Just for fun II - SLO76
Watching an old episode of Top Gear in which they argue that Lancia is the car company which to date has built the largest number of truly great cars for me thinking which would I pick. It certainly wouldn’t be Lancia who’ve built some terrible rot bucket rubbish over the years with only a few high spots early doors and even fewer post Fiat. I don’t even rate the Delta Integrale which was hugely expensive, very fragile, had a terrible driving position, a nasty gearbox and was left hand drive only.

Fairly easy question to answer for me and I don’t head in the direction most would expect. No it’s not Honda, Mazda or Toyota, though I do rate much of what Mazda in particular have done over the years. They’ve a real passion for cars with the sweet Mk I MX5, storming final RX7 Turbo and quirky Xedos from the late 80’s into the 90’s and the later post Ford era range, all of which are a pleasure to own as long as you avoid the diesels which for some reason Mazda just can’t get right.

No the firm I’d pick is Peugeot. Yup, the very firm I often recommend you avoid like the plague is my favourite car manufacturer of all time. The evidence as follows...

504 - The car that conquered Africa. Robust, simple, comfortable and practical, these were brilliant family workhorses back in their day and stayed in production in one form or another for decades.

505 - As above but nicer to look at, drive and sit in. Particularly the 2.2 GTi

205 - The best supermini by a country mile in the 80’s, these were tough, cute and great to drive. Almost all were outstanding but my favourites were the 205 GTi 1.9 for obvious reasons a legend among hot hatchbacks, the 205 1.4 XS a mild hatch that was faster and better than an XR2 but much cheaper to insure and the 205 GRD 5dr which was comfortable, practical, cheap to run and fit for 250k plus if looked after.

306 - The best small hatch of its time, light years ahead of rivals and directly responsible for Ford making the Mk I Focus such a pleasure as this was the target for driver appeal. The 1.9 Dturbo was cheap to insure, did 50mpg and went like stink in the midrange. The 306 XRdt as before but two more doors and a bit more comfortable, the GTi-6 which was possibly the best hot hatch ever made. In fact there’s no real duffer except early base models with no power steering, they were too heavy without.

405 - A joy to pilot down a twisting B road at a time when rivals were utterly dull to drive. Early cars were poorly made but post facelift models from 93 were excellent especially the turbo diesels and the Mi16.

406 - One of the most comfortable and toughest cars of its time. The perfect minicab or rep mobile, designed to cover vast mileages. I’ve seen 2.0 HDi’s with a million miles up and still running. Lovely big armchair seats too.

106 - Nimble and fun yet cheap and reliable. Particular fondness for the original 1.4 XSi and later 1.6 GTi 16v. Lasted well too with loads still running around.

It’s a shame the firm lost their way in the naughties but lately form has been found again with most of their range from the fun but cheap 108 upwards showing real flair. They’re good to look at and to drive again though I wish they’d take a Ford or Mazda gearbox apart to learn how to do it properly, it’s always been a weak point with Peugeot.

Edited by SLO76 on 29/02/2020 at 02:17

Just for fun II - badbusdriver

I think it is a little unfair to dismiss Lancia on the grounds of some of the duff cars they have made over the years (by far the majority of which came after the Fiat takeover in 1969) considering Peugeot have also made some real duffers. Personally, i'd rate Lancia's achievements much higher than Peugeot's.

Lancia were genuine innovators, really pushing car design forwards (especially the engineering), focussing making the car as good as was possible regardless of the cost. This of course, ultimately led to the downfall of the company as the money just wasn't there to support this mentality (and hence the Fiat takeover), but does not in any way detract from the greatness of cars like the Aprillia, Appia, Aurelia, Fulvia, Lambda, Flavia, Flaminia, etc.

By contrast, none of the Peugeot's in your list are in any way, innovative. They simply refined an existing concept or idea. That isn't to say i don't like Peugeot's, far from it, but i just don't see your choices as being as important or innovative.

Also, your Peugeot list mostly contains cars which you have cited due to how well they drove in comparison to the competition, which is fair enough, and true. But Lancia was making cars which drove (considerably in most cases) better than the competition decades before Peugeot did.

