The cars : Paykan by Iran Khodro

The Rootes Arrow was one of the automotive industry’s most badge-engineered cars, but the Paykan version, built by Iran Khodro, was so much more.

Engineering and full production of the car was overseen by George Turnbull, and it would live until 2005 as a saloon, and 2015 as a pickup. What a performance!

Paykan: A quiet success for the Iranian motor industry

Paykan 1967

The story of the formation of Iran Khodro and the subsequent introduction of the Paykan is interesting. It is down the determination of the self-made entrepreneur and industrialist Mahmoud Khayami. Born in 1930 in Mashhad, formerly Persia, he found himself working for the car industry, and very quickly recognised the potential demand for a vehicle built in Iran, specifically aimed at the needs of Iranian customers.

However, the country’s move into car production was faltering. Following several unsuccessful attempts to build Fiat automobiles in Tehran (which rival Saika finally established in 1960), Khayami ended up looking at the United Kingdom for an answer. Moves were made to link up with the Rootes Group, and initial talks were positive, but it would take more resources than the ambitious businessman had.

Undeterred, Khayami soon found a way of raising the requisite finance. On 29 August 1962 he and his brother, Ahmad, formed the Iran National company and announced the deal with the UK firm. This was joint stock public company, which would eventually become known as Iran Khodro or IKCO. During the next couple of years, talks progressed to the point at which Rootes would offer the upcoming all-new Arrow (Hillman Hunter) in Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kit form.

Iran Khodro production

Rootes Arrow becomes the Paykan

In 1966, the Rootes Group gave Iran National a licence to produce the Rootes Arrow and, after the installation of the new assembly line in Tehran which was shipped in from the UK, production began on 13 May 1967 at a rate of 6000 units per year. By the summer, the new car was on sale.

Called the Paykan, which is Farsi for Arrow, the Iranian Hunter was offered in Paykan 1725, De Luxe and GT forms, and it proved to be a huge success in its homeland. The initial deal for 6000 cars was soon torn up and, by 1979, 100,000 cars a year were being built with approximately 44% of the parts manufactured in Iran.

Later in 1967, the Paykan Pickup and Paykan taxi were added to the model range. In addition, the commercial Paykan was launched in 1969 and the Automatic Paykan followed that into the market in 1970. Between 1971 and 1972, six Paykan versions were offered: De Luxe, Pickup, Standard, GT, Taxi, and Automatic.

Iran Khodro 1967

Coupe diversion

In 1974, Michelotti was commissioned to build a coupe version of the Paykan. It was a fully-running and roadworthy coupe built especially for a wealthy Iranian that we know nothing about other than their name – Mr Samani.

What distinguishes this car from more mainstream coupes in this market sector at the time were its gull-wing doors, fully-glazed hatchback and moulded front and rear Polyurethane bumpers – features that make this car look more like a design from the 1980s.

The lucky, and very wealthy, client picked up the car on an Italian holiday with his wife in the summer of that year and it’s not known whether the car is still around or not.

Michelotti Paykan

Revolution in Iran and Paykan changes

Throughout the 1970s, Iran National harboured ambitions to become self-sufficient and build its cars from scratch rather than being reliant on kits from the UK. It was announced in September 1977 that George Turnbull would be joining the company with a view to increasing domestic sourcing of components. The long-term goal was to create an autonomous car industry in Iran, rather like he’d done for Hyundai between 1974 and 1977.

In the two years he was there, Turnbull want some way to achieving these aims, but political events got in the way due to the ramifications of the Iranian Revolution of January 1979. Ownership of Iran National was transferred from the Khyami brothers to the Iranian Government and the company’s name was changed to Iran Khodro (Iran Automobile).

In the lead-up to the Revolution, the Paykan had been restyled in the UK under Roy Axe (below) and prototypes were delivered to Iran for evaluation, but before the updated model could go into production, the project was put on hold as the country went into turmoil.

Paykan GT

Chrysler sells out to Peugeot

Chrysler’s European operations were taken over by Peugeot in 1979 – this included the Paykan contract and resulted in a reorganisation of the programme. Back in the Europe, Hunter production was halted (it had moved from the UK to Ireland in 1976), and that would leave the Iranian operation with an opportunity.

In August 1979, and with a degree of political stability returning to the country following the Revolution, Iran Khodro was a very different operation, and set about restarting production. But supplies of parts – especially engines and gearboxes – from the UK had become ‘difficult,’ especially with the Hunter being discontinued.

However, before he left, and anticipating the end of the 1725cc Hunter engine, Turnbull had brokered a deal to use the 1600cc unit from the Chrysler Avenger. The deal never happened, but was soon dusted off to be revisited, with the negotiations now taking place with Peugeot subsidiary Talbot UK rather than Chrysler UK.

And guess who was now running Talbot? George Turnbull!

Paykan Prototype

Working with Talbot – and independence

The good news for Iran Khodro was that as well as a ten-year supply deal with Peugeot-Talbot now secured, it also had a significant amount of 1725cc engines stockpiled, which were used while production line changes were made to accommodate the 1.6-litre engine. Once the new engine came on stream, Paykan would offer it alongside the old one until supplies of the latter were exhausted.

As well as these new engines, the delayed facelift (below) was also introduced and, in addition to the redesigned front and rear ends, the latest model also featured a new dashboard. Now with larger, Avenger-style, headlights and bigger bumpers with rubber inserts, the Paykan looked more up-to date.

The model range would end up being reduced to include the saloon, pickup and van, although the commercial models made do with the old-style front end styling.

It went on… and on… and on

It would be in this form that the Paykan remained in production. The 1.6-litre Avenger engines and transmission remain in production to this day (read on to find out what car it’s in), and it was supplemented by 1796cc Peugeot 504 engines. Not only that, but the 504’s suspension system was also adopted for the Paykan.

