French Sleeper: 1963 Peugeot 403

A French restomod? I usually don’t think of those two words together but this 1963 Peugeot 403 would make a fun sleeper. This project car can be found here on craigslist in Covina, California. The seller is asking $450 for this one. Thanks to Elias B. for sending in this tip!

Truth be told, I’m not much of a restomod guy, I like things original or restored to original specs. But, whenever I see a somewhat nondescript car like this Peugeot 403 I think of how fun it would be to have a modern drivetrain and suspension in it and use it as a daily driver. Hagerty is at $13,600 for a #2 excellent car so there isn’t a ton of room to do a full restoration on this one – unless you have a TV reality show and a fake deadline of three whole days, then it can be done! (crickets)

The body on this car looks solid with a nice patina – everyone’s favorite term. I’m betting that quite a few of you would clear coat this 403 and that’s it, the outside is done. I would be tempted to do that, too, I have to admit. But, restored back to original specifications again, wearing the original color and interior materials would be good, too. The 403 was made between 1955 and 1966 and there weren’t a lot of changes or improvements made to them in that time, other than a few little things that would be hard to notice for any other than a Peugeot scholar or superfan.

The interior is pretty rough but we all know that a good interior shop can fix the soft goods and any restoration shop could have the rest of it looking like new again. The California sun appears to have cooked a few things, unfortunately. Just think what the original owner would look like by now if they had been out in the sun for 56 years. This car has a four-speed manual column-shifted transmission and a top speed of around 85 mph. The seller says that “Floors are mostly intact. A few smaller holes at the front pans.”

This is Peugeot’s 1,468 cc inline-four which would have had about 65 horsepower. Unfortunately, it’s seized, hence the restomod reference at the beginning of this post. At around 2,000 pounds without this boat anchor engine, this car is pretty light. How would you restore this 403?

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  1. Howard A Member

    Oh Scotty, how could you write up a 403 and not include Columbo? He immortalized the Peugeot 403. My old man called them “Poo-Joes” and I remember him having one for a short time. Aside from the Dauphine and Caravelle, these were the only foreign cars he’d drive. I think after WW2, he felt sorry for the French, and rightly so, they took a pasting. It was the 1st car with a sunroof I rode in. Great cars, nothing fancy, but dependable as a refrigerator, and styled like one too. I can hear it now,, “Hello Autoplace, how can I help you”,,,”um, hi, I need points, cap and rotor for a 1963 Peugeot 403? Hello?” ( dial tone)

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Ha, I know, I thought about that, Howard. I did one a few years ago with a Columbo reference and I didn’t want to push it. There are a surprising number of parts on RockAuto, including points, cap, rotor, etc. This should be your next car!

      • Howard A Member

        “Ahem, just one more thing”,,,I don’t think so.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        When I saw this feature the first thing I thought of was Columbo. I remember him getting quizzed on his car. The guy hinted that it was a POS. Columbo gave the perfect answer: “Oh, we’ve got two cars. My wife drives the other one all the time; but it’s nothing special, just transportation.”

  2. James HGG

    One could regard the Peugeot 403 highly because it was recommended by none other than Phil Hill as in this advertisement featured in Road & Track and other auto magazines of the era. – Illustration #9

    The 203 and 404 are included on this Curbside Classics’ page with everyone’s favorite detective, the invincible M. Columbo with pooch. – Illustration 29.


  3. Fred W

    Columbo’s car was a droptop. I checked around recently and it’s near impossible to find a convertible, and if you find one, the price is in the stratosphere. So a close relative for $450 is quite a bargain.

  4. ken tilly

    The Peugeot 403 was virtually indestructible as proven by it’s accomplishments in the East African Safari Rally of times gone by. In fact, I think it won the 3000 mile gravel road event around Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, several times.

  5. Ben T. Spanner

    Didn’t these old Pug’s have worm drive rear ends? This is pre rack and pinion, so it has a worm and sector steering gear. How many cars have a wormgear at both ends?

    • dr fine

      My first car was a ’62 403 with a sunroof and the stainless steel lion hood ornament. Every other young guy had a Mustang, Camaro or GTX . I wasn’t very proud of it, but realized I never should have gotten rid of it after driving a ’62 Sunliner for a while.

      Fourth gear was actually overdrive, and the rear end had straight cut gears and sounded like a siren when reversing. The little hemi four sounded great at full rpm, but it was a slow car. My father put a new set of English made cylinder liners ($48 from JC Whitney) into his 403 after spinning the odometer over, I don’t how many times.

  6. rapple

    These are (were) really stout cars. Back in the late ’60s after finishing college and needing cheap transportation, I bought a well-used example for $75. The rear lights were corroded and not working right, so I bought a pair of round trailer lights and bolted them to the top of the fenders (the first CHMSL?). Also, the battery was weak but the terminals were secured by large plastic wing nuts so removing it and bringing into my apartment on cold nights enabled the morning startup. I would turn the engine over a few times with the hand crank (that’s what the hole beneath the grille is for) attach the battery and fire it up. The four-on-the-tree shifter was unusual by having reverse and gears 1-3 in the standard H pattern with 4th gear up by 2nd. It made a great rugged urban beater.

