For A Rainy Day

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I took four years of French in high school. Four long, arduous years. I didn’t even have to in my senior year, I just did it because I thought colleges would like my commitment in the face of my unabashed incompetence. If there’s anything that those four years taught me, it’s that I can speak English with a French accent remarkably well. Actual French on the other hand? Not so much. So when you inevitably wonder what on God’s green earth is going on in thematically pornographic video, I can’t tell you. I can tell you however, that the car is a 1974 Peugeot 304 Cabriolet. Just like this one!

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We’ll be in Berlin for the next couple of posts, so my attempts at broken French should remain mercifully stowed away. So what is the 304? Well, first and foremost, it’s the first Peugeot we’ve had on Forgotten Metal, nicely rounding out the “Big Three” of the French automobile industry (Renault and Citroen were the other two). Peugeot is an interesting company. They began life making steel, but soon they expanded their business to encompass things like umbrellas, saw blades, women’s undergarments, bicycles, and wooden coffee grinders. They also made munitions for the war, right up until the moment Hitler invaded, which prompted the owner of the company to blow the factory to kingdom come.

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The 304 was a replacement for Peugeot’s 204 (clever, I know), which was the most popular car in France during the late sixties and early seventies. The 304 was popular too, as many Europeans liked the styling and driving manners. Styling was a particular hit for the 304, actually, as it was designed by Pininfarina, who are the people who drew many famous Ferrari’s, Alfa Romeos, and those nifty new Coke machines with the touchscreens that display beverage options beyond the comprehension of the mortal mind (seriously, do you know how many flavors of Lipton iced tea there are?).

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The engine was a 1288cc four cylinder, good for 65 horsepower. That figure could be pumped up if you opted for the sportier “S” version, which produced a solid 350 horsepower. Wait, hold on, that’s wrong. It’s 75. 75 horsepower in the “sporty” version of the 304. It wasn’t a very powerful car, and let’s be honest, it really just exists to putter around quaint European towns, so it doesn’t really need to set the world on fire. There was a pretty modern four speed gearbox, and fully independent suspension, so it really was no slouch. Thinking about European cars “making do” with less horsepower is a little fallacious: they really just exist in a different environment than the five-lane, EZ-Pass fed, interstate purgatory we’re used to.

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This particular 304 is the cabriolet, which adds a welcome bit of drama by removing the little car’s roof. The convertible was only sold for five of the 304’s eleven year run, but they’re really the only versions of the car that you still see around today with any regularity. Most of the more popular 304’s- the sedans, the wagons, the vans (called, adorably, fourgonettes)- saw regular use, and, most likely, rusted away years ago. But the cabriolet sticks around, owing to the fact that not many people drive cars without roofs in the rain. That leaves us, it seems, with a nice anomaly: a utilitarian car saved by a healthy bit of convertible frivolity. And I didn’t have to speak French once.

Additional Thoughts:

  • The 304 was a tough little bugger, as many cab drivers in North Africa still use the wagon version as a taxi. It was, in essence, a scaled down 504, and I mean that more than numerically.
  • Peugeot was pretty innovative when it came to selling the 304, exporting over 35% of the over one million sold. They were one of the first companies to treat continental Europe as a single market.
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