Opinion : Peugeot 104 – the true Mini replacement?

I reckon Sir Alec Issigonis would have approved of the Peugeot 104. There, I’ve said it. If I were to ask you to come up with the car that feels like a spiritual replacement for the original Mini, the chances are you’re not going to think of this one. But bear with me on this, because out of all of the 1970s superminis to hit the market, the Peugeot 104 feels most closely aligned to what BMC might have launched had it never been taken over by Leyland Motors in 1968.

The biggest-selling most popular superminis of the 1970s all have a stake in being considered as the spiritual replacement for the Mini. Not least the Metro… which missed out on being a 1970s supermini by ten months. However, although it adopted many of Issigonis’ engineering principles, not least its transmission in sump, brilliant packaging efficiency and fluid suspension, it probably wasn’t the car Issi would have wanted. After all, the BMC 9X had conventional suspension, even if it shared the Mini’s gearbox layout.

Early starters

The 1970 Datsun 100A Cherry was an early supermini, even if Europe didn’t cotton on to the fact – but this clever little car showed the rest of the world that Japan was an engineering force. What about Dante Giacosa’s brilliant Fiat 127? It was a pioneering supermini and its layout would end up being adopted as the technical solution to small car packaging for years to come, but it is unlikely that BMC would have produced a car that shared its engineering. It lacked a hatchback for a couple of years, but Fiat acted quickly to sort that oversight. It’s a shame that BL didn’t learn from its lessons.

Then there was the Renault 5 – again, an interesting package, handsomely styled and brilliantly executed, but it really was a Michel Boué-penned rebody of the Renault 4. Nothing wrong with that, but with a longitudinally-mounted engine which was practically in the cabin, it was also a mechanical layout that Issigonis would have looked down his nose at.

Whither the Peugeot 104?

Peugeot 104

No, it’s easy to imagine that the Peugeot 104 was pretty much the car an Issigonis-led BMC might have built in the 1970s. Built as a small car to slot in the range below the underrated front-wheel-drive 204 saloon, the new 104 was a bold new direction from France’s most conservative car manufacturer.

It was brilliantly packaged and engineered. It was the first recipient of the X-Series of aluminium ‘Douvrin’ engines built by Française de Mécanique, and expanded over the years to become the default engine choice of Renault and PSA Group of companies. In the 104, it was initially available in 954cc form, and was clearly inspired by BMC’s front-wheel-drive solution by having its transmission mounted in the sump, but evolving the concept by canting back the engine by 72 degrees.

Like the BMC A-Series powered Mini and 1100/1300, this engine layout resulted in excellent packaging – and, although the 104 ended up being 50cm longer than the original ADO15, it benefited from additional interior room that was easily on a par with the ADO16, and the boot wasn’t too far off the British car’s either. Given the 104 was 20cm shorter than the BMC 1100/1300, that was quite an achievement.

Rather like a 1960s BMC car, the 104 was styled by Pininfarina. Paolo Martin was the Designer who penned this understated masterpiece, creating a functional small car that looked larger than it was. In another BMC link, he was also responsible for the Pininfarina Aerodynamica 1800 and 1100 concept cars – a pair of designs that you can imagine would have frightened Peugeot’s management to its core.

At launch in 1972, the 104 was a four-door saloon only. Like the Fiat 127 and Honda Civic (and the ADO16 before it), it was considered perfectly acceptable to create a small car with a small, letterbox-like opening for its luggage area. That thinking ended up being consigned to the rubbish bin as a consequence of the success of the Renault 5, which proved that a tailgate didn’t mean utilitarian sales. All of a sudden, a hatchback rear was the must-have for all the smartest city cars.

The 1976 facelift put right this situation. The 104 received a hatchback rear, thus expanding its appeal considerably. In addition, a shorter three-door hatchback was added to the range (and called a Coupe), and larger engines were added to the range, lengthening its legs and making it faster. Now, the 104 really proved its potential – and, although it never challenged the Renault 5 in sales terms in its home country, it proved to be a solid seller for Peugeot.

Peugeot 104

BMC 9X

Well, I say solid seller – 1.6 million units were shifted during its 1972-1988 production run. Add in 1.2 million Citroen Visas (effectively a rebodied 104) and 270,000 Talbot Sambas, though, and that tally looks quietly impressive – call it three million in 16 years. Why the Peugeot 104 has been so overlooked in small car history is a bit baffling – perhaps its position in the shadow of the Renault 5 during its production run is the reason. Either way, it’s a good time to recall this excellent small car that was so clearly inspired by BMC more than 50 years ago.

