As I caught this Peugeot 203 enjoying a pleasurable sun-dappled afternoon cruise, it was not so apparent that this genteel (albeit less-than-nattily-shod) car was also one of Australia’s hardiest. This marque has enjoyed a high regard within our rural communities, and in 1953 the rest of Australia would come to learn why. The Redex Reliability Trial, the longest and toughest endurance event since the 1908 New York to Paris race, showed us.
The 1953 Redex Reliability Trial captured the imagination of the whole country, who followed its every mile in the newspapers and magazines, on the radio, through the cinema newsreels and amongst their everyday conversation. At its commencement, over 50,000 spectators crowded the Sydney Showgrounds, and a further 150,000 lined the Sydney streets to watch the cars depart.
It was a 6,500 mile 14 day journey circumventing half of our vast continent, and traversing some of the toughest terrain to test both man and machine.
This was of course an opportunity for Australia’s Own Holden to show its indigenous superiority.
But the Redex Trial was open to all comers.
The field consisted of experienced drivers such as Jack Brabham, Lex Davison, Stan Jones and ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray, but also men (and women) off-the-street entering their family cars with a sense of adventure. The Redex conformed to the mindset of the nation, a great leveller where no person was above their station and the best would win on merit.
One ‘privateer’, the ‘Galloping Grandma’, Winifred Conway, was ignored by the Austin dealers when she tried to garner sponsorship. Their attitude soon changed after she completed the trial and finished in the middle of the field.
Eleven monocoque-bodied Peugeot 203s were entered. Only Holden, with twenty-three 48-215 entries and Ford, with twelve Customlines, had a greater model representation.
Phillip Bromley at Peugeot Car Club of NSW gives us some context for Peugeot in Australia at this time;
‘The Peugeot 202 was the last of the series of streamlined 1930s models with waterfall grilles that evoked the Chrysler Airflow. The streamlined look of headlights behind a beautiful waterfall grille meant nothing to Australian authorities and the lights of the little French cars had to be repositioned on brackets on the guards to indicate the width of the vehicle. But where potential buyers were suspicious of the Airflow, and bemoaned its lack of a rear lid for access to the boot, the more stylish Peugeots won fans everywhere.
‘The 202 was the only one continued into production after the Second World War and in car-starved Australia buyers who bought them (sometimes out of desperation) fell in love with their French cars once they woke up to the performance, the dustproofing and that almost unheard of feature, the heater.
‘The day after I left high school in 1959, I started work as an apprentice motor mechanic at Cecil R. Pierce, the North Shore Chrysler, Simca, Peugeot, Renault dealer. There were two workshops, employing about 12 mechanics—one for Chrysler, Dodge, etc. and the other for Peugeot, Renault, etc, called the continental workshop.
‘My Peugeot was a company car used by the service manager, Harold Pierce, and came on the market when the Peugeot 203 panel van replaced it. This happened about the time I was to get my licence, which I went for in the panel van. It seemed the right thing to do to purchase the Peugeot 202. I very proudly drove this car—I should say thrashed—all over New South Wales for the next two years.’
There was a twelfth 203 in the 1953 Redex Trial, a Fourgonette with windows cut into the rear side panels. It was the transport of choice for Ken Hall’s Cinesound, who would be providing the exciting newsreels for cinemagoers around the country. A pragmatic choice on the basis of its ability to withstand the punishment of the trial as well as carry all the necessary filming equipment.
One of the 203s entered was piloted by Ken Tubman (left) and navigated by John Marshall. Their preparation of the car had been limited to a valve grind on the 1,290cc 4 cylinder engine and greasing the suspension.
By Adelaide, about two thirds of the way through, only two cars were running unpenalised; a Humber Super Snipe and the Tubman/Marshall 203.
The toughest point of the trial was a special stage that included a crossing at Paddy’s River. Many cars were swept downstream or bogged in the mud. Tubman ploughed on in and the car stalled part of the way. He pulled at the starter and the engine sprang to life there and then, propelling them though.
At the end of the trial, the Tubman/Marshall Peugeot 203 led the pack back into Sydney. When scores were tallied, they were announced as the winners of the event, having lost 19 points – only one point fewer than the second place Humber Super Snipe. All eleven 203s reached the finish line.
To get a sense of how much attention was being paid to the Redex Trial, even the Australian Women’s Weekly ran their own teams in 1954 and 1955.
Stamps were issued, although the featured car was of an abstract marque.
In 1954, the Redex Trial was expanded to 9,500 miles. 31 Peugeot 203s were entered and one came second.
Cinesound used another 203 Fourgonette, this time without the cutout side windows.
In 1955, a Peugeot 203 came fifth (maybe not this one but it does make for a great pic).
But after three years, the Redex Trial was no more. When the dust had settled, Peugeot had firmly established itself as the equal to our most inhospitable of environments.
But Peugeot was not finished yet. In 1956, Ampol ran their own version of the trial. Alan Taylor (left) and Wilf Murrell entered a Peugeot 403, although they weren’t impressed when they lost a windscreen.
But they did show a bit more cheer when they won.
The press unit used a 203, this time a fully-windowed Familiale.
And a 403 was used as survey car for the 1957 event.
Peugeot commenced CKD assembly in Heidelberg, Victoria in 1953. Though it was never a high-volume seller in this country, it had earned its reputation here for durability and reliability in the only acceptable way. Not through words but through action.