  7. Dave Dietz

    Good 403 story. In 69 I was given a very low mileage 63 403. No title. Probably stolen, had been in an elderly ladies garage and the storage hadn’t been paid in years. I towed it home, got it running in no time and slapped on a set of plates from my fathers 59 Saab 93. I was 16 and things very different back then. Got pulled over by the police late one night for not signaling for a lane change. He ran plates and asked why the plates said “Sab” but on trunk it said “ poo-gee-at”
    My reply; without correcting his pronunciation “ was poogeeat is a model, like Impala is a model of a Chevrolet, doesn’t say Chevrolet on back of an Impala
    He excepted my explanation and wrote me a warning ticket.

  8. Philip Cronje

    I drove a 403 for 35 years. What a great car! The front wheels ran wider than the rear wheels and it could corner like you can not believe.

  9. Will Owen Member

    I’ve had two 404s and driven one very shabby 403, and it’s only the certain veto from the Other Partner that keeps me from heading to Covina for a personal inspection. These are not exciting cars at all, and the French preference for cars that feel like they’re going about half as fast as they are has never really appealed to me … except when I get used to it, and then something breaks. But a well-built and -maintained Peugeot is for the most part about as fragile as a hammer. An engine in need of a complete rebuild, which I’d have to assume unless proven otherwise, is no good prospect for a man with a full garage and pushing 80 besides. But don’t I just wish otherwise!

  10. TomK

    85 mph in overdrive 4th(nice) all day long! With sure footed and comfortable road manners the whole time.
    Intended for doing that on 2 lane Route Nationales that were lined on both sides by closely spaced mature poplars or plane trees with white painted trunks. Continuously shaded with narrow or non existent shoulders. Napoleon started them with wagons in mind. This was my and many people’s introduction to radial tires (Michelin X). It wasn’t the car that made mistakes.

    Bought my first one in cold wet winter 1967 for $500 from a GM dealer’s back lot after a discovery drive around the block. Never looked back as I encountered a hemi head, red vinal fold flat mattress making seats, sunroof, comfy insulated feel and that peculiar back and forth play in the worm gear driveline. I didn’t miss the Pinin Farina Ferrari Europa connection and gave up 50 Plymouth image.

    Dramatic contrast to the my topless ‘60 Healey 3000 with a pair of Brookland windshields, whose only winter asset was the infamous cockpit blastfurnace under the tonneau cover. Can still feel my icy forehead. Jaguar Moss gearbox experience was useful to develop that 403 2-3 shift wrist.

    In the next year several other 403’s joined my existing sports car circle. Eventually moving on to 404 wagons. The last of these departed in the late 80’s. I can’t recall ever buying parts- the street supplied derilects that were converged on and striped of frequent wear failure parts that were put on the communal parts shelf.
    The enrichment choke ensured half turn (up) crank starts til you got around to replacing a warn starter or weak battery.

    Did check into a nice 403 in the 90’s. Thought of it and a small box of spares as a lifetime lifeboat.
    But this time the drive around the block reminded me of the sound and feel of early jeep off road gearbox whine and trundling along. Feel the same about unmodified 2002’s. Had 14 years of those. The last Inka with dual sidedraft Webers ,etc -modified, but that’s another story.

    I’ve never seen a 403 in worse shape then this one. But that lifeboat thing not a bad thought.

  11. Peter

    (1) These engines use wet cylinder liners so should be easy enough to pull a liner with ceased piston then push the piston out.
    (2) Points, dist cap etc are no problem to source.
    (3) Down here in Oz a number were converted with the Australian Holden 179 cuin or 202 cuin six-cylinder engine.

  12. jphilliipbandy

    Hey< hey,

    Have had two 403's…fantastic cars…last one was a "Station Wagon " with four seats (Albeit two were jump seats)..and yes worm gear for the rear end, and rack and pinion…..also a "Leetle" plastic line back of the engine where one would drop some oil…To, to, tooooo! Oil the throw out bearing! Also I had a starter go on mine…whilst awaiting a new one….started it everyday with the included "Crank"….Reference to Columbo is little out there…IT was a convertible….rare and expensive in France today….and even there are called "Columbo's" The 404 was much faster and qucker…but the Pinn Farnia design was still great….."DID NOT LIKE FINS" on the 404…

    Vive la Panhard

  13. notpurple

    Electric drivetrain conversion!

  14. charlie Member

    Taxis in Cairo Egypt in 2013 were 403’s and 404’s, many 40 years old (and some Ladas from when Egypt was a buddy of the Soviet Union). Dry climate so no significant rust issues, and they just fixed them, and fixed them, and fixed them again. Egypt then made a deal with Korea to import Korean made little Chevy’s in return for steel and cotton and decreed that the P;s would be replaced by the Chevy’s, which the independent taxi drivers could not afford, thereby concentrating the business in the big companies. They had to have AC but the drivers would not turn it on since it used too much gas – as did first and second gears they thought, so usually slipped the clutch in the P’s to start in 3rd. The city busses tried to never come to a complete stop, you had to jump on and off, since starting from a dead stop used too much clutch.


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