So, why do I think that Issigonis would have approved of the 104, and would BMC have ended up building a car like this in the 1970s. A quick look at the BMC 9X looks like compelling evidence, doesn’t it. Maybe the 104 would have been a bit shorter under Alec (not necessarily a good thing), but it does rather feel like a modernisation of the ADO16 concept (transmission-in-sump transmission, great packaging efficiency and Pininfarina styling), scaled down to supermini proportions.

All in all, that’s another reason to mourn the non-appearance of the BMC 9X. How different history may have been if it had happened…

Peugeot 104 received a hatchback in 1976, unlocking its full potential
Peugeot 104 received a hatchback in 1976, unlocking its full potential
Keith Adams

94 Comments

  1. I agree, it is exactly the car with better packaging and linked suspension that BMC/BL could and should have built to replace the Mini and ADO16.

    Whilst it would not have solved all the BL issues of the early 70s, the replacement of the Mini and Ado 16 with a smart looking easy to build car instead of soldiering on with the Mini and inflicting the Allegro on the market would have given it a lifeline by building on rather than withering its presence in the wider European market.

    • I also agree. At the risk of being controversial, 9X was a delightful piece of engineering but dead end – from what I’ve read on here it never could have worked from an manufacturing point of view due to the tolerances on the engines. From a market viewpoint it seems far too utilitarian due to the Issigonis focus on packaging efficiency. The 104 was an attractive little package – not as clever as what BL/BMC tried to do but perhaps all the better for it.

      There’s probably (another) counter factual where BMC realise cars are bought by drivers not passengers and don’t go down the 1800/Maxi/Princess route of ride comfort and packaging but instead focus on looks, performance, handling and car park cachet.

      • I think the key factor is the counter factual where BMC senior management recognize that a large part of the success of the ADO16 is due to the fact that Issigonis was kept at arms length from the project thanks to it being steered from Cowley and not Longbridge. The road system of the day meaning that it was best part of days drive away for the Longbridge based Issigonis, so he spent no more than one day week in Cowley.

        Also suspect that in Cowley there was a more skeptical view of his talents, as there was no doubt many who remembered the money and resources wasted in scrapped tooling because of him making the Morris Minor too narrow, or its still born MG derivative and the flat 4 engine.

        Unfortunately the 1800 and Maxi were engineered at Longbridg.

        “The rest we say is history”

  2. I always liked the Pug, but it was a rare site in my part of blighty. Saw more of the Talbot Samba.

    Issigonis would probably have preferred the shorter wheelbase of the 3 door and not the slightly longer 5 door. Weird they thought they had to develop two wheelbase lengths?

    The design is similar in appearance to the 9x, was that a coincidence considering Pininfarina built the 9x?

    • I think the two wheelbases was smart thinking, enabling them to pitch into the small family car as well as supermini market with one car. The reason you did not see may 104 was because it was priced at a premium in the market over the Visa and Samba (as Peugeots were) and limited number of Peugeot dealers in the UK before they absorbed the Chrysler / Talbot dealers.

  3. Like daveh, I have often wondered if Pininfarina’s involvement in/knowledge of 9X somehow filtered into the 104, whose two lengths echoed Issigonis’ plan for a big 9X to replace ADO16, and a small 9X to replace the Mini.

    9X was fantastically clever, engineering-wise – probably too clever and expensive. The 104 took the style and made it workable. Can’t have seen one in the flesh here in Britain for some 25 years now…

    • There was a Car magazine group test of Polo / Fiesta / R5 / Mini / 127 / 104 March 1977, available in triggerscarstuff – the 104 1100SL was judged the best small car. They were lovely cars for the day, as was Visa’s (don’t forget the popular van). Seems strange that hugely popular ADO16, VW Golf, Peugeot 104 /205 all shared roughly the same dimensions.

    • I am sure it played its part, but nothing more than helping Pininfarina evolve its styling for a compact 2 box saloon on from what it had done for the Ado16.

      Interestingly back 93 when I took delivery of 306, I took the long way home via Gaydon and parked it next to an Ado16 and me and the Ado16 owner were fascinated to see how close the apportions were and notably the curve of the roof line and rear body lines were, you could see that though they were 30 years apart, they shared the same DNA.

      Good style never goes out of fashion.

      • I just looked at photos of a 1993 306 and an Austin 1300 straight after the other after reading this comment and you’re right! Especially the windows and the shape of the C pillar!! Mind blown!

        • Yes I had not seen it until you parked them next to each other, then it was like looking at Mother (Grandmother?) and Daughter.

          As I said, good style never goes out of fashion!

