Peugeot 504 Break Riviera: Pininfarina perfection

| 12 Dec 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

In the now long-lost heyday of leading styling house Pininfarina, one of the firm’s most important commercial relationships was with Peugeot.

Beginning with the 403 of 1955, the Turin-based carrozzeria created a succession of refined designs that perfectly complemented the personality of the restrained, well-engineered products of Sochaux – vehicles so beloved of the more conservative elements of the French middle classes.

The 1968 Peugeot 504 saloon – voted Car of the Year for 1969 – continued a tradition established with the 404 by selling in huge numbers (more than 2.8 million by 1982), and providing the basis for elegant coupé and convertible variations with bodies not only designed but also constructed by Pininfarina.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The original Peugeot 504 Break Riviera was a Pininfarina-designed concept shown in the ’70s – this is a careful tribute

Aldo Brovarone was responsible for the saloon, but the Coupé and Cabriolet models are – retrospectively – attributed to Franco Martinengo, who had worked with Farina since the 1920s and was due to retire in 1970.

His handsome Peugeot twins were a fine note on which to end a career.

With quad rectangular headlights, clean surfaces and curved hips, these gracefully understated designs were an instant hit with both the Peugeot management – which agreed to productionise the cars on first sight of the Coupé prototype – and the public, which bought almost 35,000 of them across a 13-year run.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The style, stance and usability of the pretty 504 Break Riviera make it feel like a missed opportunity, as this recreation demonstrates

Of the vehicles Pininfarina was contracted to build during this particularly busy period, only the Fiat 124 and Alfa Romeo Spiders (both marketed in North America, unlike the Farina 504s) sold in greater numbers.

Based on a 7in-shorter wheelbase than the four-door – but still four-seaters of sorts – these flagship two-doors were launched at Geneva in 1969 and priced roughly half as much again as the most expensive fuel-injected 504 saloon.

Their mild-steel bodywork was constructed, painted and trimmed at the Pininfarina factory in Grugliasco alongside other specialist models from Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, before being sent to France for the drivetrain and suspension.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

‘This Riviera is probably subtly more plush than the original show car’

This consisted of a well-sorted combination of front struts, semi-trailing arms and Peugeot’s much-loved torque tube sending drive to the rear wheels.

Most were fitted with Kugelfischer mechanically injected ‘fours’ – a 1.8-litre at first, a 2-litre from 1970 – but these were replaced by the ‘Douvrin’ V6 from 1974. (The 504 Coupé was the first car to get this ‘PRV’ engine.)

Thus equipped, the Coupé was a fast if rather thirsty car that made headlines when a works-prepared example won the Safari Rally in 1976.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

Wiltshire-based HC Classics made use of 21st-century techniques to produce the 504 Break Riviera reproduction

After it became clear that buyers still favoured the hemi-head four-cylinder motor, Peugeot reinstated it in 1977 and dropped the (now injected) V6 as an option in the open model.

Sochaux didn’t offer right-hooker 504 Coupés and Cabriolets, although about 100 2-litre cars were converted to right-hand drive by Hodec Engineering up to 1974.

All of the above is fairly well-established history.

However, when it comes to the 504 Break Riviera – the handsome three-door sports wagon first seen on the Pininfarina stand at the Paris Salon in 1971 – hard facts are a little thinner on the ground.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The original show car was based on a 1.8-litre Coupé, but the donor for this beautifully finished recreation was a 2-litre Cabriolet

The styling house is emphatic that it only built one example, at its own cost, in an attempt to interest Peugeot management in a Scimitar GTE-style ‘sports estate’ variation on the 504 Coupé theme.

Some suggest that three were built; others that there was one working example and a mock-up.

Nobody seems to know for sure where any of them are, though – one account even says that Peugeot has the one-and-only example stashed away in its museum, but I can find no evidence of this.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

Exquisite details of this revived Peugeot shooting brake include a walnut-covered load bay

A recurring theme throughout this mystery is the idea that the one-off – if it is a one-off – is hiding in a private collection in Spain, still in good condition.

This is a reasonably credible notion because the Riviera’s last-known public sighting was at the Barcelona motor show in May 1972.

