The Peugeot Company, started by the Peugeot family originally began its life as an ironmonger. Instead of cars the main items manufactured were coffee grinders and bicycles. It was not until 1876 that the company first started to make cars for the French public. The first cars were steam driven although in later years, with the help of Daimler; the internal combustion engine was adopted as the preferred means of propulsion.
In 1891 the first of these petrol driven cars was driven from Beaulieu-Valentigney to Paris and then onto Brest. The acclaim gained for this amazing feat cemented the car in the hearts of the French public and as a result the company sold three hundred cars in 1899, a marked improvement on the five sold in 1891. The range was further improved when the steering tiller was replaced with the wheel and electric ignition systems were added in 1902.
Development naturally continued in the 1910's when Peugeot once again entered the world of motor sport. With the help of Ettore Bugatti the cars were further improved with stylistic design and an engine that produced an impressive ten horsepower. Examples of these models can still be seen today in the French National Automobile Museum located in the town of Mulhouse.
After the First World War Peugeot steamed ahead with production, producing their one hundred thousandth car in 1925, the cars of this era predominantly had three cylinder engines although at this time the company were experimenting with two stroke diesel models. Strangely in 1926 cars were produced for the first time with front brakes, previously cars had only had braking systems in the rear. During the late twenties Peugeot even released a sports car using a six cylinder Bugatti engine that had been supercharged.
The thirties saw Peugeot produce the first ever electrically retractable roof, a development that the company is still proud of. During the war the company also produced an electric car named the VLV Electrique. After the war the company was also one of the first to re-establish production lines selling almost fourteen thousand model 202's in 1946. During the fifties Peugeot still managed to dominate the European markets. In 1955 the model 403 was the first car ever to break the one million units produced mark. Also during this decade the company entered the American car market.
The sixties and seventies were a seminal period for the company. The release of the Pininfarina designed 404 dawned a period of success all over the world in terms of sales as well as success in the Safari Rally. This period also saw Peugeot produce its five millionth car. The company managers also decided to expand in this period, taking over rival manufacturer Citroen in 1975 thanks to the financial assistance offered by the French government. The new company was labelled PSA although this was purely a parent company as both members of the group wanted to keep the identities of the two brands distinctly separate. The expansion however did not stop there; the company launched a successful bid to take over the European division of Chrysler in 1978.
This expansion meant that the company has overstretched itself and the early eighties were a time of financial uncertainty for PSA. Thankfully, the release of the immensely popular 205 in 1983 meant that the company was able to revive its fortunes and carry on producing distinctly French cars. Today, despite having to close the Coventry factory the company is still striving to produce cars that have a French nature and are popular with drivers of all ages. The motoring giant may be far removed from its humble coffee grinding heritage, but the traditions of this family company have not been forgotten.
Motoring expert Thomas Pretty looks into the history of Peugeot cars from the turn of the century to the modern day.