The Peugeot 204 is a small family car produced by the French manufacturer Peugeot between 1965 and 1976.
The 204, known in development as Project D12, was available in many body styles including a sedan/saloon/berline, convertible/cabriolet, coupe, estate/wagon, and a van. It was launched in Paris, France on 23 April 1965 and became the best-selling car in France from 1969 to 1971.
The 204 used a front-wheel drive layout and was launched with a single overhead cam 1130 cc gasoline engine (the maximum allowed for the 6CV 'car tax' class in France). In September 1975, less than a year before production ceased, it received a more modern petrol engine, now of 1127 cc. Claimed maximum output, which at launch had been 53 bhp (39 kW), increased to 59 bhp (43 kW), though there was a marginal reduction in maximum torque.
Following the demise of the 204 the new 1127 cc engine found its way into a version of the Peugeot 304 estate: the smaller engine enjoyed in France tax benefits when compared to the 1290 cc engines fitted to most 304s.
For certain export markets engine compression ratios and power on the petrol/gasoline engines were reduced in order to accommodate lower octane fuels.
Towards the end of 1968 a 1255 cc diesel engine option became available for the 204 estate and fourgonette (van) versions. At the time, this is thought to have been the smallest diesel engine fitted in a commercially available car anywhere in the world. In April 1973 the diesel unit was increased in size to 1357 cc, and in September 1975 this diesel unit finally became an option on the 204 saloon. However, out of the approximately 150,000 diesel 204s produced, fewer than 30,000 were saloons. Until the early 1980s when Volkswagen started heavy promotion of their diesel engined Golf / Rabbit, and unless cars were large enough to be used as taxis, most European customers for saloon cars avoided diesel engines.
Layout and running gear
204 engines were aluminium and transversely mounted which increased available passenger space within a given wheelbase: the 204 was the first production Peugeot to feature this format which later would become normal for small and medium sized front wheel drive Peugeot passenger cars.
The engine had a distinctive design; the gearbox and differential were located directly below the engine block. This design helped Peugeot produce its first front wheel drive car.
The 204 was also the first Peugeot to be equipped with disc brakes, albeit only on the front wheels.
The car proved to have good handling, decent performance, and excellent fuel economy.
The compact engine and the transverse engine combined with a body wider than the class average to provide a level of interior space comparable to larger cars such as Peugeot's own 404: both cars were Pininfarina designs. The 204 featured neither the fins of the 404 nor the sharp corners characteristic of the other major French launch of 1965. The resulting less aggressive look has been seen as a 'more European' moving away from a tendency to follow US styling trends that had been apparent in new car launches during the preceding two decades. The Peugeot 204's frontal styling owes much to the 1961 Cadillac Jacqueline by Pininfarina, whilst its rear and that of the prototype Pininfarina styled Mini-based MG ADO 34 of 1964 are strikingly similar. The rear end of the 1970 Lancia Flavia Pininfarina Coupe of 1969–74 also displays the same influence.
The options list was not extensive but, as with the larger Peugeot sedans, it was possible to specify a sliding steel panel sunroof.
At launch only the four door saloon version was offered, but the five door 'break' station wagon came along less than six months later in the Autumn of 1965. 1966 saw the arrival of two door coupé and cabriolet versions employing a shortened chassis and priced only 20% above the level of the (admittedly not particularly aggressively priced) saloon. The range was completed in 1966 with the arrival of the 'fourgonette' van version which in most respects followed the design of the estate, but with only one door on each side and a steel panel in place of the side windows behind the b pillar.
1969 saw the Autumn launch of the Peugeot 304 which was essentially a 204 with a slightly larger engine, a restyled front end and, in the case of the saloon version, a substantially increased rear overhang giving rise to more luggage space. The 204 range was correspondingly pruned: the 204 coupé and cabriolet received the dashboard of the new 304 in 1969 only to be withdrawn in 1970, replaced by similarly bodied 304 equivalents. The estate and fourgonette continued to be offered, along with the saloon, until the 204 range was withdrawn in 1976.
