The Peugeot 203 was Peugeot’s large family car that the automaker had developed for more than five years before exhibiting it at the 1947 Paris Motor Show. It marked a number of Firsts for Peugeot. It was the first monocoque production Peugeot, and drew some styling cues from American cars of the time, incorporating an element of aerodynamics too, with its swept-back profile. It was the first Peugeot to have a hemispherical-shaped cylinder head and V-shaped valves. It was also the first Peugeot to sell over half a million units.
Material shortages and strikes hampered the production of the car, with the first owners only receiving their cars in 1949. The chromed ‘Lion’ bonnet ornament was Peugeot’s trade-mark on this car, but was removed in 1959 due to increasing safety concerns. The 203 was available as a standard four-door saloon, but a more spacious four door “Commerciale” and a six-seat, three-row “Familiale” estate were also offered on a 20cm extended wheelbase. This characteristic of extending the wheelbase for family and estate versions carried on through to later models, notably the 504. The 203 was also produced in Australia from 1953, and was the first Peugeot model to enter the continent.
The 203 was powered by a front-mounted 1,290cc four cylinder carbureted engine of ‘oversquare’ dimensions with the aforementioned hemispherical cylinder head. The power output at launch was 41bhp, which later increased to 44bhp by October 1952 “with no negative impact on fuel economy” as said by Peugeot at the time. The compression ratio was 6.8:1 throughout, and the engine drove the rear wheels through a propeller shaft. A four-speed gearbox with column shift was the sole transmission offered. 1954 marked introduction of the all-synchromesh gearbox in the 203 range, prior 203s had synchromesh only on the top three gears. The car was suspended on a transverse leaf springs at the front and coil springs with Panhard rod at the rear. Brakes were hydraulic drums all round. It is interesting to see the door opening configuration; both the front and rear doors are hinged at the “B” pillar, giving regular opening rear doors, and coach or “suicide” opening front doors. The wheel rims wear two-piece trims; the chrome outer ring is separate from the chrome centre cap.
CN 5474 is in the care of Srijith De Silva who purchased the car from a Mr. Udayasiri who was a planter. The car was purchased for a sum that was undisclosed, but described as “above market value”, and a restoration was started. Srijith stated that he eventually bought three cars as parts donors for this one, and a later 203 is in his care too. He has owned this car for a little over two years and the car has undergone a full restoration, including a complete overhaul of the engine, drivetrain and brakes, and he proudly shows me that all the meters are in working order. Many parts had to be painstakingly sourced from overseas. The original model came without side mirrors which were added, as they are an essential part of driving in Sri Lanka these days. The car’s single rear lamp is quite a departure from what we are used to seeing, and the delightful semaphore signals work beautifully. On the inside, the seats and interior has been treated with the same TLC and attention to detail. Srijith is very meticulous at this, and on the day we went to photograph the car, he was just completing some new wiring on the rear light. The car fired up and settled into a quiet idle as he moved it around for us, unless he revved it we were not able to tell if it was running.
The starter motor is untouched, and the 203 originally came with two 6-volt batteries mounted on either side behind the front grille and connected in series to give 12 volts. Srijith substituted these for a modern, 12-volt battery. He drives the car regularly on long runs, and proudly tells me that he recently drove it on the Southern Expressway where this 69 year old lady cruised at speeds between 80 and 100km per hour with no fuss. “Classic cars need love after all, and need to be regularly driven”.