The Peugeot 504 wagon is still running strong on one of the most dangerous roads in the old French territories of West Africa, despite Peugeot-struggles Citroen's to establish its footing. The region's cross-border bush taxi industry still relies heavily on the indestructible wagon, which was based on the sedan that the French automaker began producing in 1968.
Millions rely on the vehicles to go to see family members or do trade with nations like Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Local taxi drivers raise the rear end of their vehicles to give them additional ground clearance; then they add a third bench to the backseat to fit even more passengers—typically eight, including the driver.
The bodywork is then covered in stickers, favorite sayings (such as "Each day is one life" or "Chaque jour est une vie"), or declarations of faith, often with the identity of the driver's local "marabout" or religious leader. On the roof rack, there is space for luggage as well as occasionally a live goat. Currently, a 500-mile (800-km) trip costs roughly 20 euros ($27) per person or a bit more for those who choose a window seat or a seat in the front row with the driver.
According to Senegalese taxi driver Insa Diaw, 56, who has been operating his 504 since 2002, "even though some say it's ancient and just suitable for the breaker's graveyard, as soon as you discover some spare components, it discovers a new life." Even now, in West Africa's tiniest settlements, a broken-down 504 can be repaired and put back into service within an hour thanks to a thriving market for used parts imported from France and a plethora of mechanics.
Up until the middle of the 2000s, the 504 were manufactured in Nigeria for over 40 years. But during the past ten years, it has been ignored by Africa's expanding middle class, who view the Ford Land Cruiser has replaced the Mercedes-Benz as a sign of prestige.
The typical cab driver's limited financial resources force him to frequently buy only $1 or $2 of gasoline at a time while he prepares for his next passenger. Hence, a Range Rover is considerably above his limits. But if you understand how to operate a 504 correctly, it can go places that a four-wheel drive can't said Diaw.