) instruments are low-set, perhaps a bit Honda-like. Visibility feels superb. Plastics are coloured and squishy. (Our Editor isn’t right about ergonomics: the HVAC looked lovely, but was not at all ergonomic, and the were still weird-burger stalks, but I digress). The whole arrangement invoked a relaxing feel. It was, after all, designed by Paul Braq. It was plain nice to sit behind.
What I would like to know is if it was Braq who then designed the quite yucky second version (in about ’86). Magazines of the time suggest so, and it mystifies me. It’s just as you describe, hard black plastics awash. It’s heavy, and drab, and ergonomically worse than the earlier one. I guess it’s meant to be BMW or Volvo like, but succeeds in getting only the worst of both. Worse, the really good ventilation of the first isn’t as good! And the bastard thing rattles and squeaks.
Perhaps their funding was all going to the new FWD models in the pipeline, and thus the big old-school model only got the intern’s attention, in some uninterested attempt to get a few more years out of it.
Our Editor isn’t right about ergonomics: the HVAC looked lovely, but was not at all ergonomic, and the were still weird-burger stalks
Blame it on the editors of R&T. I read three of their reviews of the 505 before writing this, as I do not have seat time experience in one. They’re the ones who made a point of the relative normalization of the 505’s controls and such from the 504.
In truth, whilst I’ve driven a few 504s, I didn’t have need to use lights or HVAC. On the successor, the first time I drove at night, I sat there for 6 or 7 minutes before working out how to turn the lights on (you had to turn a stalk through three planes, but it was so stiff and click-clacky, I assumed it did not do this! The a/c was another mystery, that I never did work out other than knowing where the position on the slider was that made it function (and yes, it was correctly adjusted). Then the tinily-marked different positions for face level or foot, etc, were all lined up in a vertical slider that had a delicate little control that was hard to “land” on the position wanted. The rear demister was right next the emergency flashers, and all of this stuff was quite out of eyeline, down, over there somewhere. Finally, if you wanted to put a tape in and were in 1st, 3rd or 5th, you’d have to wait for one of the other gears that wasn’t in the way!
It looked nice, and functioned well, but ergonomic, it was surely not. Admittedly, the later dash was a bit better, but it looked and felt like rubbish.
When I see 505 diesels of this vintage, I’m reminded of Philadelphia taxicabs. Back around 1980, Philadelphia’s largest taxi company decided to replace much of its fleet of Checkers with Peugeot 505’s – spurred on by fuel costs, Peugeot’s advertised durability, and undoubtedly by some clever lobbying from a local Peugeot dealer (Fred’s Foreign Cars), from where Yellow Cab placed its order.
Yellow Cab made a very big deal of this, even arranging for a police-escorted parade of new Peugeot cabs around downtown (picture below). But the Peugeots quickly became pariahs – they were loud, slow, dirty, and didn’t quite live up to the hoped-for durability claims.
I do still recall a few very well-used 505 taxis in the early 1990s, but needless to say, Philly’s taxicab companies stuck with tried-and-true domestic models after this episode.
That’s a bit fascinating. I’ve heard (through CC, natch) of the New York 504 taxis, but never of this.
I’d presume they were automatics, and on that score alone, a sure-fire fail. As a diesel, almost comically slow. For private users, they’ve got a good back seat (and a damn comfy one at that), but it’s just not that roomy. And as I mention below, the essentially-tough bodies do not really feel so. It’s even visible. If you ever see a 505, have a look at the door fit. From earliest to last, the gaps are uneven and huge.
If you add to all that the, shall we say, relaxed attitude to longevity of any part not the drivetrain, and it’s just not a taxi for North American use.
A brave Philly taxi company, who I’m sure were never brave again!
The Peugeot cabs were a big deal in Philadelphia at the time. It was a short-lived Big Deal, of course, but they did generate a lot of excitement. They were so modern-looking, they hit right at the peak of diesel popularity, and they were so fancy-looking.
Someone (not sure if it was a cabbie, a City leader, or the Peugeot dealer) said the 505’s made the old Checkers look like “swollen glands” by comparison. Probably the best automotive analogy I’ve ever heard.
But I suspect quite a few cabdrivers missed their old swollen glands after a while.
The guy who operated the only cab company in Fort Wayne, Indiana did the same thing, only a little earlier. All of the Checkers went away and a new fleet of Peugeot 504 diesels replaced them. They must not have proven very satisfactory because they disappeared fairly quickly, replaced by a bunch of Chevy Impala/Caprice sedans, if memory serves.
