Driven Classic car: 404 a perfect fit for Peugeot nut
Don Howarth’s Classic is kept on the run, writes Jacqui Madelin
Don Howarth is a bit of a Peugeot nut. He's got three: a 406 coupe he bought sight unseen in 2007, a 306 cabriolet - and the 1970 404 in these photos.
His first "P'ug" was a 505 he bought in 1988 as a tow car for his trailer boat.
"You were limited even then to Holden, Ford, BMW, Merc and Peugeot if you wanted rear drive, and we went to some pretty inhospitable places. I hate SUVs like the plague - I'm an ex-Targa rally driver and I like a good-handling car," he said.
The 505 fit the bill so well he's now had three, and he and his wife, Wynne, lose count when trying to work out how many Peugeots they've now had - something approaching 20, they think.
He hadn't initially planned to own a classic, but his tarmac rallying days ended after a triple somersault set the car on its roof during the 2004 Targa and Don broke his neck.
"Every window was broken but the rear. I was taller than my co-driver, and when we swapped seats I hadn't raised the head restraint, and my head whiplashed terribly."
He seems fine now, but rallying was out, so he decided to buy old cars. "I'd always admired the 404 as a tough old thing, and got on to this one through the Peugeot club in October 2008."
It was in pretty good condition, the body had been panel-beaten and repainted in 2002. It drove okay and the engine - the car's second - seemed okay too. "But it had been sitting around nearly two years and was suffering rust, and the more I used it the more I realised it was mechanically worn." Then he fixed the oil pressure warning light ...
The Classic Peugeot 404 ticks all the boxes for Don Howarth.
The Howarths wanted to do the 50th anniversary rally in 2010 to Christchurch and Akaroa, so he bought a second-hand 2.0-litre engine from a 1970 Peugeot 504. "The 404 has a 1.6-litre that looks the same and it's the same type, and I think the same stroke but a bigger bore. I checked and it'd fit perfectly to the clutch and gearbox, so with the help of the car club tech officer we stripped the engine and reconditioned it in the garage, downstairs, then lifted out the old engine and replaced it."
Sounds simple, doesn't it. But the "new" motor had only cost him $10 on Trade Me, and needed to be stripped, degreased, and more.
"It had been overheated so the head gasket was blown. It had sat over 10 years under a workshop, it was covered in shavings and had water sitting in it. It cost a good $1000 to refurbish, but it's been so worth it as we've taken the car all over, to Akaroa, Wanganui, Taupo, it's never let me down and it's been brilliant. The gearbox and diff can take the slightly extra power, and it's coped well."
Otherwise this 404 is standard, with the original wheels and trim.
"I've tried to keep it as original as possible apart from the engine, which is more than capable of keeping up with modern traffic."
It uses front disc brakes and rear drums, they had discs from 1969, with coil spring suspension front and rear with quite a long travel, "which was appealing for African and South American cars as they handled awful roads really well. It won the East Africa Safari three times, with good drivers, in the 1960s. It had legendary handling in those days. They looked like a Morris Oxford or Austin Cambridge of the same era, they had the same designer, Pininfarina, but didn't handle like them."
The engine's gurgly purr was most pleasant on start-up, the red vinyl seats impressively comfy, and the round-town ride smooth as we searched for a photo op between rain showers, looking down the short bonnet between the sharply rising wings. There's a four-speed manual column-change gearbox with synchro on all the gears, and no head restraints, "Which bothered me for a while, but I didn't want to spoil the original look."
It's thoroughly tidy, though not concours-condition as he uses the car, and though the cabin's simple it has a few amenities, including a cigarette lighter and a passenger-side vanity mirror. No radio? "It had one, but the reception was appalling, there was too much ignition interference, it has unusual sparkplug leads with the plugs deep in the heads, and I didn't want to fiddle so I took the radio out. Anyway the fan is driven by belt, and at 100km/h you couldn't hear the radio." The car gets used regularly on monthly mid-week tours with the Auckland vintage car club, end of the month club runs, the odd time and observation trials and in-between drives to keep it going sweetly. Would he sell it?
"Not until I'm too old to enjoy it! I'm a die-hard Peugeot enthusiast now. I'd want a vintage-era Peugeot."
That said he does have his eye on a 1938 car, "unrestored, in all its rusty glory", and he'd sell the 404 if he could buy that. "It's very rare.
"It has the two headlights behind the big oval grille, it's a weird-looking car."