French Class: 1961 Peugeot 403

1961-Peugeot-403

Fans of the TV show Columbo will recall this front end (although he drove a cabriolet version).  As an unabashed fan of the Peugeot 505 wagon I used to own, this solid looking Peugeot 403 caught my eye here on eBay today. The car is just down the road from me in Durham, North Carolina and bidding is under $600 with no reserve! Tempting…

Peugeot-fender

The seller describes the car as having good floors, trunk, rockers and doors, and although the pictures are a little fuzzy, I can believe it after looking them over.  All the external trim appears to be there, but the seller mentions that a few pieces of trim are missing, along with the windshield washer “stuff”.  I’ve got to wonder how and why that would go missing… there must be an interesting story there!

Peugeot-interior

While the interior looks more than a little worn in the pictures, it’s not hard to pick out the good points, including what looks like a solid dash top and the art deco looking dash components.  The cover over the 4-on-the-tree shifter looks to be pretty much gone though.

Peugeot-trunk

The trunk floor looks surprisingly solid and I’m guessing the new looking green wires are from someone’s refurbishment efforts.  Perhaps the rear lights weren’t working, or maybe they are the remnants of an ill-advised speaker installation?

french

The French emblem worn with pride on the trunk lid gives no doubt as to where this car originated. The lines, however, were penned by Italian design house Pininfarina and that helped them sell over a million 403’s during its 11 years of production. This particular example is showing less than 31,000 miles, and although there’s no real way of telling if it has flipped over or not, the seller thinks that the minimal pedal pad wear may indicate that’s true.  The engine is currently locked up, but the owner says they are soaking it, presumably with release oil.  Finally, and what may be extremely important if you take this project on, the car comes with two workshop manuals!  So, can this French charmer find its way into your garage?

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Comments

  1. Horse Radish

    I wouldn’t mind a French car , but only while living in France.
    IMHO, they seem to need some hard to get parts and aren’t exotic enough for the trouble.
    Maybe a little newer than this , a 604 Turbo-diesel or a 504 Coupe.

  2. Mark E

    I see what the green wire is for…see the third brake light in the rear window?

    I didn’t realize Pininfarina did the design but now that you mention it I can definitely see it. Seeing the hole in the front makes me wonder if you could manually crank the engine? Sounds like the kind of weird but practical thing a French car would have…

    • Mark E

      Yes, a quick check on google informs me that the engine was low compression and could indeed be cranked by hand. Just the kind of thing I could see Columbo doing! ^_^

    • Jim

      Your right about that hole in the front. I had one of these in the 70’s, I got it cheap because it needed a starter, they weren’t cheap for this car. I used to hand crank it or pop the clutch to get it going untill I found someone to rebulid the starter for me.

    • Richard Giles

      I was given one of these in 1970 and it was a rust bucket. You are correct in the hole being for a crank, I used it quite a bit in high school as I couldn’t afford a new battery,was actually easy to start with the crank. In the trunk there are supports for a thin wood or cardboard shelf providing space for the spare tire to slide in just above rear bumper. The trunk lid has a clear plastic lens where the license plate light is so at night if you turn lights on the license plate lights trunk area. 4 speed on column, 4 cyl hemi,solid torqetube rear axel. Quite unusal but was a very fun little car, especially for free.

  3. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Good point, Mark!

  4. MikeH

    These cars are tough as an anvil and parts are surprisingly easy to get from Europe.

  5. Tirefriar

    This maybe an interesting project…for a Columbo fan. Good condition 403s can be had in the low ‘teens. If I was to undertake this project, I’d go the way of vintage 403 rally cars.

