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This Peugeot 604 Is One Man’s Obsessive Restoration

Manufacturing the “turbodiesel” badge affixed to the back of this 1984 Peugeot 604 took Harjeet S. Kalsi two full weeks. With painstaking precision, he recreated the original font, milling a single thin piece of aluminum, micron by micron. Prototypes were made and discarded. He then mixed two batches of resin, getting the tint just right before pouring them into the millimeters-deep cavity. The excess was carefully hand-sanded away, and the piece then buffed to a spotless sheen. That’s how much effort went into just the badge.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

Witness what is likely the most perfect Peugeot 604 on the planet. An uncommon car when new, the 604 is now basically extinct. Inquiries about parts availability are usually met with a Gallic shrug, and to be blunt, few people still care about this car. But Kalsi does. To him, restoring this car is about setting the world back in balance.

We’ve met Kalsi before when Car and Driver featured a look at his unusually reliable 1982 Aston-Martin Lagonda. Yes, you’ve just read the words “reliable” and “Lagonda” in the same sentence. “I don’t think there’s really any car I’m afraid of working on,” Kalsi says. It’s not bragging, just quiet confidence.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

His Lagonda is completely bananas. Painted a bright teal, it looks like the kind of thing Lando Calrissian would win in an illegal Cloud City poker game. Low, long, and with a jaw-dropping interior, it is at once a car and also a rift in the space-time continuum.

Next to that alligator-hide jumpsuit, the 604 appears as reserved as a scowling French banker. Look closer and the perfection of this car is just as shocking as the garish Aston. The shut lines are all even and identical. The Marchal lights are polished as bright as a young cat’s gaze. The lower valence looks brand new. Further, no other 604 has mirror-straight flanks like this one—the factory manufacturing process always warped the rear doors into a slight concave. Kalsi smoothed them into perfection with the patience of one of the takumi who hand-chamfer the flanks of the Toyota Century.

It’s the work of a clearly very patient mechanic. But then, what else might you expect from someone who learned car restoration techniques by creating an essentially-immortal Aston Martin? The point bears underlining: Every technique used to bring this 604 up to such a high standard is something that Kalsi learned by doing on his Lagonda. Fiberglass repair, bodywork, welding, interior leather- and woodwork, and of course engine repair.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

A Teenager Fixates on the 604

And it is also the work of someone who was realizing a childhood dream. Years ago, Kalsi’s father assigned his car-crazed teenage son the task of picking out a new family car. The young man pored over his magazine collection and settled on a Peugeot 604. It was an unusual choice but not wildly so.

In the 1980s, buying a Peugeot was not much different than choosing a Mercedes or a Volvo. European marques represented distinct personalities: a BMW for the leather-driving-gloves crowd, a Saab for the black turtleneck-wearing architects, a Citröen for Grace Jones. Peugeots offered French motoring qualities in a relatively conventional package, and U.S. sales peaked in 1984 at 20,000.

The 604 executive-class sedan boasted most of the ethereal comfort of a Citröen, without the quirkiness. While not a commercial success, it was a convincing effort, receiving particular critical praise for elegant styling and pliable ride quality.

Kalsi Sr. seems to have kept an open mind, and the family did go and look at a 604. However, there were concerns about the expense and effort of trying to keep a French car going on this side of the Atlantic. Visiting a local Peugeot dealership, an employee offered some brutal honesty. A 604 was perhaps too much work if you were not a true Euro enthusiast.

Kalsi describes leaving short essays on the back door for his dad to read upon coming home from work—here are all the superiorities of a 604, it’ll be the poshest car in the neighborhood, I’ll always keep it washed and waxed. The entreaties were considered, but practicality prevailed. The Kalsi family bought a sensible 1982 Ford Escort GLX.

Harjeet was bereft, but also unswayed.

“I knew at some point I would get one,” he says, “I was sure of it.”

A Majorette model of a 604 was a constant childhood companion. He customized it to have a detailed turbodiesel engine and working suspension. It sat on his desk through school and university. He still has it.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

A Candidate Is Found

However, attrition was coming for the 604. By around 2010, Harjeet started noticing that fewer were around whenever he was idly searching, and the examples that cropped up were usually afflicted with rust. The search became more serious. He found this U.S.-spec version in Washington state in January 2017. It was in original condition but had not run in decades.

Getting the engine turning again was the first priority, but not an easy task. Some internet sleuthing and a cold call turned up a cache of Peugeots in a field in nearby Langley, BC. Kalsi waded through blackberry thorns to get at a 604 with what turned out to be a surprisingly well-preserved turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. He pulled the engine himself with hand tools and the help of the farmer’s tractor and hauled it back to his home in Surrey.

It should be noted here that Kalsi is not running a restoration shop. This was work done on his own, an all-consuming side project performed at the same time as he was also doing an extensive property renovation. It was exhausting.

“I did come pretty near to my limit toward the end,” Kalsi says. “It was pretty frustrating to be 99.9% there but not yet done. I would love to have just woken up and not had anything to do.”

Parts availability was tricky. When pieces could be tracked down, the pandemic slowed shipping to a crawl. Yet Kalsi persevered. The project felt like a Zeno’s paradox, inching tantalizingly closer, yet never quite complete.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

The Dream, Realized

But the day came, and it was worth it. While what you can see is impressive enough, it’s the hidden qualities that make it so special. For instance, 604 dashboards all crack and warp, so Kalsi built a metal frame to hold it in place, hidden beneath the carefully re-wrapped vinyl. Original labeling was recreated for the underhood area and behind the fuel door. The driver’s seat is formed from the foam of three seats sectioned into one.

Sinking in, it’s as comfortable as when the car was new. In fact, the whole car feels new. The steering is excellent, more responsive than you’d expect from a car first launched in the 1970s. The suspension is sufficiently soft that a driver can just ignore speedbumps, but the 604 doesn’t wallow in the corners. In its day, keeping the turbodiesel torque on the boil, this would have been a decently quick cross-continental European tourer.

To Kalsi, it is also righting a wrong. His father’s pragmatism was probably correct at the time, but this 604 is capturing the car that once got away. Today, he parks it in his garage next to his Lagonda. They represent two very different dreams, both willed into reality by a man who can make even a badge into a work of art.

John Brendan McAleerCar and Driver

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