Peugeot have historically always strived very hard to manufacture well engineered and aesthetically pleasing cars, but somehow it’s as if they have always just fallen a little bit short of that goal. Many of their otherwise successful designs have struggled to attract classic car enthusiasts into Peugeot ownership. But is the 404 Coupé perhaps the exception? Will it be the first Peugeot to achieve real fame and fortune in the classic car scene?
Peugeot introduced their 404 range in 1960. At the time, it appealed purely to those in the market for a family car, as it was only available as a saloon or an estate (known as the “Break” in French). The 404 models quickly gained a reputation as a practical and reliable automobile. This also contributed to making the 404 very popular as a taxi. The inline 4-cylinder 1600 cc utilizing a simple Solex carburetor produced 72 hp resulting in adequate performance. Later the power output rose to 96 hp – objectively a significant increase, but still not hugely impressive for a big and heavy car like the 404. But Peugeot had long since established themselves as a conveyer of quality products with stability as a corner stone of its reputation, and the 404 stuck conservatively to this and arguably even improved it further. However, their more adventurous customers could opt for fuel injection from 1963, or they could even disregard petrol altogether and buy their new 404 with a 1.9-litre diesel engine (perish the thought).
In 1962 the suspension set-up was updated, which led to a less antiquated ride in the relatively large car. True to Peugeot tradition, a droptop version was also introduced at the same time. The marque has always had a proud history of stylish and exquisite convertibles, and the 404 convertible quickly become a popular accessory along the French Riviera.
The following year, a suitable 404 is finally introduced for the distinguished Gentleman: the Peugeot 404 SL Coupé. With thanks to Pininfarina’s designers – a cooperation still in place to this day – a highly stylish yet elegantly unadorned two-door Peugeot takes on the world of GT’s. Not a sports car by any means, but rather a proper four-seater clad in a fashionable and sharp tailor suit. The engine and gearbox remain unchanged. Even the suspension, steering and differential are stock saloon components, and this ends up being the Achilles heel of the beautiful coupé.
During the same period, Pininfarina had been busy working on the new GTE version of the now so legendary 250 model. Ferrari had finally succumb to admitting the need for a 2+2 in their range, and had naturally approached their favoured designhouse, Pinifarina, with the task of creating this new and bigger coupé. As such there are several elements such as the general design language of the whole front and not least the positioning of the angled rear lights which the 250 GTE and the 404 Coupé have in common. This visual relationship between the two no doubt helped Peugeot significantly in giving the 404 Coupé a more glamorous image than it really deserved.
All of which didn’t change the fact that it just didn’t have the oomph to back up its looks. Compared to its competitors, it was underpowered and therefore wasn’t viewed as a proper GT car, but rather as a chic, handsome and relatively expensive version of the popular 404.
In these modern times, the 404 SL Coupé – SL is short for Super Luxe – still presents stylish with its classic sixties-defining GT design. But with Peugeots usual lack of commitment to more exotic engines and their interiors lacking any sense of occasion, it seems this coupé will forever live an anonymous life in the shadows of those who could back up their looks and thus became real icons. Sadly, Peugeot did the same all over again with the successor. Once again with the help of Pininfarina, the coupé version of the 504 boasted graceful and handsome bodywork. And once again, it had to make due with a hopeless interior. At least this time, Mr. GT-man was given the option of a V6 engine, but even so it just wasn’t quite enough for the otherwise so proud French marque.
The Peugeot 404 Coupé is sadly quite a rarity – also here in Denmark. I’m not even sure whether there’s a single road registered coupé in the whole country. Do you know of one living close by to you? How do you view the 404 Coupé? And what precisely is it that keeps Peugeot as a whole, from becoming better established within the classic car community?