  6. Jim

    I had one of these in the 70’s, not a bad car at all. If I remember right it was a 4 speed on the column. It also had a crank starter, I used to drew a bunch of people to the car when I started it this way. I got it cheap because it needed a starter, back then a rebulid went for $75.00 which was a lot of money then!! I did find someone to rebuild it for $25.00. Don’t remember much after that, it was the 70’s!! LOL

  7. rapple

    @Tirefriar, I would love to have the one you posted. Like @Jim, I too had one of these just after getting out of college (semi-impoverished) in the late ’60s. Bought it for $75 in decent running condition with faded paint and inop taillights. Bolted a couple of cheap round trailer lights to the top of the fenders, wired them up and drove it for a year through the Massachusetts winter. The battery was weak so the crank came in handy. On cold winter nights I would bring the battery in the house to keep warm, an exercise facilitated by the easy-to-remove terminals secured by large wing nut fasteners. In the morning a few hand cranks would make it easier for the warm battery to do its thing.
    I remember driving it around in Boston for a week before discovering it was actually a 4 speed! The “H” pattern was R123 with 4th down and up by 2nd.

    • Jim

      I think I paid $100.00 for mine. My friend who had a Towing company sold it to me, I used to get some cool cars from him real cheap. I got a 67′ 442 Convert from him for $100.00, the owner ran over a manhole cover that flipped & messed up the front end real bad, other wise the car was mint. I never fixed it but did make $$ on it. To have that car today!! : ( I could go on & on about the cars I had back then & wished I had today!!

  8. jim s

    the only thing that might make this more interesting would be a diesel motor. smoeone is going to have a nice car to use as a daily driver. great find

  9. retrogreg Member

    I rallied one (403 Berline) in Canadian national winter rallies in the mid sixties and I have found over the years cared for French cars to be exceptionally reliable – either do the maintenance yourself or if you need a mechanic find one who ‘buys-into’ the French design foibles – vive la difference! – fully 1/2 of my dozen collector cars are French, and they all run as they should, Greg (Citroen TA, Ami 8, SM, Peugeot 202 (shown) & 404 Coupe and a Deutsch Bonnet HBR5)

    • jim s

      more photos please.

    • Rob

      THAT!!, yours, would make a Cool HotRod.. 【ツ】

  10. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    That’s beautiful, Greg!

    • retrogreg Member

      Appreciate it Jamie – you have a great site, thank you for your efforts.

      – I had seen a 202 several years ago and had always thought of buying one and painting it two tone exactly as this one had been done. so, when I found it for sale – no question I had to have it! I bought the car from Finland where it lived ‘up north’ and I had to await first the spring thaw before it could be extricated from the barn. Then the exportation was further delayed as it had belonged to a famous traditional Finnish folk singer and their government’s Historical Dept had to bless its export. An interesting aspect is the wheel design – they are prototypes (hand numbered in the 200s) made by Michelin – the center portion that holds the hub cap was hand made of wood! The wheel was developed specifically for the, about to be announced Michelin ‘X’ radial, which Michelin expected to place higher lateral loads on the wheels, hence the diagonal bracing. The model is a “decouvrable” or un-coverable (soft top) Peugeot also made a full convertible model the French call a “decap” or beheadable – only the French – which adds to the fun. Cheers, greg

  11. MikeH

    It will be interesting to see if this pic comes through. I also have French cars. I have a ’38 402 Legere, ’54 203 Peugeot, ’56 Citroen 2CV and an ’84 Peugeot 505–really not an old car. Unbelievably dependable and built to last forever–well don’t include the 2CV in that.

  12. MikeH

    Oh well. Didn’t come through. No idea why.

    • Jesse Staff

      Were you trying to upload a photo Mike?

      • MikeH

        Yes, I was. I chose the file but when I posted, no pic was included. I jsut did it again. It looks as if my file has been chosen.

  13. DT

    I had a 404 for a while ,very nice car,like new ,not something Id keep forever,but nice at the time ,I like German cars and American cars

  14. JeanD

    Sorry Greg, the French word for a convertible is “une décapotable” from the verb “décapoter” or remove the “capote”, or soft top. No relation to “décapiter”, to behead or remove the head. How do I know? I am French, voilà.

    Peugeot 403s were great, indestructible cars. I once bought one for a friend who was broke for 500 francs back in the seventies. He paid me back, no worries.
    JeanD

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