“Bonjour, Monsieur, Madame; comment allez-vous? Bienvenue au garage du Boulevard Winston Churchill, agence Peugeot. We offer a full range of new Peugeot cars and autres grand marques, d’occasion. How can we be of service?”
“Bonjour, Monsieur; we are looking for a strong car that will serve us for many years in this rural area and also for the long journey on the new autoroutes pour les grandes vacances. It must carry 5, or 6 sometimes if necessary, people, have a big boot, be very comfortable and practical to run and to maintain. We will need many years of service, so reliability will be important; it must give the correct impression and obviously it will be French.”
“May I suggest the Peugeot 403? We are an agence Peugeot, so we can get new cars direct from the factory very quickly, and we have a selection of second-hand cars at good prices, and I can show you also the car Monsieur le Maire of our town is using”
(*For sale, a wide choice of models, new and second-hand, at good prices.)
“I have a choice of two cars here today. The first is the darker blue. This is a 1958 model. As you can see, the Lion de Belfort bonnet ornament has been removed and the new Peugeot emblem been located in the centre of the grille, as part of the “safety first” policy we have. This is consistent with the latest cars from the factory.”
“What engine does this have? Will it be more powerful and faster than our Simca Aronde? It’s a decent enough car but the styling gets a bit tiring after a while and we need a little more space inside. It’s really a bit too ostentatious for us, with all that American influenced styling, so we wouldn’t buy another, but we need a reason other than that, as they’re such good value. “Quietly spoken, but carry a big stick”, President Roosevelt said, I think”
“The Peugeot 403 has a 1468cc engine – 4 cylinders, around 65 bhp so a fiscal rating of 8CV. Even if you have the latest Aronde P60, it’ll only have 1.3 litres and 48bhp, and a fiscal rating of 7CV. Just one more fiscal CV but a lot more power and comfort. And as you say, the Simca does look a bit dramatic, almost as if it is American, or perhaps like one of those strange English cars like a Sunbeam or a Vauxhall”
“We also quite like the look of the Panhard PL17, and we admire the different thinking in that car as well, with its small twin cylinder engine and lightweight construction. Deceptively spacious, but not very fast and not very good value for money.
“You’re right – France is unique in having so many differing engineering solutions to the question of a modern family car – far more variety than Britain, Italy or Germany, and all of then capable of holding their own. I’d still recommend the Peugeot for you though – very well executed and thoroughly engineered, but calmly presented.”
“But the 403 is going to be heavier than the Simca, so won’t it be a bit slower and thirstier?”
“Not really – Peugeot fit all their cars with four speed gearboxes as standard and the top gear is actually an overdrive, so you can cruise very economically and still pull up the hills in third. And you know that with Peugeot’s advanced suspension you can take corners faster than you might expect in something like the Simca. They might look modern but the suspension is very basic.”
“I see. Good points. Substance over style? And yes, you’re right, English cars always either look a little dull, like the Morris Oxford or a Standard, or like an American car that has been washed too hot. I mean, have you seen the new Vauxhall Victor?”
“Indeed. La Vauxhall – sacre bleu! The 403 was styled by Pininfarina in Italy. There’s something Italian car designers can do that no one can, even in France. Look at the funny VW, those odd English cars or the new Citroen DS. They’ll all look old before this Peugeot”
“This car looks good, mature, nicely stated, not trying to attract attention. But it has no sunroof – I thought the 403 had a sunroof? We need a sunroof here really – it gets hot here in the sud-ouest in the summer.”
“We have another car here, which is the De Luxe, so it has the sunroof. It’s only just come in, so we haven’t had time to prepare it yet, but we will have it looking just as good as the blue car in no time.”
“We always think you don’t want a car that looks too clean and shiny, or without a few bumps. You only draw attention to yourself and then someone tells the tax inspector you’ve been able to afford a new car. I know a vigneron near St Michel d’Agen le Grand who says he always bumps a gate post very soon after he buys a car – he says it’s part of the registration process really. We certainly don’t worry about small bumps and scrapes, but I do wash our car at least three times a year.”
