The Peugeot 204 Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

In Peugeot, Short Cuts by Jonathan Humphrey

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The car that returned Peugeot to the principles it still follows today.


Fifty years ago a car was launched that became the benchmark for the small, quality cars that Peugeot is famous for. A successful front wheel drive car was still a pretty revolutionary concept back in the sixties.

The Peugeot 204 was launched to its very surprised dealers back on the 22nd April 1965. The car was the first production Peugeot to have front disc brakes and all round independent suspension. Another revolution was the cars size. Since WW2 Peugeots had grown in size, the company was principally known for larger cars at that time.

The new 204 cars were Chic and sophisticated but priced out of the reach of many drivers. This car was to change all that and make Peugeot affordable, fun-to-drive, stylish and of high quality.

At less than 4m long, the 204 was to be one of the first examples of the ‘small-medium’ sized segment. The aim was to offer the space of a family car in a smaller package, promoting downsizing, long before the concept became more commonplace. There are now current models such as the 308 which carry on this trend today.

The car featured a transversely mounted engine with a transverse gearbox mounted below, giving the pace needed to enable the car to be front wheel drive. The lightweight 1130cc single overhead camshaft petrol engine was made from pressure-moulded aluminium. Three years later a 1255cc diesel engine was launched into the range. This engine is believed to have been the smallest capacity diesel engine in a production car making the 204 one of the most efficient cars of its era.

The car was renowned for lively performance, positive steering and good economy. The 204 also went on to be offered as a two-door cabriolet, three door ‘coupe’, five-door estate, and three-door van body shapes, as well as the four-door saloon it was launched as. Between 1969 and 1971, the 204 became the best-selling car in France, the first time a PEUGEOT had ever held that title.

Len Dacruz from South London has owned his Peugeot 204 for 44 years. He said: “In its day the 204 was a very popular car. It still feels stable, comfortable and fun to drive. It’s very robust too. I found out about the 204 model because I lived in South Africa during the 1960s. Just after its launch, it was entered in the East African Safari Rally where it won its class. Those cars were then shipped back to France where they were stripped down and any problem parts were modified, which helped to make the 204 even more reliable. It really is a great car to own.”

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