Iran’s People’s Car Is a Gift from a Son to His Father

Brendan McAleer

Twenty three years ago, Ali Davoudi moved with his young family to Canada from Iran. Being members of the minority Baha’í faith there, they had suffered from persecution, and though emigrating meant they were forced to leave relatives behind, it was a chance for a fresh start. Even so, Ali had to begin again from scratch, first starting out working at a Persian grocery store. He bought a Honda. It broke. He bought a Mazda. It broke too.

“My dad would come home and say, ‘What is with these new cars? I had Paykan for twenty years and all I had to do was basic service,’” laughs his son, Aidin Davoudi. “He always said, ‘I wish I could have another Paykan.’”

“So I kinda made it happen for him.”

Paykan iran sedan badge
Brendan McAleer

This car—which, if you recognize it, please go immediately to the head of the class—is a 1967 Paykan 1725, the people’s car of Iran. Built for almost a half-century without major changes, the chances of you seeing another one are basically zero. Getting this one imported from Iran was nearly impossible, and restoring it to its present gleaming condition required overseas contacts, an immense amount of labor, and a significant cost. But Aidin will tell you it was all worth it.

Now a successful small business owner who runs an auto glass shop in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Davoudi Jr. is all about modified sports cars. He first dipped his toes in the customization scene with an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, and currently has a wicked and surprisingly restrained tuned R35 GT-R with the personalized plate MADZLA. That car is all carbon fiber and big turbos, whereas the Paykan makes do with a 1725cc engine and a single carburetor. But when Aidin tells me what he’s sunk into getting this staple of Iranian traffic on the road, I nearly fall over.

“Persians are one thing,” he says of what people think of his dad’s car, “But it’s surprising the attention it gets from other people. People ask, ‘Is that a 510?’”

Paykan iran sedan rear three quarter
Brendan McAleer

Especially in the rear three-quarter, there is an element of boxy Datsun to this car. In fact, it is most closely related to a Hillman Hunter, one of the Rootes Group Arrow cars. Paykan, or Peykân, is Farsi for “arrow,” and the cars were first built in the country as complete knock-down kits (CKD), beginning in 1966.

The vehicle usually most associated with pre-revolutionary Iran is the Mercedes G-wagen, an idea spurred along at Mercedes by a suggestion from Shah Pahlavi. However, long before that, the industrialist Mahmoud Khayami seized upon the idea of establishing automotive manufacturing in Iran: an Iranian-built car for the Iranian people.

Throughout his life, Khayami would be deeply interested in Persian culture, history, and art. It is an incredibly ancient civilization, matched only by Egypt, with the first great cities established more than five thousand years ago. The Persian Royal Road of King Darius I, built around 500 BCE, was arguably the world’s first highway. By the 1960s, Tehran was a bustling modern metropolis, and Khayami wanted to put it on wheels. His first effort included building Mercedes-Benz buses under license, but personal passenger vehicles soon became the goal.

Paykan iran sedan interior driver dash
Brendan McAleer

As was the case in both the early Japanese and Korean car industry (especially the latter, more on that in a bit), Iran turned to Britain for expertise. Khayami’s new Iran National automaker inked a licensing deal with the Rootes Group, and by the mid-1960s, had moved from building CKD kits to most of the Paykan apart from the engine.

Owning a Paykan in Iran in the 1960s and the 1970s was basically the same as owning a Mini or a VW Beetle elsewhere. It was a car without class distinction, driven by everyone from the Prime Minister to a taxi cab operator.

Paykan iran sedan engine bay
Brendan McAleer

Everything about the car was pretty conventional for the time. It had that Hillman Hunter 1725cc engine, developed at a time when the Rootes group was being very conservative with its R&D, with five main bearings and a modest-but-unstressed 72 horsepower. The front engine, rear-drive layout was as basic as they come, and the four-door sedan body was useful and relatively robust. It was the kind of car the British automotive industry used to do well—not very complicated and easy to keep going if you were mechanically sympathetic. The development of a pickup truck variant made the Paykan indespensible in the trades and light transport.

Iran National’s intent was always to gradually increase domestic production of Paykan parts to the point that the car was 100% built in-country. Production was up to around 100,000 cars per year in the 1970s, and former British Leyland executive George Turnbull was brought in to help with the changeover. For those scoffing that British Leyland was hardly the best-run company to poach ideas from, Turnbull was fresh off helping Hyundai set up manufacturing of the original Pony, which was successful right from the start.

And, like the Pony, there was a one-off coupe created by an Italian designer (Michelotti for the Paykan, Giugiaro for the Hyundai). This was delivered to an Iranian customer in 1974, but nobody seems to know what happened to it.