A project to convert Paykan production fully into Iran from 100% locally-sourced parts kicked off in 1991 by the establishment of Iran Khodro’s Self-Sufficiency Unit. After installation and commissioning of machinery previously purchased from Talbot UK and from the necessary parts in Iran, production post-1992 was considered as local.

These activities were centralised in a newly incorporated Iran Khodro-owned subsidiary known as the Supplying Automotive Parts Company (SAPCO) in 1993 and, in overall terms, the project was a success. Peak production was 120,000 units a year and, for the latter stage of its career, the Paykan had 98% local content. The company established an R&D centre in 1994, and this led to regular updates, including the modest visual update as shown in this 1997 Paykan, below.

Facelifted Paykan was treated to the Morris Ital school of updating, although the full-depth front bumper did not seem to fit too well on this late model…
Facelifted Paykan was treated to the Morris Ital school of updating, although the full-depth front bumper did not seem to fit too well on this late model…

Eventually, Iran Khodro became the Iran’s largest car producer, and the Paykan went on to become a much-loved national icon, motorising a generation of drivers. It remained in production until 2005, when it was replaced by two cars – a locally adapted version of the Renault-Dacia Logan and the Peugeot RD (1997 to 2010) and ROA (2010 to 2016) (below).

The RD/ROA was an interesting cross between the Peugeot 405 (the body) and Paykan (running gear), and that range of cars remained in production until 2016.

However, that wasn’t the end of the Paykan, though. The pickup – which featured a unique body not used elsewhere – continued after the saloon shuffled off this mortal coil, remaining on the price lists in Iran until 2015.

Who says that the Rootes Arrow wasn’t a success?

Editor’s Note:

Written with reference to Iran Khodro Industrial Group’s account of Paykan’s history.

Keith Adams


  1. Proof that old dogs never die – in later years the Peugeot RD/ROA appeared in Iran – Peugeot 405 FWD body with RWD Paykan/Hunter chassis/running gear – why?

  2. I’ve mentioned this before… In 1975 I spent 2 weeks in Iran working on an Industrial Film. We spent one full day filming at the Iran National car plant on the Paykan production line. Outside & inside there were lots of wood crates with the CKD parts inside and bearing Chrysler logos.

    All the Paykans on the line were with the oblong headlamps like the equiv UK versions. Actually they looked quite good but I don’t know how build quality compared to UK versions. Most of the Teheran taxis were also orange & black Paykan’s and held up to heavy use out there.

    Paykan was apparently the farsi translation for “Arrow”

  3. I’ve read a few articles about the Peykan but it’s hard to build a consistent picture as different accounts seem to say different things about how the project came about and how much local content was used over the years.

    Certainly the cars started being built from kits and then the amount of locally produced parts was gradually increased.

  4. The Paykan was a decent earner for Chrysler and Talbot, when the company was losing money, and kept hundreds of workers employed in Coventry producing the kits for export. It was a little known success story for the city and earned millions in exports.
    Another thing, while the Hunter had become dated by the mid seventies, the simple design was just right for an emerging country like Iran and the Rootes mechanicals must have been tough enough for the very hot Iranian summers, otherwise Paykan would have looked elsewhere for a car to assemble.

    • I heard the Iranians took quite fondly to the Paykan, becoming the standard taxi in Iran within a few years of launch & still selling well when production finally ended.

  5. Iran was progressing in those years. He was a partner and friend of England and America. France was afraid of this issue and tried to colonize Iran. After the revolution, all industries and factories were destroyed. France ruined Iran. Iran tried to buy Rover. China and Russia intervened and the factories were destroyed again. All the people are running away. I don’t know, can we hope?? Will Iran be rebuilt??

  6. Keith’s account of the Paykan history is perhaps the most accurate one I’ve seen. Most other on-line accounts give some confused or vague views concerning the 1985-1992 Paykan history period, and so I’d like to try to untangle it.

    In 1985 Iran Khodro had made the decision to undertake full local production of Paykans in Iran. Talbot ceased manufacturing Paykan CKD kits around 1987, and Iran Khodro purchased the Paykan production equipment from Talbot in 1988. Further, Peugeot was contracted to supply 60,000 Peugeot 1800 engines and suspension systems per year for six years. Presumably this would give time to set up local manufacture of the Paykan 1600 engine and other components.

    Lists of yearly production totals show that from 1985, production of Paykans fell off sharply with only 9,300 cars reportedly built in 1988 and 3,900 in 1989-1990. The Peugeot 504 1800 engine and suspension parts were fitted from 1989 as local production of the Paykan 1800 (Paykageot’) started up.

    Presumably these Peugeot Paykans continued to be offered as an alternative to the locally-built Paykan 1600 when Iranian manufacture of the Avenger-engined type began from September 1992. Furthermore, by one report some 26 Peugeot diesel Paykans were built in 2000-2001.

    The total Paykan production number usually quoted is 2,295,095 units from 13 May 1967 to 15 May 2005. To this can be added several hundred thousand Bardo pick-ups manufactured from 2005 until 10 March 2015. Final assembly of the Bardos moved from Tehran to the Tabriz plant in 2007, with over 562,000 units assembled in Tabriz alone.

  7. There is a bit more to the Paykan pick-up story. The previous Paykan Vanet continued in production after the Paykan ceased in 2005, renamed as the Bardo from then until it also ceased production in 2015. It was then replaced by the Arisun, like the Peugeot RD and ROA, another cross between a Paykan and a Peugeot 405. This Arisun ceased production in 2020 and was replaced by the Arisun 2, a front wheel drive redesign, from 2022.

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