Take one look at the Peugeot 404, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a straight-up copy of the BMC Farina saloons, as well as the slightly prettier the Fiat 1800/2300 saloon. It does bear a striking similarity, and given that it was styled by the same company, isn’t really a surprise. While not a huge sales success in the UK (it was particularly expensive compared to the local offerings) the model was a welcomed addition to Peugeot’s range, and was particularly well regarded.
Peugeot was very clever in its execution of the the 404. While making use of tried and tested mechanicals from the 403, the newer car was actually considerably more compact than its predecessor. This meant that in traditional style, the company could offer this new stylish saloon alongside the still useful 403 for three years!
Released in 1960, this nicely sized and extremely well built family car offered a range of body styles. It was an instant hit, gaining positive reviews from for its excellent driving characteristics, being one of the few offerings equally adept at doing the school run as it was bashing across the most inhospitable terrain. It was above all comfortable, and well made.
For this very reason, the 404 (just like the larger 504 and 505) became a favourite in Africa; its rugged go-anywhere ability and reliable mechanicals were hugely valued. It was so popular that it was built right up until 1991 in Kenya, and can still be found doing taxi duties in developing countries across the globe.
With numerous successes in African rallies, the 404 further secured Peugeot’s position as a leader in well-built no nonsense cars. Today these cars are solid classics and while the handsome saloons might lack a bit of glamour, the rare coupe and convertible models more than make up for it.
Which one to buy?
The 404 was initially available in a saloon body style but was soon joined in 1961 by the estate variant. It wasn’t until 1963 that the Pininfarina-designed coupe and convertible made an appearance. Various trim levels were offered, and detail changes were carried out to the range throughout production.
All 404s built after 1962 got much-improved suspension, and there was also a much better front disc brake set-up in 1969 for petrol models. Although rare today, there was a French specific 8CV version with smaller 1.5-litre engine, producing just 59bhp. If you’re looking for added practicality, the estate versions were also available in seven-seater form, making them a family favourite.
If you’re looking for a bit more performance, then there were a few power upgrades to the petrol-powered derivatives. The most powerful carb-fed models made a more acceptable 80bhp, while the later fuel-injected cars produced up to 96bhp.
The post-1970 model range was cut down to make way for the new 504 range, with the fuel injected models, Super Luxe saloons and base 8CV models discontinued. Despite over 1 million units built worldwide, the 404 is a rare car on the roads today.
Performance and specs
1960 Peugeot 404 Saloon
Engine 1618cc, 8-valve OHV in-line four-cylinder
Power 68bhp @ 5400rpm
Torque 94lb ft @ 2500rpm
Top speed 82mph
0-60mph 18 seconds
Fuel consumption 32mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Even a car as robust as the 404 will sometimes need more than just an oil and filter change to keep on going. Parts can still be found either through specialists or Peugeot themselves. Some of the more common issues and things to look out for are listed below:
• Many parts are interchangeable with other Peugeot cars and as a result a lot of 404s will not be the same today as when they left the factory. Some changes can improve the usability of the cars, but watch out for poorly carried out modifications
• Rust can reduce an otherwise good 404 to a heap of scrap within a few months. Check over the usual rust prone areas and make sure that if the car has had any accident damage, the repairs were carried out to a good standard. Sills are a major problem area, along with jacking points and floor pans. The Saloons and estates can be more easily repaired than the specialist coupes and convertibles.
• Deposits can accumulate in fuel tanks over time, eventually causing fuel line blockages and erratic running. Replacement tanks or a professional refurbishment usually resolves the problem.
• Engines are reliable and hardy units. The five bearing petrol engines from 1964 are considered to be longer lasting and smoother running than the earlier 3 bearing cars. Fuel injected cars are sought after, however parts are becoming scarce. Diesel cars are rough and slow by modern standards but they are mostly bombproof and solider on for years.
• The cooling system is the one weak link; check the radiator and fan over thoroughly. Many owners have modified the fan to run all the time, which reduces the chances of overheating in traffic and on hot days.
• Gearboxes are as strong as the rest of the car and should change smoothly whether in manual or automatic guise. Very rare clutchless manuals were also made, but parts for these are almost non-existent.
• Braking systems are generally very good, with the drum liners lasting a long time. The hydrovac systems on the 1965 to 1968 cars can cause issues, and a full braking system overhaul is not a cheap endeavour. The front disc brake equipped cars are also reliable and have no known issues, beyond standard wear.
1960: 404 Saloon launched in standard and Grand Touring specifications
1961: Super Luxe model introduced with upmarket trim options
1962: Updated suspension, brake linings and modified dashboard. Estate versions introduced with uprated rear springs, and 404 convertible launched with styling by Pininfarina
1963: Minor trim changes carried out to 404 range, with Super Luxe Saloon now available with 85bhp engine and 404 Coupe launched sharing convertibles lines and styled by Pininfarina
1964: Upgrade to carburettor engine, and diesel variant launched. Indicators updated on coupes and convertibles
1965: Power increase to both fuel injected (96bhp) and carburettor models (76bhp). Reclining front seats standard on all models. Braking system upgraded
1966: Indicator update now carried out on all models, and brake compensator added to petrol models
1967: Carburettor engine updated to 80bhp. Dashboard design updated and steering wheel adjustability removed. Trim upgrades including standard cigarette lighter on all models. Petrol tank capacity on saloon models increased to 55 litres, while Coupe and Convertible get redesigned frontal treatment.
1968: Final year for Coupe and Convertible production. Upgraded gearbox for all models, with 59bhp 1.5-litre economy model launched to take advantage of French Tax laws
1969: With the launch of the 504, fuel injected 404s are no longer offered. Front disc brake upgrade to all petrol models
1970: Range reduced with only estate and saloon versions produced. Entry level and top spec saloon versions discontinued, but petrol and diesel engine options remain.
1972: Small spec update for saloon
1974: Optional automatic transmission discontinued
1975: Final year of production for 404 models in Europe
The Peugeot 404 continued to be manufactured in various countries until 1991.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.franzose.de – Good German site for sourcing parts
• www.leclub404.com – French-language 404 enthusiast French site
• www.clubpeugeotuk.org – UK-based Peugeot owners club
Summary and prices
Saloon and Estate versions are the most affordable way to get the 404 experience. Look to pay £4000-£9000 for good condition models, while rusty projects can be had for next to nothing. Restoration costs usually outstrip the cars final value, so approach these with caution.
The Coupe and Convertibles are another level altogether. Their very limited numbers and Pininfarina penned bodies mean that £30,000 is your starting point, with mint condition fuel injected cars commanding up to £50,000.
The 404 was a pivotal model for Peugeot, and it still doesn’t disappoint today. It gained a lot of loyal followers for being a solid and easy driving car, and remains a desirable and surprisingly rare classic to this day.
Words: John Tallodi