Car Show Classic: 1937 Peugeot 302 – Art Deco Meets French Suspension

(first posted 6.7/2016)    A pre-war Peugeot is a rare sight, even in France, and almost exclusively at car shows. But French car shows can be different, and this one certainly was. It was billed as a classic car show, linked to a village festival, in a small (I mean very small) village, in southwest France.


Quality, not quantity, was the key. There were not many cars but the cars that were there were universally of CC appeal. A Peugeot 403, a 404, an Alpine A310, a Renault 8 and an 8 Gordini, a Porsche 911, and this quite delectable Peugeot 302.


The Peugeot 302 was a derivative of the 402 that Paul wrote about yesterday, varying from the 42 Legere (lightweight) by having a smaller, 1758cc straight 4 cylinder, 45 bhp engine rather than the 1991cc or 2142cc engine fitted to the 402, and coming on only the shorter 113 inch wheelbase. Longer wheelbase 402 versions were also available.


The rear wheels were driven through a three speed gearbox; 65 mph was probably about as fast it was going to go. However, you don’t have to look for long to see that this car has a long travel suspension, independent at the front, semi-elliptic at the rear, giving the car the ability to provide a better ride and cornering than many competitors. French country roads may be smoother now, but they are often still undulating, and, for Europe, France is a big place, so distances can be surprising and quick cornering can be useful.


The 302, and 402, were certainly ahead of the then technically conservative Renault, if not the innovative Citroen Traction Avant. Brakes were cable, rather than hydraulic on the Citroen, though.


However, to my taste and in this maroon colour, the 302 scores very highly on style. If you like Art Deco, you’ll fall for this car easily, from the strakes of the grille flowing over the headlights and into the bonnet, the flutes on the side of the bonnet and wheel spats, where they make an echo of the Lion of Belfort, Peugeot’s logo, the waistline ridge and the spare wheel cover. Wonderful stuff, and on a regular production car, not a limited volume coach built special.


There were other, lower volume versions of the 302, notably this Cabriolet with a fold out dickey seat. Attractive enough, but to me not quite catching the Art Deco spirit of the saloon. There’s something from the Chrysler Airflow in this car, but also something of a pre-war BMW as well. And no running boards.


Something like 25,000 302s were built in just two years, from 1936 to 1937, as the car was superseded as the smallest Peugeot by the 202, which took the style in a slightly different, less ornate direction.


The 402 remained on sale until 1942, at a slot nominally above the 302, though in the later years private sales were minimal. Most were for the French military, and many ended up in Free French colours as the French Resistance.


And my favourite detail? Below the grille, with the head lights (sadly not yellow on this example) covered and the sculpted lion’s head, the 302 logo is in French red, white and blue, and the 0 forms the crank handle access.


Wonderful – I could look at this car all afternoon!