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The Peugeot 604 is an executive car produced by the French manufacturer Peugeot from 1975 to 1985. 153,252 examples of the 604 were sold during its 10-year production life. It was made in France and also by Kia in Korea.

The Pininfarina-designed 604 was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1975 and drew praise for its formal, handsome styling. Sales began in September of that year. Based on the chassis of the Peugeot 504, using its doors, and mostly powered by the then-new 145 hp (108 kW) 2.7-litre V6 PRV engine, developed in conjunction with Renault and Volvo, the car was Peugeot's first entry into the large luxury saloon market for 40 years (the last being the short-lived Peugeot 601 of 1934).

In the marketplace

The 604 was effectively Peugeot's first entry into the executive class market segment. This meant that the car was required to steal customers from the more established brands - usually best done by being remarkable in some tangible respect. The 604 did have several noteworthy attributes, namely its damped and supple ride, equal to a contemporary Jaguar XJ6. Additionally the chassis and monocoque body, by now a well proven and sturdy design, borrowed from the 504, was immensely strong with a remarkably high torsional rigidity. The 604 was intended to be a response to the more established makes and models such as the Mercedes-Benz 280E, BMW 5-series, Volvo 264GL and Jaguar XJ6, but also competed with the Ford Granada, Opel Commodore, Fiat 130, and Audi 100. Price at launch was US$10,990. The 604 had unusually wide opening doors which made entry and egress very easy for users. This was especially appropriate for the car in its role as a limousine.

The 604 was considered a commercial failure. The production totaled 155,000 units, compared to the similarly priced Rover 3500 whose production total was approximately double that of the 604's. While over 36,000 cars were built in the first full year of production (1976), after that production gradually slowed down to a mere trickle. However Peugeot actually made a profit on each car made, primarily because of the shared tooling and engineering with the 504. Contemporary journalists attributed this relative failure to a variety of reasons, such as the unambitious styling, the lack of technical innovation, modest performance, and a reputation for problems with rust. Others pointed out that the recent energy crisis made this an inauspicious time for Peugeot (along with Renault, whose own six-cylinder saloon went on sale a few months earlier) to be moving into the market for six-cylinder saloons. However, by the time the oil shock hit the western economies Peugeot, along with joint venture partners Renault and Volvo, presumably believed they had invested too much in the design and development of production facilities for the new shared engine that would power the 604, to abandon the venture.

During the late 1970s, Peugeot and stablemate Citroën provided two ways to address the executive car segment - understated and classical (604), or distinctive and avant-garde design (CX). PSA Peugeot Citroën then decided to create a whole new brand, the Talbot out of the Chrysler Europe assets, and in 1980 introduced a direct competitor to the 604 and CX: the Talbot Tagora. Both the car and the brand were viewed as a sales and financial disaster, with the Tagora selling only 20% of the units achieved by the 604 and 2% of CX sales.

The German manufacturers did not hesitate to exploit this confusion in France, with cars like the 1974 BMW 5-Series (which also entered a segment new for the manufacturer) that had relatively good build quality. German cars created an unassailable position in the executive class auto market during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Germans were not challenged again until Japan addressed this segment 15 years later.

France has had not much success internationally in the executive segment after the Citroën DS's successor, the Citroën CX. The 604-era was perhaps the last point at which PSA Peugeot Citroën could theoretically have focused resources on becoming a viable long term competitor in this lucrative market segment. This is similar to the situation encountered in the US by the Lincoln Town Car.

The 604 was introduced during the recession caused by the 1973 energy crisis, which created a marketplace that was even more unfriendly to large-engined cars in France. Peugeot did launch some detuned economy versions of the 604, but they did not do much to increase the car's overall sales. Peugeot initially tried to convince buyers of the upper-middle class that the 604 had "The engineering of the Mercedes-Benz 280E, the handling of the BMW 5 Series and the elegance of the Jaguar XJ6" but did not fool anyone.

