Unsung Heroes : Peugeot 505

Mike Humble remembers yet another car that, not only once blessed the highways and by-ways of the UK, but seemingly travelled – the indestructible Peugeot 505.

It was car that not only marked the end of rear-wheel drive for Peugeot, but was also the last big French saloon to sell in decent numbers in the UK.

Room at the top

As tough as old boots, but also styled like one: the rugged Peugeot 505

In today’s UK market, a big French saloon car ranks the same in terms of popularity as wearing a rubber verruca sock. No one wants them. the Renault Safrane and Vel Satis – both wonderful to drive – were quietly deleted from the range well before their production end; and when did you honestly last see a Citroën C6?… exactly.

Historically it was a similar situation – the Citroën CX combined the wonders of space age looks with a magic carpet ride, but never actually sold as well as its UK rivals; and Renault offered its underpowered 20 or overpriced 30, which was also rather unpopular. No wonder us Brits tend not to associate big French cars with thrusting executives in the fast lane.

But it wasn’t quite always like that. Peugeot was conservative in its approach to car building, but nevertheless its solid products sold well, and were respected. Models such as the 305 and 504 sold in huge numbers – and the latter was, and indeed still is, an extremely popular car in parts of Africa.

In the UK, the 305 and 504 were two pioneering diesels for early adopters, and could be regarded as the Skoda Octavia/Superb of their day. In other words, the car of choice for the discerning minicab driver. More likely than not, if you leapt from a train and into a taxi, you stood a very good chance that it would be a Peugeot 504 or diesel 305. The 504 was a tough act to follow, smooth riding, reliable and solid as granite, and was a conventional rear-wheel drive motor that was easy and cheap to repair. Think of it as the French Cortina, albeit rather better engineered.

The cavernous estate version was almost hearse like in size, and just like its Citroën counterpart, the CX Safari, was also available as a seven-seater. Peugeot went further, also offering a pick-up version which, continued to be built until 1993 in 2.3-litre diesel form. An old workplace of mine ran one, only rust eventually killed it – we couldn’t!

The 505 was introduced in the UK in 1979, but such was the longevity of the 504 the two models continued to be sold side-by-side until 1983. The underpinnings were heavily based on the older car, with obvious refinements and improvements. Looking at the new car with eyes half closed, the 505 had that familiar trapezoidal headlamp arrangement that marked it out as a ‘proper’ Peugeot. The 505 also had the same long-travel suspension, ensuring the Peugeot reputation for a cosseting ride remained undamaged.

Body styles offered were a four-door saloon and a cavernous five-door estate. Gone was the strange kinked boot shape of the 504 (a Pininfarina trademark shared with the BMC 1800/2200), as the new car took on a more traditional (still Pininfarina-styled) three-box form, which was on the elegant side of bland.

The 505 was another huge success from the word go – and just as with the 504, the 505 Break was offered as a seven-seater known in the UK as the Family. Engine options came in the form of the ‘Douvrin’ 2.0-litre four (later expanded to 2.2-litres), and the 2.8-litre V6 engine, also used by Renault, Volvo and… DeLorean. Equally as popular were the diesels in either 2.3- 0r 2.5-litre normally-aspirated and intercooled turbo form. Variations of these engines were also found in the Ford Sierra, Granada and Leyland DAF 400 van (Sherpa). Transmissions were either a three-speed auto or four-speed manual, with five-speed ‘boxes belatedly coming on stream after the 1986 facelift.

Both the engines and transmissions were bombproof, never any cause for concern, and readily capable of high mileages in all climates. I can vouch for the quality of these engines – and know of a 505 turbodiesel estate with over 250,000-miles on it, and still running… but only just. Capable of high-speed running for hours on end, the 505 gained a reputation for roomy reliability, but used values suffered as the trade viewed them as boring and old-fashioned.