“These cars are very strong and dependable. In the trade, we call them the French Mercedes, because they are so strong and are built to serve for a long time. Peugeot take special efforts, compared with other makers, to make the suspension work so well, and the cars all have Michelin radial tyres, and advanced rack and pinion steering. These cars are not as dramatic as the Citroen, but they are perhaps just a modern in a different way”
“Really? I understood that the 403 was based on the old 203? The Dessee is completely brand new isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, and no. Everything you can see on the 403 is new compared with the 203 and the engine is larger and more powerful. There was little wrong with the 203, and these cars are even better. Everything has been improved! Like I said, the French Mercedes, or maybe the Mercedes 190 is the German Peugeot. They’re almost exactly the same size, and there is a visual similarity. And the Citroen might look very new, but it has the engine from the old Traction Avant, from 1934”
“But doesn’t the Citroen make this old fashioned, like something from le grand epoch?”
“The Citroen is a good car but it is complex and perhaps not ideal for this rural area. The factory tell us, unofficially, that the next Peugeot will be more like this car than the Citroen and that the freres Peugeot will probably continue the line in that way for many years. It may be 20, or even 30, years before the larger family Peugeot is technically very different to these cars. And these cars are popular in Africa and South America, because they are strong. The Simca is really a Fiat with very American styling.”
“Really – we thought the Simca was designed and built in Paris?”
“It is built in Paris and it is the first Simca not to be based on designs from Fiat in Italy. But Fiat still own most of the company, and M Henri Pigozzi is trying to expand by buying and merging with other business, like Ford SAF that Simca bought in 1954 for example. We hear on the trade grapevine that Fiat want to sell their stake – with the new Communauté Économique Européenne they’ll be able to send cars directly from Italy to France without tariffs – and one person I know said the Americans might want to buy it. Quelle dommage! Can you imagine the combination of Simca and American designs – it would worse than a Vauxhall!”
“You’re right – I know the English founded this town 700 years ago and build many of the elegant buildings but their cars suggest they’ve lost skills in aesthetiques.”
“You’re right – you only have to look at the latest Austin A70 or the Vauxhall Cresta to see that something has really gone wrong. They give their cars names of beautiful old English towns and counties, but then deliver strange shrunken American like shapes.”
“What about the Renault Fregate? Shouldn’t we support the national car maker?”
“Well, the Fregate is now an old car – it came out 5 years before the 403. It was supposed to have a rear engine, like the Dauphine but they changed their mind and never really finished properly it technically. And the national car maker – well, we all know that Louis Renault was a collaborateur really and General de Gaulle had no choice but to requisition the firm in the interests of the nation and the company’s staff. I’d recommend the Peugeot over the Fregate, or the larger Simca Vedette every day”
“Oh, we hadn’t thought about the Vedette”
“Not many people do now! It’s an old car too, a development of the old Ford, and was designed by Americans, so it has a V8 engine that is very thirsty and is 13CV, so the tax bill is a lot higher. Definitely not as good as the Peugeot. And it looks like some of those English Fords, like a small American car. Les Rosbifs can’t make a good looking car, except the Jaguar”
“Thank you for the explanation – you’ve convinced us about the Simcas and the Renault. Can we see the Maire’s car, please? We heard he keeps it very well in case the préfet comes at short notice”
“Indeed he does and we have it here now for a minor service. It’s just round the corner in la Place de la Republique.”
“This is the Maire’s car. It’s a 1957 car and you can see monsieur le Maire keeps it clean. Perhaps, he has someone keep it clean for him! And he’s kept the original lion de Belfort emblem on the front. He likes tradition and originality, so I’d never see him driving car that wasn’t French.
Also, unlike the new ones, it’s got sempahore indicators on the rear pillars. Peugeot changed those for 1958 – an advance that really helps everyone. Imagine him in a something like a Mercedes? A car built by people who only eat sausages. Or an old fashioned Rover – they’re for people who put jam on their roast meat. Or even one those over complicated Italian Lancias – well, they also think they can make wines better than our Bordeaux!”
