1970s / Editorial / French / Peugeot

Prime à la casse.

Driving past the Peugeot dealer here I noticed this beautiful 304 outside. All-original car, not a single speck of rust, dry engine, no broken glass, the interior is in good shape, no parts are missing (the hubcaps were in the trunk). It has a sunroof and leather seats, making it more desirable than a base model 304. Naturally I went in to inquire about it and the saleswoman informed me it’s a cash for clunkers car they took in yesterday and it can’t be sold.

Have a look at the pictures, does this look like a car that should be scrapped? I don’t know about your criterias to junk a car but according to mine, no. Truth be told it’s in better shape than a lot of the mid-1990s Renault Meganes and Clios that drive down the freeway like it’s the straightaway part of the Spa circuit. A lot of 304s got beaten up throughout their lives, this is an exception, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in this good of shape.

So why is it there? Was it too much work for the owners to put up a free internet ad on any of the countless classifieds sites to get someone to save their Peugeot? Granted, a Peugeot 304 isn’t worth a lot but keep in mind a classic car doesn’t imply an expensive one. That said, with a decent ad they could have gotten twice what the dealership gave them to scrap it; it would also make a good first classic car for a young enthusiast, for example. Instead they found it easier to drive it to the dealership and get 1,000€ off of their new Peugeot. One could argue that the owners likely failed to see the value of the car, but I’d argue back that if somebody owns a classic car in good shape like this one without knowing anything about it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look into what it is and what its worth. If they truly didn’t know and junked it without doing five short minutes of research, there are no ifs, ands, or buts, it’s black and white: something is wrong.

But I’ve swayed from the original point: if you listen to television the point of the “prime à la casse” (the name of cash for clunkers here in France, it loosely translates to “junkyard allowance”) is to get people to trade in their old polluting cars for newer, more efficient cars. An important point that often gets overlooked is that without big incentives consumers today are more reluctant to buy a car. When on January 1st, 2010, the French government lowered the allowance from 1,000€ to 700€, car manufacturers (notably Renault) panicked and offered to add the missing 300€ to any cash for clunkers trade in, worried that if the allowance went down by about 30% consumers would buy less cars.

Old cars are getting scrapped to put new ones on the road, and in about ten years these new ones will certainly get scrapped to put newer ones on the road for another ten years. Where do you place classic cars in this cycle? What happens when the next generation of collectors doesn’t know what a Peugeot 304 looks like other than in photos? If you’ve got a classic car and it’s in half decent condition, save it. Drive it or park it for five years while you save up money for a restoration if you have to; if you don’t want it sell it to an enthusiast that does, you can always find one; but please, whatever you do don’t junk it, these cars aren’t getting any more common.

“Casse”, “junkyard in French.

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