Legend has it that the 0 was introduced because in early cars the name of the model was positioned around the crank handle hole, which became the O in the name. This explanation has been widely publicised, but according to Hervé Charpentier, curator of the Aventure Peugeot Museum, situated next to the company’s most important car manufacturing sites at Sochaux, Doubs in Eastern France, it is not true.
“This is a story that was invented in the 1930s,” says Mr Charpentier. “The 0 was, in fact, introduced to act as a connecting ring between the first number, which represents the size of the vehicle and the third number which represents the generation of car in that series. So a 201 is smaller than a 301 and a 201 is older than a 204.
However, the Peugeot designers thought that the hole for the crank handle was ugly and to mask it they moved the name of the car to straddle and include the round shaped hole.”
The first car to have a name using this system was the Peugeot 201, which was produced from 1929-1937, and it was then that the company patented this method of naming its vehicles. In 1963, Porsche presented a new car to the Frankfurt Motor Show called the 901. Peugeot protested, saying that only their cars had the right to a name with a central 0. Porsche had already produced 82 901s and anyone who finds one now is the owner of a very rare and valuable collectors’ item. Porsche renamed their sports car the 911.
The Aventure Peugeot Museum celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It tells the history of Peugeot, which began in 1810 when two brothers decided to transform a flour mill into a forge so they could make steel.
With this new material they could make good quality tools and household items, such as pepper mills, irons and even sewing machines.
Later another member of the Peugeot family, Armand, went to Leeds, where he saw some of the first bicycles and on his return persuaded the company Peugeot Frères to start making them. In 1895, he developed the first patent for a petrol motor and started making cars.
As well as the museum you can also, by reservation only, visit the car manufacturing plant next door, which is the biggest and the oldest in France.