During the development of the 204, the French press managed to keep the public keyed up with a barrage of tantalizing rumours. The 204 was officially revealed by Peugeot in December 1964, it clearly following the lead of the B.M.C. 1100 and later Autobianchi Primula in having its 4-cylinder engine placed east-west, incorporating the gears in the crankcase and driving the front wheels. In other respects, however, Peugeot tackled the mechanical problems of the layout very much in their own way.
Pininfarina was commissioned to style the four-door saloon body, and managed to give the 204 complete individuality without losing a strong family likeness to the bigger Peugeots of the era. Wide oblong headlamps were at the front and a projecting luggage boot behind emphasized the distinction from the B.M.C. and Autobianchi designs.
As most knew what the design for the 204 would be from the outside, at release most interest was with the engine-transmission unit. All the main static parts were lightweight aluminum pressure die castings, including the cylinder head; two-piece cylinder block (of which the lower part also carried the 5-bearing crankshaft), the gearbox casing (which was integrated with the oil sump) with the final drive housing bolted to its forward face.
A chain-driven overhead camshaft and rockers operated opposed valves with an included angle of 27 deg. The head had all separate ports, with the exhausts facing forward into the cool air stream, and a water-heated inlet manifold was fed by a single-choke Solex carburetor. The engine was pitched forward at 20 deg. from the vertical, to make room between it and the bulkhead for the air cleaner and give access to the starter, clutch slave cylinder and fuel pump.
A single-plate clutch with diaphragm spring, on the left extremity of the crankshaft (looking forward), transmitted the drive back into the crankcase, and thence via all-synchromesh gears to a helical-toothed crownwheel encasing the differential.
A striking idiosyncrasy was the round-the-comer belt drive to the dynamo and water pump-fan assembly. The fan had a thermostatically controlled electromagnetic coupling. Removable wet cylinder liners followed normal Peugeot practice, the 75 mm bore being identical with that of the then current 403 and previous generation 203. The stroke was 64 mm, the swept volume 1,130 c.c., and net power 53 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m.
The drive shafts had pot-type universals inboard, double Hook-type constant velocity ones outboard. Telescopic suspension struts incorporated co-axial Peugeot dampers, and a sub-frame carried the entire assembly of engine, transmission, rack-and-pinion steering and suspension. The back wheels were mounted independently on single arms trailing from a simple crosstube attached to the main structure, and had telescopic struts very similar to the front ones. The front brakes were 9·75 in. discs by Girling, and behind were 9in drums; there was no servo, but a Girling gravity-controlled "anti-skid valve" was interposed in the rear brake line.
The 204's body and chassis were integrated in a conventional welded all-steel monoocoque, and Peugeot continued to offer a sun-roof and threaded sockets for a roof-rack (a Peugeot tradition). Inside the 204 was an example of French function and form, demonstrating simple good taste and an excellent standard of trim and finish. The seat covering was in either cloth (patterned grey, blue or red) or p.v.c., and all the seats were deeply cushioned and, by the standards of the day, very comfortable.
Ahead of the driver was a smaIl steering-wheel with a knurled grip. It was only when you sat inside the 204 that you appreciated the well sorted driving position, with the column at a comfortable angle, big pedals well-spaced and unencumbered by wheel arches, and enough for-and-aft movement of the seat runners to suit six-footers. In this respect the 204 was superior to the 404. In the back there was surprising leg and knee room.
The steering-column gear-change had a conventional gate, without the extra lift into fourth of other Peugeots. Instruments (speedometer, petrol gauge, thermal voltmeter and a group of tell-tale lamps) were concentrated in a compact, molded binnacle above the steering column, dividing the open parcel shelf. The voltmeter was a novelty resurrected from earlier times; we can only assume it should be more informative than a ammeter, however road testers did note a lack of dynamo charge being shown up by too-slow recovery of the battery after a cold start. Supplementing the standard heater were adjustable and very effective air outlets in the crackle-black coaming beneath the screen. The ignition switch had no key, but a Niemann Anti-vol device (for steering as well as ignition) was an extra.
The vast majority of road tests we have reviewed reveal that driving the 204 was an enjoyable experience. Many noted the car had delightful manners and a lively performance. It held the road like a leech, even though it was softly sprung so as to be able to absorb the inequalities of the poorer type of French provincial road very nicely. It was little affected by steep cambers, and there was so little change in handling behaviour between drive and over-run on a bend that many felt it handled almost as though it were a rear-driven car. Light and sensitive, the steering was quite high-geared and provided compact turning circles.
The 204 was fitted with powerful disc-and-drum brakes, well-balanced and stable, although they apparently required rather heavier pedal loads than expected. The overhead cam engine was nearly - but not quite - as quiet and smooth as that of the standard 404. It was very tractable, pulling strongly from low revs; on a level road most reviewers watched the speedo needle going far beyond the manufacturers' claimed maximum of 138 k.p.h. (86 m.p.h.) - when quizzed about this in 1967 the Peugeot representatives modestly put this down to optimism of the instrument. In the indirects the recommended maximums were 25, 44 and 68 m.p.h. - at which speeds (high for an 1,100 c.c.) the engine had still not run out of breath or become fussy.
We could say of the 204 that it was stylish, innovative, practical and very economical. But we have already said that, in our review of the even better looking 204 Coupe