          If BMC had maintained its relationship with Pininfarina we can imagine that the Allegro would have looked like a 104, the Ado88 like a 205/106 and Maestro like a 205/306 as they were all an evolution of where they were with the ADO16 in 63.

          • Very true ! How well British technology and Italian styling worked together ! See the Farina BMCs, Michelotti Triumphs, DB4/5/6 Astons – for sure Bill Town’s DBS was far from ugly though but for the BMCs see how handsome compared to the predecessors by Standard, Austin-Morris, competition by Rootes or followers – Roy Axe did a great job but the Lancrab/Maxi were just adequate, the Harris Mann following were terrible, Marina was ok thanks to Roy Haynes who copied-out his previous Cortina-design, SD1 was vey much Farina inspired and far better than Bache’s DS-copied-out P6.

  4. My dad had a Peugeot 104 when I was born. My parents drove about 600km in a 104, with me as a baby in my cradle on the back seat.
    Way later I owned a Talbot Samba. Absolutely loved the car.
    Unfortunately had to give it away as I did not have use for it anymore, and it needed some work on the engine and body (I studied abroad for several years).
    I exchanged it against two Solex, one in perfect working condition.

  5. My parents” next-door neighbour had 104 about 35years ago. It was a kind of petrel blue but my abiding memory of it is the whining and rattling of the transmission as it passed by. Now I’m not an engineer or mechanic but surely in-sump gearboxes sharing the engine oil can’t be a good thing?

  6. I always liked the Peugeot 104 but when it first went on sale here in Blighty it was a bit on the pricey side,and it was not that economical either,did the back seats fold on the original version? I thought that the three door version looked great especially the 104ZS which was a proto warm hatch. The 104 spawned another version as well,the Citroen LN which had an enlarged version of the air cooled flat twin engine seen in the 2CV,Ami & Dyane models. Coming so quickly after after the merger with Peugeot the LN was received with horror by Citroen fans in the UK and was not initially sold here. In due course the LN got the 954&1124cc versions of the Peugeot four and finally seven years after first being announced it was sold here as the LNE, don’t think it sold that well in the UK but it stayed in the range until the AX came out

    • Ian- just to clarify, the Citroen LN used the 602cc flat twin out of the Dyane/Ami (higher compression ratio).

      The LNA used the new 652cc flat twin, shared with the Visa Special/Club. It is a common misunderstanding that this is a bored-out version of the 602cc twin.

      The LNA 11 was the later X-engined addition, sold here in 11E/11RE trim levels.

      The air-cooled LNs/LNAs have different front end structures to the X-engined LNA 11- bonnet, inner wings, front subframe, bulkhead, bonnet slam panel, steering rack, driveshafts, anti-roll bar- all different. Similar situation with the Visa.

      To top it off, the 1986-on 104Zs used the LNA 11 bodyshell!

      • The 652cc was a bored-out 602cc with an additional bearing but not between the 2 conrods, it was added behind to stiffen the crankshaft in position. The rest was identical. If it would have been a different engine it would have been say a 785cc up to the limit of 4cv. 602cc was 3cv, 652cc was 4cv. In those days because of taxes engine displacements were up to the taxation steps.

  7. I always liked the 104 and agree that it’s a spiritual successor to the Mini. I recall seeing an advert for the original 4 door model saying that the folding rear seat was an optional extra. If only BL had given the Clubman a hatchback – trust them to modify the front and not the rear..!

  8. I also owned a Samba. It was an okay wee car; a little too small for carrying four adults, though. All right for two kids on the back seat.
    Its one big problem was nothing to do with its engineering or comfort, but poor door hinges which, on a windy day could let the door to open beyond its designed stop point. The resultant creased wing and door leading edge seemed to be pretty common on all the models mentioned above. So much so that, whenever my wife sees a creased wing on a car, she says it has got a Samba door.

  9. Interesting that under ‘Early starters’ you talk about the Datsun 100A because mechanically it is closer to the Mini and the 104 than we might think. Like those two it had FWD with a transverse engine and the gears underneath.
    The 100A’s A10 engine was a development of the Austin A-series (Nissan had a licence from Austin in the 1950s) so although more of a cousin of the Mini the lineage is clearly there.

    • The A10 was an oversquare design alloy-headed, not to be confused with the BMC A-Series derivative “E” engine.

  10. You state that the Renault 5 “practically had the gearbox in the cabin. Wasn’t the gearbox in front of the engine?

    • Yes it was ! As for the Traction, DS, SM, Renaut 4, Renault 16, Renault 6, the engine was under the dashboard and gearbox ahead. Not a lot of feet space and a lot of noise inside. With the introduction of the slow revving 1108cc TL/GTL phase 2 it was surprisingly much-much quieter.

