Peugeot 305 SR

The populace moaned and wailed. Women, clad in black, bawled into handker-
chiefs, sobbing uncontrol-
lably, while the menfolk hung their heads and murmured quiet prayers. Services were held in the wake of the tragedy to pacify the troubled souls affected by the sorrowful events.

1978 was the Year of the 305. Upon its release, the feeling that something great had died was tangible. Even sitting behind the steering wheel gave one an overwhelming sense of loss; it was simply that bad. For every customer that drove away in one, the dealership would light a candle and stand a moment in silence.

Of course, to suggest that floods of women lay wreaths on the streets of Europe for this is possibly the most tenuous link I've ever made. In truth, 1978 was also the Year of Three Popes, as Pope Paul VI passed away and his successor, Jean Paul I, was found propped up in his bed only thirty-three days later, both from heart attacks. Catholics worldwide were quite understandably mournful. Mother Church had been rocked to her very core twice in one year, and there were even rumours of foul play and poisoning over the unexpectedly sudden death of JP1.

From the death of one leading institution to another, and with it, the birth of something else. Following the share buyout of Citroen in 1976, Peugeot had gone on to swallow the debt of the ailing Chrysler-Europe, and with it a most unholy trinity was formed; the anathema to modern motoring that is PSA Peugeot Citroen. This unrighteous terror was embodied in its entirety by the soul-destroying 305. Even looking at one is enough to make you cross yourself.

And thus it was that two groups, Catholics and car-lovers, joined together in weeping at the passing on of something great. From an automotive perspective, the loss of Citroen and the miracles they were able to muster is a pain that French engineering still feels, and modern cars wear their chevrons like stigmata. For the Catholics, of course, there was still hope; aside from the life eternal and the promises that go with it, there was the more pressing earthly concept of electing another Pope to continue the tradition. In that regard Poland was ecstatic, although for reasons possibly selfish rather than truly religious. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was swiftly elected to the Papacy, and thus a new era was ushered in as the first (and so far, only) Polish Pope was inaugurated as Pope Jean Paul II.

Now, at the risk of having my front doors battered down by angered Catholics, I'm well aware that the Popes have done some good things for the world, but advancing the march of modern thought, intellectual freedom and scientific discovery are not high on their list of achievements. Neither can be said for PSA Peugeot, who in the 305 created some sort of motoring limbo; a three-box purgatory devoid of flair and untouched by any sign of a master creator or higher power.

The idea of the 305 was simple; a comfortably normal saloon that would steal market domination from the big leaders like the Ford Cortina, but without being too radical or outre like the Citroen CX. The result was a Eurobox that managed to tick all the boxes on paper, but raised little more than a yawn in the flesh. Mechanically it was a 304, the hatchback-sized runaround that had sidled its way onto the market in the previous decade, whilst the skin was reminiscent of the far more definitive 504. Now, considering Peugeot had accumulated the entire research division of Citroen, as well as the rotting corpse of Chrysler Europe (including the Rootes group, Simca and the Spanish manufacturer Barrieros), is a cobbled together shell of '60s partsbin technology really the best that France could come up with? Where was the march of progress? Where was that sprinkle of herbs that make French produce that little bit more digestable? For the love of all thats holy, even the engine selection was insipid; power for the 305 came from a massive choice of two engines; a 65hp 1.3, or for the SR (that's the luxury version) a 75hp 1.5; both light aluminium blocks, that's true, but mated to little four-speed 'boxes that Peugeot claimed in all serious could get the 305 up to 95mph, but in reality were simply cheap compromises not to rob the far superior 504 of any of its glory.

This battered shell is one of those SRs which, when launched, was more expensive than a 504. Justified as an Executive edition, it came with such opulent extravagances as a tachometer, headrests, one of those stuffed lumps in the middle of the back seat to rest your arms on, and even black rubber strips down the side. Yes, those were "luxury features" not available to the more mundane GL and GT versions. A map light, plus laminated and tinted windows, were also available options, and the French can only rue that they hadn't invented dogging at that point. Or maybe they had. I'd rather not continue that train of thought.

As you can see, Peugeot really pushed the boat out with the 305. Even a facelift in 1982 wasn't enough to make it interesting. Despite all this, sales weren't actually that disappointing - some reviewers even had the audacity to compare it to a contemporary BMW, to which I can only presume their eyes were weeping from an excess of onion vapour.

This is one of the few cars I can think of that should dwell in its own induced limbo for an eternity; not so much for its crimes against motoring, but for being, like an unchristened child, soulless. Let us pray that it is never resurrected.


Anonymous said...

I think you're getting a bit worked up there!
Peugeots were never very advanced cars, just simple, rugged and soft riding. I like the 305 and it adheres to those qualities.
They became better with the belt-driven 'XU' engines in the mid '80s.

bigmark said...

Citroen were innovative, sometimes brilliant, but troublesome overall. Renault were subsidised by the French government and very popular in their native land. Not too daring, but stylish and decent enough, at least until modern times. Peugeot were no3 of the bigger French car companies for decades, quiet, unassuming,their cars were simpler, more conventional, rugged and reliable. They drove better, however, than their styling would suggest and their suspensions, devoid of fancy hydraulics gave ride and road holding abilities that beat the majority of others using coil springs and torsion bars. They were a favourite amongst taxi drivers, farmers and anyone else who's living relied on dependability.
The 305 might have been something of an ugly duckling, but it was a bloody good car in the face of things that really matter.