You might probably have heard about a rare cousin of the Mercedes G: the Peugeot P4. The P4 is basically a G-Wagen although it would not be fair to simply refer to it as a mere CKD- (or completely knocked down) produced Geländewagen.
The ancestors of the P4 can be traced back to 1950 when Peugeot presented its 203 model. The 203 R had a 1,209-cc petrol engine rated at 48.5 HP, while the 203 RA and RB had the engine of the 403, with 64 HP at 3,500 rpm. All models had a four-speed gearbox and a high/low ratio transfer box. Peugeot presented this range of vehicles to the French Army with hopes of being granted lucrative contracts. The design of the car was aesthetically very much based in the pre-war Jeep, particularly in its rear half. However, it was never mass-produced and the adventure ended with 13 units made of the military version, some of which were RHD, plus four intended for agricultural use. One of the military units has been restored by Peugeot and can be seen at the marque´s museum in Sochaux.
In fact, the vehicle that the French military chose instead was the Hotchkiss M-201, a license-version of the pre-war American Jeep. The history of these cars deserves a little attention. In 1954 Hotchkiss -then a luxury car manufacturer- built its last car and merged with Delahaye to be involved in license building the Jeep. All the parts of the American car were exact to those of its French alter ego. Hotchkiss-Delahaye built more than 40,000 units of the Jeep between 1954 and 1969 under the make of Hotchkiss-Willys until Willys was taken over by Kaiser Jeep in 1963.
In the 1960s these jeeps were technically obsolete and most were also quite aged. France, Germany and Italy embarked on a program named “Jeep Europa” to design and build a total of 50,000 units of a 4x4 light troop transport vehicle, which, after many redundant and contradictory demands on the part of the military of the three countries, was abandoned. In the meantime, the Franch army had to make do with buying 9,000 Citroën Meharis to at least cover the on-the-road transportation needs, so that the usable life of the Hotchkiss-Willys could be extended until a definitive solution was found.
In 1981 the French Ministère de la Défense Nationale decided to finally replace the existing Hotchkiss-Willys of the army which at that time were falling to bits. Peugeot showed keen interest in the ministry call for entries to the tender for awarding this large contract from the very beginning and consequently contacted the maker they believed had then the most suitable off-roader for military use. As a result of this a contract with the Geländefahrzeuggesellschaft mbH (or GFG) was signed so that Peugeot could bid for the tender.
French being French, other potential bidders knew that they had no option unless they were French or were allied with a French manufacturer. Thus, other bidders were Renault-Fiat, which presented a Fiat Campagnola powered with a Renault 20 engine and Citroën-VW, which did likewise with a Citroën CX Athena-powered Volkswagen Iltis.
Peugeot was ultimately awarded with a contract to supply 15,000 units of a modern off-road vehicle or VLTT (Véhicule de liaison tout-terrain), an amount which was subsequently reduced to 13,500 as a result of budget cuts. Mercedes would deliver the steering box and front and rear axles (with 5.33:1 reduction as fitted in the 240 GD), and SDP the chassis, transfer box and most of the body parts in unprotected and unpainted form, leaving the engine and main gearbox to be sourced from the Peugeot range. Early P4s were powered by the XN8 type 2 litre engine from the saloons 504 and 505 or its equivalent oil-burner. The gearbox was directly taken from the 604 saloon having only four gears. The factory in Sochaux assembled the body and its mechanical organs, made the hoods and did all the bodywork welding and paintwork. All in all Peugeot the car was 50% French, according to the value of the inputs used to produce it.
The terms and conditions agreed in the contract signed with the GFG restrained considerably the marketing prospects on the P4 for civilian use, whereas the license fees in this case made the final price highly uneconomical. As an example, in 1987 the basic diesel P4 pick-up had a price tag in France of FF 182,000, then equivalent to 20,000 GBP, while a Land Rover 90 DT was a mere 12,000.
Notwithstanding the above, Peugeot undertook the distribution of the P4 with a basic civil version similar to the one intended for the Military. It was a short wheel base soft top with fabric hood and doors. Under the bonnet breathed either a 2-litre petrol with 83.5 HP or a 2.5 naturally aspirated diesel with 75 HP. The maximum speed achieved with the diesel (XD3 155) was measured at 108 km/h. But, despite the lack of on-road punch due to the meagre engines, and thanks to the unloaded weight reduced to 1,895 kilograms, the P4 still retained most of the off-road capabilities of the G-Wagen, except for those that could only be brought about the inexistent differential lock at the front axle.
