A brief history of Peugeot; part 1



The history of Peugeot is indistinguishable from a history of the Peugeot family, for this remarkable concern is still very much a family affair.

Records show the Peugeot name in the village of Vandoncourt near the Swiss border in the 15th century. the family later became involved in weaving, linen dyeing and running mills. In 1810, Jean-Pierre Peugeot (1734-18140 Mayor of Herimoncourt, and his two eldest sons, Jean-Frederic (1770-1822) and Jean-Pierre 11 (1768-1852) converted one of their mills at Sous-cratet into a steelworks. they coon became renowned for the quality of their mass produced saws and other ironmongery.

Peugeot adopted a Lion Rampant as their badge. This is often erroneously called the Lion of Belfort after a statue erected there in 1872, but in fact they chose the lion to symbolise the three qualities of their saws

  • speed
  • suppleness
  • strong teeth.

A split in the family saw a proliferation of Peugeot manufacturing bases. Jules and Emile, the sons of Jean-Pierre 11, took over the works at Terre-Blanche and Valentigny under the name of Peugeot Freres. This proved to be the more go-ahead of the two family businesses and in 1855 found an entirely new market for the company’s skill in manufacturing thin steel rods.

the Empress Eugenie had brought the crinoline back into fashion, but the necessary whalebone stays were expensive and often in short supply. In 1857 the brother bought an old mill at Beaulieu and equipped it with the machinery to mass produce steel crinoline stays and hoops. By the time they died in1865 they employed over 500 workmen in their three factories, producing all kinds of metalwork from peppermills to umbrella ribs. this led in turn to the supply of spokes for wheels for the high wheeler bicycles.

After their deaths, the company name was changed to “Les Fils de Peugeot Freres”. in 1885, Emile’s son Armand Peugeot (1849-1915) who had spent much of his youth in England and studied production techniques in the factories of Leeds, began the full scale production of the new safety bicycles. Peugeot is still justly famous in the bicycle world, not just for manufacturing but for the successes of the Peugeot Cycling Team between 1901 and 1986.


In 1889, Armand Peugeot, in conjunction with Leon Serpollet, built four examples of a horseless carriage, using proven components to avoid timewasting experiments. It was a tricycle design with spoked wheels and a steam engine, but proved prone to breakdowns as discovered on an incident filled trip from Paris to Lyon. the trip took ten days and so many repairs were necessary that the now reinforced bicycle weighed 200kg more when it finished!

The steamer was displayed among his other products at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition where it attracted the attention of Emile Levassor who had just obtained the rights to the Daimler engine patents. he hastened to Valentigny to convince Armand Peugeot of the superiority of the internal combustion engine. At that time, Panhard et Levassor had no interest in building complete cars; they were happy to supply engines to industry and would-be motor vehicle designers.

After much argument about the position of the engine, the first Peugeots were rear engine. the 1890 petrol powered Peugeots reflected their manufacturer’s long experience of cycle manufacture. They had spidery wire wheels and a tubular chassis through which the cooling water was circulated. It was in many ways a more advanced design than its contemporaries. A transverse front spring and long rear quarter eliptics gave the car three-point suspension; quadrants bolted to the front of the frame kept the forward axle in alignment; it had a four-speed sliding-gear transmission and a cone clutch while the steering was pure cycle, with handlebars controlling the front axle via a chain and sprocket mechanism which actuated twin tie rods.

However, the position of the motor at the rear where most of the passenger weight came, put an unnecessary load upon the rear wheels and too little on the front wheels for good steering.

in September 1891 one of the earliest examples was sent on a remarkable endurance run. The engineers Doriot and Rigoulot drove the Peugeot 2DV Quadricycle a gasoline in pursuit of the competitors in the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race, covering the 2047km round trip from Valentigny to Brest and back in 139 hours “without a moment’s trouble”.

In 1892 they sold 29 cars, bringing total sales to 37, and demand grew steadily. Export orders arrived fast. the Hon C S Rolls was an early British customer of Peugeot, as was the Bey of Tunis.

