While pointing to a direct successor to the original Honda CRX coupe is a tricky thing, the CRX did have an antecedent of sorts, built not in Japan, but in France: the Peugeot 104 coupe.
THE PEUGEOT 104
Launched in France in 1972 and the U.K. in 1973, the Peugeot 104 was another entry in the burgeoning “supermini” class typified by the Autobianchi A112 and Fiat 127, Renault 5, and later the Honda Civic and Ford Fiesta. Designed by Paolo Martin, then of Pininfarina, the 104 was a straightforward interpretation of the theme established by the BMC Mini and 1100/1300. Like the BMC cars, the 104 had front-wheel drive with a transverse front engine whose four-speed gearbox was combined with the engine sump. The main novelty was that the engine was tilted almost 72 degrees toward the firewall, allowing the spare to be stowed up front, atop the engine.
Originally, the Peugeot 104’s sole engine was an all-aluminum SOHC four producing a modest 46 PS DIN (34 kW) from 954 cc (58 cu. in.). With a manufacturer curb weight of only 1,680 lb (760 kg), that was enough for adequate if uninspiring performance and a claimed top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h). A bigger 1,124 cc (69 cu. in.) engine became available in 1976, later supplemented by 1,219 cc (74 cu. in.) and 1,360 cc (83 cu. in.) versions.
The 104 was a very compact car — in its original incarnation it was only 140.9 inches (3,580 mm) long and 59.9 inches (1,522 mm) wide sans mirrors — but it had a comparatively lengthy 95.3-inch (2,420mm) wheelbase, which combined with long suspension travel and relatively soft springs to provide a comfortable ride. (The suspension itself used coil springs all around with MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar in front and independent trailing arms in back.) As with the Renault 5 or later Citroën Visa, the 104 would lean precipitously in turns, but it had surprisingly good grip and was seldom untidy.
Oddly, despite their two-box profile, early 104s were all four-doors rather than hatchbacks, although the rear seat did still fold for additional cargo space. Nonetheless, the 104 was one of the roomier cars in its class, although the interior trim was far from luxurious. Around 1975, Peugeot considered notchback sedan and break (station wagon) versions, but neither made production.
PEUGEOT 104 COUPE
Although a five-door 104 didn’t arrive until 1976, in late 1973 the sedan was joined by a new three-door 104 coupe. To create the coupe, Peugeot trimmed 3.5 inches (90 mm) from the 104’s wheelbase and an additional 7.5 inches (190 mm) from the tail for a result that the inimitable LJK Setright later likened to a five-door that had backed into a wall. Inevitably, the surgery took its toll on interior room; while the 104 coupe was still officially listed as a four-seater, adults crammed into the truncated rear seat might have begged to differ.
Offering the same engines as the four- and later five-door models, the 104 coupe wasn’t necessarily a sporty car, although the top 104ZS coupe rode about 0.6 inches lower (15 mm) and had a rear anti-roll bar, a sport steering wheel, a tachometer, and alloy wheels. On the other hand, the same features were also available on the S five-door, so the coupe’s advantages were limited to a smaller polar moment of inertia (thanks to the shorter wheelbase), a slight weight advantage (on the order of 45 lb/20 kg), and the peculiar bobtailed styling.
From late 1979 on, Peugeot assigned the 1,124 cc (69 cu. in.) to a new midrange ZR coupe and fitted the ZS with the bigger 1,360 cc (83 cu. in.) Douvrin four, also used in the latest Renault 14 TS, which boasted a whopping 72 PS DIN (53 kW) and 79 lb-ft (107 N-m) of torque. This was accompanied by bigger 165/70SR13 tires on alloy wheels and a taller 3.56 axle ratio, allowing slightly more relaxed cruising. A five-speed gearbox was belatedly added in late 1981.
Even with the larger engine, the 104ZS was more lukewarm than hot. The 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint still took around 12 seconds and claimed top speed was a conservative 98 mph (158 km/h). That wasn’t bad for a normally aspirated 1.4-liter car, but was certainly not in the league of 1.6-liter cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI or the later Ford Fiesta XR2.
The 104ZS handled fairly well, although as with the BMC Mini, there was some drivetrain snatch through the front wheels in sharp turns. For better or worse, the 104 also lacked the later Peugeot 205’s propensity for lurid trailing-throttle oversteer. Lifting off the throttle in mid-corner would tuck in the nose a bit, but the tail would stay put except on very slippery surfaces.