  11. Would have to agree yet compared to the 9X the 104 Coupe looks cramped and badly executed compared to the former, while the X-Type could have benefited from another 200cc like on the later PSA TU.

    Admire how Peugeot was able to use the 104 as the basis for the Visa and Samba prior to much of the mechanicals underpinning both the 205 and 309. Additionally how versatile the 104 platform was based on Peugeot’s studies for the 4-door three-box saloon (more suitable Hornet/Elf), 5-door Break Estate, Peugette Roadster (reminiscent of the Mini-based MG ADO34), pick-up and sedan based van prototypes as well as 104 Arvor Hot Hatch and even diesel powered versions.

    The 9X/10X engine and gearbox were a concern, the latter particularly so against the Mini, Mini Clubman and Autobianchi A112.

    FWIW it appears Alec Issigonis’s idea was for 9X/10X to be part of a trio of related cars based on the following image compromised of the:

    – Mini-Mini: Essentially the Pininfarina 9X styling buck with a possible link to the Michelotti styled Innocenti 750 – dimensions 114 inch length / 80 inch wheelbase / 58.5 inch width.

    – New Mini 850: A slightly larger version of the Mini-Mini 9X – dimensions 116 inch length / 82 inch wheelbase / 58.5 inch width

    – 10X ADO16 replacement with an inline-6 displacing around 1100-1500cc (other accounts claim around 1200/1300-1500cc) – dimensions unknown,

    • Sort of proves that Issigonis was ahead of his time. Everyone pushes that Haynes wanted to simplify the range by using 5 different platforms, but Issigonis was looking at an flexible platform that could be stretched to cover the whole range, something we are only starting to see 50 years plus later with the MQB.

      • But also that had a bit of a blind alley in terms of 6 cylinder engines, compromising the E4 so that the E6 could be made, and considering an ADO16 replacement with a tiny 6 cylinder engine!

        • The 1.6 and 2.0 Standard-Triumph sixes did well, BMW did well with their 320/520 2.0 six, Mazda tried the small sixes too, Nissan have had a Maxima 2.0 V6 for years in Japan even sold for some times in France – I don’t know in the UK, it was not that strange to make small sixes and I would have had one ! I’ve had a 3.0 Alfa and now a couple of old good 3.4 and 4.2 XKs. Why telling that the E4 was compromised ? Was it planned to have an E6 or was-it an Aussie invention like the B6 for the Freeway ?

          • It was conceived from the outset to be a FWD 4 and 6 cylinder, unfortunately the width restrictions this imposed led to a long stroke engine that had little if any scope to be bored out, which in turn led to a very long stroke and underwhelming 1750.

          • @Graham, there was a 2600 E six in Australia anyway. later-on Volvo had a transverse six on their S90

          • The main constraint put down for the E series engine width by Issigonis was his decision to site the radiator on the side of the engine, narrowing the width the engine could be. Why he had this fascination I have no idea. If he hadn’t the E4 could have been wider, as would have the E6. But as maestro wolf said it was a bit of a blind alley, though Mazda were still going down the small engine multi cylinder route in the 90s with the 1.6 v6 – now that was a sweer engine.

          • daveh

            The smallest Mazda V6 was the 1.8 Mazda K8 (more accurately a 1850cc), with the smallest Mitsubishi V6 being the 1.6 6A10.

            The only other post-war small-six that comes to mind would have to be the Müller-Andernach two-stroke V6 prototype engine planned for the DKW F102 worked like two three-cylinder two-stroke engines on a common crankshaft.

          • Typo nate! Serves me right not to read before I pressed post.

            I think the other reason for small multi cylinder engines was following the trend of F1. Between 61-65 the 1.5L was the max capacity for F1. Ferrari gave us the Type 178 v6, the Type 205 and a flat 12 (in the Ferrari 1512), Honda with a v12 and BRM v8 (p56).

          • That is ok daveh, typos are bad habit on my part. Was not aware of the 1.5-litre F1 Era playing a role.

          • During the 2.5 era Aurelio Lampredi thought that the least parts-the least friction. He then experimented a twin cylinder 2.5 on a bench that nealy killed il Comendatore when exploding. He was then fired and moved to Fiat where he created all engines from 1955 till the seventies.

          • The Triumph and BMW small I6 engines were RWD only, whereas to create a transverse engined I6 engine (as opposed to V6s) is a lot harder, especially in smaller narrower cars.

            The Volvo SI6 is the only other one I can think of, an engine assembled in Bridgend at one time and used in top of the range Freelander 2 models!

