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Weekend Edition: Cheap 1992 Peugeot 405 Mi16 is a winterbeater find

Antti Kautonen November 21, 2015 Finnish Line, Too Cheap to Pass Up 39 Comments

What is the best justification for a car purchase? Buying one out of need, want, or nostalgia? This 1992 Peugeot 405 Mi16 combines all of those three, and I got it home last weekend.

I’ve found it funny for a while, that despite having several cars, I’m constantly lacking a honest-to-god daily driver that does it all. It’s already late November, which means that my MX-5 is going into winter storage, under cover, freshly inspected and washed and waxed. I won’t daily it like I did last winter, as it needs some rust work and I’d hate it to develop any more rot than it already has on its rockers and rear arches.

The 205 will also go off the road, as I have purchased a lot of interior parts for it, and the seats will be taken out and refurbished. The torn driver’s seat is the single biggest blemish on the car at the moment, and it needs to be put right. My humble VW Polo is on its way to be finished, but it’s hardly a highway car. And the Sierra? The less said, the better, but it’s been out of use for the best part of 2015, and motivation to put it right is dwindling along with little, insignificant parts breaking.

So, there you have four cars that necessitate the purchase of a fifth. And here, you have the fifth one. Four cylinders, four doors, 16 valves, 600 euros. A perfect recipe.

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I’ve wanted an Mi16 as long as I’ve known them to exist. The side skirts and spoilers make the range-topper stand out from the 405 line-up, 16-valve head and padded shoulders above the rest, and the rare chances when I have driven them have left me spellbound. The 405 Mi16 manages to inject the already attractive saloon shape with some GTI DNA, without making it look garish or misguided.

As I know them to be quite rust resistant, a 405 makes sense as a winter car, especially if you happen to source one that’s been rust-proofed early in its life, but isn’t too pampered to look out of place in the salty mush that makes up for a large percentage of the Finnish winter. As well as browsing ads for Saab 9000:s and Alfa Romeo 155:s and 156:s, I have kept Mi16:s in check for the longest time.

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I called about this 1992 148-horsepower example last week, and booked a very cheap return bus ticket to go see it some 250 km away. If it was terrible, I would still have a way to get home, and if it was good enough to buy but bad enough to break down on the way, I’d be able to hitch a ride home if I followed the bus route. It’s the kind of planning you have to make when you’re dealing in, yes, Beaterland. It’s good to be back square in the middle.

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The seller had had the Mi for 15 years and 200,000 km. It had served him well and he had serviced it when needs appeared, and the stack of receipts and notes backed that up. He was the third registered owner, and early in its life, the Peugeot had spent a few years abroad, being bought tax free from the Finnish importer.

The first stamps in the service book showed it had been serviced in Portugal of all places. It’s seen some stuff during the first thousands of its 267,000 km. Having figured out that 15 years were a long enough time to hold onto one car, especially as it started needing some hobbyist attention, the seller had listed it at 900 at first and then moved it down to 790 as it hadn’t found a buyer offering plain cash without a trade. I offered 500 after the test drive, and we met at 600.

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As it sits now, having made the trip home in one piece, it has a laundry list of stuff needing to be done. The biggest offender is the cambelt, which has to be changed every few years or 80,000 km. It had been done last in 2004, meaning that every time I turned the key I clenched my buttocks.

The second costs built in the purchase are the strut towers, that have bad bearings at the top and clunking strut supports. The car clonks all the time. Constantly. When polishing the roof, I could make the front struts clunk. And the strut bearings do chafe, robbing the car of its trademark steering feel and joy of helm.

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The radiator is also bad, the exhaust back box blows, there’s a strong tobacco smell and the paint on the front bumper is peeling quite severely. It also needs a new pair of foglights, as the original SIEM ones have shattered a long time and the openings have been blanked off. All the tire sets are somewhat worn down, so I’ll need to source some rubber in good time. The Blaupunkt radio is mostly dead, and the detachable front is constantly in Black Panel Mode.

But: the rest of the electrics work, the interior is still tidy, the seats are amazingly supportive after all these years and it starts every time I ask it to. Well, I power washed the engine bay and for the rest of the night, it didn’t. Some high-pressure air fixed that.

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What the car is, is a good basis. It’s a very affordable and straight example of an increasingly rare model of a French sports saloon that was universally lauded at its introduction. With the initial issues addressed and further maladies fixed, I will still have gotten the Mi16 very cheaply, and the amount of bringing-it-up-to-shape isn’t daunting.

With the original Speedline wheels mounted, it hints of the brilliance that might lay ahead. Time will tell just how good it will be to me. The way the Blaupunkt came alive on the drive home, finding a classical station somewhere in the black depths of the blank stereo face, reassured me that the Mi16 would work with me every step of the way, not fight me.

[Images: Copyright 2015 Redusernab/Antti Kautonen]

  • stigshift

    Congratulations! A friend of mine’s father worked for Peugeot USA when they were leaving the U.S. market. He and his father bought tw8n white Mi16s with red leather. Brand new for $9900apiece. Wonderful car!