An unexpected virtue was excellent ride quality for such a small car. Because the 104ZS was marginally stiffer than the standard five-door 104GL, the coupe could be caught out more easily by ridges or deep potholes, but the ride was considerably more civilized than the short wheelbase might suggest. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for noise levels. The gearbox whined annoyingly (a problem shared with other 104 models), wind noise was high, and the engine, though smooth, was quite noisy. The coupe was not a car for long trips, although the limited cargo space meant you would have to pack light in any event.
The Peugeot 104 remained in production through 1988, although by 1984 it was superseded in most markets by the new 205. Production of the 104 eventually totaled more than 1.6 million units, roughly 40% of which were coupes. That total doesn’t include the 104’s various derivatives, which included various Citroën models (the Visa, LN, and LNA) and later the Talbot Samba.
Unlike the original CRX, which has cast a long shadow over its erstwhile successors, the 104 has been thoroughly upstaged by the 205. Today, the 104ZS is largely forgotten while the 205’s sporty edition, the 205GTi, is still widely acclaimed as the greatest hot hatch of all time. Furthermore, the 205GTi didn’t even have to lop a few inches out of its wheelbase to achieve that distinction …
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources for this article included “AutoTest: Peugeot 104,” Autocar 31 July 1976: 62–65; “Auto Test: Peugeot 104SR,” Autocar 23 February 1980: 36–41; “Auto Test: Peugeot 104ZS,” Autocar 12 July 1980: 68–73; “Giant Test [Citroën Visa Club v. Daihatsu Charade XTE v. Peugeot 104GL],” CAR February 1980: 56–59; “Giant Test: Fiat 127 Sport -v- Ford Fiesta 1.1S -v- Peugeot 104 ZS,” CAR March 1979: 58–67; “Giant Test: Peugeot 104 [v.] Fiat 128,” CAR June 1973: 84–89, 112; “Giant Test: Reliant Kitten/Peugeot 104,” CAR April 1976: 62–68; “Giant Test: Simca 1100ES, Alfasud 5M, Peugeot 104SL,” CAR January 1977: 56–63; “Giant Test: VW Polo -v- Peugeot 104 -v- Ford Fiesta -v- Renault 5 -v- Fiat 127 -v- Mini 1000,” CAR March 1977: 42–49; Chris Haining, “The Carchive: The Citroën Visa,” Hooniverse, 6 January 2014, hooniverse. com/ 2014/ 01/ 06/ the-carchive-the-citroen-visa-2/, accessed 6 January 2014; Annamaria Lösch, ed., World Cars 1979 (Rome: L’Editrice dell’Automobile LEA/New York: Herald Books, 1979), and World Cars 1985 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1985); Alain Mercier, “1975 104 Berline Trois corps” and “1975 104 Break” (photos taken in January 2009 at Muse de l’Aventure Peugeot in Souchaux, France), www.flickr. com/ photos/ alain-mercier/ 3254109754 and www.flickr. com/ photos/ alain-mercier/ 3251034526, accessed 7 January 2014; Paolo Martin Designer: Dream & Product [official website], www.paolomartindesigner. com, accessed 6 January 2014; Peugeot Automobiles (U.K.) Ltd., “104 Peugeot” [brochure], 1979, “104 Peugeot” [coupe brochure], September 1981, “Our new performance car: the 104” [advertisement], 1974, “The new Peugeot 104ZS really packs the punches” [advertisement], 1980, and “The Peugeot 104S. A Sporting Chance for the Young Family Man” [advertisement], 1979; Peugeot NL, “Peugeot 104” [Dutch brochure 1B093], c. 1983; “Peugeot 104,” Autocade, n.d., autocade. net/ index.php/ Peugeot_104, accessed 6 January 2014; “Peugeot 104,” Classic Cars A to Z, Classic and Sports Car, 6 April 2011, www.classicandsportscar. com, accessed 6 January 2014; “Peugeot 104 ZS (Motor Road Test No. 56/79),” Motor Road Tests 1979: 120–121; LJK Setright, “Fly Babies,” CAR April 1980: 66–70; “Star Road Test: Peugeot 205 GR,” Motor 22 October 1983: 16–21; and Ian Wearing, “Pricey Peugeot,” Hot Car July 1973: 103.
Some historical exchange rate equivalences were estimated based on Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies” (2012, MeasuringWorth, https://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission). Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and are provided solely for the purposes of illustration and general reference; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!
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