The Peugeot 504 Cabriolet bears little resemblance to its workaday saloon parent, a competent and rugged car that won favour in rough-terrain countries across Africa and South America.
Indeed, all it shared with its namesake were the underpinnings that gave it a sumptuous ride, solid chassis, and typically French refinement.
Its clean, classy lines were all the work of Franco Martinengo at Pininfarina, and that’s what first attracted Jerry Hoyle to the car when he first saw it back in the 1980s.
“I used to see this car around the village and I thought it was lovely – a good, cool car,” he says. “I loved the look of it – it just looked different, and the styling was beautiful.
“There was nothing else like it really – the only thing close to it was a Fiat 124 cabriolet.”
The car in question was owned by a lady called Di Macfarlane, who was the mother of Jerry’s younger sister, Lissy’s, best friend Sarah.
“I said to her at one point when I went to pick Lissy up from the house, ‘if you ever sell that car will you give me first refusal?’, and she said ‘of course’,” he says. “A couple of years later she said ‘right, I’m selling the car, do you want it?’
“I thought ‘well, I’d better buy it then’. So I paid about £900 for it, but I knew that it was pretty rotten and was perhaps not going to get another MoT without some serious work.”
That was on October 1, 1986, with the MoT due to expire just over seven weeks later.
Jerry drove the car for those few weeks, and was impressed – and surprised – at the Peugeot’s comfort and ride quality.
“Peugeots were renowned for their ride quality, so it’s a really good ride,” he says. “It feels solid and it’s reasonably agile for quite a heavy car. It’s not the fastest car in the world, but it’s quite nippy.”
However, it never made it to an MoT testing centre.
“I just knew it was going to fail,” he says. “It had holes in the sills, and I didn’t have the money in those days to do anything with it, so I just put it in a garage.
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“There was a pub we used to go to in Hertford and we knew the landlord. He was into cars and he had a double garage round the back of his garden, so I kept it in there for a couple of years.”
Jerry probably couldn’t have imagined at the time that it would be more than 30 years before the cabriolet would hit the road again, but a combination of work, finances, and children resulted in a very stuttering restoration project.
“When we moved up this way I had to move it and found a lock-up garage in a village called Codicote just outside Welwyn, and it was there for nearly 10 years,” he says. “I probably didn’t go and look at it year on year.
“I think I was just lucky that the garage rent was pretty cheap, only a couple of hundred pounds a year, so while it was there it wasn’t costing me anything really – it wasn’t a drain.”
When Jerry and his wife, Karen, moved into a new home in a village near Royston in about 1993, they finally had enough space to bring the Peugeot with them.
“We had a double garage, happy days,” he says, “but it was beyond me to do anything with the bodywork, the state it was in.
“I had to get someone specialised to do it, so I stripped everything out in the garage and gave it to Rob Ransley, near Royston, as a rolling bodyshell.
“He had the car for more than a year – I asked him to just have the car as a fill in job to make the payments easier for me.”
Jerry kept a note of the payments, nearly £7,000 between June 1993 and August 1994 on a full body restoration including a respray in the car’s original silver.
While the body was away, he got on with rebuilding the engine, something he was far more comfortable with as a mechanical engineer by trade.
In the first decade of its life, the Peugeot had been well-used as a daily driver, with about 120,000 miles already under its belt.
Jerry had the crank reground and head skimmed, installed a new set of pistons and liners, replaced a couple of valves, and sent the Kugelfischer fuel injection unit away to a specialist in Nottingham to be refurbished and recalibrated.
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Another house move, and a slightly bigger double garage gave Jerry the space to crack on with putting the car back together. In theory.
“I thought ‘I’ve got a bit of a chance of doing it now’, but I took some bits off and that’s about it – I stalled again nearly 30 years ago,” he says. “It wasn’t just as simple as putting the engine back in, there was all the interior to do, the running gear and everything.
“And that’s when the first of our children was born, so time was spent in other areas.”
And so the 1974 cabriolet, one of the just nine on the road in the UK according to the HowManyLeft website, remained tucked away in a state of undress.
The 504 saloon was launched in 1968 to replace the 404, and won the European Car of the Year award for 1969, when the two-door coupe and cabriolet versions were introduced at the Salon de Geneva.
Built on the same platform as the saloon, but with an entirely new body, the cabriolet had a shorter wheelbase and overall length, and sat four inches lower on the road.
