Compared to the scores of upright postwar sedans that looked like church pews, Peugeot’s 203 was a breath of fresh air. In addition to being one of the French carmaker’s most successful products, the 203’s monocoque body and revolutionary engine set it apart. In its day, the 1290cc OHV power plant was state-of-the-art, with an aluminum cylinder head and hemispherical combustion chambers, said to be the inspiration for the famous Chrysler “Hemi” unit.
With a line that included two- and four-door cabriolets, a family wagon, and a two-door coupe, the French really took to the 203, loving its tough mechanicals, willing progress, and supple ride. By its demise in 1960, the 203 had broken records for Peugeot, with nearly 700,000 sold.
Widely acclaimed at the 1948 Paris Motor Show, the 203’s slippery shape was wind-tunnel tested in model form and claimed to have a rather optimistic drag coefficient of just 0.36—lower than a modern Porsche 911. Quality touches abound, such as the exterior brightwork in stainless steel.
This was concealed under a flush-fitting flap— unheard of in 1948.
Interior was built to a budget with rubber mats, metal dash, and cloth seat facings.
The hood swung up on counterbalanced springs, and the front grille came away by undoing a butterfly nut.
“Clap hand” windshield wipers may look a period piece, but the motor was so robust that it was still in use 43 years later on the tailgate wiper of the 504 model.
With postwar steel in short supply, aluminum was used to good effect in the under-dash handbrake and column gear change. The handsome fastback body gave plenty of cabin room.
Peugeot’s lion logo dates back to 1906, when Robert Peugeot started up his own company called Lion-Peugeot.
The 49 bhp OHV push-rod engine was the 203’s most advanced feature. With wet liners, low compression ratio, and alloy head, it was smooth, free-revving, and long-lasting.
The basic design was still used in the 1980s for Peugeot’s 1971cc 505 model.
The 203 was modified in 1953 with a curved windshield, revised dashboard, and front quarter lights. This model was registered in 1955. The 203’s turning circle was usefully tight—only 14 ft 9 in (5.39 m), with three turns lock-to-lock. Despite its 18 cwt weight and relatively modest power output, the handsome Peugeot’s performance was sprightly.
Integral mounting points for a roof rack were a nice styling touch.
The four-speed gearbox was really a three with overdrive.
Front suspension was by transverse leaf independent springing.
A high gloss finish was achieved by the application of several coats of synthetic lacquer.
These stylish sweeping curves were influenced by the 1946 Chevrolet. A vast trunk with a low-loading sill made the 203 ideal family transportation. Another side to the 203 was racing; many were tuned and campaigned in rallies like the Monte Carlo.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Peugeot 203 (1948–60)
BODY STYLES Two-door coupe, two- or four-door convertible, family wagon.
CONSTRUCTION All-steel monocoque rigid one-piece body shell.
ENGINE Four-cylinder OHV 1290cc.
POWER OUTPUT 42–49 bhp at 3500 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed column change with surmultiplié overdrive.
SUSPENSION Transverse leaf independent front, coil spring rear with Panhard rod.
BRAKES Drums all around.
MAXIMUM SPEED 73 mph (117 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 20 sec
A.F.C. 20–35 mpg (7–12.4 km/l)