Just for fun II - paul 1963

I tend to agree bbd, the intergrale was a road legal competition car and as such was never going to be perfect, I would have one in my dream garage.

My vote goes to Ford after all they gave us the model T ........

Just for fun II - nellyjak

Lancia.?...now that brings back memories.

I've had two...both Fulvias..the first one was superb (apart from the Dunlop brakes it had..but you got used to them)...maroon coloured leather interior and a sliding sun roof....held the road like a limpet..loved it...sold a Rover 2000TC to buy it...the second one turned out to be rubbish.. a rot box....it was round about then (early 1970's) that I started to take car purchases more seriously...!!

Wish I'd kept that first one..stored...would be worth a small fortune now.

Gotta confess I've always been a big Volvo fan too...having had the 260..the 760 and V70

Just for fun II - SLO76
“ Gotta confess I've always been a big Volvo fan too...having had the 260..the 760 and V70”

Grew up with Volvo’s so I also have a soft spot for them. We had several 340’s, a 240GLT and a 440 turbo. I always wanted a black 480ES despite knowing it wasn’t actually all that great in reality. Volvo pushed safety long before anyone else and I remember an article in What car in the early 90’s which ran a crash test of the big execs and the Volvo 740 was about the best of them and vastly superior to the Carlton, Nissan Maxima and Renault 25 which all crumpled. Only thing that against them is that they’re no real fun to drive.
Just for fun II - John F

My vote goes to Ford after all they gave us the model T ........

Mine nearly did, but Armand Peugeot predates Henry Ford. As for Peugeot gearboxes, they are best when sourced from Aisin.

Just for fun II - SLO76
“ My vote goes to Ford after all they gave us the model T ........”

Ford were up there. They started the mass manufacturing which MAF cars available to us mere mortals and they’ve made some outstanding cars in the past.

Ford Escort Mk II RS2000
Ford Sapphire Cosworth 4wd
Ford Focus Mk I
Ford Mondeo Mk I
Ford Puma Mk I
Ford Capri Mk I
Ford Focus Mk II ST

But for too much of their existence they’ve sat back on their laurels and built rubbish. Mk V Escort being the finest (or worst) example of this. A load of utter rubbish compared to rivals.

Just for fun II - SLO76
For me it was the sheer driver enjoyment, the way almost any Peugeot from the 80’s and 90’s in particular could glide its way round a series of bends but without shattering your spine on potholes and speed bumps. The steering feel was a delight particularly whether power assisted or not. Yet they also gave you a practical but handsome body and great longterm reliability. A few typically ropey French electronics aside, they typically outlived most rivals with class leading rust protection and simple but robust engines and transmissions.

I say that the firm were innovators in that they pushed forward chassis development, they built cars for ordinary people that offered pleasure instead of simple mundane transportation. Compare the 205 with the mass market offerings of the era then look to today’s, they’re all much more driver focussed than before and we have Peugeot to thank for pushing them. Drive a Ford Escort before then jump forward to the Focus which was their response to the 306 and you see exactly what a Peugeot brought.

I’ve driven a Lancia Integrale and was hugely disappointed. The driving position was horrid, the gearbox was imprecise and the synchromesh weak on the 60,000 mile example I drove. There was loads of turbo lag but it certainly did fly down the road when it wound itself up and offered loads of grip. The doors were known for flying open as the locks failed and the thing rotted like it was the 1970’s again while the trim both inside and out disintegrated if you touched it. The best Delta I ever drove was actually the booted Prisma 1.6ie I took as a part ex against a Mazda 323F which felt better screwed together, perhaps it was just a rare good example. That said one of the rear doors flew open with the next owner, much to his annoyance especially when we wouldn’t fix it since it was a trade car.

