Picture the scene – it’s 1988, and you’re a middle-ranking salesman climbing your way up the marketing totem pole. It’s a competitive place to be, and your choice of company car was absolutely essential. Buy the right one, and people thought you were a success; get it wrong, and you were on a one-way trip to loser’s-ville.
And that’s why Ford, Vauxhall and Rover were fighting hard to make their Sierra, Cavalier and Montego appeal to aspirational types. So, Ford introduced the Sierra LX – essentially an L but with rev counter, two tone paint and more sporting attitude (all in marketing terms, of course). Austin Rover did the same with the Maestro (1.3L) and Montego (1.6L and 2.0Si), and proved reasonably successful in revitalising the fast-fading pair. Vauxhall’s approach was also to introduce an LX, and then fuel-inject everything in sight…
But in truth, all three cars were starting to get a little dog-eared. But their makers fought hard to keep fleet managers on-side – so equipment levels were constantly upgraded, colours and trim improved, and most importantly, discounted to the hilt. The Sierra’s impressive 1987 makeover (and introduction of the Sapphire four-door) was probably the most successful in keeping it in the repmobile fast-lane, but the Cavalier and Montego’s charms had rightfully been eclipsed by Uncle Henry.
And it was in the midst of this bloodbath that Peugeot rocked-up into with the impressive UK-built (in Ryton, Coventry) 405. In truth, this was the first time that Peugeot had attacked the mid-market so directly – even if its Talbot Solara was pitched as a Cortina rival when launched in 1980. But unlike its Alpine-based predecessor, the 405 an exceptional product that just arrived on the scene and did everything right. It looked good (thank you, Pininfarina), went well thanks to its XU and XUD powerplants, and it rode and handled superbly – a traditional Peugeot strength.
It was also priced and specced to go toe-to-toe with the big three, and because its UK credentials were as impeccable as Vauxhall or Ford’s, the 405 found itself on rather a lot of fleet managers’ lists. And from that moment on, it proved to be a worthy success, paving the way for over a decade of growth for Peugeot in the UK.
And just why the 405 made such a big impression in the minds of buyers is probably down to this wonderful advert – it really does have it all, underscored by a faux version of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. No way would they get away with crop burning on such a scale just to promote a car – but this was the 1980s… and what advertising executives wanted back then, they got.