(first posted 9/4/2013) Peugeot has a distinguished line of Coupe and Cabriolet variants of its mainstream products in its archive, and in many ways the 406 Coupe was the last of the line. I recently spent two weeks in southwestern France (well, someone has to!) and was fortunate enough to see a pretty complete selection, starting with the 402, many of them at a car show at the Chapelle Nationale de Vehicules Anciens (National Chapel for Old Vehicles) in the city of Tonneins.
The 402 saloon and Coupe from 1935 to 1942 started the trend; conservatively engineered–especially compared with the contemporary Citroën Traction Avant–and with elegant styling that showed how streamlining didn’t necessarily have to frighten the horses.
The 403 of 1958 also featured conservative engineering, but this time with Pininfarina styling somewhat similar to the Mercedes Benz 190 “Ponton” and (to my eyes at least) some Rootes Group products. The only reason these people aren’t looking at the car is that the bride has just come out of the church.
In 1961 came the 404 saloon, Coupe and Cabriolet. The lines of the 404 Cabriolet and Coupe are classic Pininfarina; very typical of the company’s work of that time, they shared many design elements with Fiats, Lancias, and even Ferraris of the 1960s. We Brits note that the Austin Cambridge A55 and Morris Oxford Series 5 came first, though.
The Coupe shows very clear Lancia characteristics, but how can you look at the Cabriolet and not think “Big MGB”?
Then came the 204 range and later, the 304. Similar to the Mini in configuration, these were front-wheel drive cars with transverse engines and the gearbox in the sump. The 204 was France’s best-selling car in the late 1970s, and the hatchback Coupe shows some BMW 2002 Touring links.
The 304 was very similar to the 204, but featured revised front and rear styling, a new interior, and a 1.3-liter engine in place of the 204’s 1.1-liter mill.
Now comes the pièce de résistance: The 504 Coupe and Cabriolet were launched in 1969–and to my eyes, are among the best-looking cars ever produced: Pininfarina, of course, and without many visual links to the regular saloon. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. Production ended in 1979.
After the 1975 demise of the 304 and 504, there was no Peugeot coupe, save for the small 205 Cabriolet, until the 406 Coupe came on stream in 1996. Designed by Pininfarina, it was visually fully consistent with the elegance of its forebears despite being based on the Peugeot-styled saloon.
This example was parked in the car park at the Chapelle Nationale de Vehicules Anciens. While I’m personally not fond of silver cars, in this case I feel the color works well to display the lines of the car without any bulk or overly prominent display–quiet, understated elegance is probably the classiest kind. Don’t worry, it hasn’t hit the tree – it’s just French public holiday parking. Here’s a picture not taken on a public holiday….
You don’t really to need to know about engines for this car, since looking at it is enough. (For the record, choices included both 2.0-liter gasoline and diesel engines, and a range-topping 2.9-liter V6.) Also aboard were the luxuries you’d expect from what was effectively Peugeot’s top-range car in many markets. (In reality, the 607 saloon sold only within the taxi and official markets in any numbers).
The 406 was superseded by the 407, which also offered a Coupe variant. As this blog is about elegant cars, I haven’t included a photo of it, or of the 307 and 308 Coupe Cabriolets that Peugeot has offered since 2003.