Although the model run lasted more than a decade, the Peugeot 204 changed very little during that time: very early saloons/berlines had a split rear bumper with numberplate set between the two halves, a flat rear panel and small oval tail lights. For 1975, the stainless steel front grill was replaced by a black plastic grill of the same overall shape. The gearshift for RHD UK cars was moved from the steering column to the floor.
Anglophone press reaction
In the UK, a Peugeot 204 saloon tested by Britain's Autocar magazine in September 1966 had a top speed of 86 mph (138 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 22 seconds. An overall fuel consumption of 32.0 miles per imperial gallon (8.83 L/100 km; 26.6 mpg-US) was achieved. The test car was priced by Peugeot in the UK at £903 including taxes: a British competitor, the Triumph 1300 was retailing for £835. The UK domestic auto market still enjoyed significant tariff protection at this time. The journal commended the car for lively performance, positive accurate steering, fade free brakes, good fuel economy and light controls. Finish and equipment were described as ‘austere and disappointing in relation to price’, however.
Britain's MOTOR Magazine tested one of the rare 3 door 204 Coupé models on 12 October 1968. In this case they found that the car would reach 87 mph (140 km/h) on the MIRA banked circuit, with 90 mph (140 km/h) being possible on flatter roads. 0–60 MPH was run in 17.3 seconds. Overall fuel consumption was 30.2 MPG. The price including all taxes was £1299. The car impressed the testers, despite its price, swollen by import taxes.
When the Peugeot 204 was launched in 1965, obvious domestic market competitors were the Renault 10 and the Simca 1300. Both were rear wheel drive, and the Renault was rear engined. Of the traditionally more avant garde competitors, Citroën produced, till 1970, only cars that were substantially smaller or substantially larger while Panhard, starved of product investment, had retreated into a low volume niche, offering a model which would soon be withdrawn in order to free up production capacity for small Citroën vans.
For Peugeot, a traditional manufacturer of conventional bourgeois sedans, to launch a transverse engined front wheel drive saloon, was startling: no secret was made of the extent to which the 204 had been inspired by British developments. The Peugeot was the same length as the Renault 10 and over 20 cm shorter than the Simca 1300, but its configuration conferred a clear space advantage, as subsequent model introductions from Simca in 1967 and Renault in 1970 appeared to acknowledge. Sales of the 204 got off to a cautious start, with no need to compete solely on price: the car was heavily trailed by press leaks so that by the time of its formal announcement over 5,000 had already been ordered unseen. By 1969 the 204 had nonetheless climbed to the top of the French sales charts and, together with the newly introduced 204 based 304, redefined the domestic market for small sedans in the process. The sales success of the 204 also moved Peugeot from fourth to second place in the French sales charts, overtaking Simca and Citroën in the process. In this case market share seems to have been increased without excessively compromising corporate profitability: the commercial rivals would each suffer a financial collapse, the businesses both coming under the control of Peugeot, within the next ten years.
In the 1960s Europe was still for most purposes divided into national markets and 72% of the 204s produced were sold in France. Principal export markets within Europe were West Germany – Germany being then as now Europe's largest 'national' market – and Benelux. However, most western European markets took some 204s. In Africa the 204 never achieved the popularity of its larger siblings. Nevertheless, the 204 was not entirely unknown outside Europe.
In 1976, when the 204 was withdrawn, it had been joined in the Peugeot range by the 'supermini' class Peugeot 104. Like the 203 before it, the 204 had no immediate replacement. Ultimately the hatchback Peugeot 205 introduced late in 1982 occupied a market position comparable to that occupied till 1976 by the 204. In the meantime the Peugeot 304 soldiered on until 1980, complemented since late 1977 by its replacement. Once the 304 was being produced in tandem with its successor it could be priced more aggressively, so that customers who till 1976 would have chosen a 204 were able to afford what was virtually the same car with a larger engine and a larger boot/trunk.