I would’ve taken a vastly cheaper 205, 309 GTi, a 405 MI 16 or a Golf GTI over one any day of the week and that’s without factoring in the left hand drive only and the huge price tag. An Audi Quattro 20v was a far better built thing that offered similar performance for not that much more money.
Just for fun II - badbusdriver

So innovation for Lancia?, monocoque construction to make the car stiffer and lower the centre of gravity (therefore greatly improve the handling), independent suspension to keep the wheels in contact with the road and deliver a far superior ride than was typical and make the car drive (also greatly improving the handling), first production V6 and V4 engines to liberate maximum interior space within a given wheelbase, using a fully integrated electrical system for the first time in a production car (certainly in Europe).

Peugeot?, refining existing chassis technology to make the car better to drive. Personally i would class that as evolution rather than innovation.

As for the Integrale?, very much from the post Fiat takeover era so not really the type of Lancia i admire. However, it's record in rallying pretty much speaks for itself. And following the demise of Group B, the Integrale's which were winning rallys were much closer to the cars you could buy. Yes, the Quattro was much better built, but it was also heavier and its layout meant there was far more of that weight on the nose meaning the rally drivers really had their work cut out manhandling the car through twisty stages. It was only really the four wheel drive which gave the car its advantage and success, whereas when the Integrale was competing, and winning, it was on a level playing field where every other car was also four wheel drive.

But the Integrale aside, focussing purely on the lesser Lancia's of the Fiat era simply because it makes the Peugeots you mention look better, still isn't a fair comparison. Looking at the company over its full history, its achievements are far greater, and more significant than anything Peugeot have done.

Just for fun II - Andrew-T

Personally, i'd rate Lancia's achievements much higher than Peugeot's. By contrast, none of the Peugeot's in your list are in any way, innovative. They simply refined an existing concept or idea.

That raises a philosophical question: is it better to innovate, or to refine ?

Just for fun II - SLO76
“ That raises a philosophical question: is it better to innovate, or to refine ?”

The latter. The innovators suffer the faults and flaws and customer upset while those who refine an idea reap the benefits. The Japanese and German firms came to dominate by sticking with simple technology and evolving it rather than breaking new ground.

To me it’s not really about being first to the table with an idea it’s about how they create the full package, how they make everything work. The Fiat as a firm were good at designing fantastic looking cars and brilliant engines but making it all come together in a coherent package was almost always beyond them. Think most Alfa, Fiat and Lancia products of from the 70’s onwards.

The Alfa 164, a glorious looking big exec with wonderful engines especially the V6’s should’ve been a winner but it was poorly made and the handling was never quite right. The usually disintegrated before their 5th birthday and were never off the dealers ramps. On paper great but in reality a disappointment. The Peugeot’s I list above are the opposite. Simple on paper but they just feel right in almost every way,

A few other cars that were innovators but deeply flawed spring to mind...

Alfa Sud - A handsome little sports saloon that was a joy to drive. It was highly advanced for its day but poor quality and terrible reliability blighted it.

Alfa 75 - Another innovator with perfect weight distribution thanks to the gearbox over the rear wheels but poorly executed. A Pug 505 was the better car to drive despite its much simpler specifications and vastly longer lived.

Lancia Montecarlo - Pretty and pretty awful too. Lethal brakes when it first appeared and terrible quality. It was reengineered and lost the brake servo leaving more progressive but weaker brakes that were less likely to throw you through a hedge.

Mk I Alfa GTV - Terrible quality and awful gearbox combined with weird driving position conspired to ruin what should’ve been a brilliant car.

Fiat X19 - A pretty little coupe based on simple Fiat components but was never developed further leaving it hopelessly out of date by the mid 80’s. Terrible gearbox ruined am otherwise nice drive.

Mazda RX8 - A rare error by the firm, it was a great car in search of a good engine. Turbine smooth but no torque and terrible economy plus it tended to wear out before it hit 70,000 miles and was known for faulty electric steering racks. These sold well but few survive today. The rotary motor needs a turbo to be any use at normal road speeds but better yet a turbocharged L series 4cyl from the MX5 would’ve made it a winner.

Yes earlier pre-Fiat Lancia’s were nice and the quality good but they cost crippling money compared to rivals and sold accordingly bankrupting the company. I think part of being a great car is affordability and early Lancia's were the preserve of the wealthy. Peugeot built great cars we could all afford to enjoy at their peak.