“This is a great example of the Peugeot. What other options do we need to think about?”
“You could consider the diesel engine – they’ve told us that’s coming out very soon. It’ll be the first diesel saloon in France but really it’ll be intended for people using these cars as taxis and doing very high distances and the like.
But don’t get the wrong impression – just like the taxis in Stuttgart, Berlin and Frankfurt are the Mercedes-Benz 190, the best taxis in France will be Peugeot 403 diesels, and they’ll be running in Paris and Marseilles for many, many years. Running quite slowly, but running on and on.”
“And if you need lot of space, for the produce from your vignoble or petite entreprise, Peugeot do a truly exceptional break, or what the Americans call a station wagon. You can have that as a Familiale, with three rows of seats for seven, or even eight, people or as a Commerciale with the focus on space.
Remember, Peugeot make some of the best breaks, with a longer wheelbase and a special rear suspension, not just a longer saloon with a box on the back. Some say they’re better than the Citroen Safari – they can certainly take some abuse and for the farms around here the Peugeot break or the camionette is better suited than those new British Land Rovers the sapuers pompiers use”.
“You know M Thierry Arnoux, le boucher de cheval? He has one, tows a trailer to the marche every week, says it’s the best car he’s ever had. And you’ll probably have seen this one of the autoroute – we store it sometimes for Pascal.”
“Pascal Gregoire, le Capitaine de la Gendarmerie de l’Autoroute. A good friend of ours, thankfully.”
“Also, there’s going to be a special economy 7CV model, with the 1.3 litre engine used in the 203. No one will be able to tell the difference, until you start racing uphill, but it will be a lot better than your Simca Aronde P60”
“I always think this short film the factory have sent us is worth watching. We have set up this other office as a little cinema to show these films and they give a great impression of the strength of the engineering and testing, and the quality, of the cars and the way they’re built”
“As well, you need to look carefully at the interior of the 403. It’s not a car designed to be fashionable, like the Simca or the Freagte, or contrived to look like an old chateau like some of those strange British cars with all that wood and leather, or trying to show it’s modern like the Citroen, but it is fully up to date and, most important, properly executed. It’s got a modern column shift, so you can easily sit 3 people on the front seats, the seat backs recline so you can always be comfortable and it has a very modern style of dash, with a full horn rim on the wheel and a very complete and modern instrument pack. Nothing that’s going to look dated soon and it is easy to use. We can fit a modern radio very easily too.”
“And there’s plenty of space in the back and the seats are good proper shapes. That’s another reason taxi drivers like them – their passengers like them. So much better than the London taxi. Ceux-là sont bizarres!”
“And there are special mounting points for a Peugeot roof rack, that can carry a lot of weight, and still lets the sunroof open.”
“We need to think about this carefully – you’re shown us some good cars and told us a lot about them but we to think carefully – réfléchir – over a good French lunch.”
“D’accord! I can help you there, I think. I’m not supposed to give these away anymore but this a brochure for the 1957 cars and one for the 1960 cars as well. We found them under a crate of wine after the célébration du 14 juillet last week! They’ll tell you a lot about the cars we have here and about the excellent engineering in them.”
“What about colour choices – I assume you can have a choice of many different colours on a new car?”
“D’accord! If you look in la Place Gambetta, outside the hotel de ville, you’ll probably see a cream car. That belongs to one of the top notaires in the region. Always looks very smart”
And in the Rue de Victor Hugo, you’ll most likely see a black car, another 1957 one, in black, which is owned by one of the doctors in the town. You know when you see a car like that one that the driver is a professionel.”
“But my favourite is the medium green-blue – very modern, but subtly so, and I don’t think it will age like a Simca or a Citroen.”
“Good point. And we saw a pale green car earlier in the parking du marche – that looked stylish too.”