My guess is that the biggest issue was service and repairs. Who was going to do that?? I can just see the mechanics that were assigned to repair these. It wouldn’t surprise me if they actually sabotaged them, as they undoubtedly were not happy with the change.
And probably the drivers felt similarly.
The decisions to buy these were obviously top-down, based on operating cost projections. But nobody asked the mechanics or drivers what they thought about working on or driving a French car.
I read hat was the reasons the 505 was with drawn from service in York City for the more durable Impala and LTDs.
An outstanding example of rectilinear styling with enough swerve and verve to make it even more appealing, something about these speaks to me, make mine one from the mid-1980s, preferably a Turbo, with those chunky 8-spoke alloys and the US-market rectangular sealed beams in their surround, those look even better to me than the Euro-market lights, perhaps a first.
That’d be quite impressive if it has in fact sat out there for close to three decades now blocking the garage door, especially if the tires still held their air. Perhaps they had the special Nitrogen fill…
Obviously I do not know if it’s sat there all this time. But that building, apparently attached or co-owned with the car wash, has also been long not used. Oakridge (like so many Oregon mill towns) had a major economic collapse in the 1980s, and vast swathes of businesses and commercial buildings were shut down. Many of them, like this car wash, still are. The commercial district was a borderline ghost town for many years. What has come back are different sorts of businesses.
BTW, there were several other old trucks in close proximity back there behind the building next to the car wash, also with decades-long expired tags. It appears that nobody cares what gets stashed back there.
It’s possible this 505 was pushed there more recently, but why would be a good question, as its interior has all the signs of decay (and rust from trapped moisture) of a car that has not had any activity on or to it in several decades.
I grew up on Vancouver Island in the small town of Duncan and graduated from high school in 1983. The entire economy of the place was based on forestry and every year, the industry went on strike in the summer. There was a large strike in 1982 and the forest companies decided to automate. There were huge protests over this, and other regressive moves by the government of the time.
As soon as the boys reached age 16, they could drop out of school to chop down trees and probably half did that. Not only was automation causing job losses, by this time a lack of timber was also happening, and still is.
Many of the boys who dropped out school circa 1980 never had good, steady work. These were the same boys who bullied and picked on my for being a good student. Many have passed early.
I worked with someone who drove an early 505 in the early ’80s, and occasionally rode in it. Before then, I paid little attention to Peugeots – the 504 was unattractive, the 604 was too obviously related to the 505 though better, the 505 looked sweet but had a dull interior with a Japanese economy car dash, if decent-looking velour seats. Then I rode in one and my impressions were transformed. The seats were big and very comfortable, soft yet supportive, and the bronze-tinted glass pickup up on the gold paint and beige velour seats and door panels. It had a smooth ride to match the comfortable seats, though not in the same class as a big Citroen. The surroundings that looked so generic in magazine photos looked better in real life.
But in an era where Japanese cars were redesigned every four years, with American and German brands pumping out new generations almost that fast, the 505 seemed to grow old and stick around forever. The square-peg-in-an-oblong-hole rectangular headlamps on later US cars didn’t help, nor did the new dash or new engine variants. It became stale and unnoticed, leaving little incentive to buy a car with little aftermarket and service support.
PSA wanted to break into the US market again and did plan to bring Peugeots back to the US to have some presence here, but the Stellantis merger made that unnecessary. Stellantis thinks the money needed to bring Pugs to America would be better spent trying to revive the Chrysler brand, and as much as I’d liked to have Peugeot back, have to agree with them from a financial perspective. Stellantis also wants to revive Lancia, but those plans don’t include an American relaunch either.
I was always disappointed that the 505 didn’t do better in the USA.
I had one, for about 8 months, as a new car demonstrator when the Buick dealer I worked for added the Peugeot line.
I got it because nobody wanted the 5 speed manual transmission.
The compliant suspension and well padded but supportive bucket seats made most of even the most extreme potholes in New Orleans melt away.
The factory air conditioning, while not up to Buick standards, still did a fine job of taming the Heat & Humidity that soaks #NOLA 9 months of the year.
It was a little slow off the line from a stop light; but it you watched the tachometer and shifted intelligently it could keep up with traffic. Once up to 70-80 mph on Interstate 10 it hummed right along.
Unfortunately, the last month I had the car it started falling apart. Various electrical and emissions equipment related issues made for questionably reliability. Made worse by the dealership’s Buick mechanics who had little desire to learn about the car.