Not that this presented a problem for Peugeot, as many owners bought them and simply drove them into the ground. Just like owners of Carlton estates or Volvo 200/700s, their owners loved them and kept them for years – besides, there was no offering from either Ford or Austin-Rover that could compete with the 505 for its practicality. Only the Granada came close, but the Peugeot was streets ahead in terms of passenger comfort and fuel economy.

The interior was either a hard-wearing tweed or velour affair, with optional leather highlighting interior build quality that was much improved over the 504. As with most French cars of that era, rust tended to kill them thanks to poor anti-corrosion treatment – a lesson Peugeot learned afterwards. Saloon production for the UK market ceased in 1989 with Breaks continuing until ’92.

Interestingly, the 505 enjoyed sales success down under in Australia with models for their market produced by Leyland Australia PTY from 1981-’83. Should you still have a desire to own one of these rugged cars, simply hop on an aeroplane to Nigeria – you’ll have no problem finding a young and fresh used example.

One thing is for sure, it will drive all the way back to the UK via any route you choose with no problems!



Mike Humble


  1. The 505 GTI was my favourite, available in estate and saloon form. Great looking car, with a very decent turn of speed and a fantastic set of alloy wheels (Peugeot and Ford were the best for designing alloy wheels in the Eighties in my opinion).

  2. My friend’s Dad had am estate 505 & thought it was great for carrying the whole family & a decently amount of luggage on camping holidays, leaving room for plenty of bottles of booze on the way back.

    When I was in Portugal 2 years ago there seemed to be a lot around there still.

    At one time Peugeot had the 504, 505 & 604 in production at the same time, along with the CX & Talbot Tagora.

  3. 505, along with the 305, were great looking saloon cars. The facelifted 406 paid a bit of a homage to them, with the trapezoidal lights and black grille.

    Very usable big car in XUDT form. Fella down the road from where I grew up had one in estate format, handy for transporting his great danes (as in the dogs..)!

    They were amongst the last Peugeots to be sold in the US (with the 405). One has a cameo role in the film Bandits, where BillyBob Thornton runs out of petrol on a bridge. (He also drove a DS).

    Guess the downfall of the big French car was a combination of:
    – A move away from big saloons (and the modern inclination towards SUV tanks and creme-egg-car-shaped MPVs)
    – Those that bought big saloons were coerced by the media to buy German
    – The ‘big’ successor, the 605 was too close to the 405 in terms of looks (and the 607 was a bit of an acquired taste)
    – Ambitious introductions of new technologies possibly before they have been fully QAd (BL was guilty of this too!)

    The numeric successor, the 508, is really a fleet replacement for the 407, while not abandoning the 607 market.
    Unfortunately there are far too many electrics/sensors now. The days of the big solid 505 have gone the same way as the W123.

  4. The 70s and 80s were arguably Peugeot’s ‘belle époque’: good looking, well designed and rugged vehicles. My 23 year old 205 XS is still giving reliable service (215k miles) and barely a hint of rust. My local Peugeot dealership in France used to love servicing her – far more interesting, he said, than plugging a laptop into a diagnostic socket and waiting for, er, nothing to happen. Sacré Claude, sacré numéro.

    Anyone know a good Peugeot specialist in Kent or East Sussex, by the way…?

    Much of Africa (not least former French colonies) runs on old Peugeots: battered and filthy but chugging happily on chip fat, coconut oil, in fact pretty much anything liquid and combustible.

    You’re right to mention Nigeria, Mike: I read somewhere Peugeot Nigeria was churning out 504s until a couple of years ago; it was available in 3 styles: saloon, estate and, er, ambulance.

  5. You say no-one wants a big French Walloon like a Renault Velsatis these days, but
    I swear I have seen loads of the damn things where
    I live. Always thought they were called Versatis though,
    or are they two completely different things?

  6. You say that no-one wants a large French saloon like
    A Renault Velsatis these days but near me there are loads
    Of the damn things on the road. By the way, I always thought
    it was Versatis, or have I just read the nameplate wrongly.