“And you can go weak at the knees over the 403 Cabriolet in the 1960 brochure – they are beautiful. I’ve never sold one, I don’t think one has been sold in the département yet but they do cost twice the price of the saloon. They’re more exquisite automotive haute couture than anything else, designed by Pininfarina – more beautiful than any Italian car or those old fashioned English sports cars. MG Magnette – qu’est-ce que c’est?.
“Looking at the illustration, I’m sure we saw one on the parking du marche – the same red as the brochure. Lots of people pointing at it.”
” C’est vrai? C’est superbe, magnifique – la plus belle voiture de France! One day, those cars will be worth a million Francs.”
“Vraiment? A million francs for a Peugeot? C’est incroyable!”
“Mais vrai! I have a friend who works in Paris for the Banque Nationale de Paris – he spends six weeks’ holiday here every August at his family’s manoir – and he says the industry specialists there in the Banque de Paris’ Bureau d’Analyse Commerciale et Industrielle Européenne et Internationale, de Veille, d’Etude et de Conseil et de Développement Industriel et Commercial think Peugeot are the strongest of all our car makers. Simca is dependent on the Italians or maybe the Americans, Citroen on Michelin, Panhard on Citroen and Renault on the politicians. He said something once about Peugeot maybe one day owning all of the French industry and perhaps being the biggest company in Europe, possibly even bigger than the American companies eventually! Beaucoup de vin et soleil, je pense!”
“We should go for a lunch, and think this through. Where would you suggest?”
“How about le Cafe des Arts? Bernard there does an excellent parmentir de confit de canard au vin de Cahors. That, or perhaps some escargots a la Bordelaise, and une tarte aux pommes Normande? It’s on the corner of the Avenue de la Resistance and the Boulevard Woodrow Wilson.”
“That sounds an excellent suggestion. Could we come back this afternoon and try a car, perhaps the blue one?”
“D’accord. We close for lunch at 12.00, naturellement, but we only take a short break for lunch and I’ll be back by 3pm, say 3.15 at the outside. Pas de sieste pour les garagiste! How about we say 3.30, and I’ll have the blue car ready for a test drive? We’ll have time to do everything else after that, perhaps over a pastis”
“And that little red car behind? I don’t think I’ve seen one of those before – what’s is it?”
“Another funny English car – they never caught on, except with people who replace head gaskets for a living. That Citroen ambulance conversion is quite interesting though – it’s like the grandson of the DS Safari. A tout a l’heure!”
The 403 Cabriolet was French automotive royalty for the middle class and to think of the injustices inflicted on Lt Columbo’s car!
You have sold me – how long to get a sedan in the medium green-blue? Would you include a radio if I provide you with a chicken?
Hmm, American chickens are taxed heavily from what I understand…Perhaps Monsieur Americaine would rather drive a basket of eggs over that farmer’s field in your 2CV rental on your way over here…they’ll be fine.
Brilliant!! But for the rest of us, what is the head-gasket devouring red car?
Thanks – a car never sold here in the US; we never got past the MGC though it was soon dropped and the B soldiered on a few more years. I checked Wikipedia and it provides quite a bit of detail on the head gasket woes. Seems like movement of the head and block mating surface was the culprit, not unlike the Chevy Vega, though for different reasons.
Bonjour mes ami, un 403 Break por moi, sil vous plais… What a great overview of the 403 lineup and its place within the greater market, and I appear to have learned more French in the fifth grade than I realized I’d be able to draw back on.
Perhaps America’s most familiar Peuguot 403 Cabriolet . . .
Well, Roger, this is a “presentation grande!” Thanks for the history of the Peugeot models and the competition, so to speak. I have always admired Peugeot for the durability and practical aspects of their automobiles.
I owned a blue 403 just like the one in the second image. This was during my 404 mania, and I really wanted a 403 too. But it was a non-runner, and the interior was in pretty bad shape. I parked it in my only designated spot in our apartment building and it sat there for almost a year, as I was way too busy to attend to it. I don’t remember just how got rid of it, but it made me a bit sad to have never driven it, other than in my imagination.
