The Peugeot 403 made its debut in saloon body style on 20 April 1955 at the Trocadéro Palace in Paris. For several months before it was launched, numerous 403s, their badges removed, were circulating on the local roads near the manufacturer's PSA Sochaux factory, becoming so familiar that the locals no longer noticed them, but still attracting from Paris motoring journalists and photographers to a town that usually was of little interest to the national media.
When it was first shown, and until after 1958, the leading edge of car's nose carried an angular, forward-leaning chrome lion bonnet ornament – the lion image being Peugeot's trade mark. That was removed for 1959, due to safety concerns, and the logo was incorporated into a shield-shaped grill emblem.
Subsequently the semaphore-style trafficators on the C-pillars were replaced with flashing indicators within the light cluster. The front lights were modified to conform to new standards and in 1957 parallel windscreen wipers were substituted for the original "cross hands" ones featured at launch.
Although the car was subject to various improvements during the production run, these were mostly very minor in nature. Improvements for 1959 included moving the nozzles for the windscreen washer from the strip of metal between the base of the windscreen and the bonnet/hood a short distance to the rear edge of the bonnet/hood itself, thus presumably improving the angles at which the washer water hit the screen. This was also the year that the semi-circular ring inside the lower half of the diameter of the steering wheel used to operate the horn was replaced by a full circular horn-ring, so that drivers accustomed to holding the upper half of the steering wheel did not need to loosen their grip in order to sound the horn.
Styled by Pininfarina, the 403 featured ponton, three-box styling incorporating - except on the most basic models - an opening roof panel. The collaboration with Pininfarina marked the start of a partnership which would see the Italian designer producing designs for Peugeot, including those many mainstream volume models, for more than fifty years. Regarding the 403 itself there were persistent rumours that the design was one originally intended for a replacement Fiat 1900 which had been rejected when Turin had decided to defer replacement of the Fiat for another four years.
Unusual in Europe at the time, but appreciated by customers, was the way that the rear doors opened wide - to a full 90 degrees. Also unusual were the windows in the rear doors that opened fully into the door frame to the point where they disappeared, despite the intrusion into the door frame of a wheel arch which must have made the fit of the window when opened very marginal.
The 403 came with an enlarged version of the Peugeot 203's 1290 cc petrol engine. Displacing 1468 cc, the straight-four unit employed pushrod-actuated valves and hemispherical combustion chambers and a cross-flow cylinder head to produce 65 hp (48 kW) at about 5,000 rpm and 75 lb·ft (102 N·m) of torque at 2,500 rpm. An unusual feature at the time was the thermostatically controlled engine fan which cut out when the engine temperature fell to 75°C and reengaged when the engine temperature increased to 84°C. Claimed advantages included an improvement in fuel consumption of between 5% and 10% according to average speed, and the avoidance, under many conditions; of fan noise.
A diesel powered Peugeot 403 estate was introduced in the Autumn of 1958, the first of a long line, followed by a diesel saloon a year later.
Upon the 203's discontinuation in 1960, a 47 hp version of its 1290 cc powerplant became available as an option on a reduced specification version of the 403, branded initially as the "403 Sept" ("7") and soon afterwards as the "403 Berline Luxe".
The 403 came with a manual 4-speed all-synchromesh transmission driving the rear wheels. The gear change lever stuck out from the right side of the steering column. For the Paris Motor Show in October 1957 the manufacture offered, at extra cost, an electro-magnetic Jaeger automatic clutch, activated when changing gear.
An unusual feature on the inside of the 403 involved the front seats which reclined to the point where the seat backs were flush with the cushions of the rear seat, thus creating a "couchette", sometimes described in English language sources, optimistically, as a double bed.
The wheelbase was lengthened by 24 cm (10 inches) for the five door Peugeot 403 "Familiale" and "Commerciale" estate versions. The Familiale provided a third row of seats and was described as a 7/8 seater while the Commerciale offered a more conventional seat configuration for an estate car.
The lengthened 403 estate had a solid rear axle fitted to an aluminum differential case. It came with a manual column change gearbox and, in its "Familiale" guise, fully reclinable front seats. Sunroof and steel belted radial tires were standard. Reliability was considered excellent for the time.
A two-door cabriolet version of the car was also offered, with a luxurious interior featuring high quality leather upholstery. In 1958 the 403 cabriolet cost 80% more than the entry level "berline grand luxe" 403 sedan, and presumably for this reason the convertible 403 was produced and sold only in very modest numbers.
403’s in Sri Lanka
The car featured here is owned by Classic Car Enthusiasts Dinesh De Silva, and is regularly seen at Classic Car Club events. Needless to say, the car, which is original down to its paint colour, is being maintained by Dinesh in almost pristine condition. Believed to be one of the last of the series, this car is one of very rarely seen 403’s surviving in the country. In its time, locally, 403’s were the car of choice for many Doctors and Lawyers. At the same price range during the time were cars such as Opel Rekord, Ford Consul and Fiat 1400.