It was Panhard, the PSA Group subsidiary for production of military vehicles, who assembled the P4 as the orders were received from the Army. As for the bodies, there were short- and long wheel base (2,400/2,800 mm between axles respectively) soft tops with foldable windscreen and fabric hood and doors. In addition to these, equivalent hardtops were also available. All typically had two seats in front plus two longitudinal benches in the rear. Some were also armoured for use of the French military. The P4 is also used by a handful of armies among the French speaking countries in Africa with whom France had defence agreements, since all other exports were specifically banned by the agreement with GFG.
A few years after being made, all petrol-powered military P4s were converted to diesel power. It was rumoured that the similar performance did not justify the existence of the less economical petrol unit, let alone the logistic complications of bringing this different fuel to war areas. Many were fitted with the much more appropriate Turbo-diesel intercooled XD3(T/TE) 2.5 L (2498 cc) engine as fitted to the Peugeot 505.
Aesthetically, the P4 looks more different to the G-Wagen than the scarcity of different parts might suggest. Looking at the photographs is easy to spot the big Peugeot lion on the grille and the big letters on the front edge of the bonnet, but the differences don’t end here: the signal lights are fitted below the headlamps, which are square shaped. The P4, like the G-Wagen, can be ordered with no conventional doors – these are fabric made – thus the mirrors in this car are fixed to the body, not to the doors. The seats are round shaped at the top and have no headrests. And finally, that A-bar on the front bumper is exclusive of the P4.
The even rarer P4 V6
The P4 entered in four Paris-Dakar. In June 1984, ASA 1000, an association of motorsport fans formed by members of the French army obtained the green light from the Direction de la Coopération Industrielle for the production of two P4’s powered by the PRV V6 engine, a 2.8 litre V6 with 170 HP that was then commonly used by Citroën, Renault and Volvo as well as by Peugeot. This is the sort of power that a 300 GE delivers and therefore I presume that the car was a great step forward in terms of performance as compared with the standard P4.
Jean-Louis Maigret was not only lucky enough as to be in charge of the development of the car in the test track of Peugeot at Belchamps, but also of adapting the BA 105 gearbox to the PRV engine. For all this, he was granted the pleasure of driving the second of these special P4’s in the Dakar. (What I do not know is how did they sort out the issue of the small gearing of the 5.33 axles as they were fitted to the standard P4 in the hugely more powerful V6. Maybe they just fitted the 4.88 from the 280 GE and 300 GD)
Both P4’s entered the seventh edition of the Paris-Dakar 1985. Maigret had to abandon in Agadez due to mechanical fault but this was compensated by the encouraging 27th place in the general classification obtained by Pasture/Boin, among 337 cars and 55 trucks.
The following year, the P4 was given an extra 10 HP making a total of 180 that entitled it to make a successful 16th in the general classification of 1986.
The P4 entered also the 1987 and 1988 editions as quick assistance vehicles for the Peugeot 205 T16 of Ari Vatanen and Juha Kankkunen respectively.
But this is not the end of the V6 history of the P4. In 1989 Corrado Provera, chief of the DINF or Direction de l’Information Peugeot decided to make a radical move to innovate the marketing of Peugeot cars through a memorable experience: to organise the crossing of the Sahara desert for motor journalists at the steering wheel of all the models of the Peugeot range: the 205, 309, 405 and 605, barely prepared for the event. But since all these Peugeot models are only 2WD, it was decided to reinforce the organisation of the Piste des Lions in November 1990 with five P4 V6. These were LWB with windowless hard-tops.
This was re-edited in 1994 for the Rallye de la paix when a herd of 306’s driven by international journalists crossed for the first time the so far hermetic frontiers between Egypt, Israel and Jordan. This time seven P4’s were engaged in the event: five of the were LWB chassis cab version adapted as mobile workshops and painted in red and the 2 remaining were white LWB hardtops with windows. But once again, the V6 PRV engine powered all of them. As seen in the photographs, the rims of the P4 V6 seem to be exclusive of this model.
Finally, in January 1997 the Peugeot P-4s were used again during a test drive that was organised in Mauritania for the journalists to drive the prototype Peugeot Partner Grand Raid, developed by Durisotti in pick-up 4x2 versions. This car was used as the basis for the extraordinary Dangel developed 4x4 which was launched in 1999. This car combined the practicality of a minivan with all wheel drive, transfer box with high/low ratios and 100% lockable central differential, making it more capable that many of the poshest current off-roaders.