Opinion : Welcome to the classic fold, Peugeot 405

Peugeot 405 GR Injection

Here’s a great example of what probably already is a classic car in the eyes of us enthusiasts, but for less specialised connoisseurs, is still merely an old clonker. The Peugeot 405 was launched in 1987 to much ballyhoo, taking the spoils in the European Car of The Year competition, while winning the hearts and minds of a generation of company car buyers who were traditionally preordained to fall in behind the wheel of an Austin Montego, Ford Sierra or Vauxhall Cavalier.

The 405 was something quite special – initially developed under the codename D60 to supplant the Peugeot 305 and replace the Talbot Alpine/Solara, it proved to be the ideal vehicle to strike at the heart of the family car market. Under the skin, it sat on the same floorpan as the brilliant Citroën BX (shorn of that car’s Hydropneumatic suspension), and was powered by the same XU-series range of petrol and diesel engines.

So, it had the advantage of a light and efficient platform and up-to-the-minute engines, but the car’s pièce de résistance was its styling. Pininfarina was responsible for the beautifully-executed exterior with Paul Bracq coming up with the striking interior. Some would go on to criticise the Italian design house for ‘phoning it in, with a design far too similar to the Alfa Romeo 164 and Peugeot’s own 605, but that doesn’t stop it looking every bit the catwalk model – especially when compared with the clunky Montego or Fiat Regata.

Peugeot 405 GR Injection

When it hit the roads, it was an instant smash, beating all of its rivals in group tests and proving to be a dynamic delight. Unlike the Citroën BX, which was something of an acquired taste, the 405 appealed to all buyers, and followed on from the 205 in being  just right. Yes, there were some concerns about interior build quality, and the unassisted steering in the more humble versions was on the wrong side of heavy, but there was no denying that Peugeot would make waves with the 405.

And so it proved. The 405 would join the 309 in being built at Ryton in Coventry (thank you George Turnbull!) and, as a consequence, soon found its way on to plenty of fleet managers’ lists. They soon became a common sight across the land, not least because of the excellence of the XUD-p0wered turbodiesel, just as the black pump was gaining favour.

The star of the range was either the SRi or Mi16, though. The former’s 125bhp 1.9-litre engine would take it to 120mph via a 0-60mph time of around 9.1 seconds, while the latter upped the ante to 135mph and 7.8 seconds. Decent numbers, but they only told half of the story – this was a sweet-driving car, with supple suspension, limited roll, beautiful body control and communicative steering. Think along the lines of a larger 205 GTI and you’re not far off the mark.

Peugeot 405 GR Injection

It went on and on and on and on

This model range went on through to 1991, when it received a few minor tweaks before being more thoroughly facelifted the following year to gain a new dashboard (to do away with those creaks and groans), a folding rear seat and enlarged boot opening (to bring it on a par with the Cavalier) and air conditioning for all models (in the UK at least). The style remained pretty much unchanged until it went out off-sale here in 1997. Such was its success that, by this time, 2.4 million examples had been built, and its replacement – the 406 – would look like a larger, more modern version of what had come before.

Of course, the 405 lived on much longer than this – it was built by Iran Khodro alongside the Hillman Hunter-based Paykan saloon, and would go on through a couple of facelifts until 2022. Some achievement! But it also formed the basis of the firm’s Pars, Roa and Samand models – and there was even a rear-wheel-drive 405 built on Paykan underpinnings.

Today, the 405 remains in production in Azerbaijan, and that adds to France, England, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Argentina, Egypt, Iran and Poland as countries where it was built, contributing to more than five million examples being made in 37 years of production.

Peugeot 405 GR Injection

Bringing it back home

My own fondness for the 405 goes back to the day it was launched. The first time I set eyes upon it, it rendered the rest of the class contenders visually obsolete. The Sierra looked heavy handed, the Cavalier Mk2 a product of the 1970s, and the Montego a ghastly mess. I bought my first one in 1993, a Graphite Grey 1.9 GR Injection (1991), and absolutely adored it. I had intended to buy a Rover 214 Si, but that’s another story. Regrets? Nahhh…

I kept it for about 18 months, and racked up a lot of miles in it, including a couple of trips to France and, in that time, I never fell out of love with it, despite it popping a head gasket at 48,000 miles. In the end, it was replaced by a Citroën BX 1.9 TGD, which initially felt like a slug (72bhp vs 125bhp), but it more than made up for that by being characterful, fun to upgrade, and capable of an easy 55mpg.

Since then, I’ve had an Mi16 (bought for £50 in 2005, yes really!), which proved to be every bit as good as the hype that they get. However, deep down, I’ve always hankered after another 405, popping it to my list of car searches once in a while. And this is how I’ve ended up with another – a near exact match to the original 405 I bought more than 30 years ago.

What have I bought?

When this one popped up on Facebook marketplace, my spidey-senses instantly tingled. It was a Graphite Grey GR Injection, just like my first one, and was being sold by someone who’d clearly put some effort into getting it back on the road. He’d run it for a few months after picking it up from someone who’d left it in their garage untouched for years (the MoT history backed that up), and was selling it as he wasn’t using it enough (I know that feeling).

A quick call soon revealed nothing amiss, so I headed down to Bolton to have a look at it. The first thing to impress me was that I could get a clear view underneath, and that there was no rust to speak of. Secondly, all the panels were straight, the condition matched the description and mileage, and the seller was a decent bloke I felt happy to do business with.

