It’s been a good couple of months since I last bought a car, so thought it was about time I had a change-around. The Rover 75 joined the fleet with perfect timing, proving just the tool for trips to Croydon, Sussex and Birmingham over the space of a few weeks. However, it needed a few things seeing to and risked becoming yet another project – the two Citroens are more than keeping me busy (and skint!) on that front.
A deal was arrange that saw the Rover being swapped for a Peugeot 309 and some cash – the latter being handy as the BX is going in for Stage 1 of welding soon. The Peugeot is everything I love about older cars, especially compared to the Rover. Open the bonnet and you can actually see an engine and gearbox and from the driver’s seat, you can actually see out! If you suffer from claustrophobia, modern cars must be a nightmare.
The Peugeot has a 1254cc Simca-derived engine that is low on technology and high on torque. It even retains overhead valve gear, just like the Mini and the 2CV. None of this timing belt rubbish! No multivalve head either, and that means that the engine pulls well from low revs in just the way that modern petrol engines (and even some diesels!) don’t. Despite the low-tech engine, there is a five-speed gearbox. That’s about it on the toy count though. Keep-fit windows and steering and arm-stretch door locking and mirror adjustment will hopefully prove that there’s simply less to go wrong, while dashboard switches are restricted to just the hazard lights, heated rear window and rear fog light. Brilliant. I much prefer the low-tech life!
Yes, ok, perhaps on such a chilly day, I was missing the Rover’s heated leather seats, but I had a sunroof now, and it’s a clever one. A hidden switch operates a vacuum when the roof is closed, sucking it down to the seal to ensure a water-tight (and pretty air-tight too) fit. It uses the vacuum built up by the brake servo. Clever stuff – AND it still works!
Progress is quite swift too. While the acceleration is boosted by much lower gearing than the Rover – 60mph has gone up from just under 2000rpm to getting on for 3000 – the engine is undeniably lusty for its size. Low weight helps. No toys keep things from getting heavy. That’s just as well as the unassisted steering was a bit of a shock to the system. After so long driving cars with PAS (I don’t include the Mini and 2CV in this as they’re proper old in design terms!), it’s unusual to once again be able to feel what the front wheels are doing, and feel the steering load up as cornering speeds increase. It’s good though. Much more reassuring. It stops you going too far with chucking it around, as you have a much better feel for when you’re going a bit too quickly – though the bodyroll alarms you as well. The ride is firm, but very composed. It doesn’t crash over bumps, but it’s also good in the handling department – typical French then really. It was also nice that it wasn’t a rattling nightmare of cheap interior parts. The Mk1 was, but this one feels nicely together, especially given the fact that it has clocked up over 120,000 miles.
There are some minor issues to sort out – the ignition timing needs checking, the speedometer cable needs connected up and the wiper blades are horribly smeary – but as a winter hack, it couldn’t be more ideal.
Some history for those who haven’t fallen asleep yet. The 309 wasn’t meant to be a Peugeot at all – which is why it doesn’t fit into the -05 numbering of the time (ie 205, 305, 405 etc). It was actually developed as a replacement for the Talbot Horizon, and was known as the Arizona during development. That’s why this one has a Simca engine as Simca was absorbed into Chrysler Europe, which Peugeot took over (applying the Talbot badge to what had then become Chryslers). At almost the last minute, Peugeot decided to kill off the Talbot marque and decided to badge the Arizona as a Peugeot. 309 was chosen as all the other -05 codes had already been taken. It will be interesting to see what Peugeot replace the 308 with…