          • Phillipe, the H16 was actually a 3.0L. It was developed by sticking two 1.5L v8s together. The Coventry Climax FWMW, the flat 16 was actually never raced in F1, as it had serious reliability problems and didn’t produce anywhere near the power that had been hoped. Brabham and Lotus had designed cars to race with this engine. F1 of the 60s and 70s is my speciality! BRM had two designs originally but chose the H16, with the Harry westlake V12 being bought back by Westlake and becoming the Gurney-Westlake which powered the Eagle car.

          • Another company that was said to have looked into a sub-2-litre 6-cylinder would have to be BMW with a post-war 1.8-litre version of what eventually became the BMW M20 engine, however it was destined not to reach production nor is it known if BMW took a de-bored or further de-stroked approach with the M20 to archive 1.8-litres.

      • @philippe “@Graham, there was a 2600 E six in Australia anyway. later-on Volvo had a transverse six on their S90”

        Yes there was, but the 2600 E was a product of the Leyland era and restricted to RWD applications because the 1800 derived transmission used on the FWD 2250 could not accommodate the longer stroke crank derived from the 1750.

        The first generation FWD Volvo S90 Straight 6 was a very limited production model (almost all were 5 cylinder petrol and diesel) and a result of the pre Ford takeover product planning need to make a “halo model” within strict investment and sales volume limitations.

        It had been achieved by making some serious compromises as I discovered when I was lent one when my V70 T5 power steering pump exploded. I discovered that its turning circle was greater than that of your typical NCP 1960s multistory car park spiral between the floors. Forcing me to climb and descend these spirals in a succession of 3 point turns! It was little better trying to get it in and out of the parking spaces as well.

          • The shorter the powertrain is, the smaller the turn circle is – maybe the reason for “gearbox in sump” of the Mini. Smart/Twingo III turn very short thanks to rear engine. Now I understand why the 2600 E was fitted to the Marina and not to the Kimberley/Tasman not the Wedge.

          • If the 9X/10X engine operated from similar principles as the E-Series in terms of also being a shorter compact design (if not in other respects as well) and was said to have easily fitted into the engine bay of existing Minis during testing without any issues (sans the Mini-derived 9X prototypes), then did the 9X/10X really need to continue using the in sump transmission layout?

            The Mini-Mini and 9X prototypes were said to be approximately 3.5 inches wider at 58.6 inches compared to the existing Mini at 55 inches (if not wider when excluding the Mini’s mirrors), yet a 2-inch increase in width was enough to fit the 1.4 K-Series and end-on gearbox into the Minki-II prototype at 57 inches (even though the 4-cylinder K-Series was actually said to be longer than the A-Series engine).

            Basically the increase in width could have allowed the 9X to feature an end-on transmission layout if it was indeed about as similarly short as the E-Series.

        • Sorry for my mistake, I understood the 2600E was somehow externally bigger but I had to understand that it had a bigger torque due to longer stroke and the 1800 box could not afford.

          • The E Series was manufactured in what was in the late 60s a highly automated factory, unfortunately the automation of the late 60s made it highly inflexible and so the E and subsequent R and S were stuck with a block that was tightly engineered around a bore that was already long for ohc 1500cc engine, which suggests that Issi intended to use the E6 to replace the 1800 B series engine rather than further extend the stroke, as Webster did to create the 1750..

    • Reading the sketch (much respect for whoever posted it online btw) more of how Issigonis viewed the planned 9X/10X derived trio in relation to the Maxi, Landcrab and what appears to either be the X6 or ADO61 / 3-litre.

      With more refinement of both the cars and engines (including the diesels) as well as the gearboxes (his effort with the Maxi let alone the 9X prototype’s transmissions hardly inspires confidence), it could have potentially worked had Issigonis realized the trend for compact engines like the existing A-Series was 3/4-cylinders and more enlargement rather than the pre-war influenced 4/6-cylinder blind alley that is more in the realm of confident carmakers (e.g. Mitsubishi with the 1.6 6A10 V6) with money to spend to demonstrate their technical prowess.

      Thinking about the possible dimensions of the X10 replacement for ADO16, in the absence of actual figures one would guess Issigonis’s plan for the New ADO16 was for the car to be similarly more compact compared to ADO16 yet still spacious along similar lines to what he envisioned for the 9X Mini replacement.

      Going by a similar 4 inch reduction in length for 10X over ADO16 as with the 9X for the Mini whilst possibly retaining the same wheelbase and width would approximately place the 10X in the same Supermini class as both the Peugeot 104 and Fiat 127 in terms of length. Yet it is also said in a 1965 discussion with Small Car magazine that he felt the ideal size for a 4-seater car at the time (pre-9X/10X) was 1ft longer than Mini yet with ADO16’s width or roughly the same as the Austin Metro by Charles Griffin.