As to the 403’s suspension, the one in the front, using a transverse leaf spring as the lower control arm, did not have the exceptional long travel, soft springs and corresponding ride that later Peugeots (and many other French cars) became famous for. That all really started with Citroen, with their ultra-soft 2CV and of course the legendary DS with its hydro-pneumatic suspension. The 203/403 had a very decent ride for the times, but it rode decidedly more firmly than its successor 404, which had a completely new front suspension.
The rear suspension did have the traditional Peugeot long-travel coil-sprung live axle.
I think I must have imagined the Peugeot 403 had four lug bolts/nuts. I actually like the car with any number of course.
I think Lt. Columbo would be pleased to see this — even though it might be in a tad better shape than his ragtop was. 😉
One thing snagged my eye:
That’ll be Déesse, pronounced the same as [DS]: “day-ESS”. It means “Goddess”.
We had 2 403’s and Dad told me the difference between the old and newer 403’s.
Old or early 403’s had no front indicators, had a 403 badge on the bootlid instead of a Peugeot one and the wipers worked like two waving hands instead of pairing up to wipe. And the early ones had a lousy heater but Dad’s beige 403 had that lovely robergel side trim.
The best one was the Diesel, it was dove grey had a Blaupunkt radio was 62 model and seemed to live forever, I still remember holidays i France, one with a rented Sprite caravan and another one with a boat carried upside down on the roof. Dad kept the 403 Diesel well into the 404 era. Peugeot drivers were always quite sceptical about a new model I guess.
Until a black 1966 404 Diesel continued the Peugeot Diesel saga in our family, the 403 left us with well over 200000 kilometers, the 404 well over 300000.
I owned a Simca four door like the black Aronde, the Peugeot is a definite improvement and far longer lasting, though the Citroen is a good choice but slightly more complicated for the service agent if it ever goes wrong.
Bien sûr qu’il en a un !
Magnifique, Monsieur Voiturre ! I’m more partial to the 203, but a 403 is always a treat, especially “dans son jus” (unrestored) like that.
The 403’s semaphores went away in 57 and the hood ornament in 58, so most of the ones you see don’t have either attribute (they were made until 1966 in France), though people do like to retrofit the lion on the front. Grrr.
I’d go for the black 1955-56 Panhard Dyna Z, myself.
Et nous alors ?
Well, Monsieur Roger, who is going to come to your rescue when you’ll have a problem with your boiler, your drains, the trees in your garden, mend your roof, let you in when you’ll have lost the keys of your house? Or help you when your car won’t start?
The 403 bâchées.
I am sold, monsieur, but will, er, ‘ow you say, passez to le 404. You well-describe the various stylistic afflictions of the rosbif-origin voitures of the period, and the 403 rises above they, but dans le grand schema of things, I have always found her a bit plaine, per’aps even a bit suet pudding.
Bon photographies. Lots of summer in them.
As a by-the-by, I didn’t know the Fregate was planned as a derriere-motuered machine: funny, because I have always thought it LOOKED like one. Thus in amongst le divertissments ala Carr, I have also learned a fact nouvelle.
Great text. At some points I almost fell off my chair laughing.
Thank you very much.
I apologize that the memory is a bit foggy on the origin of this tale, but I do remember reading a story years ago about some personality (maybe Garrison Keillor, maybe Chevy Chase) who imported a 404 he’d bought in Europe and had it shipped to the docks in N.J. He met the ship to claim his car, but while the crane was moving it from the deck to the dock, it snapped its cables and dropped the Peugeot 15 feet onto the concrete. Whereupon our owner walked over to the car, produced the key, opened the door, turned on the ignition, put it in gear, and commenced to drive all the way to Philadelphia without any issues.
Interesting that the Familiale interior looks like a 7 passenger sedan from the 20s and 30s–fixed back row and middle folding jump seats.
Rumor has it that the 403 was the basis for the bodywork design of the original Silver Shadow. They do look similar to the 403.
Rumour with no basis! The 404 is probably a better match or any of the Pininfarina saloons of the late Fifties, especially the larger BMC variations.