1979’s Islamic revolution in Iran changed the fate of the Paykan in more ways than one. In the first case, Iran National was nationalized as Iran Khodro, and Khayami moved to France, where he would live out his days in exile. Nationalization of the company ensured that Paykan production would go on for more than two decades, but a new engine supply was required as Hillman had been taken over by Peugeot and reorganized.

Once the political situation became more stable, the factory was able to work off a stockpile of Hillman Hunter 1725cc engines, and soon brokered a deal with Peugeot’s U.K. subsidiary Talbot for further engine supply. The subsequently facelifted Paykan went on to be built all the way until 2005, with every part domestically produced by the early 1990s.

While the Davoudis were still living in Iran, Ali used his Paykan as a taxi cab to make ends meet. Aidin remembers the car as part of his childhood, something common with many young Iranians. Paykans were everywhere—part of daily life, part of the scenery. With the pickup version manufactured until 2015, they’re still hard at work all over the country.

“I’ve still got to get it perfect for my dad,” Aidin says, speaking of troubleshooting an issue with the front brakes, “I don’t want him to be disappointed when he drives it.”

Paykan iran sedan front plate lettering
Brendan McAleer

He hand-made the rear louvers, sourced a model Paykan to go on the rear shelf, and had all the brightwork rechromed. The custom front plate is the name of the city where his dad was born, with his birthday in the Persian calendar. Even the air suspension is from an Iranian company owned by a friend. So much work has gone into what would be just an ordinary family car in Iran. You can sense the love. No wonder it gets so much attention.

During my time with Aidin, a dad teaching his son how to drive a manual transmission in an Audi R8 V10 spots the Paykan and gives us a thumbs up. The local mountain park crew pulls up in their pickup to check it out. I’ve previously seen Aidin bring his dad’s car to local shows, and people who’ve never even heard of a Paykan are curious to find out all about it.

Paykan iran sedan side profile
Brendan McAleer

Today, Aidin Davoudi works with his dad Ali at his auto glass shop. He’s also tracked down his own Paykan Javanan, a youth-oriented trim available with a twin-carb engine, as his next project.

A Paykan is an unusual machine, a visitor from far away. But there is something all too familiar about its story. A father works hard to give his family new opportunities. A son recognizes that sacrifice. The car is simply that bond, wrought in steel, rubber, and glass.


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    There are so many “better” cars he could have gotten his dad, but none that would mean more. I love the stories about these obscure cars that make the hobby so interesting.

    I am glad you said Hillman Hunter. I was thinking it reminded me of an old Matchbox but had no idea what it was.

    Always interesting to see an odd car from a part of the world we see few cars come from.

    One of our airplane maintenance contracters bought a used Paykan in 1978. The rest of us leased Renault Model 5’s, known as Le Car in the U.S. Another car I remember produced there was the Djane 6CV, known elsewhere as the Citroën Dyane. When the revolution chased me to Athens, Greece, my attention switched to Wartsburg, Dacia, and ΡΩΣ (or Ros), and ΣΤΥΛ ΚΑΡ (or STYL KAR), three-wheeled pickup trucks.

    It does have a somewhat Japanese car look to it. It’s definitely a rare sight. I’ve never seen or heard of this before.

    Wonderful story. Knowing a little bit about Canadian bureaucracy, much like ours here in the States, I’m sure bringing the car in was more work than restoring it.

    The Hunter was quite popular in the UK and Australia for a time. Most famously Andrew Cowan drove one to victory in the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon which helped enormously. A touch lucky as he leading Citroen was wrecked by a crash with a motorist who had wandered onto the closed course with less than 100 miles to go.

    Like all British cars of the period, in-fighting, ownership changes and a willing blindness to Japanese imports led to their demise. Still they were a competent little road car and a bit of fun in GT trim.

    Figgy308 is correct. The English-derived Hillman Hunter was ex the UK (Rootes Group) which sold plenty of Hillman, Humber, Singer products here in New Zealand as well in the 1950s through to the 1970s. Here in NZ, a NZ family identity company called the ‘Todd Group’ were the distributors. Singer Gazelles, Humber 80s, Hillman Vogues, Imps, Hunters and Avengers were a very common sight on our NZ roads in those three decades. Their reputation was mixed and they were either popular by some or loathed by others for their sometimes low quality and fickle reliability. In the 1970s, the ‘Todd Group’ started selling Mitsubishi products to supplement their Rootes originating product and scored immensely popular with the public. The ‘Paykan’ featured in the article is almost an exact duplicate of a blue Hillman Hunter we owned for a few years in the 70s. The one featured here is lowered (looks good) with a bit more chrome and badges but virtually the same old Hunter right down to the fickle 1725 engine. We sold it on after a couple of years and relished our replacement Toyota Corolla!

    Basic (Simple & Affordable ) cars bring back good memories for people who couldn’t afford anything more–without all the Extras there was just less to break & Easier to repair–It gave the impression of being a Better car–

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