In addition, the name of Peugeot began to make its mark in the competition field. they entered three differently styled vehicles which finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th in the 1894 Paris-Rouen Trial, and were eventually given 1st place after the winning De Dion Steamer was disqualified.

In 1895 they sold 75 cars. the engine was still rear-mounted but had changed to a vertical twin engine with hot tube ignition. A team of three, driven by contremaitres choisis was entered for the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race. This was the first World Motor Race, open to all comers. They won again on a technicality after Levassor was disqualified. this event is more significant for the first use of Michelin pneumatic tyres on the Peugeot L’Eclair, so-called from is zig-zag puncture-prone motion.

In 1895, Sir David Salomons organised the first Motor Sow – at Tunbridge Wells, and a Peugeot Type 6 was among the six vehicles on display.

In 1896, Peugeot began to make their own engines, designed by Rigoulet. The hew power unit was an 8hp horizontal-twin set at the back of the chassis with the cylinder heads pointing rearwards. A gilled tube radiator was set between the front wheels. Hot tube ignition was still standard. The engine had a float-fed spray carburettor and hemispherical combustion chambers in a detachable cylinder head.

1897 saw the formation of a separate car manufacturing company, Societe Anonyme des Automobiles Peugeot with a factory at Audincourt. By 1899, the automobile population of France was estimated at little more than 1200. Peugeot by then had built 798! That year also saw a special 20hp racing Peugeot win the 75 mile Nice-Castellane-Nice race in March.

The following year saw a front-engined 30hp model win the Paris race, and forward mounted engines reached production status at the end of 1901 when a new range of cars was revealed at the Paris Salon – an 8hp twin and a 15hp four , but the most popular was the tiny 652cc single cylinder Bebe cycle car which was not even fitted with reverse! (This was a ruse to avoid taxation!)

A later 6hp Bebe model in 1906, was the first car to use shock absorbers. The best known Bebe, was the 856cc 1912 model designed by Ettore Bugatti. By 1916, they had built 3095, and the Quadrilette which replaced it was a great commercial success, selling over 100,000.

In 1906, Robert Peugeot (1893-1945), established his own car-manufacturing company in the Valentigny works under the name Lion-Peugeot. I For a time there were two separate Peugeot competitive companies making cars, which kled to such complications that the two companies merged their car, cycle and sewing machine interests in 1910 in a new company, Automobiles et Cycles Peugeot.

The Peugeot marque had become a style-setter. The larger models had pressed-steel frames, mechanically operated inlet valves and distinctively square-cut radiators. Live axles had become universal ion 1904.


Peugeot had been involved in motor racing right from that first Paris-Bordeaux-Paris event where they won first prize as the first four-seater car to finish. On the early 1900s, Peugeot competed only in voiturette races in which, as the only restriction was on the bores of the cylinders, they developed incredibly long-stroke engines whose cylinder heads towered above the driver. Most outlandish of all was the 1910 VX5, whose 2815cc engine had dimensions of 80x280mm and reached 95mph in overdrive top,.

One fantastic but successful Lion Peugeot racing car had a single-cylinder engine with the maximum permitted bore ot 100mm and a stroke of 250mm, with the head crammed with six valves, three inlet and three exhaust mounted horizontally. These 7-0mph voiturettes were designed and driven by Jules Goux, Georges Boillet and Paolo Zuccarelli and the Swiss engineer Ernest Henry. In 1912 they produced a team of three 7,598cc cars with twin overhead camshafts and four inclined valves per cylinder, that won the French Grand Prix from their 12 litre rivals. The same team produced Peugeots that finished 1st and 2nd in the 1913 French Grand Prix and were the only challengers to the victorious Mercedes team in the classic 1914 race.

The smaller 1913 racing cars pioneered the use of ball-bearing crankshafts and dry-sump lubrication. This was soon copied, as was the use of a train of gears to drive the camshafts, which were themselves carried on ball-bearings. the Peugeot design was blatantly cribbed in 914 by Straker-Suire, Humber and Sunbeam in the Isle of Man TT races. Their 1914 Grand Prix car chad four wheel brakes.

