Just because you have money, doesn’t mean you have to shout about it. Of course, judging by the brash, bold and entirely over-stylised executive saloons currently on offer, such a remark seems entirely lost on modern day car manufacturing. But there was a time where the more tactful and subtle was appreciated. Today’s prime find is perhaps the executive saloon which best epitomises such an approach.
It’s amusing to think that only two weeks ago, I chose another hugely charming and rather square-cut Frenchman as Prime Find; the tiny, early eighties Talbot Samba. This week’s Prime Find may well be from largely the same era, certainly every bit as square-cut, certainly every bit as French too and even with origins from within the same PSA Group, but that’s where the similarities end, as the Peugeot 604 obviously aimed for a very different market segment indeed.
The Peugeot 604 SL was launched in 1975 as a new ’76-model and was the French marques first return to the executive market segment since the short-lived Peugeot 601 of 1934. Cost had been kept in check by certain components such as the bulkhead and part of the floorpan being reused from the successful 504. Tucked away in the engine bay was a 136hp carburated 2.7-litre version of the then newly introduced PRV V6 engine which had been developed as a joint project between Peugeot, Renault and Volvo. Drive was to the rear wheels through either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic transmission, while a 5-speed manual became available later. And then there was that sharp three-box Pininfarina design which just oozed calm and understated elegance. Mind you, it was certainly more than subtle enough to go unnoticed by the uninitiated. Yet it still manages to have real presence – it just does so without shouting about it, which is really quite an accomplishment.
So accomplished was the styling that despite ten years of production, the handsome Peugeot 604 was never deemed to require a facelift. I guess, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Under the skin however, the 604 did see a few improvements and changes during its lifespan. First came the fuel-injected 604 Ti of 1977 which utilising the Bosch K-Jetronic pushed out an extra 8hp from the V6. This is also when the 5-speed transmission became available. Then in 1979, the diesel-engined 604 became the first passenger car in Europe to have a turbodiesel engine (though Mercedes-Benz beat them to it in the USA by a couple of years). In 1980, the dashboard was changed ever so slightly and Peugeot also gave us the 604 STi which was effectively just a Ti with more equipment. And finally, towards the very end of 604 production, we got the rare 604 GTi with a slightly larger 2.8-litre engine now producing 155hp. With sales of the 604 on a serious decline towards the end of its lifespan, production finally ceased at the end of 1985 with only a little more than 150,000 examples of the executive Peugeot saloons being produced over those ten years.
But while the 604 was hardly the commercial success which Peugeot had hoped for, it seemed to always receive critical acclaim from the motoring press. Especially the quality of the ride was among the very best available at the time and the precise rack-and-pinion steering was often praised too. When the respected British magazine CAR first drove the 604, they described it as: “such a carefully conceived and thoroughly developed car that one can´t help be utterly impressed” and then went on to conclude: “the Jaguar XJ6, the BMW 525/528, the Fiat 130, Mercedes 280E and Volvo 264 GL are going to have to close ranks against a formidable new intruder”.
Peugeot themselves initially tried to convince buyers of the upper-middle class that their 604 offered “The engineering of the Mercedes-Benz 280E, the handling of the BMW 5-Series and the elegance of the Jaguar XJ6“. However, judging by the production numbers, their sales pitch clearly didn’t manage to convince a sufficient number buyers.
Yet, viewed now as a classic car, that rarity of course only makes the grand Peugeot 604 even more interesting. It is perhaps the most forgotten excellent Peugeot ever manufactured. It is frankly a car which I would love to have on my drive one day and I’ve felt that way about the 604 for as long as I can recall.
Admitted, this particular advert is painfully lacking. But the private French vendor has told us that we’re looking at his 1976 Peugeot 604SL – so from the first full year of production. It has a manual transmission which I can only presume will be the original 4-speed since nothing else is mentioned. The seller tells that there is no corrosion in the car and that the 604 remains in very good and original condition both inside and out. Mileage is claimed to be a rather low 103,000km which equates to 63,000 miles, though it is left unclear whether this can be verified in any way. I suppose the pictures tell the rest of the story as the gold metallic 604SL on early stock steel wheels seems to present surprisingly well. Just look at that sumptuous velour interior, the stylish doorcards, and while the difference is purely in the detail, I’ve always preferred the early dashboard and not least the early 3-spoke steering wheel. We’ve borrowed these pictures from the advert:
Now let’s get back to the required finances. At a mere Euro 3,000 which currently equates to £ 2,700 surely this can only be defined as absolutely stunning value for money! That’s no doubt also down to it being the least powerful SL version, as both Ti, STi and GTi models generally cost a little more. But regardless, I struggle to see where else you will get so much for so little. To top it all off, (depending of course on where you currently reside) you even get the opportunity for an adventurous roadtrip (in sublime luxury of course) as you will have to pick up this elegant French saloon in Le Castellet a little east of Marseille on the south coast of France. In case you’re as tempted as I am, you might need the link to the full advert: 1976 Peugeot 604SL V6
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org