Friday September 22, 2017
When the 104 debuted in 1972 it was not Peugeot’s first FWD transverse engine car, as that was the 1965 204, but it was their first supermini.
Under the bonnet was a 954cc OHC aluminum engine with the transmission mounted in the sump, BMC-style, and the entire unit tilted through 72 degrees.
The styling by Paolo Martin (of Fiat 130 Coupe fame) looked as crisp and contemporary as the latest French art-house film and at just 11ft. 9ins in length, the 104 was the smallest four-door saloon in Europe.
There was the option of a folding rear seat although the lack of a hatchback was a surprise in a car that hoped to lure motorists away from their Renault 5s and Fiat 127s.
UK sales commenced in 1973 and the 104 was positioned as the perfect car for the motorist who regarded a Mini Clubman as lacking that essential ‘Audrey Hepburn in suburbia’ appeal.
The equipment levels were not particularly high – one early advert boasted of ‘Alternator’.’ Radial Tyres’ – but with a Peugeot finished in a tasteful shade of lime green you would really be able to cut a dash in the Fine Fare car park.
By the end of that year the 104 was also available as the three-door Z-series ‘coupe’ which gained a tailgate and looked exceedingly smart, even if the drastically shortened wheelbase made Peugeot’s claims that it was a ‘four-seater’ appear a trifle optimistic.
By 1975 those UK drivers who still mourned the demise of the Mini Cooper were offered the 104ZS with its lowered suspension, rear anti-roll bar alloy wheels and a 1,124cc twin-Solex carburettor engine and in the summer of 1976, the standard four-door saloon was finally succeeded by a five-door.
Three years later the ZS was available with the 1.4-litre Douvrin engine and enhanced levels of trim; in the late 1970s, a small car with electric front windows was a genuine talking point.
The top speed of 96 mph made the Peugeot considerably slower than the likes of the Renault 5 Gordini but the 104 ZS was intended to be chic city transport rather than to appeal to boy-racers.
For those who needed a useable rear seat, the 104S was an excellent alternative to the Ford Fiesta Ghia and at that other end of the budget spectrum, there was the LNA, which combined the Z’s body with Citroen badging and the 2CV’s 602cc engine.
With the introduction of the 205 in 1983, Peugeot withdrew the 104 from the British market although production continued until the spring of 1988.
Today, corrosion, together with a certain tendency to head gasket failure, has reduced their numbers to such a degree that today you are more likely to encounter a watchable edition of Emmerdale than a Peugeot 104.
And for an idea of their appeal, this advertisement says it all.