Since then, I have installed 505 seats in three different base model Japanese trucks. The change in ride quality had to be felt to be believed.
I was going to comment on the seats, but I’ve only been in a 505 once…believe it or not it was a Hertz rental from Newark in 1985..I had just been laid off from Datapoint (itself a recent victim of a corporate takeover) and hadn’t started my next job, so I had some time off, and travelled with my parents to visit my grandparents (we live 1600 miles away and flew).
We had the rental car a week so I barely remember it, but remembered that the seats in my Dad’s ’68 Renault R10 were also very comfortable (remember them better). Thought that the Peugeot might have similarly nice seating.
Not sure how you managed the mounting hardware in the trucks; even the seatbelts were really odd on the Renault, there was a “loop” that attached to the seat frame which the belt with the clip end fastened to kind of like the claw of a crab. Of course you could remove the loop and weld a more “normal” mount for another set of seat belts, but I also wonder about the attachment of the seat to the floor. I doubt it was similar to the Japanese trucks, but maybe wasn’t too difficult if you did it on 3 different trucks.
Never got close to another Peugeot, inside of a decade later they left the US market for good.
I have owned two of these old leaning towers, and the thoughts range from Eifel to awful.
The styling of the original is a triumph of subtlety. Rather like the Citroen CX, it is best contemplated naked – in specification, of course. Find a photo of a ’79 farmer’s tight-ass special, preferably in metallic green, but otherwise steel-wheeled and side-trimless. It is superbly, glassily elegant, looking as if pulled upwards just slightly by a huge hand at the corners of each A and C pillar. Note also a visual trick that is almost certainly central to the elegance that would otherwise be just severity: this very architectural shape, very angular, has barely a straight line on it.
Alas and alack, it was not allowed to age with dignity. The US ones were immediately egregious, rounding off the super-cold trapezoid eyes and grafting battering rams on either end. Worse, and of mystifying origin, they buggered about with the rear, adding a slope and some huge tailight assemblies above the swollen bumper bar.
All of this got only worse as the angular era was superceded. Even Euro ones started getting trims and heavier wrap-around bumpers, and two-tones and fussy alloys, and spoiling spoilers and lowered stances. Not one bit of this desecration added anything, but any of all of it took away. And by that final V6, loaded with the lot, it looked like an anonycar for displaying a JC Whitney catalogue of crap.
As for the machine itself, if one was sitting up high on those superb wool seats, in fifth, a/c gently ventilating, old pushrod four at about 3500 rpm at 75-80, 30 mpg at will, finely feelsome steering steering, ride being impervious to all, corners not noticed, the thing could not be bettered. It truly couldn’t.
Even if around town, it was pretty damn slow, a bit snatchy in the drivetrain (a 504/505 curse) and not wondrous. Even if, as an auto, like my second, and despite injection, it could be positively drab, and in neither version was reliability all it should’ve been.
Truth is, as desirable as it was in ideal conditions – a very suitable car for a long-distance salesman using indifferent roads, perhaps – the 505 was less than the sum of its elegant parts.
Even bodily, it simply rattled and groaned more than any 504, let alone granite 404, ever did. And apart from the nuclear-survival level basic mechanicals, too much else bolted onto those was just a bit too prone to sulking to ever allow the whole car to amount to a totally great one.
Metropolitan Chicago may have been one of the few spots between the coasts where Peugeots, and the 505, were not uncommon back in the 1980s. These were, as noted, viewed as an alternative to Volvo, SAAB, BMW, and Audi in the upper-middle market and enjoyed some cache as affluent suburbanites turned away en masse from the Big Three.
A college roommate had the use of his mother’s 505 for one semester while she wintered in Florida. That car, a gas-powered 2.0L four, always started, even when parked at the remote lot out on the Lake Michigan shore during an ice storm. I remember we all used the word “stately” to describe its acceleration. The ride was extremely compliant and smoothed out Chicago potholes and expansion joints, impressing me as a passenger almost as much as those very comfortable seats. Apparently, reliability ended up being an issue, as the 505 was replaced by an A-body Buick station wagon a year or so later.
Aside from following the 1980’s European tendency for adding a bit too much exterior trim over the years (worst example though is the Volvo 140/240, which by end of its life was covered in bits of plastic and aluminum), to my eyes the 505 sets the standard for clean timeless 3 box styling. As for Oakridge, first the A&W closed, now there’s a Peugeot on the street, even if not running. The gentrification has reached a tipping point. Though on one of my visits a few years ago, an abundance of Gambler 500 cars made for some interesting automotive viewing.
