To say that retired haulage boss Keith Herbert is a fan of Peugeot cars is a bit of an understatement. His family home in rural Somerset is a shrine to his passion for all things Peugeot. Every room has items that pay homage to the lion marque, from key ring collections to framed copies of classic old advertisements. Parked outside, in the cosseted luxury of carpet-clad and de-humidified garages, are the cars he has lovingly collected: four classic Peugeots, all with high mileages.
The one that we went scurrying down to Somerset particularly keen to see is a remarkable 36-year-old Peugeot 504 2.3 GLD diesel, with a 69bhp power output and a four-speed manual gearbox. It has seen some 700,000 miles – a million kilometres – pass under its wheels. The somewhat travel-worn white saloon was originally assembled in Australia in 1978, at a factory in Melbourne. During its early life in Oz, it went several times around the clock, already topping 300,000 miles in the first nine years. That included being driven vast distances across the Outback in 40 degree heat by a relief teacher, whose father Graham Smith was its third owner. He ran an adventure driving school in Brisbane, and decided to embark on his own adventure trip, driving the Peugeot overland to England. One of the scars the bodywork still bears is where it was kicked by a donkey in Turkey, and there are other marks reputedly inflicted by a kangaroo and a wombat.
On arrival, the intrepid Mr Smith took the car on a tour of all corners of the UK, before asking the Peugeot Owners’ Club whether they knew of anyone who might be interested in having the car. Keith Herbert was club secretary, and jumped at the chance. It cost him the £500 import fee the car had incurred on arrival. “It hadn’t been cleaned since leaving Australia, so it was covered in dirt and dust, but it was otherwise sound,” he recalls. That was in 1997. Since then it has continued to rack up the miles, and more adventures. Keith’s daughter Emma took it on a fund-raising trip across Europe and around the Pyrenees. Over his 17 years of ownership, he has mostly driven it on a daily basis. Incredibly, the car is still on its original engine, although countless other parts have been repaired or replaced. Some of the known work on the car over the years has included new rings and bearings, a replacement timing chain, installation of a second-hand cylinder head, a rebuilt differential, new gearbox seals and suspension bushes, and overhauled brakes.
The bodywork is original, if somewhat wearied with age. “It has never been restored, and it is extremely patinated,” is how its owner candidly describes it. “It runs pretty well too, although the clutch has got a bit hard, since it went through some deep water in the floods last winter and some of that got into the clutch. It still changes gear alright though.” Keith has his million kilometre car serviced very regularly, with the oil changed religiously every 5,000 miles, using a semi-synthetic oil. Fuel economy is consistently around the 43mpg mark. He isn’t sure of the exact mileage, as the odometer has been changed, but his estimate of 700,000-plus miles is confirmed by documentation and endorsed by Peugeot.
This extraordinary car still wears an anti-glare heat protector on top of the dashboard, a relic from its early life in Australia. It has heavy-duty shock absorbers, fitted for its across-the-globe trek back in the ‘90s. There is a modification to the radiator, with a second header tank, and the boot still contains the kit of spares that were essential back-up in case of breakdown on the Australia to England drive. Years ago, Keith equipped the car with power steering from a Peugeot 505, to ease the effort of the 504’s standard and heavy unassisted steering.
So with over 700,000 miles in its rear-view mirror, and a weary look to its bodywork, how much longer can this exceptional diesel-engined 504 keep going? Its owner, now 75, reckons it will see him out. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t keep on going. It has done pretty well so far,” he says. It certainly has.