      • A bit of the Chrysler 180, can also slightly see a bit of the 2-door Austin Metro saloon prototype,

        Trying to think of any other similarities that spring up, it together with the Peugette goes give an idea what a 1970s Pininfarina version of the Mini-based Michelotti styled ADO70 Calypso prototype (a modernization as it were for the Mini-based 1960s MG ADO34 prototype).

  12. Apparently there are only nine 104s left in the UK. Although even this surprises me a little, as I grew up in the 80s and cannot remember 104s being part of the landscape at all, I might not have ever seen one in my life. The woman who lived opposite had a Samba cabriolet, which is the closest I can think of. It appears they were sold in the UK, so I wonder why they sold so badly?

    • They were too large to be a mini competitor, and too small to be an 1100/1300 rival. They were also the first sign of Peugeot’s descent into the “cheap and nasty” category, ( later confirmed by the 205) , its cars prior to this having been rather aristocratic by French standards . I would be interested to see Keith Evans come up with measurements to justify his assertion that the 104 had interior space “easily on a par” with ADO16

      • When the 104 arrived in the UK market the 1100/1300 was in its death throws, its relative rarity was because for most of its life it was relatively expensive and did not benefit from a significant dealer presence in the UK. However the Visa was to be quite a common site, despite being too small to compete with the 1100!

    • Doesn’t surprise for two reasons, they never sold very well due to being quite expensive. and the Talbot Samba that was based on the 104 and sold alongside it was cheaper and nearly as good. Also the 104 always looked like a chopped down 504 from the front and a little odd.

      • @Glenn, the Samba just popped-in 9 (nine) years after the 104 so … The 104 was like all Peugeots – the definite notary cars – had been : serious looking, it did not fit with the post 68 young customers expectations – and lacked a 5th door. The Renault 5 despite being a 3 doors only for some years outsold-it while being less roomy, and less advanced technically, but far more sexy.

      • I think the 5-door looks better than the 3-door in this regard. The 3 door looks ‘chopped down’ and rather AMC Pacer-esque. I think the 5 door is quite handsome.

  13. The modern replacement for the real Mini is the Toyota iQ, with a bit of oversight from Alex Moulton, Toyota made an overlay of the Issogonis Mini blueprint then set about making the iQ compliant with modern crash test regulations. for myself I am fascianted by Japanese 660 cc Japanese K cars,I would nominate the Honda 660 mid-engined coupe as a modern Issigonis Mini Cooper and the NBox as a dai8ly workhorse

  14. I had a Peugeot 104 as a insurance car after our Triumph 1500 broke down in France in August, many years ago.

    Wow – what a good, quiet and comfy car – really smooth.

    It was a shame to have to give it back after the Triumph’s alternator was mended.

  15. The canted backwards “suitcase” engines were jointly developed with Renault, who oddly only used them in the 14,

    • It did sound like a Peugeot : whining and playing castanets one neutral. In those times a Renault had to sound like a Renault and not like a Peugeot. This is the main reason why dealers did not like it and why Renault 16 owners did not want that car despite the fact it was larger/wider inside (no engine under dash !) and shorter outside. Renault decided to step back to the old good Cléon iron/alloy head OHV and its -moderate then – valve-thrash for the Renault 9/11 “small” blocks with box on end.

        • Sorry Paul.
          The R14 replaced nothing in 1976 because the R6 and the R16 soldiered-on till 1980.
          The R12 was replaced by the R18 in 1978 (same plaform, same drivetrain).
          The Renault 20 appeared in 1976 too.
          The R16 owner had to choose between the “lower” R14 – 57bhp instead of 65bhp but 180kg lighter, or “higher” R20 90 bhp and later-on 96bhp – more R16TX oriented but with 180kg in addition … or stay R16.
          The R16 was not replaced in 1980, the R14 was replaced by the R11 end of 1982.

          • French manufacturers for a long time liked to introduce new cars which didn’t directly replace older models, but rather were sold alongside them for a few years.

            Peugeot were the same. The 204 stayed in production for a long time after the 304 was introduced, the 304 had a couple of years alongside the 305, the 404 lasted several years after the 504 was introduced and the 504 when the 505 was introduced!

  16. The Peugeot 104 is not a car that I ever took much interest in but reading this article does make me agree it was a useful little car, though didn’t see many on the roads. My brother’s 1975 Datsun Cherry 100A was a better looking car – though admittedly didn’t have a tailgate.

