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International House Of Projects: Which Sweet Euro Treat Would You Sink Your Teeth Into?

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Here we are in our second week of Shitbox Showdown, and to start off with a bang it’s time for you to make the impossible ~$2000 choice between an automatic Peugeot 505 diesel and a manual Saab 900 Turbo convertible.  

First, I want to thank all of you for the votes, replies, encouragement, and yes, even criticism. We’re still working out the kinks with this series of articles, but I’m having a blast, and I hope you all are as well. Readers have asked for more basic data on the actual cars, so I’m going to make a slight format change. At the top of each listing, before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’ll include some important information: year make and model, engine/drivetrain type, location, and whether it runs and/or drives.

Now, about that last one: I’ve bought enough cheap old cars to know that “runs and drives” sometimes only means “is capable of altering its location to a small degree,” but since we’re not able to investigate these cars in person, we’ll have to take the sellers’ word for it. For our purposes, therefore, “runs and drives” means you can at least in theory limp it home.

We’ve got a pair of rare European beauties to check out today, but first let’s look at last week’s final vote:

And our Shitbox of the Week winner is… the Studebaker wagon! I’m not surprised the Stude won — not just because it’s in the same family as a vehicle named the Champ, but mostly because, well, just look at this glorious thing:

I am surprised the Crown Vic was so far behind the other three after blowing that Chevy Caprice cop car out of the water like it did, but anyway, let’s move on and get some breakfast.

French Toast – 1984 Peugeot 505 STI Turbodiesel – $2200

The left side of a Peugeot 505 diesel

Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter turbodiesel inline 4, automatic, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

Runs/drives? Yes, but not registered or driven on the road for 18 years

Peugeot never got the respect it deserved in America. It didn’t have the prestige of Mercedes or the cool factor of BMW or the high-tech image of Audi, and Volvo had the “quirky professor” demographic sewn up. Poor Peugeot was relegated to also-ran status, until it gave up and left the U.S. market in 1991. Here’s a snippet from the New York Times piece Peugeot To Pull Out Of Market In the U.S.:

A Peugeot spokesman said the withdrawal had been prompted by the failure of the company’s 405 model sedan to gain a significant share of the U.S. market.


The spokesman blamed the competition between American and Japanese automakers in the U.S. market for the failure of the 405.

“The American market is depressed and in conflict between U.S. and Japanese producers, and all the European automakers are caught in the vise,” he said.


Stephen Reitman, automotive analyst at UBS-Phillips & Drew in London, said the 405’s pricing had been “high relative to other manufacturers.”

He also observed that Peugeot’s dealer network in the United States, after the very modest performance of the previous standard-bearer, the 505, had cooled on the Peugeot make.

“Peugeot was typically a fourth brand, behind a dealer’s other European or American makes,” he said.

“It was usually relegated to a small, dusty corner of the showroom.”

Peugeot 505 diesel engine

Peugeot’s departure was a shame, because the 505 (and its predecessor, the 504) is a really nice car. It’s not luxurious, but it is comfortable. It’s not sporty, but it holds the road well. And in other parts of the world, old Peugeots, especially diesels like this, are legendary for their durability and toughness. There are still plenty of forty-year-old Peugeot diesels trundling around Africa earning their keep, which shows that keeping one on the road isn’t something that takes a hundred men or more to do.

[Editor’s note: Mark has stumped me with almost every pop-culture reference he’s made since he started writing at The Autopian last week. But I just got the Toto reference there, and I just had to add this note to revel in it a bit. -DT]

The rear of a Peugeot 505 diesel

This particular 505 isn’t in terrible shape, but it does need some help. It runs and drives well according to the seller, but it hasn’t been registered since 2004, so you’d need to go over it before putting it back into service.

The front of a Peugeot 505 diesel

Finding parts isn’t easy, but the seller seems to be a “Peugeot guy” (he has another 505 for sale for $3,500) so maybe he can help. The outside looks a little ratty, with square patches of black primer, but I don’t see any rust. And the blue leather interior looks clean and inviting.

The interior of a Peugeot 505 diesel

This car has been for sale for a while; I’ve seen this ad pop up several times over the past few years. Maybe it’s because it’s an automatic, or a diesel, or just a Peugeot, but it hasn’t found the home it deserves yet.

Swedish Pancakes – 1990 Saab 900 Turbo convertible – $2000

Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter turbo inline-4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Bend, OR

Runs/drives? Yes, but bring a bungee cord for the hood

Good old Saab. Born from jets, murdered by bad business deals. Their cars were chock-full of odd-but-brilliant engineering and unconventional ideas that made sense if you just kept an open mind (You can’t remove the key unless the manual gear shift is in reverse — annoying? Maybe. But kind of makes sense!). Saab was the weird kid in study hall, over in the corner creating fantastic new worlds that no one else really understood.

Then in 1989, right around the same time that Bob Rock first produced a Metallica album, General Motors started absorbing the Swedish car brand. Like the previous musical reference that I know for sure my editor didn’t understand [Editor’s note: True. -DT], results weren’t optimal: the name was the same, but the feel was totally different, and that “outsider” quality that made them what they were was almost completely lost. GM-era Saabs were neither as interesting nor as well-made as their Saab-Scania predecessors.

This Saab 900 predates the GM years in terms of design; it’s the old “Classic” 900 design, with a backwards-facing four-cylinder engine (yes, the clutch is up front!) sitting right on top of the front axle. That engine is turbocharged and powers a five-speed manual that the seller says is “hard to get into reverse.” This should probably be addressed sooner rather than later, because as I mentioned before, you have to shift into reverse when you shut the car off to release the key from the center-console-mounted ignition switch.

The seller says the car “runs and drives great,” but the 2008 tags and the cooling fan and other unidentifiable bits in the trunk give me pause. You’ll also need to find a replacement hood latch, because the original is – I can’t resist – bork-bork-borked. [Editor’s note: Once again…no clue. -DT]. 

There they are, our Monday morning breakfast treats. A Swedish pancake and French toast, both deserving of a second chance. Which one is right for you?


QuizwizAll images: Sellers
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79 Responses

  1. Oh, man, these two cars really peg my Dork-meter. The 505 has to be one of the most comfortable cars Ive driven. They must have three feet of suspension travel. As a very young man, I worked in a SAAB dealer during the classic 900 era and have a very special place in my heart for them. These cars each have a strike against them for me though. Diesel for the Pig-Out and drop top for the SAAB (don’t like to mess up my hair). My crazy car collection though, would definitely have a 505 turbo and a three door 900 turbo in it

  2. Saab all the way! It’s got so much more appeal and it’s a ragtop and a manual. Damn, that’s hard to beat.

    I felt like Indiana Jones looking at that snake-filled engine compartment in the Peugeot. It’s scary when new. Replacing all that rubber now will make some grown man cry.

  3. Sheesh. I really don’t want either of them this time around, but loathe to be “that guy” so … I’ll pick the Peugeot. I’m sure the Saab will win, merely because it’s a stick, but c’mon folks … there’s no fun to be had there. Yes parts will be easier to find, but I’ve known a couple people who attempted to revive Saabs that were past their expiration dates, and it did not go well. I learned enough to know I never want to take a wrench to one of those balls of weird. And this one being a convertible makes it all the worse. I’ll take the thing that is instead known for being unkillable in Africa. At least I’ll get there … probably … eventually …

  4. I love the Frenchie for being a quirkier, (ARGUABLY) better looking car, but The Saab, with its convertible top and 3 pedals would be the way to go. Easier to find parts, edge in the Fun-to-drive department, and honestly the body is clean enough to make it a perfectly respectable looking everyday driver with a little bit of elbow grease.

  5. There is ancestral lore about grandma’s Peugeot in my partners family. Legend has it that when she separated from her husband in 1989, she went out and bought a Peugeot 505 wagon for a then astronomical $19k. Three years later, she had spent another $19k on a never ending series of repairs, driving her back into the arms of her husband.

    If I was a terrible person, I’d love to buy the Peugeot to drive it to family functions.

  6. Peugeot all the way! That is so scarce it could only be better being a manual and a “familiale”.
    I am not impartial as during my first 7 years the predecessor was our family transportation.
    Enzo also knew what he was doing when he choose that’s predecessor for daily duties, they are just so comfortable and capable.

  7. Peugeot all the way! Scarce! Could only be better were it a manual, familiale and Dangel.
    Disclaimer: I am not impartial, for the first 7 years it’s predecessor was our family’s transportation.
    Enzo knew why he choose that’s predecessor for daily duties, they are so comfortable and capable.

  8. As tempting as the SAAB is, I’d take the Peugeot. Had the SAAB been the hardtop I might have voted for it, but I’m not a fan of convertibles (unless it’s built to be a convertible like the S2k or MX5) simply because they usually feel like a bit of an afterthought. Additionally, I could see the Peugeot as being an interesting daily driver and with the diesel it has the potential to just keep running. That said, I would be talking the price down a couple hundred dollars to put the car under $2000.

  9. I went with the Saab. Those things, if maintained, are darn near unkillable. Plus the 900s are easy to find and many sources for parts.

    Throw a couple of grand at it and you have good commuter, college car, errand runner, and for a bit more a nice weekend cruiser.

    The Peugeot is not a bad car, but if I had those choices, a pile of money, and told buy one in the next 15 minutes, the Saab wins.

  10. The Saab, no doubt. The Peugot (Puke Guts, as we referred to them back in the 90’s) is a quirky and weird car for sure, but it’s auto, diesel, French, and worst of all: you’re NEVER going to be able to get parts for it easily. Saab isn’t quite as easy to get parts for as a VW or a BMW, but at least they were actually sold here for decades. Plus, it’s a convertible, turbo, manual, and despite being FWD, would still be fun as hell.

    1. Have you ever driven a Saab 900 of this generation? I have, and fun isn’t a word I would use to describe the experience. The car feels incredibly heavy, the clutch pedal was very tiring to use (so heavy!), just like the gear stick. The handling is ok, but the ride was harsh. Yes it has a turbo with enormous lag, and that’s kind of fun, the first few times. But soon you’ll notice that most of the time you don’t get the power when you need it, and usually, by the time the turbo starts pushing, you have to get off the gas…

      1. Yeah, I had one of these in high school. If there’s too much lag? Change the turbo, put a beefier clutch in it, etc. All those things are changable pretty easily. The Peugot? There’s zero aftermarket support for. It’s an 80’s turbodiesel attached to an 80’s automatic. That thing is gonna suuuuuuck to drive.

    2. I also think that you guys should do some video content on these. Like an Epic Rap Battles of History but ‘The Autopian Shitbox Showdown!’ where each car gets a writer and someone has say, 45 seconds or 1 minute to convince you to buy their shitbox instead of the opponents shitbox.

  11. I’d go with the SAAB from previous experience with the brand and there MT, but I have to say, the Peugeot’s front end has always caught my eye (in a good way). The balance of the lights, grill and front hood line are perfect.

  12. I’m one of the four that voted for the Peugeot so far. Hear me out on this one. The things that initially make the Saab more appealing also make it a money pit. Sure, it’s a manual and a convertible. But, we know the transmission doesn’t work all that well, so that will need to be swapped. Want to bet the top doesn’t work?
    OTOH, I’ll bet the diesel could be sorted enough to drive more easily. And, once it’s sorted, it will just run.

  13. As an elderly Englishman my take on these is going to be……….just the same as every one else’s.
    The Peugot is interesting but dull at the same time, maybe it is insufficiently French. Also, from memory that auto’box was horrid. on the other hand, with a bit of tlc it will keep on being a car for years.

    The SAAB,, with the same tlc will keep on being an entertaining car for years.

  14. I feel like a restoration budget statement should be part of the inputs. Without constraints, I’d rather end up with the sorted convertible Saab, but I think the Frenchie could be useful with less parts and shop time. Last week I bounced back and forth on my assumption of what I was looking for, either reasonable wheels or a wonderful restoration project.

  15. Duh. You can guess my pick. Honestly I bought a 900 convertible that wasn’t far off that price, ran it for years. It hit the ‘dump in money to repair/really fix the damn thing OR get rid of it’ threshold and I got rid of it. Still regret that. I’m probably going to buy another when I retire as my wife loved that car. Price is in line with what I see over at SAABnet. (https://www.saabnet.com/tsn/class/900convertibles.html)

    For 2k if the top is decent it’s not a bad price. Replacement tops are a pain in the butt. As much as I like the old Peugeot I’m going with the 900.

  16. I’m honestly a bit surprised that the Peugeot is getting stomped as hard as it is here. Maybe I’m just a bad car enthusiast but convertibles just don’t do it for me and the Saab being manual isn’t enough to pull me away from the Peugeot. It might be a different story if the Saab was a hardtop though.

  17. Saab. I drove that exact model ragtop once and it was fast. The car belonged to my sister who got it as a surprise present (yes the whole bow on top thing) from her sociopath spouse who had been doing a year in prison for some white collar crime and not captaining boats around the Caribbean as his cover story went. It got repossessed which was a factor that lead to a divorce where she discovered the Saab was an act of contrition not love. This Saab is actually in Powell Butte 25 miles north of Bend and in the high desert so likely rust-free. Only 111K miles too. Very tempting. Bring a bungie, fix it and flip it on BaT. Or just drive it and leave the key in it. Nobody will steal a manual. Nor would they think to look for the ignition switch between the seats. Just cover it with a surgical mask when you get out.

  18. Oh dear… where’s the ‘neither, run away screaming from both’ option? As much as I love the *idea* of the convertible 900 turbo, the reality of owning one of those things was a different matter, even new. My uncle had a couple Saab 900’s in a row back in the late 80’s, and he would always say “do you know how to spell Saab? S-O-B.” They were *always* broken down.
    The Renault is perhaps appealing in the ‘dare to be different’ sense, but parts will be 100% unobtanium, and even if you get it all together perfectly… it’s a reasonably unremarkable car powered by a wheezy 80’s diesel through a slushbox. Also, weren’t Renaults of this era known for oddball mechanical failures, like broken cranks? Yeah, I’ll pass.
    Forced to choose at gunpoint? The Saab, I guess. If you managed to get through the pain and suffering to get it to work, you’ll at least enjoy the experience of driving it, for as long as it runs.

  19. It figures that the Peugeot is in Portland, an outpost of weird that supports a Citroën specialist. On the plus side Oregon doesn’t use road salt so rust shouldn’t be a problem on the other hand it’s a diesel automatic sedan and on the gripping hand all those years parked in Portland could cause mold issues. (who gets this reference)
    I was even more surprised that option 2 was local to me, convertible and manual. Bend is high desert so UV is an issue but no rust or mold concerns.

  20. Much like a white convertible VW rabbit will always be negatively associated in my mind with a very specific demographic, this iteration of SAAB (SnAAB) also suffers from negative associations (a string of bad bosses at a former company; like they got a discount for ordering in bulk)…so not knowing anything about the car, I’m going Peugeot

  21. I have to go with the Saab. I had a classmate who had one that he needed to short across the starter solenoid to start. he almost ran over his foot once showing us the production he went through to start it every time.

  22. It was the summer of 1991. I had recently graduated from college and was living in Riverside, CA. I had a daily approximately 90 minute commute to Santa Ana in hand-me-down ’81 Civic Wagon. Which could have been cool except it was brown, automatic, and had a broken a/c which I didn’t have the money to fix.

    Then came word that the estate of my Great (and great) Aunt Rose, who had passed earlier that year, had settled and I was getting enough money to get a new car (and get the hell out of Riverside).

    I was all set to go and pick up a brand new Civic Si hatch when my dad called and told me that he had just read that Peugeot was pulling out of the US and that I should stop by and see if I could get a deal. Off I went to the local Oldsmobile/Peugeot/Alfa dealer (the owner sure know how to pick them). They had 2 405’s in stock. A base burgundy sedan with a stick and a loaded light blue wagon with an auto. The price was $9998 for the sedan and around $13k for the wagon. Sticker was $17k and $21k respectively. The Si was going to cost me $12.5k.

    I really prefer hatchbacks and wagons, but my mom had owned a 505 and the auto transmission and every electric gadget on it had required service at some point before she sold it just before the warranty expired. So, being clever, I went with the sedan. It had a stick, roll up windows, a 5-year warranty, and was 20% cheaper than a Civic. What could possibly go wrong?

    You can guess where this is going. When it ran, it was great. The ride was very French, it was pretty soft and leaned a lot, but had great traction even on bad roads. I took a trip through Baja California with it and it was perfect. It was also comfortable and looked cool. I gave a girl a ride home in it one day and she was so impressed by the car, she agreed to go out with me. We’ve been married for 28 years now.

    But we didn’t drive it to the wedding because it was broken. Again. The thing had major electrical issues that were never fully ironed out. It would run and then just stop. Or the electric door locks would refuse to open and we’d get to General Lee it out the window (thank God for the window cranks). Or the area behind the dash would overheat and fry the radio. This happened to me when I was driving from El Paso to Austin TX. A damn long way with no tunes.

    Every time it would break, I would haul it in to whomever Peugeot had paid to do warranty work in their absence. The one in Austin was called The French Connection and I will never forget the scene that greeted me when I went in to pick it up at the appointed time. The authentically French mechanic was standing in front of the open hood with a cigarette – I’m assuming a Gauloises Blondes as I was a Christian Sarron fan – stuck in the corner of his mouth. He had his arms crossed and was slowly shaking his head from side to side in obvious despair.

    After a couple of years of this my dad felt so bad about suggesting the Peugeot that he let me “borrow” his stripper ’85 Civic Hatchback (no a/c, 4 speed manual) while me wife was in grad school. We got the Peugeot working and then barely drove it until she got a job and we traded it in for a demo ’97 Subaru Impreza Sport. We paid $19k for the Subaru and got $3500 for the trade in. I figured I was robbing them on the Peugeot which was close to unsellable at the time. Apparently their used car manager agreed. We had to come back the next day to get the Impreza because it needed some prep work and we found that the paperwork had all changed. The price of the Subaru had dropped to 17k while the trade-in value went to $1500!

    So I’m going Saab. I’ve always liked the 900 Turbo ads in R&T.

  23. I clicked one at random because neither one really appeals to me, but after reading more comments, I got to thinking, on my list of odd cars I would like to own I’ve included some type of wasteland style vehicle, and I think a old rwd weird French diesel might be a good place to start. Convert it to fryer oil, put on some mud tires and a potato cannon, it could be pretty fun.

  24. My mom and dad bought one of those Peugeot 505 STI turbodiesels just like that one new in 1984. Only, it was this sort of beige-champagne color on the outside, with tan leather inside. For the first few years, they loved it, and used it to take long interstate trips a lot. Then, as will happen with Peugeots, they had to repair things. It was then, that visits to their house started becoming like an octogenarian describing what bodily parts don’t function right, only with a car.

    My mother eventually insisted that they get something else. The parts and labor to keep it happy were just too much. And my father, showing serial bad judgement, replaced it with an Explorer.

    They finally learned their lesson and just bought a Lexus, so they would be able to talk about things other than car problems.

    1. Yeah, I had to go for the Saab, love of old Peugeot’s notwithstanding. However: As a lucky person in cheap second hand car-land (the UK), these prices a terrifying. You can get a perfectly nice Lexus is220 for about 2 grand here, or 3 grand if you want a stick shift is250. Paying 2k for a clunker like these is a disturbing thought.

  25. I wanted to go with the Pug. I’ve got fond memories of my dad’s 309, my own 205 that I got for free, fixed in an evening and drove for 2 years, and all the other French claptraps I’ve driven and owned over the years. But a Saab with a stick beats a French automatic any day of the week.

    1. I think it must have had a deep cleaning before the seller photographed it. In Seattle, those seats & steering wheel (hell, probably most of the plastic surfaces, too) would be coated in mildew if it’s truly been sitting for even a fraction of that time. Portland’s climate isn’t that much different.

  26. This was a tough one. I have a real soft spot for the looks of the 505 and there’s a very real hipster appeal to the diesel aspect.
    However, how do you turn down a turbo Saab convertible in manual? The answer is, you don’t. I do have more trepidations about the condition of the Saab, though, which is part of what made the decision more difficult.

  27. I absolutely adore Peugeots. One of the first cars I ever drove was a Purple 504. I was well under the legal driving age, but that didn’t seem to bother the owner–she was an interesting lady. She gave me a purple Peugeot bike so I could have me own purple Peugeot. There was a Peugeot dealership near where I lived and I would often go there (on my purple Peugeot) to check out the cars, pick up brochures, etc. They also sold Subarus, and had a 360 in the showroom–I think a lot of weird quirky tastes in cars come from that place. If that Peugeot wasn’t in the other Portland I would seriously consider buying it.

    Anyhow, I voted for the Saab.

  28. I always like a good French car, but for my money, I’d rather have something truly madcap like a Citroen or something quick and agile like an Alpine or a classic hot hatch. Speaking of hot hatches, I’ve always had a soft spot for a classic SAAB. This 900 is priced fairly, has a turbo and the manual, and its a convertible. For 2 grand, the SAAB seems the better deal.

  29. I don’t want either of these cars. Am I allowed to abstain?

    But as bad as these two cars are, the worst abomination (to my eyes) on this page is that 3D pie chart at the top. 3D pie charts distort information and make results less clear. Because of the distortion brought on by the 3D effect, the slice for the Scirocco appears bigger than for the Lark, even thought they’re actually almost exactly the same size (the Lark just a tiny bit bigger). A regular (2D) pie chart would be an improvement, or a bar chart might be even better. I’d also suggest labeling the actual slices instead of having a legend to make it easier for the reader to understand the story the data are telling.

  30. I was not much of a fan of the 505’s looks when they were new, but they have really grown on me. Now, the TDi, well, I got to drive one (a wagon, no less) a few years ago. I have to say, you probably actually want the automatic. That motor will have you shifting four times before you actually get out of the driveway. And despite diesel torque, it does not have enough to just pull away in 2nd, or 3rd. This is one of the few cars I definitely did not like with a manual transmission. On the other hand, for a 30-ish year old car, when I drove it I was impressed at how well it was still holding up. It was quite a tank, much like Mercedes cars from the same era. Even the copious rust didn’t seem to have ruined it.

  31. Saab for me simply because I know how to fix them Frenchy would be like learning a whole new language. The reverse thing shouldn’t be more than an adjustment. If it were popping out, that would be a bigger fix, but 5th and reverse tend to get hard to find and it’s a very easy tweak. I’ve actually seen that C900 on CL for a few weeks, now which makes me think that there might be more wrong, but it’s a good price if all is as stated in the ad.

  32. What an awesome website – they read the input from the readers and actually take it into consideration! The updated format works well for this series. This was a tough one for a minute because of the diesel, but as soon as I saw the manual in the Saab it was hands-down. Is there anything better than slamming through the gears with the top down? Probably- but I’ll need to think a little before I come up with it.

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