Curbside Classic: 1980 Peugeot 505 SD – Waiting Patiently For Its CC Ever Since It Broke Down Here In 1994

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 bubble.

Instead I had gotten into messing with houses, quite the contrast from the internet, but I did find 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 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?

Related reading:

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