With the exception of the 504 Coupe, the Peugeot lineup throughout the first half of the 1970s was stale at best. That is not to say that they were bad cars because that is far from the case, but most of them could not be described as exciting in any sense of the word.
The automaker took its first steps towards building a so-called hot hatch in 1976 when it launched the 104 ZS. It was powered by a 66 horsepower 1,124cc four-cylinder that propelled it from zero to 62 miles per hour in 12.4 seconds, which was about on par with the competition. It had extra equipment over the standard 104 coupe such as seats with headrests and a three-spoke steering wheel.
In the same time period Peugeot’s interest in motorsports was growing and the brand decided to field the 104 in Group 2 racing. The regulations dictated that 1,000 examples of the car had to be built in order for it to be homologated, so Peugeot started working on what would become the 104 ZS 2. The ZS 2 was similar to- the Simca 1000 Rallye 3 in the sense that it was not just a tuned economy car, it was a street-legal race car.
The original boxy Pininfarina design was complemented with a body kit and fender flares were tacked on all around to accommodate a wider track. While on the outside it looked similar to a standard 104 coupe, there were precious few parts that were interchangeable between the ZS 2 and the rest of the 104 lineup.
The bore and stroke were increased to 77mm and 75mm respectively in order to arrive at a displacement of 1,361cc. The transversally-mounted four-cylinder was fed by two double-barrel Solex carburetors and the head and the camshaft were redesigned, giving the ZS 2 93 horsepower and 91 lb-ft of torque. That was equal to the Renault 5 Alpine, sold as the Gordini in the UK. The ZS 2 took 10.5 seconds to accelerate from to 62 miles per hour and topped out at 109. Power was transferred to the front wheels via a four-speed manual transmission.
Peugeot stripped the car of all equipment it deemed unnecessary in order to achieve the lowest possible weight. The ZS 2 tipped the scales at merely 1,720 pounds, but it did not have a clock, an oil pressure gauge, or even a temperature gauge. The tachometer was seemingly added as an afterthought and planted in the middle of the dash.
The poor equipment level was the source of endless criticism at the time, though in all fairness, it should be mentioned that a more complete instrumentation was available as an option. That aside, the ZS 2 was regarded as an engineering marvel and was well appreciated by the press. French magazine Auto-Journal tested it when it came out and claimed that it was “possibly the best French sports car” on the market.
The ZS 2 was only available in 1979 and cost 38,000 Francs. By comparison, that same year a Golf GTI cost 40,500 Francs and a better-equipped but slower 104 ZS cost 30,700 Francs. All of ZS 2s were finished in gray with red stripes going down the side and sat on specific 13″ alloy wheels manufactured by Amil and mounted on 165/70 tires.
While this may have been simply wishful thinking, at the time the press reported that the ZS 2 would become a regular production model. That was not the case: Peugeot built the 1,000 examples it needed for homologation and not a single more.
Its engine was transplanted into the 104 ZS in 1980. It was initially detuned to 72 horsepower but bumped up to 80 in 1983. The block also powered the Citroën Visa Chrono, the Renault 14 TS, the Talbot Samba GLS, and the Peugeot 205 GT, among many others.
The ZS 2 has gone down in history as the most valuable and sought-after 104; more mundane versions can sometimes be picked up in exchange for a good bottle of wine.
Our apologies for the poor photo quality. High-resolution period ZS 2 photos are very hard to come by, Peugeot told us that they only have one in their archives. We’re still searching for better ones and we’ll update the article as we come across them.