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Peugeot celebrates 25 years in US with a classy limited-production model

Peugeot Motors of America calls it the 505S Silver Edition. Only 2,100 were built, all for the United States. And, you know, every last one of them was snapped up fast. The price: $15,295.

The idea behind the special car is to celebrate the 25th year of the French carmaker in the US - not exactly a boom-size market for Peugeot.

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The 505S Silver Edition is a magnificent machine to look at. The Peugeot management points out that the exterior body paint, protected by a coat of clear lacquer, contains metallic particles which absorb colors from the car's surroundings. In other words, at sunset it's supposed to radiate a soft red glow. Frankly, I hadn't really noticed.

Still, the performance is without fault, at least for the few hundred miles I drove the car. And the living-room comfort inside was as good as anything on the market.

French carmakers are noted for their large, deep-cushion seats. Even the junior-size Renault, the R-5 (Le Car in the United States), rates a high grade for its seats. It's simply a French custom.

Besides its comfort and decor, the 505S Silver Edition provides a particularly quiet ride with little road noise getting inside the car. Handling is of a high caliber, although it is not a highly touted sports car.

It ism fun to drive - although it has some of those peculiarly French controls and gauges inside the car. The stick-figure control panel helps the driver select the kind of climate he wants, including snowflake symbols for the degree of cold. The car has one of the most comfortable-to-handle manual shift knobs in the industry.

Peugeot offers a choice of two engines, a turbocharged diesel and fuel-injected gasoline. Although the expectation may be far out of line with realism, the odometer is calibrated up to 1 million miles, not the usual 99,999. But some people - owners and former owners - say that Peugeot could improve its quality-control operation.

Anyway, life hasn't been easy for Peugeot SA these past few years. This is the company that took over hard-pressed Citroen in the 1970s - and then bought out Chrysler's Simca division when the US automaker found it necessary to clip its wings. The car line was renamed Talbot. Ultimately Peugeot and Talbot were merged, although the Talbot name was retained in some markets.

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Digesting the whole lot has been hard. In 1982, like Volkswagenwerk AG, Renault, Fiat, and BL, Peugeot lost a lot of money. In contrast, the makers of some of Europe's most expensive cars - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, and Volvo - made money.

Peugeot also has been having a tough time in its search for car buyers in Canada. Chrysler Corporation, in fact, will take over the distribution of the French manufacturer's cars in Canada Oct. 1, with one model (the 505) in three versions. Peugeot quit the Canadian market in March when its sales fell to no more than 200 vehicles a year. It wasn't worth the cost of maintaining a dealership network, Peugeot says.

Chrysler has some 500 new-car dealerships in Canada, compared with the 36 the French car company had when it slammed the door shut.

If you like the design of Peugeot, whatever the model, give a cheer for Pininfarina, which has been styling the cars for more than 25 years. Peugeot itself goes back a lot further, however, the first Peugeot automobile being shown at the Paris Exposition in 1889.

The Peugeot bicycle, even older than the car, dates back to 1885.

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