Most French cars of the 1980s and before were weirdly styled, horribly unreliable, slow, and possessed a combination of pillowy ride and freak-show interior ergonomics. This combination proved to be either immediately endearing or nausea-inducing to Americans.
The Citroen CX, for example, was such a car--my lust for that vehicle marks me as one of those unfortunates genetically predisposed to French cars. I'm hoping medical science finds some pharmacological help for me before I do something I regret.*
If it is at all possible for a French car to be in the American mainstream--and I'm not at all convinced that this possibility exists--then the Peugeot 505 was it. It replaced the typically strange 504, but set itself apart from the diverse oddness of other French cars.
Smart buyers bypassed the gutless base four-cylinder, but real power was available from either a smooth V-6 in the STX, or a punchy turbo. Its handling was almost sporty, and its driving manners were endearing. Its handsomely crisp sedan lines were reminiscent of a contemporary BMW 7-series, but with just a hint of Gallic expressiveness--which, like the pungent bleu cheese of which the French are so fond, is best used in strict moderation lest it overwhelm the basic flavor. The 505 was also available as a good-looking wagon.
The 505 sold like hotcakes in America, at least by French car standards. Which is to say, Toyota has probably spilled more Corollas off the docks than Peugeot sold 505s. Nonetheless, you can still find 505s on the road, and for me at least, a used 505 is a dangerously seductive option. There were a cornucopia of interesting European sports coupes and sedans available in the 1980s, and for me the Peugeot 505 was one of the most interesting of the group. Viva la difference!
I've included a creepy and bizarre 505 commercial below--evidently a 505 driving through your window and coming to a stop in your bedroom is proof positive that the French brought the same inspiration to the 505 as they do, um, in the bedroom. That's information we don't get from Chevy and Ford.
The handsome 505s featured here all belong to Peugeot Club of North America members. The top 505 STX belongs to Rick Matteis, the gray 505 STi belongs to Mike Murphy, and the gorgeous 505 GLS wagon belongs to Jim Lill.
* I once came this close to purchasing a windshield-less diesel Peugeot 504 in a level of condition that could best be described as not "Excellent," not "Good," not even "Poor," but rather "returning to the earth from whence it came." Fortunately, my horrified friends staged an intervention and brought me to my senses. I still get goosebumps and cold sweat when I think about that near-miss.