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A miracle on wheels

A miracle on wheels, as Peugeot called the 203, will already exist for 72 years in 2020. The 203 was pretty much the first model for which a special club association was established. With its charming curves and excellent riding qualities, the 203 knows how to please its drivers all these years. Time for a look back!

In the year that Berlin was torn into two worlds, that of capitalism and of communism, the Peugeot 203 entered the market. Both the Berlin blockade and the 203 were the result of five terrible years of war.

Restart after the war

The years after 1944 were dominated by reconstruction. Peugeot’s factories were badly damaged. After they were first taken over by the occupying forces, they were later – on July 15, 1943 – badly hit by an Allied bombardment. It took a while before the manufacturer could make a restart with a new modern passenger car.

In the first years after the war, there were more utility versions than private passenger cars. That was a matter of market forces. Gradually, the French got a budget again for luxury goods, such as cars. In 1948 the 203 appeared in the versions sedan luxury, sedan affair and découvrable.

Een nieuw model

The development of new models had kind of stalled at the start of World War II in 1939. The development that took place in the occupation years was done in utmost secrecy. After the liberation, diligent work was done to restore the factory. The first post-war cars to leave the factory were mainly built to support reconstruction.

With American models as a source of inspiration, a real start was made for a “sedan 7 CV” in 1945. Round shapes, a wide grille and a pointed nose – this is what the new Peugeot would look like. In 1947 the first reports of a new sedan appeared and in October 1948 the 203 stole the show at the Parisian motor show.

The 203 got a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1290 cm3, good for a top speed of 115 km/h. In addition to the sedan, the découvrable was also delivered from the start. Not a full convertible, but there was a good reason for it. At that time, a convertible often also got its own body. That was a costly investment in the years of the reconstruction. Take the still small customer group that could afford such a convertible in 1948 and it is logical that Peugeot opted for this interim solution. The découvrable has always remained a popular car, even now in 2020.

Uitbreiding en modificaties

The 203 was produced between 1948 and 1960. The first type, the “A”, is recognizable by the small rear window, the absence of the rear lights on the side flanks, the fuel cap on the rear fender and the turn signals as “flaps” in the rear pillar. Various utility versions were added between 1948 and 1954. Only in 1952 was there room for real luxury models and a convertible and a coupé were available.

The economy recovered and there was room for entertainment again. In addition to the purchase of a beautifully lined 203 convertible or coupé, it was also possible from this year to take out a subscription to the Donald Duck in the Netherlands and the Efteling in Kaatsheuvel opened its doors.

In 1954, a major change took place on the 203. The standard model was updated and continued as the 203 “C”.

Betrouwbaar

To be honest, we have never heard anyone speak negatively about the 203. The engine runs smoothly, the car steers well, always starts… but maybe the sentiment about this car is running away with us here. Although?

The 203 did perform, even under appalling conditions. Particularly in the African wasteland and the Australian outback, the 203 managed to hold its own “sans problème” in difficult to access areas. The East African Safari Rally or the Redex Rally have become legendary races thanks to the 203. But also closer to home, in the Tulpenrallye, the 203 was present. The fairly stiff bodywork and direct steering ensured that it can also perform well at higher speeds. With a 203 you did get to your destination!

Broader range, growing production

Shortly after production of the 203 C had started, a second model, the successor, arrived. The Peugeot 403 was introduced in 1955 and was larger, more luxurious and more modern than the 203. Nevertheless, the 203 remained in production for a while. The four-cylinder with 1290 cc served the lower end of the market excellently in these days. From luxury horse to workhorse, Peugeot had just about every common model in production. Due to a wider range of models and versions, total Peugeot production progressed rapidly between 1952 and 1960.

After 1955 the range of 203 versions decreased. Ultimately, the 203 C sedan luxury and the 203 commerciale remained. The commercial went out of production on November 1, 1959. The final curtain for the luxury sedan fell on March 1, 1960.

Maarten van der Velden

Na mijn opleiding aan de Frederik Muller Academie ben ik jaren werkzaam geweest voor verschillende uitgeverijen zoals Elsevier en NRC Handelsblad. Daarvoor heb ik zelfstandig en met heel veel plezier het kwartaaltijdschrift Peugeot Expo Magazine uitgegeven. In mijn vrije tijd rijd ik graag in een Peugeot 403, ik Twitter graag over auto's en ik houd van hardlopen. Ik vind het leuk om mensen met elkaar te verbinden.

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