One of America’s most lovable goofball detectives was Columbo. Despite having the sharpest mind on television between 1971 and 1978, the irascible detective invariably looked rumpled and must have driven the most disreputable looking car on the small screen.
What Kind of Car was Columbo’s?
There were two different cars used during the series run. Both were Peugeots…a 1959 and a 1960 Peugeot model 403 cabriolet to be exact. The 403 was not sold in the North American market, giving it an exotic look, but the car used was just as rumpled as its owner, offering fluidity to the show itself.
History of the 403
The Peugeot family, who still control the automaker, ventured into automobile production in 1876, making Peugeot one of the world’s oldest automotive manufacturers. Peugeot vehicles have been built at the same plant in Sochaux, France, sine 1910.
The Peugeot 403 model was available beginning in 1955 and remained in production through 1966. It had been technically superseded by the 404 in 1960, but the 403 remained a budget alternative through the 1966 model year. The 403 hit the market in 1955 for around 1,960 American dollars. Its combination of features and price made it an immediate best seller throughout Europe. Despite the popularity of the 403, the cabrio was an extremely rare model. There were only 504 made in 1959 and approximately the same number in 1960.
The 403 was a rear wheel drive car powered by a 1,468 cc straight-four that featured pushrod-actuated valves, hemispherical combustion chambers, and a crossflow cylinder head. The engine produced a whopping 65 hp and 75 lb-ft of torque. No wonder Columbo always seemed late, he drove a horribly under-powered car for the era! In 1959 the 403 was somewhat unique in that it offered a thermostatically controlled engine fan. That feature is standard now, but very unusual at the time. The 403 was sold with a single transmission in 1959, a manual four-speed all-synchromesh design.
The 403 evolved into the 404 for the 1960 model year, but continued to be offered as an economy model of the 404 until 1966. By the end of production the Peugeot 403 had been offered as a four door sedan, a five door ”estate” wagon, a convertible, and of all things a pick-up.
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