Sales, which were never particularly strong, dipped further in 1980 following the launch of the 505, and the last 604 trickled off the production line in 1985 with sales continuing into 1986. Peugeot's next major executive car, the 605, was launched in 1989.

Today the 604 is a rare automobile in United Kingdom - there are only 25 that are road-legal as of 2011, following a peak of 29 on the road in 2009.

Development

The 604 was launched in March 1975, at the Geneva Motor Show. It was originally available in a single specification, as the 604 SL. In 1977, the 604 was launched in the US in carbureted V6 SL trim, with twin rectangular headlights and larger bumpers. In September, the somewhat quicker 604 TI model with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and a five-speed manual transmission was added. In late 1978, for the 1979 model year, the 80 horsepower 604 D turbo turbodiesel model was introduced; it entered production in February 1979. The six-cylinder 604's received modified gearbox ratios.

In 1979 there were some minor changes, including the change of the petrol filler cap from round to square. The US 604s receives a larger 2,849 cc engine, although with no change in power. In 1980 the 604 underwent a minor facelift, featuring a new rear-view mirror, while the bonnet badge was removed, the indicators were changed to orange, and there was also a new plastic dashboard and gearstick. The limited edition luxury "Grand Comfort" model with power windows and locks, a sunroof, tinted windows, and other amenities was also made available this year. US sales "faded away" during 1980.

In 1981 the 604 STi, with Michelin TRX tyres and alloy wheels, was introduced. From January 1981, the automatic gearboxes used in the 604 were no longer sourced from General Motors' factory in Alsace, but rather from German ZF. The existing diesel model was replaced with two different specifications, GRDT and SRDT. Total body immersion anti-corrosion treatment was also introduced across the entire range. The turbo diesel was now exported to US, where it replaced the already absent V6 entirely. In 1982, the carburetted base 604 SL was discontinued and in 1983 the TI and GRD Turbo versions were removed from the lineup; this left only the STi and SRD Turbo.

In 1984, the 604 GTi with a 2.8-litre engine was introduced, replacing the 2.7-litre STi. Also, the new GTDT diesel model was introduced. US sales were discontinued after 1984. In November of the next year (1985), the production of the 604 came to an end. As a partial replacement, a V6 version of the 505 appeared before soon, and in 1989 the front-wheel-drive Peugeot 605 arrived to fill the empty slot left by the 604.

Turbodiesel

The 604 did get its name into the history books in 1979 as the first production turbodiesel car ("604 D turbo") to be sold in Europe, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SD having been marketed in North America since 1977. It uses the 80 PS (59 kW) 2,304 cc Indénor Diesel engine with a turbo fitted, designation XD2S. This was a reliable engine, overshadowed by one major problem. Like many diesel engines of the time they were hard to start in the cold weather, the 604 was one of the worst with this problem, it was a very difficult car to start and some ensured it was parked on a hill to avoid this problem. However despite this problem it was merely an issue of some minor tweaks to the glow plugs and compression that solved this problem and made the car easier to start.

The tall inline-four diesel engine was slanted at 20 degrees to fit underneath the low bonnet of the 604. Sometime in 1983, this was upgraded to a 2.5-liter version (XD3S), originally producing 90 PS (66 kW) at 4,150 rpm. This version could reach 165 km/h (103 mph) when fitted with the manual transmission. Soon thereafter the engine was upgraded to electronic rather than mechanic fuel injection (XD3T), and then produced 95 PS (70 kW) at the same engine speed. US market turbodiesels only came with a three-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which was optional elsewhere. Thus equipped, top speed dropped to 158 km/h (98 mph).

Engines

  • 2.3 L (2,304 cc) XD2S Diesel I4
  • 2.5 L (2,498 cc) XD3S/XD3T Diesel I4
  • 2.7 L (2,664 cc) PRV V6
  • 2.8 L (2,849 cc) PRV V6

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