Ever heard of the Peugeot 304 Coupé? Not many came to our shores, and today they are very rare – as only five are said to remain in South Africa. We take one for a short drive and discuss the history of the car with the owner.
Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Peugeot might not seem like an obvious brand to collect, particularly in South Africa, but those individuals who do, are just as passionate about this brand as any other collector. Older Peugeots are relatively scarce in South Africa, so when you come across one, it is good to pay attention and investigate it a little more. One of the Loubser brothers whose collection we featured recently, owns this beautiful green 1972 304 Coupé.
The 304 sedan was unveiled in 1969 in France, but the Coupé and Cabriolet models were only shown early the following year. These models remained in production until July 1975. The owner tells me that although over 60 000 Coupés and close to 19 000 Cabriolets were manufactured at Peugeot’s plant in Sochaux, only 60 Coupés and 15 Cabriolets were imported into South Africa in 1972. Offering a modest 48 kW and front-wheel drive, these cars were not favoured in South Africa, as locals at the time loved their bigger-capacity and more powerful Fords and Chevrolets. It also didn’t help that these 304 models were more expensive than the better-selling 404 model.
The owner of this car grew up with Peugeots. His late dad managed the Peugeot dealership in Vredenburg on the West Coast. “I remember it very well that we only sold one 304 Sedan in 1972. The 304 Coupé and Cabriolet I only saw on pictures and remember that I could only dream of driving such a model one day.”
Dorp Street Motors, the Peugeot dealership back in the day in Stellenbosch ordered two models for the launch, a white Coupé and a metallic green Coupé. The green example was sold to the late cabinet minister Paul Sauer, with the registration plate CL3232, the same plate it wears to this day. “I found and bought the car in 1985, for approximately the same amount as its list price of 1972, R3 500.
"This metallic green colour didn’t stand the test of time very well, so I've had to have the body repainted, against my will, with a higher quality paint in the same colour as that of the original. The engine has not received any major work over the years. The 304 also features independent suspension and disc brakes at the front. Interestingly, the gearbox is mounted below the engine and uses the same oil as the engine.”
The owner admits that there is currently some work to do. After all, the car is 50 years old, even though it has only covered 140 000 km. Parts must be ordered, with a lot of effort, from Europe. “Also, if someone can tell me where I can find a set of new Michelin ZX 155/14 tyres, I will be able to enjoy the car on the open road again.”
Behind the wheel
As I get in, it is evident that this is a car from half a century ago. It feels compact although the cabin is roomier than I expected. The gearshift manoeuvres take a while to get used to. It is not quite as direct as in modern cars, but that is to be expected from some of the cars from this era. It is four-speed gearbox that sends the torque to the front wheels. The 1.3-litre engine purrs away and with a decent amount of throttle input the car can stay with modern traffic - after all, it only weighs 930 kg, a lot less than most cars on the road today.
There is no rev counter, but I you can sense when you need to change gears. Next to the simplistic, but beautiful horizontal speedometer, the other important vitals of the engine are indicated. The thin-rimmed steering wheel is another old car delight which is always wonderful to use – especially compared to today’s much thicker units.
The ride quality is also absorbent, and being such a compact car, I can only imagine that it suited the tight streets of French towns, cities like Paris, and the countryside rather well.
Behind you, once you’ve flipped forward the front seats, there is space, realistically speaking... for maybe two children. The rear seats can fold flat however, if you need a larger loading space, making it quite a practical car. This car's interior, including the seats and carpets, is still entirely original.
“Currently there are only five Coupés that are part of the SA Peugeot Club (Club Peugeot Afrique de Sud) and two Cabriolets.” A rare Lion-badged car indeed!
1972 Peugeot 304 Coupé
Engine: 1.3-litre, four cylinder
Power: 48 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 94 Nm @ 3 750 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual, FWD
Weight: 930 kg
0-100 km/h: 15.5 seconds
Top speed: 152 km/h