    The ’79 Cherry Hatch rectified that matter and looked better – IMHO! By then the Cherry was a bigger car than the 104

  17. Strangely we had very few Cherrys in France, the design, front-end and rear-end was not what the European market was expecting. Roadholding and comfort were below expectations too. See how the curent Micra does not sell either despite a lot of Renault bits, Japanese design …

    • French car buyers have never shown much interest in Japanese cars, although import restrictions in the seventies made them rare. Might it be the conservatve styling and engineering have been a factor as well, as a Citroenist would probably run a mile from a Datsun Sunny?

      • Working in Paris in the early 80s, I came across the Nissan diesel estate favoured by the taxi drivers of the city. the vehicle was a copy of those Peugeot estates with three rows of seats. the Nissan copied the classic rear-seat ride comfort of ” French ” nose-down, tail-up long-travel rear suspension ( am I describing a Peugeot 404)? Those Nissans were the toughest workhorses, as one driver told me 700, 000 kms no problem?

        • Yes you describe the 404/504/505 estates which are still running in Egypt and Africa slowly replace by Dacia Logan 7 seater estates. The mentionned Nissan was probably the Prairie, as tall as a London-Taxi with sliding rear doors ?

          • Not a Nissan Prairie, but a near exact copy of the Peugeot 504, utterly conventional in appearance

      • France petrochemical refineries had a surplus of capacity for producing diesel fuel, their Govt encouraged the French motor industry to develop and promote diesel cars over petrol, Japan had little interest in the diesel car market, one of many explanations for the low presence of Japanese cars in France

        • Not in the seventies, there was no diesel Renault, only some 504 for Peugeot, only CX diesel from 1975-on for Citroën, no Ford, no Opel, no Fiat, and yes of course some Mercedes. Not at-all the reason why Japanes never sold. From 1990-on when the diesel started to become very popular while being less taxed – and the engines less thirsty, the Japanese started to produce diesels for export but still they did not succeed on the Continent. Moreove their Premium brands like Lexus or Infiniti did not sell either. Infiniti gave-up, Lexus still trying. No image, no competition for Audi/BMW/Mercedes/Jaguar.

          • In Portugal you had a Morris Marina powered by a diesel engine from a Sherpa Van that sold quite well as it was cheap, could do over 40 mpg and was reliable. Rather a chore to drive, with 70 mph flat out if you were lucky, but ideal for a poor country where image and performance weren’t important.

          • Glenn I think we had a few diesel Farina Ox-bridge in Paris as taxis when I was a child – well that means … around 1965 ?

        • We had a few diesel (58bhp 2.0 !) Bluebirds – maybe some estates ? – in the eighties but not seen many …

          • It must have been odd to flag down a taxi in Paris assuming it was a very common Peugeot 404 from a distance, only to find it was a Farina diesel when it pulled up!

  18. The Qashqaï which did not sell at-all in Japan did a lot to popularize SUVs in France. And still the current one was doing well, coming from Sunderland. Now the new Hybrid RAV4 is also doing well. Honda does not exist anymore, they were good engineering and nice design when the Japanese came-in the Civic was popular. Toyota with a very conservative and anonymous styling does not sell, even the made-in France Yaris does not sell, somehow imitating the Peugeot lines. Maybe they suffer from insufficient sales and aftersales network ? Lack of image ? Building an image is difficult even though they raced and won Le Mans. Worse are the Korean sales. Good cars, nice looking but without resale value to lack of image.

  19. Great article. IMHO the 104 is exactly the car BMC should have been building as a Mini / ADO16 replacement. Pinin styling, two wheelbases and sensibly sized.

    Sharing engine development with Renault, that is inspired and so French-pragmatic. Imagine if BL and Ford UK has developed a joint replacement for Kent and A series…what a fantasy

    • Hello SD67, sharing engines att that time did not work so well. The X engine had a typical Peugeot whine and Renault-fans did not like their Renault sounding like a Peugeot. In the other way the J – 2.0/2.2 litre all alloy OHC Renault-developped for the R20TS which was launched same year as R14 equipped the Peugeot 505 TI/STI/GTI and later-on the CX – 2.5 GTI and Turbo appart.had a more neutral tone and was correctly received by the Peugeot/Citroen. And of course so was the famous PRV V6. Initially it was decided to have a totally common vehicle known as the H project in Renault with a hatchback for Renault and conventionnal setting for Peugeot, with both V8 and V6 – the V6 only as everybody knows survived and the car was dowsized as the R30 while Peugeot made a minimum investment to pull-out the 604 from the 504 platform and doores (yes like Landcrab to 3 litre but then it woked !).

