OWNER : PAUL MATHISON
"The 304S Convertible has actually been in my family since 1983. My father spotted it parked around the back of a local garage. I don’t think they really knew what to do with it so they’d pushed it to one side and it was half buried in a hedge. It did run OK but the bodywork was looking a bit rusty, particularly the front wings and the sills which all had holes in them. I remember that he paid £700 for it.
Fast forward 30 years and there was the 304 sat in his garage as my father moved out into a care home. He’d had all the best intentions to renovate it, but I guess a busy life got in the way. On a plus side, he had managed to source some new sills and front wings, but I don’t think the engine had turned over in all that time and he’d taken off a lot of parts and stored them in boxes around the place.
My first job was to bring it home. Well the brakes had well and truly seized on and I had to resort to attaching a large rope and towing it out.
Having now got the car to my driveway, I started off by looking at the engine. Having spent some time reassembling the missing parts, which included the radiator, I filled the engine with oil and coolant and then took the spark plugs out and poured a little oil into the cylinders in the hope of clearing any rust which may have formed on the liners. With the aid of a good battery I soon got the engine spinning. Filled with optimism I then fitted some new spark plugs, leads and a set of points and gave it some fuel. Having then churned it over for several minutes I was almost on the point of giving up when it started to give a few coughs and splutters and a minute later it was running – sort of! In hindsight from this experience, I would say don’t put quite so much oil into the cylinders, because the cloud of white smoke that came out of the exhaust for the next few minutes was really quite impressive.
Following this ‘successful’ start-up, I took stock of the obvious work required. Most noticeable was that the drive belt was in the throes of self-destruction leaving tiny starts of rubber scattered across the engine bay. Thankfully, I managed to source one of these via eBay, although fitting it was an interesting experience. The other major issue for the engine was that the carburettor was clearly suffering blockages with dirt and corrosion. It subsequently took around 500 miles, lots of carb cleaner and a few tweaks to the mixture and idle screw to get it running right.
A few other tweaks I’ve made to the engine . . . firstly, the ignition points had to go. Siting the distributor down the back of the engine is bad enough, but then placing the brake master cylinder across the top of it makes regularly servicing the points a real pain. I consider my investment into an electric ignition module as money well spent. My other modification was to add an electric fan to the cooling system. The brushes had worn out on the original electro-magnetic fan and I couldn’t source any new ones, so fitting an electric fan which is still triggered by the radiator thermostat switch as per the original fan seemed an obvious way to go. Considering that the 304 only has a small radiator then the electric fan does an excellent job of keeping the engine temperature under control.
Now that I knew that I had a working engine, my plan was to get it through an MOT before investing any major time and money into the bodywork or interior. My next job was to replace the brakes. I found some new front disks and replaced them as the old ones were badly rusted. Now replacing disks on most cars is fairly easy, but not on a 304. You need to remove the entire hub and bearing assembly before the disk comes off. Anyway, disks, pads, shoes etc. all replaced and it also has complete new brake pipes and flexibles. The 304 only has single circuit brakes and of course hydraulic failure isn’t something I’d like to experience. I also replaced the master cylinder with a complete unit which gave me good pressure for at least a day until I went back and found that the pedal went straight to the floor. It turns out that the rubber seals inside it must have perished during storage because when I took it apart they had dissolved into black gunge. Some new seals then fitted and the brakes are good . . . almost too good for the skinny 145 tyres. A little later on I also had to replace the servo unit as it got stuck half on. I could only find a second hand unit but it does the job.
The clutch hydraulics have also been replaced with a new slave cylinder and new seals in the master cylinder. Whilst the clutch worked it had never felt quite right. I’ve heard a few people complain about the plastic pipe on the clutch hydraulics. Mine seemed OK so I’ve left it alone.
The electrics weren’t too bad. I had to replace the headlamps because they had corroded badly inside and also the number plate lights were badly rusted. A set of H4 Halogen bulbs in those huge headlamps do a fantastic job of lighting up the way ahead. I managed to ‘service’ the voltage regulator which was needed because the points were sticking. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a nail file and some WD40. Finally, the potentiometer on the fuel gauge sender needed a bit of TLC as it only worked when the tank was half full. All sorted now though.
The only additional work I’ve had to do to get it through an MOT was to change a bush on the front suspension arm.
The bodywork and interior was the expensive part. Whilst the car was structurally quite solid with just some minor welding required underneath, the paintwork wasn’t so good and of course it had the new wings and sills. I approached a number of local body shops seeking quotes for some tidying up and a full respray. Some clearly weren’t interested and others quoted per panel, making the cost for a full respray prohibitive. It didn’t even have a roof to paint! I eventually fell lucky when I came across a small local paint shop run by two gentlemen who have a genuine interest in classic cars. They did an excellent job in spraying it back to its original corn yellow colour.
The seats were looking pretty shabby too with the original material beyond repair. I found a local company who have re-covered them in the original style and colour and I have to say that they’re actually pretty comfortable.
I’ve added inertia reel seatbelts as the original static belts were hopelessly uncomfortable and got caught up in the hood mechanism. I guess in 1972 people didn’t bother wearing seatbelts so that wouldn’t have been a problem. I had to build bespoke brackets which I welded to the rear bulkhead and I also modified the floor fittings. However, the belts work perfectly now – even with the hood down! I also added a small home comfort in the form of a four speaker stereo. It had to be capable of pumping out a bit of volume because you could never call a 304 Convertible a quiet car.
The only major thing left that I would like to sort out is a new hood. Whilst the one on it is OK and has improved with a few of coats of renovator, I think a new mohair hood would finish the car off really nicely. However, that might remain on my ‘to do’ list for a while, but it’s not a great problem as the car only comes out in the nice weather and of course the hood is down then anyway.
I used it as a daily runner last Summer, including taking it 12 miles each way to work. It is quite happy pottering around town or cruising along A and B roads, and it has certainly drawn a lot of positive attention."
I am most grateful to Paul Mathison, the owner of the lovely 304, for the following account of TBG 524L from 1983 onwards. Paul writes . . .
With thanks to Greg Evans for the last two images, taken July 2015.
Peugeot 304 and 304S Cabriolet / 1970s French Classic Car / Record of UK models.
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