In those days, General Franco had decreed that manufacturers had to bring at least five cars to display, and for some that meant bringing prototypes with export licences.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The metallic paint and silver-finished sills only enhance the lines of this classic Peugeot’s svelte bodywork

When the show finished, rather than ship them back home it made sense to do a deal locally – which is why the history of quite a few unique exotics gets a little sketchy if their story includes ‘displayed at the Barcelona motor show’.

You have to wonder if the Italian coachbuilders saw the Spanish event as a good route for flogging off prototypes that were no longer needed.

The fact that the body colour of the Break Riviera appeared to change from light blue to dark grey between its Paris and Barcelona outings further muddies the waters.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

This reimagined classic Peugeot shooting brake has cream-leather trim throughout

Peugeot’s thoughts on the Riviera are unknown, although some say it got to the point of having a brochure printed before thinking better of the idea.

There are generally sound reasons behind the rejection of speculative proposals for new variations on established designs: lack of funds, lack of production capacity or simply a fear that there may be a lack of customers.

Despite the fashionable success of the Reliant Scimitar GTE, you can hardly blame the conservative grey suits at Peugeot for having doubts about the wisdom of putting the firm’s name to a relatively new genre of vehicle that might turn out to be nothing more than a passing fad.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The Peugeot 504 Break Riviera’s crisp roof rails are elegantly authentic

Pininfarina, meanwhile, tried to interest Fiat and Lancia with similar sporty shooting-brake concepts on the basis of the Fiat 130 and Lancia Gamma coupés.

The pretty 1974 130 Maremma was almost certainly a victim of the fuel crisis (Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli bought it for his own use), while the 1982 Olgiata came too late in the life cycle of Gamma to be of much interest.

More than 50 years on, with the benefit of hindsight, the 504 Break Riviera does look like a genuine missed opportunity.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

“We actually started out with a Coupé, but it turned out to be too rotten so we went with the Cabriolet instead”

What few pictures there are of the 1971 show car depict a vehicle that lends itself beautifully to the sporty station-wagon treatment.

With bespoke four-spoke alloys, a silver finish on the sills (to contrast with the Bleu Vert metallic paint) and long, slender, sliding side windows, it manages to avoid the mini-hearse look of the rather unhappy Volvo 1800ES that appeared the same year.

The success of the 1975 Lancia Beta HPE – nowhere near as good-looking as the Riviera, to my eyes – showed that there was an appetite for a chic, multi-purpose car such as this.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

An image of the original concept in Barcelona in 1972 reveals the accuracy of HC Classics’ reproduction

Like so many rare or unique estate versions of exotic and semi-exotic cars, the Break Riviera continues to exert a strange hold over those who love these handsome Pininfarina-bodied 504s.

Most people would content themselves with buying a miniature (there’s a really good 1:18-scale one by BoS-Models), but for others only the real thing will do – or as near as funds (and skilled labour) will allow you to get.

Richard Carp – the ‘C’ of HC Classics in Wiltshire – was commissioned by a deep-pocketed private individual (who wishes to remain anonymous) to build an exact replica of the 504 Break Riviera on the basis of a 1972 504 Cabriolet donor.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

This gorgeous Cabriolet is peak Pininfarina

“We actually started with a Coupé, which turned out to be too rotten,” says Carp, “but the Cabriolet was pretty sound, so we went with that instead.”

HC Classics began trading in 2017, mainly doing trimming work. But now, with an outpost in Poland for the heavyweight metal-bashing – and a hard-working Polish team based in Wiltshire – the still-young outfit can tackle anything, with a good track record of restoring Bristols, ACs and Rovers: there is a replica of the Graber two-door P6 currently under way.

The 504 Break Riviera project represents three years of work for HC, during which Carp’s background as design manager at Ogle in the 1990s came in useful.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

Although fine handling, the two-door 504s are more grand-touring cars than sporting machines

“In creating the back end we used the CAD process,” he explains, “inputting every detail into CNC machines to make metal and honeycomb formers to press out the panels.

“We only had a few photographs of the original car to work from, but we think this is as close as you can get.”

This is not the first Break Riviera ‘tribute’ car, incidentally – there is a brown car based on a V6 Coupé floating around – but to my eyes the HC creation is much truer to the original concept.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The 504 Cabriolet’s cabin has a restrained but elegant feel

The only components, in terms of body panels, that are the same as the original Pininfarina production cars are the front wings and bonnet.

