Seán Ward takes a history lesson as he visits Peugeot’s museum, close to the Sochaux factory in Eastern France.
For some, the word ëmuseumí conjures up images of dull, boring buildings filled with dusty, seemingly random artefacts; places with a strange, stale smell lurking in the air, and an almost unending sea of very worn brown carpet. Thankfully not all museums are quite so terrible; some are actually well lit, sweetly scented, or filled with objects you might actually be interested in looking at. French cars, perhaps?
Just a mile or so down the road from Peugeotís Sochaux factory in Eastern France, which is the facility that builds the 308 and 3008, amongst others, youíll find ëLíaventure Peugeotí, or the Peugeot Adventure Museum. Built in 1988, extended in 2000 and made larger again in 2010, it contains pretty much everything from Peugeotís 208-year history, from corsets and bicycles, to pepper grinders and, most importantly, cars.
After a two-day drive across the region in a twelve-car convoy, which included eight new Peugeots and four of their classics, we arrived at the museum. Weíre not sure it would have been possible to feel more French! Thankfully, although the museumís exterior looked dated and slightly tired, our worries of it being one of those dusty, smelly types evaporated the moment we ventured through the entrance.
The collection is vast. Almost every car of any real importance to Peugeot is there somewhere, from a vehicle like the 1891 ìVis-‡-visî, the first petrol engined Peugeot ever made, to the 908 HDi ñ a vehicle that won the Le Mans 24 Hours race back in 2009. But this is Diesel Car & Eco Car, so it would be silly to spend the next few pages talking about the 1997 Jordan Peugeot F1 car, or the 1984 205 T16 Evo 1, fascinating though they might be.
Letís start at the beginning of Peugeotís diesel journey. The companyís first diesel engines were made in 1928 and used for tractors, boats and trains, but in 1936 Peugeot developed the HL50 engine. Although it was first tested in a truck, it was engineered with passenger cars in mind, and was dropped into the 402 saloon during 1938. However, the start of war in Europe in 1939 halted Peugeotís plan for a 402 diesel. The engine and chassis in Peugeotís museum is the only surviving evidence of the whole project.
After the 402 came the 403, rather predictably. Launched in 1955, the 403 was the car that marked the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship between Peugeot and legendary Italian design house Pininfarina. The 403 was a huge sales success, with Peugeot totting up more than 1.2 million sales over an eleven-year period. But perhaps more importantly for us, it was the first mass-produced diesel-powered Peugeot. So as diesel Peugeots go, the 403 is rather an important one.
But if you think the 403 was successful, the sales figures for the 404 will truly blow you away. Peugeot produced more than 1.8 million 404s in Sochaux from 1960 to 1975, but another one million 404s were manufactured in Africa and South America right up until 1991. With a mixture of petrols and diesels, the 404 was the first Peugeot in the company’s history to get close to the three million mark ñ a remarkable achievement given the fact the 403 was the first Peugeot to surpass the magical one million landmark.
There are several 404s in Peugeotís museum, but one car in particular stands out. In 1965, two years after the diesel 404 was introduced, Peugeotís executives found themselves in a record-breaking mood. To prove just how good the 404ís diesel engines were, they took a 404 fitted first with a 2.0-litre diesel engine and later swapped for a 2.2-litre unit, stripped out some weight and added a sleek, streamlined new body. From the 4th to the 14th June 1965, Peugeot broke 40 international records with the car at the MontlÈry race circuit, south of Paris. One record included a 72-hour long drive at an average speed of 100.35mph, with five drivers sharing long stints behind the wheel.
It would be impossible to mention endurance without delving a little further into Peugeotís competition history. Motorsport isnít everyoneís cup of tea, but it serves as a test bed for future road car technology, for everything from headlights and tyres, to engines and gearboxes. Peugeotís sporting efforts have been impressive to say the least, and, like Audi, Peugeot has found its success with both petrol and diesel power. Wandering deeper into Peugeotís museum, we approached two incredible machines with goose bumps: the Peugeot 908 HDi and the 2008 DKR.
Peugeotís last win at the Paris Dakar race was in 1990 with the 405 T16 Grand Raid, but in 2015 Peugeot returned with the 2008 DKR. Very loosely based on the 2008 road car (the important word there is ëlooselyí), it has a 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged diesel engine driving the rear wheels. And while its 124mph top speed might sound slow for a car with 340bhp and 629lb ft of torque, the DKR could do that speed pretty much anywhere. Although 2015 wasnít Peugeotís year, they returned in 2016 with four cars and claimed nine stage wins out of a possible 12, seven one-twos and two one-two-threes. The car that won overall, driven by StÈphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, is not kept at the museum, but the 2008 DKR driven by SÈbastien Loeb and Daniel Elena is. Itís an impressive and intimidating machine, far removed from the road car with which it shares a name.
Turning away from the 2008 DKR, we soon discovered the 908 HDi and the 905 Evo 1.7. The 905 is a petrol-powered Le Mans prototype, and the museumís example finished second behind another 905 in the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours. Peugeot moved away from endurance racing at the end of that year, turning its attention back to Formula 1, but just over a decade later the Le Mans bug bit again and Peugeot revealed its plans to return to Le Mans. The car theyíd use to compete would be powered by a turbocharged HDi diesel engine that used a Diesel Particulate Filter System, and the engine in question turned out to be a 5.5-litre, all-aluminium, twin-turbo V12 with 700bhp and a massive 888lb ft of torque. The car with that monster engine was the 908 HDi, and it finished second in 2007, then second, third and fifth in 2008, before car number 9 finished in first place ahead of number 8 in 2009. Driven by David Brabham, Marc GenÈ and Alex Wurz, it covered 5,206 kilometres at an average speed of 216kph (135mph).
Stepping away from Peugeotís motorsport icons, we returned to the more everyday vehicles in Peugeotís collection; and the final car of our visit was a 607 HDi. In many ways the 607 was a very ordinary French saloon, but it was actually the first car to include as standard a technology that we see so often in the diesel car world today: the diesel particulate filter. Diesel engines have become cleaner and more efficient than ever before, but that progression and technological development arguably wouldnít have been possible without development of the diesel particulate filter. So, thank you Peugeot, and hurray to the 607.
The museumís collection is far bigger than can be described here, but wandering around, seeing not only some of Peugeotís most important diesel-powered vehicles, but some incredible and rare Peugeots, including concept cars, is a rare privilege. Peugeot hasnít always got things right, but the French firm is incredibly proud of its history. If youíre ever passing through France and see signs for Sochaux, donít pass up the opportunity to visit.
Visit for yourself
MusÈe de líAventure Peugeot, Carrefour de líEurope, 25600 Sochaux
Tel: 00 33 381 99 42 03
The museum is open everyday from 10am to 6pm, except 1st January and 25th December.
Cost of entry is 9 Euros for adults and 23 Euros for a family of four. Groups are welcome, and a tour of the Sochaux factory can also be arranged at 22 Euros per person.
More information available at www.museepeugeot.com