Thursday February 16, 2017
Park Gate in the 1980s was a Hampshire village in which, generally speaking, nothing happened. The local newspaper’s headlines were usually variations on the theme of ‘Jar of Robinson’s Marmalade Stolen from Post Office’. But, one day in July 1989, excitement arrived – my father’s Ford Orion Ghia was replaced by a red Peugeot 405 1.9 GR.
The fact that 405 was launched in July 1987 is sometimes hard to believe as its Pininfarina styling endures so well. If the Take My Breath Away sales campaign (below) remains a prime slice of cheese, the Peugeot’s looks made a Montego appear instantly dated; Motor Sport went so far as to state that ‘the new 405 proves that there is no reason why an everyday saloon should not be beautiful’. The floor plan was shared with the Citroen BX and the power plants were familiar PSA units but what surprised so many Peugeot customers was just how good the 405 was. When it was voted Car of the Year in 1988, this caused further consternation among Sierra and Cavalier sales teams.
The only problem with our 405 was the lack of headroom, due to the sliding roof, but in all other aspects it was utterly splendid. The top speed of our GR was around 119 mph, which was certainly respectable by the standards of the day, I can’t recall any paternal complaints about our progress along the M27, but for the driver who craved BMW 3-Series, there was the Mi16. The package included stiffened and lowered suspension alloy wheels and anti-lock brakes while power was a 16 valve 1.9 litre electronically managed unit, resulting in 160bhp and a top speed of 136 mph. More desirable still was the Mi16x4, with an all-wheel drive system developed from Peugeot’s experience with Group B rally winners and self-levelling rear suspension from the BX. At a price of nearly £18,000, the 16x4 was competing in Audi 90 Quattro territory but Car magazine described it as ‘the best handling car of its size in the world’. Sadly, Peugeot made only 1,046 examples of this very special 405.
Following in the tradition of the marque, the 405 was built around the world from Argentina and Chile to Poland and Taiwan. It was also the second Peugeot to be made in Coventry, following the 309. French production of the 405 saloon ceased in 1995, followed by the estate in 1997, but this is not the end of the story. Six years earlier, the Iran Khodro company began to assemble the 405 and it remains on sale today. One of the most offbeat models to emerge from the Tehran factory is the Peugeot RD, which combines the 405 styling with rear wheel drive and the 1.6-litre engine from the Paykan – aka the Hillman Hunter.
405s seem to be a good deal rarer than they were a decade ago and they are well worth persevering. One of the keys to the success of this great Peugeot was that, whether you drove a 1,8 Turbo Diesel or a Mi16, it always felt a cut above its rivals. I do not know what became of our old GR but I will always associate it with the heat of that summer of 1989 and music blaring, from Berlin, The Rolling Stones and others, through the open sunroof!