    • julkinen

      That is half price, right?

      • stigshift

        I believe the car was around $22000 in the U.S. So a bit less.

  • Rover 1

    Congratulations from me too.

    I really should get a 405 as a companion car to my BX. Was an M16 Estate available or would I have to make one?

    • julkinen

      No, they didn’t make any 16-valve estate versions to my knowledge. There most likely have been plenty of later swaps.

      • karonetwentyc

        Quite a few have been done, including a half-dozen or so in the US. Given that most of the US-model wagons were cars with the 110bhp XU9J2 8V version of the 1.9, it’s a night-and-day transformation.

  • nanoop

    How do you get info on wrenching on these (assuming your French is equally fragile as mine)? Is there a Finnish forum?
    Also I wonder what happened to the Xantia wagon.. And where do you store all these cars?

    • julkinen

      There are a bunch of Finnish forums, and I know a number of Peugeot-heads too. The Xantia I sold over a year ago, as a guy I know needed a beaterwagon for his son and I didn’t really require a wagon back then.

      As for storing them, that is quite a predicament. I have access to two parking spots, one car is currently in a shop, another is at a friend’s greasepit and so on. I would rather release the Sierra, but something tells me it’s too good to squander, and I can practice wrenching on it.

      The Polo is actually doing beautifully, I’ve ordered some really nice eBay things for it earlier. I plan to make it as fresh as it possibly can.

      • nanoop

        From what I’ve seen, the Sierra is too good indeed, but it’s probably neither a mid-term investment nor do you lack wrenching opportunities… Then again, the car scene needs you to keep it!

      • karonetwentyc

        Since you need to do the cambelt, this might come in handy if you haven’t found it already:

        I would *strongly* recommend also doing the water pump and tensioners while you’re in there – and follow the instructions for both installation of the tensioners and setting belt tension to the letter. Trust me on this one; really bad things can/will happen if you don’t.

    • karonetwentyc

      Just to add to the ‘where to get wrenching info’ comments below: Facebook’s a good resource, with a number of very active French car groups spanning the major (and minor) marques. Web forums and mailing lists, too. Most use English as a common-denominator language, or will at least try to accommodate it.

      One of the nice things about the 405 (and the Mi16 in particular) is that it’s really not a particularly complicated vehicle. The layout is a fairly normal front-drive layout and early ones are Bosch Motronic 1.3 with Bosch fuel injection, so a lot of the electronics, sensors, etc. cross-reference with other makes. They have their requirements and peculiarities, to be sure, but there’s nothing on them that’s really terribly difficult to come to grips with.

      • nanoop

        I wouldn’t have expected FB to useful for something like wrenching tips. Good to see that these cars have their following!

  • Sjalabais

    You really have a knack for getting the most out of your money. Congrats on a new winter beater with true connoisseur credentials!

  • karonetwentyc

    Welcome to the club! Just put a new battery in ours this morning.

    Great find, though I have to admit that I’ve never seen an Mi16 with cloth seats before. Enjoy it, and drive it like it was meant to be driven. A well-sorted one is an absolute blast, and that XU9J4 can be shoehorned into the 205 if anything ever happens to the 405. Just a thought 🙂

  • Rover 1

    Time now to look for a 405 Mi16 4×4, an even more perfect winter car ?

    • karonetwentyc

      IIRC, the 405 Mi16x4 used essentially the same rear end as the BX19 GTi 16v 4×4, including the hydropneumatics – which the 405 didn’t have at the front. I’d really be interested to see some shots of the engine bays on the 4×4 variants of both the BX and 405 – partly to spot any differences, but also to see how the pump and accumulator were driven. Space in the engine bay is used extremely efficiently (read: not much to spare), and I’ve got a couple of ideas of how it might all be packaged that could use confirmation or denial.

      If I’m not mistaken, the 405 Mi16x4, some late-model 6-cylinder Citroën Traction Avants, and an ambulance variant of the H-Van were the only vehicles in the PSA family tree to have hydropneumatic suspension at just the rear. An interesting spread of applications, to be sure.

      • Rover 1

        Mercedes Benz W124 wagons have l’ hydropneumatiqe on the rear suspension only as well, unlike the W116 6.9 SEL which had it all round – using actual Citroen suspension spheres and pumps. They have helper springs to stop ‘le sag’.

        My 124 wagon appears to use the same spheres as my BX.

        Rolls Royce used them on the Silver Shadow and variants as well, but only on the rear, again with helper springs.
        A piece of marketing that you’d think PSA would use with Citroen and DS.

        ‘Our self levelling, load correcting variable height and spring rate suspension as used only by ourselves, Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce”

        Instead they bring out the not very cheap, supposedly upmarket DS4 and DS5 and somehow think we won’t notice that they are below Japanese suspension standards of thirty years ago let alone French ones.

        • karonetwentyc

          Haven’t driven the new DS range yet, but did see a few on a recent trip. To me, they’re underwhelming – proper Citroëns should look and drive like they’re from Planet Citroën, and these just aren’t. If they do sell them in North America (as the rumour mill is suggesting might happen) I’ll check them out, but I honestly can’t see what they have to offer that anyone else doesn’t.

