The Sunday News
You have to admit that they don’t make cars like they used to back then. Quirky, robust spaceship-styled cars made to last a century. The fifties were a game changer in the automobile industry.
This post World-War 2 era brought many changes with new dreams and aspirations, it was also the pinnacle of the American motor industry pioneering the tailfin design which dominated the industry in the fifties and sixties.
The Peugeot 404 was not to be left out — it had to have the tailfin as well. Sometimes I get to think that is why they believed cars would be flying by the 2000s, exotic, fancy, exuberant styling that made one believe that the cars would fly one day.
The 404 car was quite popular in its time in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole. A few can still be seen on the roads today, a time when most of their peers have sunken deep into oblivion. There was nothing fancy about the 404 styling and it didn’t have much of that flare. What made it what it was, was the simplicity and the durability, it was built to last.
Its styling was simple to the T, it had oversize fenders that housed the round headlights which were accommodated in chrome headlight rims. It was custom for cars in its era to have chrome bumpers and it had them both front and rear. A chrome trim also stretched from the front headlight to the tailfin-styled tail-lights.
The tailfin design can be seen on many American classics like the Plymouths, many designers across the world took a leaf from American designs of the time as their designs resembled jet fighters and space ships. Designers went crazy in the 50s with the tailfin design from small fins to some of the largest fins possible. The Americans went all out and some of the cars looked like they’d actually fly but I guess time went by too fast because we are in the 2000s now and all we have is a Tesla!
For long, the 404 enjoyed a reputation of durability and value and you’d find it fighting with African terrain in odd places and carrying people as a taxi. Back in the day, they were popular as pirate taxis and were the mshikashika cars of choice then.
Forget the Honda Fit, this car packed people in its boot like a joke.
From its introduction in 1960 mainly the sedan was produced and as time went on, other body types were added — station wagons, coupes, cabriolets and pick-ups.
In Zimbabwe the sedan, wagons and pick-ups were popular, I am not sure of any other body types that were available here. The pick-up was a hard worker and a few are still running today, half a century later. I’d like to believe they made cars with Africa in mind then, these are cars that were bulletproof, they took on African terrains and endured all the harsh African conditions.
It was quite a large car but interestingly enough it had a 1,6 litre engine. For a big car that engine seems to have been small but it lasted the mile and did not back down from the fight. The engine was a carburetted 4-cylinder 1600 motor with a single overhead camshaft. It had a fluid cooling system breaking the norm from the other French air-cooled engines. It wasn’t the fastest of cars and topped out at about 140km/h, I doubt though that the remaining bunch can still do those speeds.
A four-speed manual gearbox with column shift came standard with an option of a three-speed automatic. I’m not quite sure if any automatics ever landed on Zim soil but I’d love to see one if there are any. Power was transferred to the rear wheels via driveshaft to the rear differential, they never knew of any CV problems then.
Comfort came standard, much of which has been attributed to the 15-inch wheels which were big enough to tackle pothole infested African roads. One thing that differentiates modern cars and old cars is the way they made the seats.
Older cars were made with comfy bulky seats with springs and all but newer cars are made with comfy suspension and harder seats.
They managed to build an efficient spares network that some manufacturers failed to do. Because of that you can’t go very far without seeing an old 404 being driven somewhere. Other French manufacturers failed dismally when it came to providing spares back-up. Citroen for example died a slow death because of lack of backup spares.
The simplicity and reliability of the 404 put it on the map as a car and Peugeot as a car manufacturer. In 1965 the 404 diesel broke the record for the longest continuous sustained distance at 100 miles per hour. This is a record this car has managed to keep even off the tracks and on the hard and difficult African terrains.
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