In the 1960s European families progressively earned more and demanded larger, roomier cars. In response to this Citroen introduced the GS in 1970, Renault introduced the 12 in 1969 and Simca reacted first by introducing the 1100 in 1967, and that’s only the French car makers! Peugeot’s answer was the 304, launched in 1969 at the Paris auto show.
The 304’s overall styling is reminiscent of the smaller 204 sedan; in fact, both sedans use the same doors. The 304 is longer, though, and the front is unmistakably inspired by the bigger 504 sedan. The first version introduced was a sedan but a station wagon (“break” in French), a coupe and a convertible were all introduced a year later. It’s worth noting that after Renault phased out its Caravelle in 1968, Peugeot was the only French carmaker offering a mass-produced convertible.
The engine that powered all variants was a transversally-mounted gasoline four-cylinder borrowed from the 204’s parts bin and pushed to 1288cc, giving it a healthy 65hp. A four-speed manual transmission came standard across the line and turned the front wheels. The engine sat on top of the transmission and the two shared the same oil. The independent suspension was lifted directly from the 204, saving Peugeot the expense of developing a new setup while giving them the peace of mind of using a time-tested design.
Production remained steady and without significant changes until 1972 when the sportier, better-equipped and more expensive “S” models were introduced. The “S” trim was available first on the coupe/convertible and later on the sedan. These cars benefitted from a tachometer, headrests and a floor-mounted shifter, just to name a few changes. Under the hood the engine remained the same but power output was pushed to 70hp. Peugeot also took this opportunity to slightly restyle the sedan, giving it new vertical taillights.
The next important evolution for the 304 came in 1976. At the time Peugeot boasted about producing the smallest four-door car in Europe, the 104 with 3m58 in length, but it could also boast about having the smallest displacement diesel engine in a passenger car, the 1357cc four-cylinder that powered the 204. This powerplant moved up to the 304 when the 204 disappeared from showrooms. It got excellent gas mileage but with a mere 45hp / 57 lb-ft of torque it struggled in the performance department and the 304’s top speed in diesel form was 130 kilometers per hour, or roughly 80mph.
Sales dropped slowly as the 304 aged in the late 1970s. Peugeot introduced the 305 in late-1979 and 1980 marked the end of the 304’s eleven-year career. Following the 204’s example the station wagon version was the last to be phased out as production dwindled down. The last 304 station wagons were available with the 305’s 1549cc diesel, increasing horsepower and torque to 47 and 63 respectively, a small but noticeable improvement over the smaller unit it inherited from the 204. When all was said and done Peugeot built 1,178,423 304s; 849,103 of them were sedans. While today sedans and wagons have largely joined the legions of forgotten French cars, the coupes and convertibles are steadily increasing in value.
Emblem that designates "S" models:
Rear of the station wagon:
Side view of the sedan:
Some ads for the North American market; note the market-specific headlights:
The 305 that replaced the 304: