Home » Unusual Euro Sedans: 1982 Peugeot 604 vs 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E

Unusual Euro Sedans: 1982 Peugeot 604 vs 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E

Sbsd 12 20 2023
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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we have a pair of European sedans that you don’t see very often. Both are five-speed manuals, you’ll be happy to know, and both of them run, although one needs a little help in that department.

Often, I have a suspicion that one vehicle might run away with the votes, and yesterday was one of those days. And as it turns out, I was absolutely correct – a lot of folks thought the idea of the fire truck was cool, but the reality of it was less so, and the 300ZX cruised to a comfortable win.

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I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to know what cassette was in the 300ZX’s player, and a few of you offered guesses: No Jacket Required by Phil Collins, Under Lock And Key by Dokken, and Ministry’s Twelve Inch Singles were mentioned. All solid choices, in my book, and all definitely fit with the vibe of the car.

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Today, we’ve got the cars that I was planning to post tomorrow. However, as occasionally happens, one of today’s cars sold before I could start writing about it. Those of you who hate it when I do project cars dodged a bullet, I suppose – this was the car that sold:

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Yep. Most of a 1972 Alfa GTV. It sold for four grand, after being posted for only a couple of days. The classic car market has well and truly lost its collective mind.

So instead, we’re going to check out two old Euro sedans. One is a rare spec, and the other is just plain rare. Let’s see what you think of them.

1982 Peugeot 604 TD – $6,000

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Engine/drivetrain: Turbodiesel 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

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Location: Minnetonka, MN

Odometer reading: 78,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but stalls – suspected fuel starvation

Peugeot left the US market after 1991, due to poor sales, but in other parts of the world, its cars are legendary. Peugeot diesels last forever, in some incredibly harsh environments. But the French brand never really caught on in America, despite making cars that were sturdy, comfortable, and good-handling. The smaller 504 and 505 sedans and wagons aren’t common, but you do see them once in a while. This 604 sedan, however, is a rarity, especially with the combination of a turbodiesel engine and a manual transmission.

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This 604 hasn’t seen much use, and the shores of Lake Minnetonka are certainly not as hard on cars as sub-Saharan Africa. Its 2.3 liter turbodiesel engine has only propelled this big square sedan 78,000 miles – barely broken-in by some standards. It runs and drives well, the seller says, but it has a fuel leak from the fuel filter housing, which causes fuel starvation after a few minutes. I don’t know how difficult a repair that is, but again, African farmers keep these things going for decades with baling wire and ingenuity.

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It looks quite nice and clean for a 41-year-old car, which is to be expected with the low miles. All of the electrical accessories work, including the very cool Blaupunkt radio with tape deck. For this one, I suppose the appropriate cassette would be Serge Gainsbourg?

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Some European designs of the 1970s and 80s were able to weather the onslaught of safety regulations for the US market with some dignity and style. Sadly, the Peugeot 604 is not one of them. This Pininfarina-designed sedan is handsome with trim European bumpers and glass composite headlights, but the American-required 5 mph bumpers and rectangular sealed-beam headlights give it a face only a mother could love, and a rear end that looks for all the world like a swim platform on the back of a boat.

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1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 – $3,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter overhead cam inline 6, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Wakefield, MA

Odometer reading: 108,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

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There are six words that I imagine everyone here has uttered when looking at a car saddled with an automatic transmission: “If only it had a manual.” We all have found cars that would be perfect, except for the lack of a clutch pedal, and we all dream of finding the parts to swap in a manual gearbox. But how many of us have done it? Well, whoever owned this 190E before the seller did. This car left Bremen with a four-speed automatic, like nearly all of the models bound for the US did, but it now sports a five-speed stick.

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Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a 190E 2.6 with a manual. The four-cylinder models with sticks were rare enough. There’s no way of knowing how carefully the conversion was done, of course, but it’s not like swapping in a gearbox that doesn’t belong; manual 190Es are only rare here. The seller says it runs and drives great, so apparently the transplant was a success.

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The “2.6” in this car’s name refers, of course, to the single overhead cam M103 straight-six engine under the hood. There is nothing wrong with the 2.3 liter four in most 190Es, but German sedans and inline sixes go together like peanut butter and chocolate. This is a smooth, strong, durable engine that really suits the “baby Benz” well.

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You know there has to be a catch, though, and in this case it’s the old European car Achilles heel: rust. Most of the car is fine, but there are some worrying photos in the ad of the jack points underneath. It looks like it’s rusting from the inside out, which is bad. This car’s days are numbered. It won’t crack apart tomorrow, but it won’t last forever either.

I know a lot of you shy away from European cars altogether, but I think they get an unfairly bad reputation. Yes, they’re higher-maintenance than Japanese or American cars, but keep them up, and they can last a long time. And the road feel is something that has to be experienced to be believed. So which will it be: a rare French executive sedan with a legendary diesel engine, or a compact German six-cylinder converted to the proper transmission?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
3 months ago

In 1993, MB brought Into the US the 190E 2.6 Sportline with 5-speed manual trans…

Last edited 3 months ago by Sivad Nayrb
Super Bonk 3000
Super Bonk 3000
3 months ago

Definitely the Pug. Source Euro bumpers and headlights and yr done.

That BabbyBenz is a pile of rust, and you could get a factory 190E 2.6 manual* vs this hacked-up thing. Also, the console looks like the OE PRNDL one, and those filthy nasty carpets are disgusting.

*five** sold in USA
**guessing

Last edited 3 months ago by Super Bonk 3000
67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago

I would love to have both of these cars,but I voted for the 190 because it’s cheaper and will probably be a good,fun winter car for at least a few seasons. The Peugeot is really nice as well but it’s too expensive and the bumpers look horrendous.

GertVAG
GertVAG
3 months ago

The Peugeot for me, comfort and Peugeot diesel ? Oh yeah ! I’m a sucker for old diesel engines and European big cars and this certainly fits the bill. The Peugeots my godfather had (505, 405, 406) all were mostly problem free and I still remember their comfort and fine handling very well.

Brockett Hudson
Brockett Hudson
3 months ago

This 190 speaks to me on a very personal level, including the “don’t buy a 190 with front end rust” level. Indulge me in a somewhat lengthy story of my relationship with this wonderful but fragile platform that connects to both these vehicles and will validate everyone who sided with the Peugeot because of the rust on the 190.

When I turned 16 in 1997, my dad gave me $4000 to spend on a car. It had to be a heavy four door sedan; fun was deliberately being throttled. He expected me to buy a Volvo 240 or Dodge Diplomat or something. Instead, I found a 1984 190D that was immaculate in white, beige interior, shiny chrome caps with gold stars… sounds ridiculous in retrospect but I thought it was gorgeous at the time. It was glacially slow and heavy, so it passed dad’s test and I bought it.

Despite being almost dangerously slow in the hilly suburbs of Austin, TX, I loved it. The 190 platform is truly a gem. I believe it was the first major car platform that was designed almost entirely with CAD, including the suspension geometries. I drove the shit out of that little car, which promptly killed the transmission. The rest of the car was rock solid so we replaced the transmission and I drove it for another year and a half, during which I worked a few jobs and saved a little cash.

There was a guy in my high school who’s dad owned the only French specialty repair shop in town. He had owned a Peugeot dealer up until ’92 and still had the old dealership sign in his garage in hopes they’d come back some day. He was a buddy of mine and for a while he drove a really bad ass 405 MI16 (which would make a great Grails car, now that I think about it: https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/still-cheap-and-fun-the-405-mi16-was-peugeots-last-shout-on-these-shores/). I also got to drive some other weird French cars from time to time, including, I’m pretty sure, a 604 similar to this one.

Anyway, he and I were friends and we’d ‘hoon his 406 and my 190 (to the extent you can ‘hoon a car with 62! bhp) and sometimes I’d hang out over at his dad’s shop. One day his dad got a call from a client who had a 190E 2.6 with a factory 5 speed that he wanted to sell. The car had been imported from Canada and came complete with a speedometer in Km/h and some weird French buttons on the radio. Hence the factory 5 speed, which was more common north of the border.

The idea of the car I already had, but with more power and a 5 speed, was intoxicating to my then 18 year old brain. The car didn’t have crazy miles and seemed to be in decent shape, so I convinced my dad to let me trade the 190D against the 190E plus the cash I’d saved up.

That turned out to be a mistake. That summer I planned a road trip to Colorado with some high school buddies. The plan was to take three cars, including the 190, for 12 people. So we packed 4 people plus as much gear as we could crush into the trunk, floor boards and laps of the 190 and set off for Colorful Colorado. The car drank oil the whole way there and back, which was par for the course, but otherwise ran reasonably well. Although that NA 2.6 got very anemic over the high passes and almost certainly way over weight.

We camped for several days up a fairly long, maintained dirt road outside of Carbondale. The road was badly washboarded, but I didn’t care, I thrashed the car up and down it every day. On the way back to Texas, I noticed the car felt a little wobbly, but I didn’t think much of it.

The night after we got home, I was driving down a city road with some smooth but significant undulations on the passenger side. As I went over one of them, I heard a groaning noise followed by a bunch of metallic racket. I slammed on the brakes and into the headlights rolled the front right spring in its entirety, completely detached from the car. I got out of the car, picked up the spring and put it in the back seat. The front right was resting on the bump stop and the tire had clearance to role, so I slowly drove the car home wondering what the F had just happened.

I had it towed to my friend’s dad’s shop. He called me and said we had a problem and I should come over. The entire bracket that holds the top of the spring to the unibody of the car had ripped loose from the car and was hanging on by a shred of metal and/or the underbody coating material. It would literally flop around if you poked it. The exposed metal under the underbody coating was (obviously) completely rusted out. You could use a screw driver to peal back the coating and pick out chunks of flaky rust. It was a nightmare.

Not surprisingly, my insurance company deemed the car uninsurable and mechanically totaled it. I learned after the fact that this was apparently pretty common on 190s of this era that lived in snowy climates. The underbody coating was prone to failure and once rust got started somewhere underneath it, it would eat the car from the inside, largely out of sight without a thorough inspection.

So yeah, don’t buy a 190 with exposed rust on the front end. That doesn’t end well.

Sad side note: the guy who bought the beautiful 190D ended up putting gasoline in it a few months later and killed it as well.

Last edited 3 months ago by Brockett Hudson
FleetwoodBro
FleetwoodBro
3 months ago

604 all day. I love them like I love golden retrievers! Rare, lots of glass, comfy seats. great suspension, early diesel w/o emissions stuff, what’s not to love? Will it break? Yes! But so will the Benz and it is nothing special.

Ricardo
Ricardo
3 months ago

I used to work at a BMW dealership in Australia with a middle aged mechanic from South Africa. He was quite a character and his stories from 70s/80s South Africa where frightening. Movie plots didn’t sound as far fetched as the shit he went through.

Anyway the guy was a Pug nut and drove a canary yellow 504 manual with brown vinyl seats, quiet a colour combination.

I gave him shit about it one day and he said

“Brother, these are French agricultural machinery. You cant kill em. This is as old as me but in far better condition. They are so simple to work on”

Gimme the Pug. I’ll fix myself wearing a beret, eating a croissant and cursing the English.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
3 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo

grew up in in South Africa through the 70s/80s, can confirm on all counts..
my father had a Peugeot 404 which ran forever, 20 years old when he finally sold it, endured two teenage boys learning to drive it and then taking it on fishing trips deep into the backcountry, what today would be called off-road..

Last edited 3 months ago by Doug Kretzmann
JDE
JDE
3 months ago

I am not really the “6,000 dollars worth of adventurous for a poor running probably impossible to find repair parts for people willing to work on” person for a French Pile from the 90’s. The Benz looks to be much more sketchy, but I suppose if I was interested enough to click on the ad, I would probably expect that little turd to at least 3k worth of driving. But man those wheels are obscene.

Rich Hobbs
Rich Hobbs
3 months ago

Sorry, my device acting up. Bruno Sacco designed it. Sure you noticed that all the MBZ cars of the era looked similar! Just bigger as you went up the model scale. Now I’m sure Torch knows this. The ribbed tail lights were designed that way to keep them from gettin dirty. Wonder nobody copied. Because it worked.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Rich Hobbs

Torch did in fact write about the ribbed taillights!

https://www.theautopian.com/todays-taillights-those-wonderful-ribbed-mercedes-benz-taillights/

They existed as far back as the W116 in the 1970s, if not earlier.

Last edited 3 months ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Rich Hobbs
Rich Hobbs
3 months ago

We owned a 91 MBZ 190E 2.6 for about 3 years. Bought it from original family owners for $1900. Took it to my shop, changed all the fluids, replaced the plugs, wires which takes special tool. My boss had it! Replaced filters. Did the brakes, replaced the tires…It was the best $2000 car I’ve ever owned. Never had a lick of problems with it. It drove great. Had good power, white with blue interior. Everything worked except for one of rear door locks.Had central lock-in. Sunroof. I mean C’mon man. Classic design by Ulri

B3n
B3n
3 months ago

If the Mercedes was a diesel, I’d pick that one even with some rust, but gas MBs of this era (at least the ones I’m familiar with) are neither powerful, nor really reliable, relatively complicated, while also quite thirsty.
The turbodiesel Pug wins this round.

Last edited 3 months ago by B3n
Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
3 months ago

Does the Peugeot come with an extra parts car? If I understand correctly, that is what you need to be a Peugeot guy.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

though to be honest, that vintage of Benz also probably requires a parts car to keep her going.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
3 months ago

Hmm, perhaps the MB and shop around for a dead 190 in Southern California to transfer all the bits and pieces into when this one rusts in half.

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
3 months ago

I had a 1977 Peugeot 604 with the PRC V-6(same as the Delorean), and it was pretty slow, got mediocre gas mileage, but was the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven, hands down. Phenomenal seats and a relatively soft suspension made bumps unnoticeable, but it still hung in there well in the twisties, considering it’s size. Flaky electrics(say it ain’t so) and problems with the A/C were it’s Achilles heel, but if this thing were close to me on the West Coast, I’d seriously consider buying it. Mechanical-injection diesels don’t scare me.

Edit: The turn-signal switch was on the right rather than the US-normal left. That took some serious getting used to.

Last edited 3 months ago by Jnnythndrs
Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
3 months ago
Reply to  Jnnythndrs

It’s interesting to hear you say that, because I remember the 1980s Peugeot 505 advertising tagline (in the USA) was “Perhaps the most comfortable car in the world today”. The focus on comfort rather than handling or performance was theoretically a good pitch to American buyers, but obviously the brand would not last much longer on these shores. I thought it was a handsome car, and always wondered how comfortable it really was.

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

I read somewhere that the 504 and 604 had something like eight inches of suspension travel or some ridiculous amount like that, and I believe it. I never did it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could drive over a cement parking lot spacer at 25 mph and not be too alarmed. It didn’t float and wobble like the soft American cars of the era, it felt buttoned-down, it just soaked up bumps and irregularities without any effort.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

The 505 was beautiful, in a way the 604 wasn’t. The 604’s face reminds me of Beavis.

I rode in a 504 a lot as a kid and it was super comfy.

Last edited 3 months ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
3 months ago

That Alfa is gorgeous! (The fraction of it that remains, at least)

SarlaccRoadster
SarlaccRoadster
3 months ago
Reply to  Soso Tsundere

Back in the 90’s as a young lad I bought one GTV 1750 like the shell here. Mine was in working order, no rust, and came with 4 extra engines: another 1750, a 2000 and two 1600s. I remember I paid the equivalent of $1500 to a farmer for all of that.

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