It is almost impossible to believe the 405 is now 34 years old. While some of its rivals now appear as dated as a Duran Duran CD, the Peugeot’s looks seem almost timeless. Even more remarkably, it remains in production.
The successor to the well respected 305 made its bow in July 1987. The new 405 shared a floorpan with the Citroën BX, while a significant attraction was the beautifully proportioned Pininfarina-designed bodywork. Within a few months of launch, the factory at Sochaux near the Swiss border could not meet customer demand. The 405 was also declared Car of the Year 1988, gaining the most votes in the award’s history.
Peugeot made the UK-market versions in the former Rootes Group factory in Ryton, to the south-east of Coventry, with sales commencing on 21 January 1988. The brochure made unsubtle references to “a new generation of professional motorists”, and a remarkably naff but renowned TV advertisement promised the 405 would take your breath away.
Marketing hyperbole aside, by early 1988 the Ryton plant was working two shifts for the first time in 10 years. PSA Peugeot-Citroen’s previous British medium-sized saloon was the 1980 to 1986 Talbot Solara, a car that seemed to enjoy being as uninspired as an edition of The Young Doctors. By contrast, the 405 looked downright elegant from the entry-level 1.6-litre GE or the flagship, fuel-injected 1.9-litre GTX. The latter cost £11,845 and boasted electric windows and sunroof, plus remote control central locking.
Performance Car stated: “Peugeot appear justified in having high hopes for the new 405 saloon” and Car raved about the ride, handling, seating and the “entertaining, almost silken character”. Meanwhile, Autocar thought it possessed “‘all the hallmarks of thorough development, the 405 shines in so many areas that it poses a serious threat to the established set”.
In other words, for the first time in many years, PSA had a viable rival to the Ford Sierra, Vauxhall Cavalier and Austin Montego as a company car. No European manufacturer had previously made significant inroads into the UK’s buoyant fleet market sector, but Peugeot dealers could highlight the 405’s 65 per cent British content, an important consideration at that time. Furthermore, its appearance could only enhance a business’s image, and by 1992 the Peugeot was the UK’s eighth bestselling car.
An estate and Turbo Diesel versions joined the line-up in 1988, as did the rapid Mi16 with its aluminium DOHC 16-valve engine. In the following year, Peugeot introduced the exceedingly desirable AWD Mi16x4; the production run amounted to only 1,046 units. By 1991 the 405 was facelifted as the Phase II. The 406 replaced the saloon in 1996 although the estate version of the 405 continued until 1997.
Today, a mere 500 of all types remain on the road in the UK.
Paul Gritton came by his 1992 example seven years ago. It is believed to be one of only 41 surviving GTX models and one of only five with automatic transmission. He says: “I always wanted an automatic one when I was younger, but I had a Turbo Diesel because I could not afford the fuel at the time. When I saw this example for sale on eBay, I instantly fell in love with her and had to have it. She even had air-conditioning, which is a rarity on a Phase I model.”
And while French production ceased 24 years ago, and the Ryton works closed in 2006, the 405 lives on as the Khazar 406. The story commenced in 1990 when Iran Khodro began making the Peugeot, supplanting their venerable Paykan (aka a locally built Hillman Hunter). Last year production transferred to Azerbaijan and, despite the new name, that Pininfarina bodystyle is unmistakable.
Today, Gritton finds his Peugeot belies its 29 years, observing: “It has only done 45,000 miles from new, the automatic ’box is silky smooth, and it’s like sitting on a sofa when you get in.”
As for its looks, back in 1988, motoring writer Gordon Cruickshank believed the 405 proved “there is no reason why an everyday saloon should not be beautiful”. He was right.
Thanks to: Paul Gritton and Peugeot 405 Owners UK
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