I have a lot of experience driving a 505, as my undergrad girlfriend had one. The 505 was a lovely car. It was built like a tank and rode like a magic carpet. Although it was far from fast, the demeanour of the car wasn’t about high speed anyway. Wafting serenely was its thing.
The 504 was, in my exceptionally humble opinion, a nicer car. The interior of the 504 was much nicer, without the cheap plastics of the 504. It seemed to hold up better, too.
As Paul mentions, wafting serenely was kind of on the way out in 1980. The talk was all about g-forces, canyon-carving, bahn-burning, track numbers and 0-60.
As noted, Peugeots offered superior quality and reliability and the attributes mentioned above.
As a kid in 1970s Greece, I perceived them as rugged, reliable and high-quality, but not very exciting, a car for “older people who wanted substance”.
So, while I don’t share our host’s passion for Peugeot autos, the only Peugeot I have ever “driven”, when I was 15, definitely impressed me as the best vehicle of it’s type ever–my friend’s Peugeot 10-speed bicycle—it was the ultimate cycling machine!
I always wanted one of these. For me, the styling is perfect. In Canada they were sold through Chrysler dealerships for a time. Was this the case in the US?
In Canada, Peugeot was sold through select Chrysler dealers as Jonathan E. said but only 1984 to 1987 when there was a pause in Peugeot sales until 1989 with the introduction of the 405 (and no more 505 sales in Canada). Surprisingly, the Chrysler connection seemed to have helped sales significantly but then that wouldn’t have been difficult with the previously spotty dealer network, at least outside of Quebec.
I would agree that the 504 had better quality interior materials with the exception of the seat coverings, which always seemed to fail on the 504 but lasted a long time on the 505. I had an ’84 GL Sedan and an ’86 S Wagon and I enjoyed them both greatly; each went on to enormous mileage without major problem and the ancient OHV 4 would seemingly run forever. The seats and ride in each car were magnificent. I’ve been fortunate to own some interesting cars over the years, but I really miss my Peugeots.
Would CC be interested in a 21st Century test drive of a 505? A friend has one, so it would be fairly easy to do.
Superb piece Paul, always wanted to know more about how the 505 did in the US. I understand that it underperformed in sales globally as well compared to older Peugeots.
I was used with another type of 505 tail lights, maybe that with bigger red lights didn’t come to South America.
The lights on the car of the post are USA-only, with that slope outward at the bottom, probably to help integrate the enormous US bumper (they don’t!)
The lights you show are the Series 2 ones for the rest-of-world, from about ’86. They were on my 2nd 505. The originals, which are smaller and don’t have that plastic infill bit between where the plate goes (and with a much smaller bumper) look much nicer, to me.
I’ll always prefer the 504 for family reasons – and the 203 because they just look awesome, but the 505 is undeniably a great Peugeot in its own right. And a beauty, too.
BTW, the thermostatic clutch fan was pioneered in 1958 on the 403.
I had a 1983 505 STI that I brought from my boss who had it on a lease. It had beautiful black paint and the saddle color leather interior. I thought it looked great, but many of my friends thought it was an odd looking car.
The car had some very quirky things about it. The door panels had these round plastic pegs where the window cranks would have been if the car didn’t have power windows. Oh and the power window switches were in a very odd place too on the console. The horn was at the end of the turning signal lever which I found really annoying. And where the horn was supposed to be on in the center of the steering wheel, you could easily lift the plastic cover and use it as a secret storage bin. Another oddity was the dash mounted AC vents, which lifted up away from the dashboard to adjust the airflow.
Even with those quirky issues, I still enjoyed the car and never had any major issues with it while I owned it. Oh yes, the leather seats were extremely comfortable !
There used to be a Peugeot mechanic near me with about a dozen 505s parked out front. It closed in the mid 2000s and the building was soon torn down and replaced with a cellphone store. Someone was still driving a 505 wagon around here until a few years ago. Last time I saw it it had a flat black paintjob to cover up the peeling paint.
Well…h’mm. On or around the day this car came to need a replacement taillight, I probably could’ve caused a new OE item to materialise promptly with one phone call to Texas. But it’s a bit of a rabbit-from-a-tophat trick, that is; this is not an item one could’ve just picked up at a parts store; a tough find at a wrecking yard, and parts tend to be permanently out of stock at dealerships that don’t exist.