Tasra my Peugeot Pars in the Dasht-e Kavir desert.
This is Part 5 and the final Part of our exploration of Iran in a Peugeot Pars. You can see Part 1: Tehran here, Part 2: Isfahan here, Part 3: Shiraz here and Part 4: Dasht-e Lut and Yazd here. It’s now time to link back to Tehran to drop our rental Peugeot Pars which I baptised Tasra. Before we get back though, we’ll do a fascinating detour to the Dasht-e Kavir desert, going through the oasis towns of Mesr, Fahrahzad, Khur and Anarak. Back west we then visit the traditional village of Abyaneh, Kashan, before catching our plane in Tehran.
Our itinerary through the Dasht-e Kavir desert back to Tehran Dasht-e Kavir snaps
The Dasht-e Kavir, meaning ‘Low Plains’ in classical Persian, is also known as Kavir-e Namak or Great Salt Desert. This is the closest landscape to the U.S. Death Valley you will find in Iran, complete with large salt pans and endless straight strips of bitumen streaking the barren, rocky and mountainous plateau. It had rained a few days prior to my visits and as a result there were a few flood crossings which Tasra my Peugeot Pars negotiated without batting an eyelid.
Welcoming police officers of Khur in the Dasht-e Kavir
However my attempt at exploring the salt pan east of Khur is cut short by a blown tire on my Peugeot Pars. This would turn out out to be the theatre of the most surprising and memorable encounter of the entire trip. Unable to change my tire on the side of the road as the ground is sandy and wet and won’t support my jack, I’m forced to get the car limping back to town which is a excruciating 30 km away, triggering angry honks by enormous trucks swooshing past me at over 100 kph on the two-way road. This is actually dangerous. Thankfully (yes) a Renault Megane police car which was patrolling nearby directs me to an appropriate location near an exit where I can change my tire. When they understand I’m a French tourist, I get showered with big smiled “welcome to Iran!” As I start jacking the car up, they gesture for me to move aside and proceed to replace my wheel themselves from start to finish in just a few minutes, jovially refusing any help on my part! The mandatory selfie ensues. That’s Iranian hospitality for you…
1978 Toyota Hilux in Mesr
The hero of the day is a magnificent 1978 Toyota Hilux spotted in Mesr, complete with original stencils, indeed very seventies-looking. Iconic and rather unexpected in this tiny one-street oasis village of mud brick houses right in the middle of the Dasht-e Kavir desert home to just 183 inhabitants. A very lucky find!
Mesr and nearby carlandscape
In this area, medium-sized sedans are favoured with the Paykan sedan and Iran Khodro Samand the most popular, alongside a sprinkling of Chinese fares such as the Lifan X60.
Anarak car landscape
On our way westwards back towards the Isfahan highway, we cross Anarak, population 1,482. In this part of Iran indeed, there are a lot of smaller oasis villages nested at the foot of impressive rocky mountains, unlike the lonesome region between Tehran and Isfahan that featured no countryside towns. The people in Anarak speak a dialect called Anaraki, only spoken here and in cities within 50 km of it. Pickups are dominant here, such as the Zamyad Z24, Paykan Pickup and Iran Khodro Arisun. I also spotted a splendid Land Rover Defender.
Abyaneh village (courtesy Wikipedia) and car landscape
Next on the map is Abyaneh, population 305, settled 2500 years ago making it one of the oldest traditional villages in Iran. House are characterized by a peculiar reddish hue, due to the colouring of the earth in the region. Abyanaki people have maintained their traditional culture and costume, women typically wearing a white long scarf with a colourful pattern and an under-knee skirt. There are a lot of Peugeot 405 here, as well as Saipa Pride and Zamyad Z24.
Kashan snaps and car landscape
The last city we visit before we close this exploration series is Kashan, population 397,000. Between the 12th and the 14th centuries Kashan was an important centre for the production of high quality pottery and tiles. As such, in modern Persian, the word for a tile (kashi) comes directly from the name of the town. The main attraction in Kashan is the few late 19th century sprawling houses featuring spectacular architecture hidden behind unassuming gates. The Khan-e Tabatabei for example stuns with its intricate stone reliefs and is arranged around no less than four courtyards with ponds and fountains. The 1001 nights would feel right at home in this palace. The Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad is also worth checking out (1st picture above) with its richly coloured tiles, delicate paintings and dimmed lighting. Aside from the usual suspects (Saipa Pride, Tiba, Peugeot 405 and Iran Khodro Samand), Chinese carmaker Brilliance is particularly strong in Kashan as well as Changan with the CS35. I also spotted a very rare Peugeot 2008 here (pictured above).
Peugeot Pars detail
We will end this Iranian series with a quick review of my rental Peugeot Pars which I baptised Tasra. We’ll address the elephant in the room first the fact that this vehicle, a 1987 Peugeot 405 with an updated grille and tail lights, is still available to purchase as new in Iran, over 30 years after its launch. This is the main “attraction” of a car nerd trip to this country, where economic sanctions have forced the local automotive industry to continue to make do with decades-olds licences from foreign carmakers. Logically, driving the Pars around Iran does feel like driving a 1980s car. The engine is weak for such a large car, especially on highway ascents, and the overall handling is a singular mix of too-soft pedal work and a brittle steering wheel, pretty much the feeling of driving a car that was conceived 30 years ago. On the plus side but this has nothing to do with the car, the potential cost of higher fuel consumption triggered by the outdated engine is cancelled out by incredibly cheap petrol (0.07€ per litre). Given design and equipment are over 30 year-old, a surprisingly low amount of improvements have been made to the car. Among them, driver and passenger airbags, electric windows, a few steering wheel commands (phone pickup, next and previous song, mute and mode change), hard braking triggering warning lights, but not much else… The car rental company provided an Aux cable so I could plug in my iPhone to play music in the car as there is no usb port anywhere, while the lighter must be used to charge up.
Tasra my Peugeot Pars
It’s mind-boggling to realise that the Peugeot Pars is one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) cars to be produced in Iran today. Surely the Iranian customer deserves more modern offerings, a Peugeot 301 for example, but the return of sanctions triggered by the Trump government make the prospect of 301 local production, which was scheduled to start in the coming years, a long shot. This situation easily explains why Chinese cars have been particularly successful here: the ones assembled locally are also currently sold in China such as the Chery Tiggo 3X or Arrizo 5 for example, and their price helps them compete with decades-old designs such as the Saipa Pride, Peugeot 206, 405 and our very own Pars. Akin to the overall Iranian car landscape, renting a car in the country is truly a time-travelling experience. Driving Tasra the Peugeot Pars for 3,720 km / 2,300 miles all around Iran reminded me of the sensations I had when using my very first car, a Peugeot 205. It makes sense, given the two cars were designed and manufactured at roughly the same time.
This concludes our Iranian series, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did exploring the country and writing about it! Stay tuned for our next Explore features including 10 Chinese Test Drives, taking the Toyota Corolla to the Australian Outback.