Ever heard of the Porsche 901? The famous Austro-German car manufacturer wanted to launch it in 1964 to replace the legendary 356 model but had to rename his new car 911. The reason was simple: the French rival Peugeot held for mass-produced cars the rights to all three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle…
Two hundred years ago, in 1810, the brothers Jean-Jacques and Jean-Pierre Peugeot create in the Doubs valley, in eastern France, a steel foundry. Soon they depose a license for cold rolling of steel and produce finished products for various markets: jumping springs for watches, whalebone corsets, coffee grinders, cages, tools including saw blades. Driven by Jules and Emile, sons of Jean-Pierre, the company prospers and the Peugeot name is more and more known. The brothers feel the need to distinguish their products and emphasize quality. They ask in 1847 the engraver Justin Blazer to design a lion emblem. The lion is said to be chosen because of its analogue characteristics with their saws: strength, flexibility, speed. Blazer draws a lion with raised tail and majestic stepping on an arrow. The brand is officially registered in 1858 at the Imperial Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and is in different versions and redrafts used until today.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Eugene, son of Jules and Armand, son of Emile, control Peugeot Frères. The company is even called for some time Les Fils de Peugeot Frères. The growth continues: in 1890 more than 2,000 Peugeot workers manufacture in three factories scissors, forks, planes, slicers, shredders, saws for across whole Europe. Innovation does not fail to come. Peugeot also produces springs for the then fashionable nippers and wind-up springs for the newly invented phonograph. But the bonanza seems the bicycle. After difficulties to convince his cousin Eugene of the fabrication of bikes Armand now also wants to try ones with a motor and even to make cars! On February 17, 1890 he delivers his first model. As Eugene does not believe in the future of the automobile car, the two cousins go their own way in 1896. Armand starts his Société des Automobiles Peugeot. Eugene and his sons commit themselves not to produce cars. They continue the production of bikes and all sorts of household goods and tools. With success. In 1900, they sell 20.000 Le Lion bikes.
That same year Armand sells already 500 cars. The sons of Eugene do not want to – sorry for the misplaced pun – miss the moving train. In 1899 – against the agreements – they bring out a motor bike, a kind of motocyclette, with Le Lion brand. The year after, they launch small Lion cars. Invariably, lawyers have to discuss compensations, commissions or penalties to be paid to Armand. After the death of Eugene in 1907 a merger is possible. The two Peugeot families reunite in 1910, now one hundred years ago. The company becomes one of the largest car manufacturers in the world and even absorbs Citroën in 1976. But that is another story.
The models of Peugeot wear no name, just a three digit number of which the middle one is a zero. Who remembers the 203, 403, 404, 205, 309, 405, 605, 306 or 406?
For models before the Second World War the zero was a hole at the front of the car in which the crank had to be put.
Since recently Peugeot brings now models on the market with a four digit number which the middle two are zeros. I’ll have to ask Kris Keymolen if Peugeot has worldwide filed a registration for all numbers between 1001 and 9009.
The shape of the Peugeot Lion changes often but has since 1927 a roaring mouth. In 1948 a version is chosen from the arms of their Franche-Comté region. On some models, only one lion head is depicted. The logo is regularly refreshed. The latest version dates from 2010.
Even the slogan has been modified. The previous baseline “Pour que l’automobile soit toujours un plaisir” is changed to the English (!) Motion and Emotion.
Oh yes: when in 1915 Armand is buried at Père-Lachaise in Paris, the eulogy was held by Louis Renault. But that is also another story.