Under the bonnet was a fuel-injected 1971cc, four-cylinder engine producing 103bhp, with a top speed of a claimed 110mph.
Comparisons with the Fiat 124 Spider, also styled by Pininfarina, mostly focus on the rear end that tapers down to a cut-off Kamm tail.
The cabriolets were never manufactured by Peugeot in right hand drive, and Jerry’s car is a rare conversion by Hodec Engineering in Surrey, who also converted the ill-fated DeLorean.
Hodec would take brand new cars from the Peugeot and convert them to right hand drive before they were sold as new in dealerships.
It wasn’t until autumn 2019 that Jerry found the time to embark on the final leg of the restoration, with the help of the youngest of his three sons, Harry, who was 18 at the time.
“He’s always been interested in doing it, so he helped me with the mechanical side of things when it was up on axle stands in the garage,” he says. “It then became a sort of lockdown project from March 2020 and, by the end of the year, it was running but was not 100 per cent ready to be used on the road.”
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Following a winter break, Jerry resumed work in spring 2021, spending three months finishing off the interior, with re-covered seats and a new set of carpets, and fitting a new hood.
After 35 years and a total spend just shy of £15,000, the Peugeot was finally ready for a shakedown on the country roads around Jerry’s home.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “I look at it and think, ‘that’s really cool, and I put it back together’. I can’t take credit for the paintwork and panel fit, which is all important in these things.
“When I first took it out, just driving down the road here, you’re thinking ‘what’s going to break? What have I done here? I can’t believe I’ve got this thing working again – I hope it’s OK’.
“Each time I use it, it’s always at the back of my mind – ‘is this a journey I’m going to get back from?’
“But it’s always got me back, with only a couple of small glitches.”
In the past two years, the car has mostly been used locally, with sons Charlie and Elliott joining their brother Harry as passengers.
“It’s really just used for going to the pub for a pint on a Sunday lunchtime in the nice weather when the boys are back, and stuff like that,” says Jerry, now 64.
“We did go over to Shelsey Walsh hillclimb near Worcester, because I have a mate, Nick Fell, who lives near there who has a Citroen DS he’s just beautifully restored.
“Although I’ve got to be careful here, because I put it on a trailer and drove it the last 20 miles to Shelsey Walsh…
“It wasn’t running quite right, and I didn’t have the confidence to go all the way to Worcester.”
At the time of our interview, Jerry and Karen were due to take the Peugeot down to Troyes in France, with Nick and his DS, in the summer of 2023.
He admitted to a certain amount of apprehension ahead of the 1,000-mile trip but, in the event, the couple’s modern car took the strain.
“We had to switch to the modern German convertible after the Peugeot developed a fuel vaporising problem in the hot weather,” he says now.
“The trip was fab anyway, and Nick’s DS wafted us around the French countryside with many admiring looks.
“But we are planning to do another trip next year with the DS and a fully functioning 504.”
Given the car has only covered about 2,000 of its total 124,000 miles in the past 35 years, it will be the first real test of Jerry’s rebuild.
It’s also possible he will see one or two other 504 cabriolets on his travels – depending on the weather.
“I haven’t seen another one for a long time,” he says. “There was a chap who had one locally 20-odd years ago, but his fell apart as well and I think it got scrapped in the end.
“These days, people come up and, if they know the car, they’ll come and say ‘fantastic, you don’t see many of these around, it must be really rare, I’ve always loved them’, that sort of thing, and other people will say ‘what’s that?’”
Having finally completed the restoration, Jerry admits that his head could be turned by another project, maybe a Lancia Fulvia or Lotus Elan.
But he would face stiff opposition if he ever proposed selling the Peugeot.
“I love the car, but I’ve got to see how much I use it,” he says. “I’m not really into just sitting on stuff like that.
“I’m not overly sentimental, but it does mean something to me, and the thing that will stop me selling it is my boys, because they just love it and say ‘dad, you cannot sell that car’.
“They’ve all been in it now, but they mostly know it as something that’s been in the garage that they leant their bikes up against, hence it’s now got scratches on it. It was a little bit of their childhood.”
Would any of them want to take on the car one day?
“Yes, after family discussions I’ve been told never to sell the car as the three boys will take it on jointly,” says Jerry.
“The only concession I’ve managed to negotiate is that I may sell it to ward off any impending bankruptcy, and then only to them, and presumably at a much discounted price!”