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The Peugeot 203 is a medium-sized car which was produced by the French manufacturer Peugeot between 1948 and 1960.

The car was exhibited at the Paris Motor Show in 1947, but by then had already been under development for more than five years. Volume manufacturing was initially hampered by strikes and shortages of materials, but production got under way in 1948.

The 203 was Peugeot's first new model launched after World War II. During its twelve year production run nearly 700,000 203s of all variants rolled off the assembly line in Sochaux, France. Between the demise of the 202 in 1949 and the launch of the 403 in 1954, the 203 was the only model produced by Peugeot.

The body

The 203 was the first monocoque bodied production Peugeot. The car was eye catchingly modern and bore a marked resemblance to the American Chevrolet Fleetline fastback, although its wind cheating profile also reflected the streamlining trend apparent in some of Europe's more modern designs, including some of Peugeot's own 402 model, from the 1930s.

The four-door saloon was the major seller, but from 1950 a commodious five-door estate version (Commerciale) and a six-seater (Familiale), with three rows of seats, were also offered on a wheelbase lengthened by 20 cm (7.9 in) to 278 cm (109 in). By taking the trouble to extend the wheelbase for the estate and family versions, the company set a pattern which they would follow with several succeeding generations of midsized Peugeot estate cars such as the 404 and 504.

In October 1952 the Paris Motor Show welcomed a modified 203 which now featured hinged quarter light windows on the front ends of the front doors and an enlarged rear window on the saloon/sedan versions. This upgrade also saw the removal of the speedometer from the centre of the dashboard to a position directly ahead of the driver.

Along with improvements to the existing cars, Peugeot introduced a 2-door 203 coupé at the end of 1952, although this was not as successful as hoped and quietly disappears from the brochures a year later. There were several low volume cabriolet and coupé conversions produced by outside specialists in collaboration with Peugeot available during the 203's production run, though removing the roof from an early monocoque design necessitated extensive body strengthening which added to the car's weight and reduced the performance.

A military variant was developed and presented to the military who showed little interest. The prototype was converted into a factory fire engine for the Peugeot plant.

Engine and running gear

The 1290 cc four-cylinder engine was unusual in its 'oversquare' cylinder dimensions, and was noted for the hemispherical form of the combustion chambers included in the light metal cylinder heads. At launch, a power output of 42 PS (31 kW) (41 hp) was claimed, which was increased in 1952 to 45 PS (33 kW) (44 hp) for the October 1952 Paris Motor Show. Peugeot advertising pointed out that the increase in power came without any penalty in terms of fuel economy or car tax (which was a function of the unchanged cylinder capacity). Reference was made to a change in cylinder design but there was no change in the compression ratio which remained at 6.8:1. Advertised top speed increased, in 1952, from 115 km/h (71 mph) to 120 km/h (75 mph): the longer estate versions were significantly slower. 0-60 time was 20seconds, and fuel consumption was 20-35mpg.

The column-mounted gear change controlled a four-speed manual gear box: power was delivered to the rear wheels using a propeller shaft driving through a worm-and-wheel gearset at the differential. Suspension was independent up front byway of a transverse leaf spring, while the rear suspension was coil springs with Panhard rods.

Commercial

The 203 was a massive hit in France. In a move which under some conditions might have be expected to have encouraged discounting of the predecessor model, the 203 was already depicted and advertised vigorously on the final page of the sales brochure distributed to potential purchasers of the Peugeot 202 in October 1947, nearly a year before the 203 could be offered for sale. There seems to have been a good deal of pent-up demand by the time the 203 was actually launched, and the practicality, price and reliability of the car wooed many motorists. In 1950 the 203 achieved 34,012 domestic sales and commanded 19.5% of the French auto-market, where it was second only to the (far smaller and cheaper) Renault 4CV in terms of unit sales.

Home market success was followed by the export of 203s to Germany. The strongest domestic manufacturers in the 1950s were Citroën and Renault who in the ten years after 1945 concentrated on large cars and small cars, respectively. The success of the 203 was therefore a tribute both to the excellence of the product and to the absence from its sector, in its early years, of mainstream competitors. A powerful mainstream competitor appeared in 1951 with the launch of the Simca Aronde, but with the domestic economy now finally beginning to experience useful growth there seems to have been ample capacity in the market for both cars. By 1955 when Panhard gained access to the Citroën dealership network, the 203 was well established in the market place and Peugeot themselves had moved beyond their one model policy. The 203 nevertheless continued to sell well till the end of the decade.

At the time of the 203's demise, the Peugeot 403 was seen as its replacement, though it could be argued that the spacious front-wheel-drive 1300 cc Peugeot 304, which appeared only in 1969, or indeed the consecutively named Peugeot 204 more directly occupied the market niche which in the early 1950s the 203 had made its own.

Australian production

The 203 was also assembled in Australia, beginning in 1953, and thus becoming the first Peugeot model to enter production in that country.

Cape Town-Paris

This was the route taken by Andre Mercier and Charles de Cortanze in 1953, it was 15,000 km (9,300 mi) and they performed it in a record time of 17 days. The event also sparked interest in the incredible fuel economy of the vehicle - a single tank lasted 900 km (560 mi), even with the tough terrain.

In 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the heroic journey, Didier Pijolet and Leigh Wootton both completed the feat in under a month. They were armed with their own 203s, one co-pilot respectively and a film crew.

2006 Ampol Rerun

On April 23, 2006 in Sydney, about a dozen Peugeot 203 vehicles (together with other Peugeot models - 204, 403, 404) set off in the "Peugeot 2006 Round Australia Rerun". An event organised by Graham Wallis from the Peugeot Car Club of Victoria to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Ampol Round Australia Trial which was won by Wilf Murrell and Allan Taylor in a Peugeot 403 sedan after covering 12,000 miles (19,300 km) of rugged Australian roads and tracks.

In 2003, Graham Wallis organised a 50th Anniversary Rerun of the 1953 Redex Round Australia Trial in which eleven Peugeot 203s started and all eleven 203s finished. The 203 win in the original Redex Trial put Peugeots on the post WW-II motoring map in Australia in a big way.

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