Just for fun II - SLO76
I am of course basing my findings on my own experience and I’ve yet to drive a Lancia I would define as a good car. All were deeply flawed and period road tests of others I haven’t driven weren’t showering them in glory either in most cases. The pre Fiat era cars were works of art but equally were hugely overpriced and beyond reason for ordinary people while Peugeot have created loads of models which are attainable and an absolute joy to drive. This is however a personal thing so everyone will have different opinions.

Some of the greatest drives I’ve experienced have came behind the wheel of a Peugeot. From a basic 106 1.1, a 205 1.8 diesel, 205 GTi, a 405mi 16 or a 306 turbo diesel all were a true pleasure to hurry down a twisting road and all offered comfort and decent reliability too. They lost my interest when they allowed the bean counters to take over in the naughties with God awful cars like the 307 and 407 which were real retrograde steps. Today they’re back on form but maybe a bit too gadget laden for me and depreciation is steep. I’d love to see a basic 208 Sporty with that excellent 3cyl 1.2 turbo motor but no doubt the only hot hatch will be some £30,000 200hp plus rarity.

I still personally believe that in the history of the car Peugeot have made the greatest number of truly great cars. They might not have been the first to come up with new ideas but they’ve shown greatness in designing affordable cars that look right and drive brilliantly. Others will think differently and it’s a pleasure to discuss.

Edited by SLO76 on 29/02/2020 at 16:40

Just for fun II - edlithgow

By contrast, none of the Peugeot's in your list are in any way, innovative. They simply refined an existing concept or idea. That isn't to say i don't like Peugeot's, far from it, but i just don't see your choices as being as important or innovative.

Well, "great" and "innovative" might not be the same thing.

If they for the sake of argument, are, then its hard to pass the Citroen DS

Considered againt its rivals at the time, its Starship Enterprise versus Atlas "spam in the can" rocket.

Just for fun II - Avant

If we all sat down separately and produced a list of the top 5 or top 10 'greatest' cars, we'd all come up with something different. That's because we'd each define 'greatest' differently.

I'm quite near you, SLO, in thinking that 'it’s not really about being first to the table with an idea; it’s about how they create the full package, how they make everything work'.

Trying hard to avoid the overused word 'iconic', I can think of trendsetters like the Ford Model T, the Mini and the VW Beetle.... but each of these was hopelessly outdated by the end of its production run.

Maybe nearer the mark would be cars that set a standard rather then just a trend - and then maintain the standard through updates and refinements. Like the VW Golf, BMW 3-series, Mazda MX-5; and perhaps the Toyota Corolla - not remotely innovative, but all those millions who buy one, and then another and another, can't be wrong.

This is in contrast to some models which start something significant, but then their makers allow competitors to catch up and do the job better (e.g. Renault Espace and Scenic, Nissan Leaf). Peugeot seem to have managed to do the opposite with the 2008 and 3008: the originals weren't very good, but the current models are among the class leaders.

Just for fun II - barney100

Remenber the old Pugs in Kenya being hammered and they took everything in their stride. My vote for great cars is Mercedes. The Pagoda's, gull wings, the brilliant S class.... out of my price bracket but was once loaned one. A visit to Brooklands is a must for Mercedes fans.

Just for fun II - primus 1

I had an Alfa sud, great car lots of torque steer, and I swear, on a clear, still night, if you listened very carefully, you could hear the tin worm munching merrily away at your pride and joy....

Just for fun II - John F

I would add the Peugeot 309 to SLO76's list. About twenty years ago I bought a couple of old ones for my two sons - about £400 each. Both petrol; the older one had the OHV engine and the slightly newer one had the OHC. They lasted them for years - bomb proof powertrains and bodywork that refused to rust. Apparently over one and a half million were built. Visitors to France will still see them around, even though they were discontinued in 1993.

Just for fun II - SLO76
“I would add the Peugeot 309 to SLO76's list.”

Good wee cars, best driver in its class. Later TU series models and diesels were great. A bit flimsy inside but otherwise very robust.

Ask Honest John

Value my car