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New vs old: the Peugeot 508 meets the 504

New Peugeot 508 comes together with the 504 to show the pace of progress

The two cars you see here share a bloodline, but the newer one will inevitably go on to lead quite a different life and write quite a different story in the annuls of all things Peugeot.

Between 1968 and 1983, more than three million examples of the older model, the 504, were built in Europe. Among them were saloons – like the 1979 TI we’ve got our hands on here – estate-bodied Break models, stylish Coupes, glamorous Cabriolets and even pick-ups.

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The 504 Saloon was Europe’s car of the year in 1969, but it’s not really its reputation on that continent that makes it such a special car in Peugeot’s history.

It lived a dual life. Despite the model being axed in Europe in the eighties, it continued on in Africa for a few decades more, assembled by Peugeot’s partners on the continent until this century.

While only a handful survive in the hands of enthusiasts on our streets, the 504 is still a staple in nations where easy, low- cost maintenance and a steady flow of spares are huge factors to consider when running a car. Given that the 504 has a bit of rallying pedigree, too, it’s no surprise that it can handle less-than-ideal roads, if you know how to drive it properly.

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But the new 508 is none of these things. While it’s quite obvious that a 50-year difference means that these two cars are very different to drive and look at, bringing them together shows just how much car buyers have changed, too.

The older car has a reputation as an automotive die-hard, building its legacy on tough terrain and high mileages away from its hospitable European birthplace.

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The newcomer doesn’t quite have these demands to live up to. Rather than being sold as a tool for the masses, it’s being pitched squarely as the most desirable and aspirational car from the French manufacturer in decades.

Given that large saloons are being squeezed by SUVs in Europe, Peugeot makes no bones about why the 508 exists: you’ll buy it because you want it, not because you necessarily need it.

Two quite different propositions, then, but they share something important that could be overlooked. Peugeot rarely recycles designs. When it’s time for a new model, it’s time for a clean sheet of paper, too, with only a handful of cars in the firm’s history eschewing the policy of adopting a revolutionary shape.

Look at the front of these cars, though, and you’ll spot something quite subtle. The badging on the 504’s nose has been brought back from the dead, to take pride of place on the front of the new 508.

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According to Peugeot design director Gilles Vidal, it signals a slight deviation in the firm’s radical design philosophy.

“It’s not retro design at all in any way, but it’s little hints from the past that we find relevant today, basically,” he says.

Vidal reckons that some will pick up on these subtle retro injections pretty quickly, while for others, it will pass into the mindset unconsciously. In this regard, he explains that there’s actually a bit more to the connection between 504 and 508. “The badge on the nose is a very obvious one, but if you look at the side view of the 504 and at the nose it’s got an acceleration, a change of direction,” he adds.

“If you look at the perfect side view of the 508 it’s got somehow something similar, an acceleration in the bonnet. It’s not a straight bonnet, it’s not a curved bonnet with a slowly evolving curve, but a kick, a sudden change of direction from the front.”

Regardless, the design boss promises that Peugeot will stay radical, and that from the 508 onwards the marque’s cars will still strike a balance in favour of new rather than old. “We need to find fresh ideas that bounce towards the future all the time, but also because we are one of the oldest brands in the world, we have a lot of interesting history,” he explains.

Vidal claims the ultimate goal is to establish Peugeot as a timeless marque, so the 508 probably won’t be its last car to borrow subtly from the past.

Click below for more on the new Peugeot 508...

Peugeot 508 uncovered

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