Peugeot Grand Prix cars also won the Indianapolis 500 in 1913, were 2nd in 1914 and 1915 and won again in1916 and 1919. Peugeot however dropped out of Grand prix racing in 1921 but remained very active in other racing fields.

In 1905, the Automobile Club de Suisse had organised a tough 102km touring car trial around Zurich. The award for the best all round car in terms of reliability, fuel consumption, speed on hills and average speed, went to an 18hp Peugeot.

Andre Boillot won the 1919 Targa Florio road race in Sicily in a 2.5 litre Peugeot which had covered over 200,00km as his brother’s staff car before it came to start in a race. He also finished 3rd in the 1925 Targa, 1st in the 91922 and 1925 Coppa Florios, won the 1923 and 1925 Touring Car Grand Prix and the 24 Heures de Spa in 1926, driving sleeve-valve Peugeots in all these events.

Peugeot was an early striver after fuel economy. the Quadrillette advertisements of the 1920s strike a familiar note “…In the face of the inflated price of petrol, oil and tyres, which forces many people to do without the car which is necessary for their occupations, the Societe Peugeot, anxious to meet public needs, has designed a model which carries the minimum maintenance costs.”

In 1920, La Quadrillette won its class in the Concours de Bidon de 5 litres with a distance of 117km 900m on five litres, and won the One Litre Petrol Can Contest at Geneva, covering 27km 405m on one litre of fuel.

Peugeot continued to expand during the 1920s. Factories were acquired from the moribund Bellanger and de Dion Bouton companies in 1927 and new models began to appear. The 1929 Paris Motor Show saw the launch of the 201, probably the cheapest four-passenger car on the French market, with a 1122cc engine and reversed quarter-elliptic rear springs. this proved to be the start of an ongoing tradition of numbering models -0-. In fact, Peugeot took Porsche successfully to court in the early 1960s over their exclusive right to such a numbering system.

Before the war, their small cars came from Beaulieu, medium size cars from Audincourt and big cars from Lille, plus trucks form the new plant at Sochaux. Production had risen to 49,000 cars a year by 1939 and their reputation was already “conservative but very reliable”.

The war years saw a number of electric cabriolets constructed under the VLV model name, but when peace came, Sochaux was quickly back in production with the 202, and then in 1947, the 203 appeared.

It had coil suspension all round, (independent at the front) and a wet-liner 1.3 litre engine. It was the first model to have rack-and-pinion steering and hydraulic brakes. It had many successes in the tougher rallies, set new sales records and survived in production until 1960.


Bombing, looting by the occupying forces and fighting during the Liberation, practically destroyed the Peugeot factories during WW2 and not until 1949 did they regain the productivity of the pre-war years. Today they have four factories in France and others in Algeria, Argentine, Brazil, Portugal Slovakia and Spain plus joint ventures and outsourced plants in another 14 countries which include China, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia and Vietnam.

Like all smallish successful companies, Peugeot faced the classic dilemma – stay small and risk stagnation or expand in the hope of long-term survival. In 1950, Peugeot took over Chenard-Walcker and then also owned a sizeable slice of Hotchkiss. In 1964, they pooled resources with Citroen, each marque taking a half-share in the Indenor diesel engine factory. Citroen took over Panhard in 1967, so when Peugeot completed the takeover of the financially ailing Citroen company in 1974, it also acquired them and made armoured cars under the Panhard name until selling them to Auverland in 2005 who onsold them in 2012 to Renault Trucks Defense.

The decision to expand, saw them design a new small car – the 104 – and build a large £150m factory at Mulhouse to produce it in volume. Overall production rose 17% but the fuel crisis of the 1970 sand the general decline in demand for the medium-large cars which made up the bulk of their production, created grave problems. This was made worse by the high levels of French inflation which saw a leap in the number of foreign cars imported into France.