  20. Re the image problem of Toyota etc , Toyota are more interested in the USA car market than Europe, the USA consumer being so demanding in price and durability of products, European volume car makers gave up the struggle and withdrewfrom the USA many years ago.
    One of my hoped-for consequences of Brexit, is that we lessen our dependence on German car makers and we forge closer links with Japanese and Korea and enjoy the prices and warranties USA new car buyers receive.

  21. That’s all I wish you, Nissan let Spain down and will reinforce Sunderland but Honda let the UK down so who knows ? Speaking with US citizens they all quit Toyota for Hyundai, don’t care about image and maybe do not make any difference between Korea and Japan, both are far away in Asia 🙂

    • The Honda Civic just isn’t selling in Europe. It’s too expensive and weirdly styled and sales have been low. Honda probably think it’s cheaper now to import the limited number of Civics that Europeans want from Japan. Rather a shame for Swindon, but sales are too low to keep the factory going.

      • I agree they are strangely styled and I personally don’t like them, but around here (Nottingham) I see a surprisingly large number of them. What strikes me about the current model is how much it has grown since the original in the early 70s. It seems to have moved up several steps in the market during its lifespan.

        • Apart from the Qashqai which had some success, no Japanese is selling in Europe. Too strange or too tasteless. Toyota sells some RAV4, Honda nothing. The Toyota Yaris is made in France as well as the Nissan Micra and you can hardly find one here.

      • The problem was that Honda kept reducing the range in the UK,first the Legend went,then the S200 the European Accord was never replaced,Honda wasted it’s resources on producing vanity projects such as the HA420 Hondajet biz jet and the second generation NSX supercar both projects that took too long and haven’t produced the sales to justify the resources that was expended on them. What is left of the range in Europe certainly seems over priced and lacks the flair of the cars that the company produced in it’s prime

  22. I had an ADO16 and a Citroën Visa back in the day. The Visa interior would have pretty well exactly the same dimensions as the 104, and as such it was really quite a lot less accommodating than my Austin. The main difference was width. I could quite easily get four in the back of the Austin, whereas the Visa was a real squeeze for three. That said, I can see the design commonalities, and those with the 9x. Can’t see BMC would have replaced the Mini with the 104 because it was too big, but there are philosophical similarities.

  23. So if the 104 is the new mini, what would you say is the mini today? I would say that the current baby Peugeot, Citroën and Toyota or the Smart/Renault (although rwd). Both are small, good space inside and cheap and reasonably fun to drive.

    • I would say that it is the current baby Peugeot, Citroën and Toyota (even do badge engineering) whereas the Smart/Renault is something is somewhat of a retrograde step whilst in itself quite a nice car so could be seen as the modern day Hillman Imp / Singer Chamois / Sunbeam Stiletto.

  24. Me and my brother had a Metro and Samba between us. The Samba had a better driving position, far more comfortable seats and much nicer engine (went it worked) but a woeful gearbox and rolly-polly suspension.

    Sitting in the back of the Samba was a grim, claustrophobic experience where the Metro was spacious and airy. The boot of the Austin was quite a bit bigger too.

    Compared with the Samba the Metro felt as if it was built like a tank!

    When we replaced the engine for the second time (original threw a rod, replacement leaked out its coolant as we filled it) we could get the Samba unit out in half an hour.

  25. The 104 is not really a direct replace for the mini and there is no real replacement for it nor has there even been. I am not a big fan of the Mini but the niech it filled is not currently filled by anything. Probably the original smart two seater came closest.

    The obsession with replacing the mini was on of the reasons for the BL BMC decline. It syphoned resources on to projects that bore no fruit, not because the replacements were without merit, but because the economics of the replacement did not add up. This same obsession resulted in the Metro being undersized which reduced sales and profit for what was a pretty good design.

    It also led successfully to the ADO16 but also to the sales fiasco of the Maxi and 1800.

    I do wonder why the same patriotic fervor around the metro could not be generated for other BL products.

  26. The closest we have to the Mini now are cars like the Volkswagen Up and SEAT Mii. Both are small cars designed to be fun, look good, are cheap to own and drive well.

    • I include the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/ Citroen C1 cars as a worthy addition to the Up, driving a C1 for a test brought back dormant childhood memories of the 1960’s of the fun of driving a fairground dodgem car

  27. Last year I had a Suzuki Celerio for a day when my Swift Sport was in for it’s service.It was great lovely buzzy engine,little in the way sound proofing,the steering was sharp, just perfect for the lousy roads of Taunton. The little car was well screwed together with out any creaks and rattles and was surprisingly roomy inside.I really enjoyed my day with the Celerio it reminded me of my old 1962 Mini

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