“Even the window line changes,” says Carp, “because the roofline goes up on the Riviera and on the Coupé it goes down.”

The folding back seats meant the strength-giving rear bulkhead was lost, so the floor had to be reinforced.

The long rear wings have bigger wheelarches than the production cars, and the position of the fuel-filler flap had to be changed because, if it were too high, the tube going into the tank would be more exposed, which would have looked ugly inside.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunionv

The Peugeot 504 Coupé’s cabin is classy and comfortable

In short, says Carp, the body was a lot more work than simply tacking on an estate-car back end: “Even just working out the design and function of the rear door, and how the struts and hinges operate, was very time-consuming.”

Mechanically the build was straightforward – although HC’s engineers did have to make a bespoke tool to extract the centre bearing in the torque tube.

Having produced the tooling, the firm could, in theory, build a second 504 Riviera, but Carp doesn’t look keen on the idea.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

HC Classics’ 504 Break Riviera tribute (left) and an original four-cylinder Cabriolet

With cream leather trim throughout, and a leather-covered dashboard and door cards, the Riviera is probably subtly more plush than the original show car.

HC Classics has done a beautiful job of recreating the Riva speedboat-style, walnut-covered rear load deck, but has yet to come up with a solution for securing the rear bench in its upright position: the original car used a magnet.

Those beautiful four-bolt alloy wheels – apparently unique to the Break Riviera – were machined from scratch.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The Cabriolet’s early-style quad-lamp nose and delicate detailing set off the car’s clean lines

The Riviera is a new car to all intents and purposes: I’ve never before seen a 504 restored to this level, with a gleaming engine bay that even manages to make a pretty sight of Peugeot’s canted-over, cast-iron, overhead-valve ‘four’.

The 1976 V6 automatic Coupé and the late four-cylinder Cabriolet (with early-style lights) that HC has laid on for comparison belong to the same passionate 504 collector.

They come up to the same high standards of finish, in every detail, as the Break Riviera.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The 504 Coupé’s ‘Douvrin’ V6 makes for a relaxed cruiser, but adds little outright pace

The throaty, offbeat exhaust note of the carburettor-equipped V6 Coupé gives it an air of authority, but not much extra urge over its four-pot cousins.

With power steering and a ZF three-speed auto it has a gentle, wafty feel with the superb ride that’s common to all these cars.

The 2664cc engine was a short-lived option in the open car, but the torquey, mechanically injected four-cylinder in this one goes better than it sounds, particularly when mated to the five-speed manual gearbox.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

The V6-powered Coupé features the later-style one-piece head- and tail-lights

The unassisted steering in these cars is not heavy (I’ve owned three), but the nicely weighted power assistance makes it a more pleasant car to drive and live with; the tight lock rivals a London cab.

Cabriolets in this sort of order are in the £50k bracket today, which, all things considered, is where they should be if Mercedes-Benz Pagodas are routinely twice that.

With its easy-to-use hood, supple comfort and civilised fixtures and fittings, all wrapped up in that delectable Italian shape, the 504 Cabriolet makes a good case for itself as an approachable alternative to the SL.

Classic & Sports Car – Peugeot 504s: Sochaux’s Pininfarina reunion

HC Classics isn’t tempted to build any more Peugeot 504 Break Rivieras

Of the three, in the metal, it is the Riviera that is the hardest to take your eyes off. It exudes the carefree charm of a certain kind of Continental ‘good life’, as lived in the Martini adverts of its day.

Svelte, sportif, yet useful – if only for carrying your Louis Vuitton hat-boxes – this is a car that always looks as if it’s about to motor down to a sunlit quayside to meet its owner’s yacht.

Pininfarina is apparently a bit sniffy about the existence of the Break Riviera tribute car, but I think it should be flattered that a private individual was enthused enough about this long-lost show star to lay out his own money on such a superb recreation.

Images: Luc Lacey


Don’t buy that, buy this: Peugeot 504 vs Mercedes Pagoda

21 forgotten Peugeot classics

Dream drop-tops: Aston vs Mercedes vs Citroën vs Jensen vs Rolls