In 1978 they acquired all the European operations of the Chrysler Company. The Citroen take-over had doubled their potential production capacity, but the Chrysler take-over which included Simca in France and the ex-Rootes plants in Britain, put them up into the ranks of the big multi-nationals with a two million vehicles a year potential. Rationalising and modernising these acquisitions and integrating the Peugeot and Talbot dealerships, led to a concentration on internal affairs and some initial neglect of new product development and public relations. This led to massive losses of around £150m in 1980 and £200m in 1981. Part of this was due to the closure of two uneconomic plants in the UK and Argentina.

A determined effort to revitalise the Peugeot image was undertaken and a new upmarket range of vehicle developed. In 1966 they had commenced a joint research development and investment programme with the state owned Renault company. Swedish Volvo were a third part to the development of the 2664cc V6 all-aluminium engine announced at the 1974 Paris Salon. In the Peugeot version which appeared in the 504 coupe and convertible, the V6 had an electronic ignition system and an ingenious twin carburettor unit supplying a common plenum chamber. For the first time, power-assisted steering was fitted. This engine was also used in the 604.

Peugeot   vehicles today have benefitted from modern Computer Aided Design techniques and from many research projects, such as VERA, CERES and DEMETER. Peugeot has also co-ordinated with the AGATA research programme on hydrogen fuels.


As well as their cars, Peugeot produce a range of commercial vehicles. Before WW1, solid tyred, chain driven trucks were built in small numbers but in great variety, and during the war they developed a prototype tracked vehicle for the army.

After the war, they abandoned heavy vehicles except for the type ‘1545’, a 4 ton lorry whose 4,712cm ‘KM’ motor dated from 1915. In 1923 they designed a medium weight truck – ‘1543’ – which had a swinging rear axle placed in front of the wheel axis and lateral half shafts, giving a much larger load surface than the traditional chassis design. They also developed the diesel Tartrain motor which was tested on a run from Paris-Bordeaux-Paris in1 922, and from then on was used in light utilities and voitures de tourisme.

From 1928-1963, a branch factory at Lille, La Compagnie Lilliose des Moteurs , turned out C.L.M. diesel engines with 1,2,4,6, or 8 cylinders, ranging between 5 and 500hp. These were used in industry and agriculture as well as in such models as the 201 and 403. C.L.M. changed its name to the Compagnie Generale des Moteurs and later became the Societe Indenor. After WW2, they built a D3A front wheel drive van, using a 202 engine in 1947, a 203 engine in 1950 and in 1955 the addition of the 403 engine made it the D4A. This then became the J7 using the 404 petrol engine or the Indenor diesel engine of 1816cc or 2112cc.

The J5 utility vehicle jointly developed by Peugeot/Citroen/Fiat was available in an uncalculable choice of models, as it is possible to mix and match wheelbases, gearboxes, engine sizes and types to build the vehicle to suit the customer’s needs.

Peugeot in the 2nd half of the 20th century had a tradition of comparatively long model lives which were extended with the aid of ‘facelifts’ every few years. Long life was also assisted by the use of high quality steel, careful rustproofing, strict quality control standards and a long term supply of spare parts, plus an unusual degree of cost cutting component interchangeability between models.

In 1952 Campbell Motor Imports Ltd brought the 203 to NZ and later built the 403, 404 and 504 models in their Thames assembly plant until the mid 1980s.  After they lost the franchise, the range of models available was greatly restricted. We saw little but saloons and stationwagons, and even then the model range was only a fraction of what was actually available overseas.

In 1983, Peugeot launched the successful Peugeot 205 supermini, which is largely credited for turning the company’s fortunes around. The 205 was regularly the bestselling car in France, and was also very popular in other parts of Europe, including Britain, where sales regularly topped 50,000 a year by the late 1980s. It won plaudits for its styling, ride and handling. It remained on sale in many markets until 1998, overlapping with the introduction of the 106 in 1991, and ceasing production at the launch of the 206, which also proved hugely popular across Europe

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