Peugeot 304

I'm not a big fan of French automobiles. Now now, before you climb onto your high horse and cry "of course you don't, you're an Englishman," let me assure you that I've thought long and hard about this and have come to the conclusion that you're probably right.

I've owned a fair few frog motors, but not enough to claim to be an expert on them. I'm not going to point to their continuous track record of unreliability, and I'll even give a nod of admittance that French manufacturers produce some of the most innovative, extraordinary and downright revolutionary designs in the long history of car production. The simple fact is that despite all the hydropneumatics, one-spoke steering wheels and inboard disc brakes, I just find it rather difficult to feel passionate about these vehicles.

It is undoubtable that most of the head-turners on the roads for the past 50 years have been French, and I do even now harbour a guilty desire to buy a Renault Avantime, even though I have no clue what I'd do with a two-door MPV. I like looking at the Matra Rancho even though I know that it's a Matra, and last week I accidently slapped my girlfriend in the face whilst driving, overenthusiastically pointing out a Renault Fuego, the likes of which I haven't seen in yonks.
But when I lie in bed at night, I don't lust for a Gallic hatchback or curvy cabriolet. For all their va va voom, they leave me soulless.

What dragged my eye to this otherwise charmless Peugeot 304 was actually its paintjob. GOLD. Luxurious Midaslike gold. Not the lacklustre silver that so many contemporary saloons are slathered with, but a shiny, reflective, everything-I-touch gold. A colour so intrinsically linked to opulence and exclusivity that in the 1970s, almost every other car on the road seemed to be gold. Its ubiquity became the butt of jokes, so much so that when I bought a 1978 Vauxhall Viva and phoned up the insurance company to get a quote, the woman at the other end asked me what shade of gold it was. When I told her it was red she commented "ooh, the luxury edition," and giggled at me. Phwoar.

Gold, for all its monetary charm, lends more to our nostalgic view than any rose-tinted spectacles could. The distant sepia of time-stained photographs recall a sentimental twinge of gold to our fondest memories, when long summer holidays were bathed with slanting rays of liquid sunshine, when you held your first sturdily solid pound coin, when things seemed to glisten that much more than they do now. The gold alloys on a Subaru WRX just don't evoke the same emotion that huge panels of rust-succeptable steel sprayed in gold do. So when you finally see a little old hatchback tucked next to a massive chequer-plated 4x4, some little inner part of you will smile sentimentally.

But not specifically for the 304. For all its swage lines and chrome work, it was little more than a gap filler between the baby 204 and the giant award-winning 504. The drawing-board idea must have seemed perfect; a small family car with simple but solid mechanicals, designed to suit 1969 tastes. What that physically translated as was robbing all the old motors, disc brakes and suspension from the middle aged 204 and planting them in a cut down 504-styled body; a real mouton dressed as lamb, if you like, which couldn't really compete with the far more French Citroen GS, released a year later. Not that it was a bad car, per se, it just didn't really offer much to the world.

While your modern motor is available in CloudEdge Silver, Smoked Silver, Ditchwater Silver and I Can't Believe It's Not Silver, plus a myriad other hues and shades of that dull steely tone, gold takes true bravery and nochalance to carry off. The boxy bruisers of the 70s could justifiably swagger in it, but not the timid little 304. This car is a Fool's Gold, if you will. The Pyritical Peugeot.