A deal was done (I didn’t even haggle), and a couple of days later, it was back at my place, looking happy and lovely. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some jobs needing doing – but, so far, nothing too stressful. The seized sunroof was replaced, it’s had an oil and filter service, the original Clarion stereo was decoded, and the central-locking works again. I’ve also managed to pick up a new-old stock rear spoiler (from a very enthusiastic fan of the car) and the correct set of wheel trims for it, making it the perfect replica of my 1993 motor. Joy!

Peugeot 405 GR Injection

So, why is it a classic?

That question was answered easily enough for one evening last week. It was sunny and dry, and I decided to take it for a quick spin around the Trough of Bowland (beautiful driving roads, thankfully few people know about it), and within a mile or so of the roads getting interesting, I was fully reconnected with the 405. For one, the view out of it fantastic, while the driver’s seat is uncommonly comfortable.

Despite having 90,000 miles on the clock and a few interior rattles (I will sort them), the thing is just lovely to drive. Not fast, but willing, revvy and more than quick enough for me, it just glides effortlessly along B-roads, turns in beautifully and has the most delicious steering. The previous owner went to the trouble of fitting a full set of half-decent tyres, so it’s possible to lean on it just enough to be interesting, and so far I’ve loved its near-neutral balance and and lightness on its toes. I’m sure it’ll do lift-off oversteer like my last one, but I’ve not been there.

So, just like the Ford Focus I wittered on about recently, I think it’s the combination of fitness of purpose and dynamic brilliance that makes the 405 a nailed-on classic of our age. And the good news is that, although they are becoming very rare, a good, honest example like mine can still be found for a reasonable amount of money. They’re not the £500 snotters they once were, but less that a couple of grand will see you right. Considering a nice Peugeot 205 GTI easily makes more than £20k these days, I reckon that makes these British-built Q-cars something of a classic car bargain.

Time to strike while the iron is hot, I say!

Keith Adams

15 Comments

  1. Certainly the best looking of the 80s repmobiles. Perceived quality let it down a bit. Remember an Autocar test headline – forget the rattles and enjoy the drive.

  2. In the very early 90s we had a bunch of 405GLTD Estates which were rather good, one of them racked up 90K miles in 20 months, the others were typically showing 60-70k when they got moved on after three years.

    Only problems we had with them was the CV joints getting bad after 50K miles or so, and the radiators turning to paper at around the same mileage – too much time spent on well salted motorways!!

    On the whole the 405 was a great car, certainly a game changer for Peugeot’s image in the fleet market. Who would want a Montego when they could have a 405??

  3. In 1988 I drove a 405 1.6GL hire car to Scotland & back and was impressed with its looks and performance. Yes the seats were comfortable too! as mentioned here it was a fitting alternative to a Cavalier / Sierra / Montego. Of course at that time the UK built Nissan Bluebird was starting to attract sales but the 405 had enough features to lure company car buyers.

  4. Fab car. Never drove one but my mate had one for quite a while as a used motor in the late 90s early 00s. The diesel lump was so good that when the body stopped being economically repairable, he transplanted into an Xsara who had a dead lump. It certainly was a comfortable car, and from my experience as a passenger pretty nifty (my mates other car was a mini).

  5. I had two, both as company cars.
    The first a GRi was sprightly, immensely comfortable, smooth, rattle-free but not exactly frugal.
    The arrival of a family dictated the next should be a GRDT estate. A real mile-eater in which I covered over 80k in three years. It needed a wheel bearing and CV joints in its last year, the same issues which returned with the privately-owned Citroën Picasso 8 years later.

  6. Great car – we also had a graphite grey GRi saloon – a great handling comfortable car ( lots of fascia rattles) – then changed to an estate – which we had for 10 years – great good looking family car. Would love to drive one again for the memories

  7. A big vote of confidence for Ryton when it was chosen to build the 405,and some early quality niggles apart, a reliable, durable car that was well liked by owners and good to drive. Local taxi drivers swore by their diesel 405s and some were still running with over 200k on the clock.

  8. My Aunt & Uncle had a 405 estate for a few years which seemed to serve them well.

    I remember the diesels being the taxi of choice by the local minicab drivers in the 1990s.

  9. I had 2 405 Sri blue and a mi16 brilliant car but over heating issues with blue 1 had to run fan all the time I would have another 1 again if it was a good 1

  10. I remember driving my brother’s first company car, a dark red SRi? saloon F579EEW. It felt very four square on the road, as if it had a wheel at each corner, but the best thing was the brakes. Because it had a remote servo – probably one of the last cars so equipped – it had a meaty pedal with short travel. The car was stolen but returned intact; James followed it with a 306XSi and a 306GTi16, then reverted to type and bought a Rover P6 3500S.

  11. Hello from the States! I have a long standing love affair with this car, specifically the Mi16. I owned 5, the last one a ‘91 Emeraude Verde over charcoal leather with Speedline alloys. I restored it completely and the car was featured in the Nov 2011 Automobile Magazine issue (‘The Last Tango from Paris’ written by Jason Camissa). Email me for a copy at kennethramonet@gmail.com. Sublime character, the car literally wrapped itself around you with instant steering and great handling. Thanks for the great trip down memory lane!

  12. My father (a former BMC mechanic no less!) had 3 of these as part of a run of 5 Peugeots.

    1.6 GR, silver.
    1.8 GRDt. Light blue, SRi wheel trims for some reason. Looked ace.
    And a fantastic run-out special 1.9 GTX DT estate in metallic red with alloys. I was lucky enough to be allowed to drive the last one as an 18 year old on the roads or mid Wales, and still remember its ride and poise on the rough and twisty stuff. (I think the GTX had SRi suspension, it certainly had decent seats!)

    Great cars.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.