  7. H.Jones

    It was deffo a Vel Satis. They sold in dismal numbers, as did the Avantime & Safrane… hence why Renault deleted them from the UK range.

    The main problem with the Vel Satis was the limited amount of profit in them, dealers would have to slash money off to move them along. Susbsequently, they became a car built to order meaning that you would see the car on a picture in the brochure.

    Such a shame, as they drove amazingly. The usual quirks of being astonishingly expensive to service and wonky electrics were allways there, and no owner of an MB or BMW would move over to one unless they had recieved a heavy bump on the head!

    Think of prestiege brands with quality and pedigree, and Renault does not spring to mind. Therein lyeth the problem.

  8. It’s a massive shame that cars like the Velsatis
    and the C6 never caught on this side of ‘la Manche’
    (English Channel, French dropouts). Cars like the 3-
    Series have just become so plain, so… Common that
    they have lost all prestige for me. I love the C6. Not
    sure I would buy one unless huge appreciation was
    assured, but they really bring a smile to your face.

  9. Just been reading a Car/Newcomers piece about the 505 petrol Turbo, from about 1983. It used a turbo’d version of the Tagora 2.2 litre engine, said to be tougher than the Douvrin unit and there were no issues about getting agreement from Renault to use it. Was said to be swift and quite refined but the achilles heel was 20mpg consumption!

    Large French cars came a cropper because of the dominance of German brands, on the back of bulletproof residuals due to strong reliability. However reliable the French were in practice, it didn’t match the alledged solidity of BMW et al – bear in mind that the clear majority of these cars, in this country, are bought by companies for whem residuals are key. Renault (and Citroen to some extent) tried to fight back with cars with a real French flavour. CAR again, c.2002 on the Vel Satis: ‘maybe the problem with the Vel Satis is, it isn’t different enough’.

  10. My brother had an ex-BBC 505GTD estate with three rows of seats – handy for keeping warring kids apart. He found his local mechanic fabricating a speedo’ drive gear out of Araldite, coz the genuine Peugeot part cost something silly like £80.
    MOTOR told me the V6 saloon rode and handled better than a 5 series, but they weren’t terribly reliable. The only one I have ever seen in the metal had broken down outside a Sainsbury’s, causing traffic chaos going in and out!

  11. still looks a graceful car,and i agree with h.jones,the c6 in particular-im quite partial to the renault avantime!

  12. In the days when they were fairly common on British roads, I’d never noticed something which immediately struck me looking at these photos now…the saloon is an enlarged 305. I always thought the 305 was probably one of the most elegant and well-proportioned cars ever to be made and the 505 didn’t look too bad either

  13. The 505 was the last of the Classic Peugeots, solid and tough, conservative looking.

    The 205 in retrospect was the start of a new era. A brilliant car to drive and great looking, but poorer build quality and a bit tinny, acceptable faults in a small car but not in an executive saloon.

    Looking back to this era, there were plenty of conservative executive cars back then, the 504/505, Volvo 240/740, Saab 99/900, which were happily dull and sensible, trading on build quality and restrained style. The Rover P5 and P6 were similar. This whole segment seems to have been squeezed as manufacturers chased sportiness.

  14. Ah, la 505!!! She still looks smart, 30 odd years later. There’s still plenty around in France, mostly diesel, I’d love to have one V6 auto, it pumps 170bhp, and the weight was still reasonable. The turbo had the old Chrysler 2L block, in 2,2 like in Tagoras. Apparently, the douvrin couldn’t be turbocharged without reliability issues(must be the alloy against cast-iron for the Chrysler)PTS got 200+bhp kits that could also be fitted in the Murena equipped with the same engine. It was the last successful big Peugeot, although not as popular as the 504. Mind you, during her life, PSA had the 504-604, Tagora and CX in the same segment, the top spec 405 adding more cannibalism within the stable….Pity, the coupe never made it either.

