What you see is not always what you get. Outwardly, we seem to be in the presence of a 1955-66 Peugeot 4-door saloon. But this is Thailand, not Africa. This Pug is very far from its time zone. Parts and expertise must be quite an issue with a car like this. Think Cuban thoughts as we delve a little deeper into this 60-year-old survivor.
I won’t be trying to repeat Paul’s seminal post on the 403. But as a quick refresher, this was the first Peugeot to be styled by PininFarina; it came out in 1955 to succeed the 203 (1948-60) and was succeeded itself by the 404 (1960-75). The 203 / 403 / 404 models were evolutions of the same car, each slightly more powerful and bigger than the last. The middle child 403 came as a saloon, a 2-door cabriolet, a 5-door station wagon, a 3-door delivery wagon and a pick-up.
Unlike the other Peugeots of the era, the 403 never got a production 2-door coupé, perhaps due to the 1953-54 203 coupé’s dismal sales. As a small aside, here are a few early 403 specials. As Peugeot didn’t attempt one themselves, the coachbuilders usually went for the 2-door coupé. Around 1957, Chapron (left) attempted a short wheelbase and a long (saloon) wheelbase version, while Pichon-Parat (upper right) went for a hardtop with a panoramic windshield. The handsome Darl’Mat special (bottom right), which had shared none of the standard 403’s sheetmetal and had a beefed-up engine, was the only one to see limited production, but only a half-dozen were made in 1955-56.
But back to our featured saloon. There were some external signs that this Peugeot was a bit modified. One of the model’s most endearing period gadgets is the fuel filler cap, which is supposed to be hidden in the left-hand taillamp. Though not far off, the units on this 403 were manifestly not the standard model, and neither seemed to be operated as originally designed.
That was only the beginning. I’ve written about a few of the questionable (but perfectly understandable, given their location) classics I’ve encountered in Southeast Asia, including American vehicles that got Japanese engines put in. But at least, those examples seemed like they tried preserving as much of the original interior as possible.
In this case, though, we’re talking of a full Pug-ectomy. This left me a bit shaken. What in the world could be living under this poor car’s bonnet? Did they just take a locally-made Mazda Familia engine/transmission (and more, or perhaps with some Nissan or Toyota bits as well) and adapt it to the 403’s bodyshell? Who knows.
I was not able to identify the donor car(s) for this dash, but it’s looking very ‘80s Japanese there as well. I’m confident someone can ID this for us. That’s what CC does best time and again, and that’s why I’m posting another picture of this eyesore.
The grille is correct for early-to-mid-production run models; late model 403s had a simpler design with less chrome. But it’s definitely not pointing the way it should be, adding to the cobbled-together feel of the whole car. I’m being harsh. This is a classic car in the Cuban sense of the word, with a committed effort to keep the exterior rather glitzy and whatever can be scrounged to make it roadworthy. it’s not like an umpteenth custom VW Beetle made in a rich country by some guy. It’s a last-ditch effort to keep this 403 running out in the tropical sun. The world is all the better for it.
I’m pretty sure whatever dosh was available went to sourcing this lion’s head hood ornament. These were outlawed by the French authorities after the 1958 model year, but quite a number of 403s were retrofitted with one, kind of like how Jaguar leapers are now adorning many an XJ6.
Ad speaking of VW Beetles, there was a green 1300 parked right in front of the immobile Pug. The VW was still able to move under its own power, while the 403 had been gathering dust for a while (about two years, according to the road tax receipt on the windshield). Still, it had made it to the 21st century, unlike the majority of its cohort.
Had I seen this car but a couple years ago, it might have been filed under “In-Motion Classic.” It never fails to amaze me how durable these old Peugeots are. This one had to do a full Peter Sellers and have its “personality surgically removed” in order to get here at all. But sometimes, that’s what it takes.
Cohort Capsule: Peugeot 403 , by PN