Car launches were the staff of motoring correspondents’ lives. Still are. They had moments such as with the Peugeot 605. Co-driving with the late and much missed Michael Scarlett (below), technical editor of Autocar - we trusted each other with our lives – we raced across the Egyptian desert. It was blisteringly hot. The entire cavalcade of 4-valve 3 litre cars had an identical top speed of 146mph but mischievous Michael would turn off the air conditioning, releasing a few precious horsepower enabling us to pull ahead. Seemed innocent at the time although maybe not what you would confess to in a serious newspaper motoring column.
The Sunday Times 18 March 1990
PEUGEOT is bristling with confidence in its new 605, the luxury saloon to be launched in Britain this autumn. Having recovered from what Geoffrey Whalen, managing director of Peugeot UK, calls a nadir in its fortunes in 1984, when it sold barely 20,000 cars, a mere 1% of the British market, it is tackling the upper price sector with a car that will challenge BMW, Jaguar and the top Fords and Vauxhalls.
Peugeot is so sure of itself that to demonstrate the 605’s capacity for sustaining high speeds it arranged a press launch on the Nubian Desert, northeast Sudan between the Nile and the Red Sea. Across mile upon mile of sandy wastes, trackless but for a tarmac highway running south from Aswan to the repositioned temples of Abu Simbel, Peugeot showed it off under arduous conditions.
Desert heat and shifting sands ensure that, although for the most part arrow-straight, the road is never flat for long. But it is almost entirely free of traffic: in 150 miles of driving I encountered only half a dozen tourist buses, a lorry or two, and a train of 50 or 60 camels taking a rest (below).
But for some 20 other Peugeots going the same way, it would have been a worryingly lonely drive. There are no breakdown patrols, no roadside telephones and no watchful authority.
Covering one 90-mile leg in less than 45 minutes meant holding the car close to its top speed of nearly 150mph most of the way. It took the bumps in its stride, and apart from one case of slight over-heating due to sand clogging the radiator, all the cars ran faultlessly.
The 605 uses the Douvrin “co-operative” 3-litre V6, quite an old engine now, but smoothed out more successfully by Peugeot in the 605 than Citroën has managed in the XM. Powerful front-wheel drive cars can tug at the steering as the tyres pull the front round corners, a fault Peugeot seems to have countered by making the steering feel rather lifeless.
Six months after the successful launch in France of four- and six-cylinder petrol models, there are now turbo-diesel-engined and automatic transmission variants, which will round the range off nicely for its UK launch.
The petrol cars include a 24-valve high-performance version of the V6, which is more responsive and smoother than its immediate rivals from Ford and at least a match for the latest 24-valve Vauxhall Carlton and Senator. Depending on how competitively priced the 605 is, it could represent the best value in the executive luxury class.
Peugeot now commands 6% of the market, with 140,000 sales annually and three model ranges - the 205, 309 and 405. The arrival of the 605 is almost certain to enhance the figures when it arrives soon after the August bulge of H-registrations takes the road.
The Sunday Times 25 March 1990
Pirelli passes burst tyre test at 130mph
The high-speed drive across the Nubian Desert, described last week, was not without its hazards. Rocks strewn across the road, probably by a truck, punctured the right front Pirelli P700-2 of the Peugeot 605 I was driving, at something over 130mph. The result was a spectacular blow-out, providing an unexpected testimony to the safety of modern tyres and rims.
Sudden deflations with old-style rims would have set the tyre beads free to flop into the central well of the wheel, which would then have gouged into the road surface, probably leading to loss of control, perhaps even overturning the car.
The impact certainly burst the tyre and put a large dent in the split-rim alloy wheel, but the beads remained in place and although flat, the tyre ran sufficiently far to bring the car safely to a stop. There was a loud bang and a tug at the steering, but with some deft lightfoot braking, it was a case of steering to the side, stopping, and changing the wheel.
The tyre was destroyed with large cuts in the sidewall and the wheel badly damaged. The inner rim had been scored by the brake disc, such was the force of the impact, but the remainder of the journey was completed without further incident, the car steering, and braking as accurately as before, and feeling no different. It was a convincing demonstration of the wide safety margin of modern low-profile tyres, the incentive for whose development stemmed largely from motor racing.
I wrote calmly enough afterwards but it was quite dramatic at the time. It was the only occasion during our many long partnerships on press launches that Michael Scarlett was, momentarily, tense. The noise and commotion of the blowout was unmistakable. I knew at once that braking could be disastrous. “Don’t touch the brakes,” he said. He was as sensitive a driver as I. “Michael I was not touching the brakes,” I said, piqued perhaps that he should think I might. Thanks went to Peugeot and Pirelli.