Vintage Road & Track Road Test: 1967 Peugeot 404 Automatique – I Had A Couple Of Those

This review was of particular interest to me, as I owned several 404s, two of which had the automatique, ZF’s new three-speed torque converter automatic, in other words. I didn’t really know much about them, except for their characteristics, obviously, which were mostly very good, with one exception. This review had the same impressions I did, but it provided some explanation and technical details.

Obviously the 404 was getting a bit out of date visually by 1967, having arrived back in 1960. Seven years were an eternity back then, stylistically. But the 1967 model year was a good one for the 404, as it received a number of improvements, along with the availability of the new ZF automatic.

The 1.6 liter engine’s compression was raised, upping hp to 80 (gross). The interior upholstery got a new perforated vinyl, and there were other detail changes. The 404’s stellar reputation made up for the obsolete narrow body with its fins. But then there were benefits to that too.

Up to this time, Borg Warner’s Model 35 had a virtual monopoly on the automatic market in Europe, with Mercedes being a key exception. The 35 was never a loved thing; “a marginal proposition” as R&T called it. I couldn’t agree more.

The ZF was decidedly more advanced, and had a number of features specifically targeted to the European market. Its torque converter was relatively “tight”, meaning a low stall speed, low maximum torque multiplication, and minimal slippage as a result. Also, the torque converter had a locking feature, so that once it attained the speed where there was no more torque amplification, it locked up solidly, eliminating slip. Both these features were made for the purpose of increasing efficiency, a key factor in Europe, where automatics were considered gas hogs, among other things.

I did not know these things, but I certainly felt some of them, most notably the low stall speed/torque multiplication. Our big 404 wagon had this transmission, and there were a time or two when I seriously wondered whether it was going to make it up a very steep hill when starting out from a stop. Admittedly, the time I wondered this the most, it was pretty full of passengers and lots of luggage, and it was in the Sierras, at high altitude. But it explains why.

The main issue is that Peugeot specified the control aspects of the transmission, choosing to have it start in second gear in D range. Given the “tight” torque converter and the none-too torquey 1.6 l four, that inevitably meant leisurely take-offs. Yes, giving it full throttle did result in a downshift to first, but that’s not suitable for normal driving. The other option was to put use L range, which meant first gear starts, but also shift points at maximum engine speeds. Also not suitable for normal driving. The only good solution was to engage L at a start, then shift into D once underway. A semi-automatique, in other words.

R&T said that Peugeot chose this to increase efficiency, but they questioned it, as it took essentially full throttle to have a reasonably normal getaway from start. It was a much more pleasant and involved less engine effort to have it start in first. FWIW, R&T noted a 5 mpg fuel economy penalty compared to the four speed version they had tested previously, resulting in a tested mileage of 19-21 mpg.

I picked up a 1967 sedan automatique with a bit of rear end damage for next to nothing, and got it running sweetly in short order. I already had my 4-speed sedan, so I “leased” it to a coworker, who needed wheels. She was happy enough with it, and never bothered to downshift.

A year or so later, when Stephanie finally was ready to drive, I picked up a ’70 wagon with the automatique. Fortunately, by then Peugeot had revised the shift pattern, and it always started in first. Good thing, as the wagon was a fair bit heavier than the sedan. It always shifted very cleanly, crisply but not harshly. I was quite impressed; it was a good or better than any of the vaunted Big Three automatics.


Beyond the automatique, R&T again noted all the qualities that made the 404 such a fine car: the extremely comfortable seats and attractive interior, superb visibility,  and an “outstanding” ride quality that was the equal or better of cars weighing 1500 lbs more. The steering was noted to be a bit heavy at slow speed, but quickly lightened and was very accurate. Noise level was low. Handling was significantly better than the soft suspension would suggest, albeit with the customary French body roll, but the Michelin X radials held on tight.

The manual 404 was obviously a more satisfactory choice for the engaged driver, but for Americans in particularly, having the option of an automatique was important, and other than the second gear start, suited the general characteristics of the 404 quite well. It preferred to waft, even if it was a brisk waft.


Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1969 Peugeot 404 Sedan – The French Mercedes And Just Like Mine   PN

Automotive History: Peugeot 203, 403, 404, 504, and 505 Station Wagons: The Greatest Wagons In The World  PN