The Peugeot 306 Cabriolet is far too pretty to fall within the Bangerwatch category. And yet – 20 years after it made its debut – the values on the used car market put it firmly within the realms of cheap motoring.
And as far as PetrolBlog is concerned, you can’t buy a prettier car for less than a grand. Certainly not one without a roof.
We really do appreciate that, right now, the frankly awful weather means that buying a convertible is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But come the spring, you might be glad you invested £500 – yes, 500 quid – on one of Pininfarina’s nicest ever creations.
OK, admittedly, you should probably spend a few more than 500 notes on a 20-year old Pug with an electric roof. But if you approach a Peugeot 306 Cabriolet knowing that something will – like your breakfast cereals – go snap, crackle or pop at some point, then saving a few pennies on the purchase price may not be a bad thing. Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?
Probably best not to answer that.
It’s a measure of Pininfarina’s work that – two decades after its launch – the Peugeot 306 Cabriolet is still one of the best looking drop-tops of recent times. Choosing between the likes of the topless versions of the Golf, Rover 214, Ford Escort, Renault 19 – and latterly the Renault Mégane – can’t have been difficult. Compare them side-by-side today, and it’s still by far and away the prettiest.
And because it was based on the already-very-good Peugeot 306, it drove very well, too. Sure, some scuttle shake was to be expected, but the majority of 306 Cabriolet owners would have put image and style far above dynamics.
Lowering the roof was a piece of cake. Release a couple of catches, push the roof up a little, press a button and then – 40 seconds later – the roof would disappear into the flat deck behind the rear seats. These were the days before Peugeot became obsessed with coupe-cabriolets. And the 306 looked all the better for it.
But like any fading glamour model, once you strip away a layer of expensive clothing, its true age begins to reveal itself. The interior is looking dated and – after three or four owners (some more careful than others), it’s unlikely to be in the best of shape. Rather comically, some versions came with a fake wooden centre console, which was about as out of place as Kate Middleton in a branch of Argos.
However, the heaters in the French-built 306 Cabriolet were very good. It’s something the original owners should have thanked the good people of Poissy for, especially once they realised the reality of living with a drop-top wasn’t quite as glamorous as the brochure made out.
The majority of cars sold were the top-spec SE models, which at around £20,000, weren’t exactly cheap. But looking good came at a price and the 306 Cabriolet never struggled to sell. Of the 2.8 million 306s ever built, 446, 377 were cabriolets. That’s not a bad percentage for a car such as this.
Today – in Britain anyway – there are 3,000 left on the road. Prices range from £500 for a rotter, to £2,000 for a low mileage car with bags of history. It pays to be picky, because the cam belts need to be changed every 36,000 miles and the electrics aren’t known to be one of the 306’s strong point. And when a car’s key feature is a complex, electrically folding roof, alarm bells should start ringing.
You’d be advised to buy a later, post-1997 facelift car, but PetrolBlog can’t help thinking the original and untouched version looks neater. And besides, who wants one of the later 1.6 or 1.8-litre engines, when an early 2.0-litre lump would be far better?
Or better still, just how good does the Peugeot 306 Roadster look? The hardtop was a factory-fitted option that never sold in huge numbers. Of the 400 or so that were sold, only 146 remain on the road today.
Peugeot hasn’t made a prettier car since the 306 Cabriolet*. For sure, the RCZ is striking and the 308 is good looking. But the 306 Cabriolet has a timeless appeal which it’ll find hard to match in the future. And hey, if the roof is stuck open or wedged shut, try to look at things like the Grand Old Duke of York. At least it isn’t neither stuck half way up or half way down again.
Question is, is PetrolBlog off its rocker, or does the wider PB community share its love of this ageing – but not fading – glamour model? Answers on a postcard. Usual address. Etc, etc.
*thanks to Stephen Dobie for pointing out the 406 Coupe. He has a point. Point well made. Good point.