  15. While I have an appreciation for 505s, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the Germans eventually saw them off. By 1989 BMW had launched the E34 5-series, with smooth sixes going up to 218hp, multilink rear suspension and really sophisticated electronics. It out handled, out rode and out performed the 505 and 605 from the get go. It was also better rust proofed and safer, by 1992 all engines were DOHC and regularly see 200k. The Mercedes W124 of 1986 was debatably Merc’s finest hour. It introduced multi-link suspension, high tensile steel and modern climate control, they have been known to hit 1million Km in taxi service. The French just had the misfortune to launch their blandest big cars against the high water mark of German design. By the time Merc launched the flakey W210 and BM the odd looking E60 the French were effectively out of the game.

  16. The 505, that was the last real big Peugeot. Everything after this masterpiece was too pretentious (605) too underpowered (607 without a V8 or at least a V6 turbo what was Peugeot thinking) very acceptable in the best case (406) or just acceptable (407 wonderful exterior style but an interior not that good) and all of them lacked RWD

    Hope that with the 508 Peugeot can focus to give us such a beautiful as elegant and reliable horse as the 505 was back then, and just forget the pretentions of the 60something to chase 5-Series,E-Class and etc.

  17. My earliest memory of a car is a 505 GR sedan that my Dad had. While I liked the way it looked, it was probably the most unreliable car I ever experienced. I remember numeorus cancelled journeys as a child due to the fact that it wouldn’t start. It must have been a lemon.

  18. Puegeot gave up the NA market about 1992. Our increasing safety and pollution standards, unable to compete with German, Japanese and even NA brand cars, their sales fizzled to unsustainable levels. They still have an office in the States, in New Jersey, for parts sales to old owners and for new parts (like CV Joints and FWD drive assembleies to various cars made in the USA) and occasionally you may see a current model Puegeot with special NJ State issued ‘Manufacuter’ plates. There are a few specialist repairs shops, a few fans of them around.
    They also tried to enter the NY City taxi market in the early 1980’s with Diesel models, but they were too small inside, their diesel engines not fast enough for our conditions and too expensive to fix as a ‘foreign’ car.

  19. Nearly forgot the 505 ever existed, but reminded here. I do recall they were huge in both saloon & estate forms. As was the 504 which sold well in the middle east countries.

  20. ” I love the C6. Not sure I would buy one unless huge appreciation was assured, but they really bring a smile to your face.”

    Not if you own one, they don’t…

  21. I believe the 505 or a derivative of may still be being manufactured in Kenya?

    I think the French civil service is responsible for most purchases of large French cars these days!

  22. The Douvrin could be turbocharged – since both the 2.0i & 2.2i 8v engines ended up with a turbo bolted to them and from all the accounts I have read they were fairly reliable. I think they were in the Fuego – with the 2.2i turbo being for of all places brazil. There was also the 170hp Renault 21 turbo.

    Sadly its not really possible to easily turbocharge a safrane with the Fuego or R21 engine because all the nice manifolds for the turbo engines are for longditudinal mounts not transverse.

  23. They were great cars. Lots of my friends had one when I was younger. We had a 7 seater 504 but aspired to a 505. Sadly never had one ourselves, dad got an SD1 instead. But that’s another story..!

  24. What about a review of the later fleet favourite the venerable 405 in XUD flavour?
    I ran three of these fantastic mile munchers, a saloon n/a diesel and a turbo saloon and estate.
    The last, a ’96 GLX Turbo estate was in beautiful Diablo red (Old man burgundy as my wife christened it) It had the same 5 spoke alloys as the 306 Dturbo and I managed to find a full black leather interior for it.(from an STDT I believe – terrible moniker!) I truly wish I still had this car today, I just loved it.
    Id buy a 405 today if I found a tidy one that hadnt driven to the moon and back as a taxi.
    Strange the way a fairly bland family car leaves such an impression.

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