          Citroën really needs to figure out what it is that they’re doing with the DS range. Is it a separate marque? A model sub-range? Mostly-meaningless designation? I’ve read through a number of statements from them (and others) on this and am coming away more confused as to their intent for the name than anything else.

          As an aside, the first thing I thought of when I saw the new ‘DS’ logo was the style of neon signs found on American bowling alleys in the ’50s and ’60s. Nothing really wrong with that, but it seemed like that may not have been their intent, either.

        • karonetwentyc

          Haven’t driven the new DS range yet, but did see a few on a recent trip. To me, they’re underwhelming – proper Citroëns should look and drive like they’re from Planet Citroën, and these fit neither requirement. If they do sell them in North America (as the rumour mill is suggesting might happen) I’ll check them out, but I honestly can’t see what they have to offer that anyone else doesn’t.

          Citroën really needs to figure out what it is that they’re doing with the DS range. Is it a separate marque? A model sub-range? Mostly-meaningless designation? I’ve read through a number of statements from them (and others) on this and am coming away more confused as to their intent for the name than anything else.

          As an aside, the first thing I thought of when I saw the new ‘DS’ logo was the style of neon signs found on American bowling alleys in the ’50s and ’60s. While there’s nothing really wrong with that, I can’t help but think that that may not have been their intent.

          • Rover 1

            If you think that they’re underwhelming to look at, you should try driving them.
            Then the underwhelm is overwhelming. Bad ride and poor handling combined – and the DS5 is bumping up against lower spec 3 series and C-classes which are very well resolved cars.
            And the C-Class is available with height adjustable air suspension.

            • nanoop

              I feel whelmed now.

  • smokyburnout

    In the late 90s, we had some eccentric neighbors who owned:
    a cat (we watched it one weekend and it scratched me)
    their apartment
    a Peugeot 405 in this same color

  • “I’ve found it funny for a while, that despite having several cars, I’m constantly lacking a honest-to-god daily driver that does it all.”

    Yes, I’m finding it rather funny myself. Fortunately I’ve picked up one more since taking this photo; no doubt that will fix everything.

    • CraigSu

      Isn’t your oldest vehicle the one that’s closest to being your daily driver?

      • No, ever since getting rid of my ’37 Plymouth my oldest vehicle has been my mostly disassembled ’59 Ford. Daily-driver status is rotating generally between the ’68 SAAB, ’70 International, and ’81 Freeway.

        • CraigSu

          I didn’t know you no longer had the Plymouth. I figured it wasn’t in the photo because you had it in the garage.

  • CruisinTime

    Original Hooning.

    • Rover 1

      That is one well trained lion.

    • Fuhrman16

      I think the craziest thing about that photo is how bored looking the spectators are. What do they do for a living that they would consider a stunt involving a lion riding in a car that’s sideways dull?

    • Van_Sarockin

      Why am I the one who always has to take the lion for a walk?

      • Because it’s easier than getting him to stay on the motorcycle.

  • David Buckley

    Beautiful peugeot. Clunky strut supports ?? Regardez l’expert! :-))

  • Maymar

    So, since you’ve bought this, has it given your breath back? Are you constantly driving through fields going up in flames?

    Also, severely jealous, as these are great looking little cars, the design’s held up very well. Also, factoring in conversion, I’d be hard-pressed to find anything for that kind of money, let alone something this interesting.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I’m a bit sad that this will be a winter beater. These were pretty fantastic when new. I got to wring one out on some dirt roads in VT, and it was great fun.

    • dead_elvis

      What part of Vermont? That’s where I learned to hoon as a young ‘un.

      Windham County in southeastern VT had its share of weird cars (mostly Volvos & SAABs, but some French, Italian, and British weren’t uncommon) when I was a kid in the 70s, more Peugeots than Renaults. We were a Renault family for a while; Dad bought a new R 16 & it’s been Swedish cars for him ever since.

  • crank_case

    Bargain of the year, worth the asking price even for scrap value, seeing as those Mi16 engines are sought after for transplants into 205 GTis. I think people are starting to realize theres not enough original Mi16s left to justify doing that anymore though.

  • peugeotdude505

    Nice Pug!

  • njriley

    Nice! My grandfather (in rural NSW, Australia) somehow decided that he liked French cars with a pseudo-racing pedigree, so he had a Renault (too young to remember exactly, but think it was an 11) followed by a Peugeot 405 SRDT. I never got to drive it, but always loved the exterior and interior styling. My cousin stuffed it into a wall as a teenager and was none the worse for wear, so in that way I guess it did its job!

  • duurtlang

    That’s a great find! I would’ve bought it instantly for double that amount. They are getting very rare. Earlier this month I bought an ’87 205 CTI myself to fix up during winter. It too has many minor issues, most similar to yours. It’s the 4th Peugeot I currently own (’88 205 GTI, ’97 306 convertible, ’00 406 coupe)

    Here it is, at the wrenching club where it’s stored and worked on.

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