Article: Djordje Sugaris / Photos: Milos Nikodijevic, Mihailo Kecenovic
"There it is, in front of us!" I screamed from the passenger seat with my finger pointing, excited as a five-year-old who just saw a toy store. Milos was already used to it, but saying that Nebo looked at me weird would be an understatement. However, none of that mattered since we were driving behind a fantastic dark-green Peugeot 504. Noticing our excitement, Ivan stopped the car on a plain at the highest point of Zvezdara forest.
Employed at the Faculty of mechanical engineering in Belgrade, dr Ivan Blagojevic turned his love for automobiles into a life's calling. Although he loves the automobile as an invention, French cars always were something different: "Ever since I was a kid I loved Peugeots. My uncle had a 504, and that's when I fell in love with that car." Fifteen years ago, Ivan started the search for his car, briefly interrupted by purchase of a low-mileage, but also neglected, 504. One of the cars he couldn't get was first registered in Yugoslavia on the day of Ivan's birth, and it's still owned by the ex-pilot for JAT (Yugoslavian Aero Transport). In 2006, the search ended successfully - a certain Peugeot 504 got its second owner.
"I bought it in Novi Sad from Mr. Vulic with only 49.000 kilometers and a lot of spare parts. It still has the original exaust, since the previous owner kept it wrapped in a blanket", Ivan started filling us in on the details of his adventure. Peugeot was purchased new in 1976 in Tehnoservis, but was originally intended for Swiss market. Besides specific headlights, that meant this 504 was equipped with features uncommon in models for Yugoslavian market: "It has optional leather seats, Ti version dashboard, sunroof, additional side trim, fog lights, and even a suit hanger!". Left guard once featured an external rear-view mirror, and today it's one of the rare imperfections in it's almost immaculate body, whose condition was praised even by a factory worker from Sochaux: "A fellow coutryman who worked in Peugeot factory showed me a trick: If the paint is chipped under the part of the guard that's covered by the bonnet, that's it." A large quantity of unused spare parts that came with the car were a great advantage: "I've had some carburetor trouble, so I simply gave the mechanic a new-old-stock Zenith 35/40 to replace the old one."
The list of rare and unusual details doesn't end here - rear window is adorned with old factory stickers, and windshield, as an homage to good ol' times, features a Coppertone girl. Small metal insignia of an English order of knights is below the gear lever, and keychain Ivan got is also unusual: "Mr Vulic gave me the keys with this coin that has pope's head on one side, and Kennedy's on the other. I showed it to a numismatist who couldn't tell me much about it, but was willing to buy it from me." As the car is almost perfect, it seems that Ivan only has to replace the rear-view mirror, an intervention he has decided to delay until he finds a right person for the job. Sub-par polishing job left it's trace on the paintwork, so it's of utmost importance that the bad choice of service is never repeated.
Although Peugeot is the only big four-wheeler Ivan owns, when it comes to diecast model cars, his collection is extensive: "I have virtually every 504 ever produced, and they are all over the house!" As the conversation unwraped, we regretted the decision not to attent Faculty of mechanical engineering ourselves, but we were at the same grateful for the chance to meet Ivan in a non-formal setting without the limitations curriculum imposes. Meanwhile, Zvezdara forest was gradually being overtaken by two French vehicles. Two old Citroens found us and a casual get-together under the November sun turned into a mini-gathering of fans of France and its special four-wheelers.