The Peugeot 402 is a family car produced in Sochaux, France from 1935 to 1942 by Peugeot. It was unveiled in Paris Motor Show in 1935, replacing the Peugeot 401.
The Peugeot 403, introduced approximately thirteen years after the demise of the 402, can be seen as the older car’s natural heir. (Immediately after World War II the market demanded smaller cars: Peugeot acknowledged this by concentrating during the late 1940s and early 1950s on their 202 and 203 models.)
A conservative innovator
The 402 was characterized by what became during the 1930s a "typically Peugeot" front end, with headlights well set back behind the grille. The style of the body was reminiscent of the Chrysler Airflow, and received in France the soubriquet Fuseau Sochaux which loosely translates as "Sochaux rocket". Streamlining was a feature of French car design in the 1930s, as can be seen by comparing the Citroën Traction Avant or some of the Bugatti models of the period with predecessor models: Peugeot was among the first volume manufacturers to apply streamlining to the extent exemplified by the 402 and smaller Peugeot 202 in a volume market vehicle range.
Recessed ‘safety’ door handles also highlighted the car’s innovative aspirations, as did the advertised automatic transmission and diesel engine options. Comparisons with Citroën's large family car of the time were and remain unavoidable. In that comparison, the basic underpinnings of the 402 remained conventional, based on known technologies, and presumably were relatively inexpensive to develop and manufacture: it was Citroën that in 1934 had been forced to sell its car manufacturing business to its largest creditor. Sticking to a traditional separate chassis configuration also made it much easier for Peugeot's 402 to be offered with a wide range of different bodies.
Even by 1930s standards, the range of different 402 models based on the single chassis was large, comprising by one estimate sixteen different body types, from expensive steel bodied convertible cars, to family saloons which were among the most spacious produced in France. There were three different standard wheelbases of 2,880 mm (113 in) (short), 3,150 mm (124 in) (used on the standard 4,850 mm (191 in) long saloon) and 3,300 mm (130 in) (long).
The standard bodied saloon, first presented at the Paris Motor Show in the Autumn of 1935 was advertised as a six-seater. As volume production got under way, the range was complemented by coupe and cabriolet versions. A lengthened wheelbase supported the eight-seater 402 Familiale with dickey seats.
A hugely expensive cabriolet version was the 402 Éclipse Décapotable, featuring the first powered retractable hardtop which had been designed, and in 1931 patented, by Georges Paulin. Interest in the Éclipse resurfaced with the reintroduction of the retractable hardtop by the 1995 Misubishi 3000GT Spyder and subsequent popularization of the concept by cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class. Peugeot re-publicized the Éclipse Décapotable with the 2001 introduction of its 206 CC retractable hardtop two-seater.
The retractable roof system was incorporated into various low volume Peugeot cabriolets in the 1930s, assembled by Émile Darl'mat’s Paris based Peugeot dealer and coachwork business — which also produced aerodynamic sports coupé 402s following the line of the coach builder’s own body for the Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic.
First exhibited on October 1937, the shortened 402 Légère (light weight) was effectively the body of a Peugeot 302 persuaded onto the chassis of the newer 402. With an advertised top speed of 135 km/h (83.8851109520400 mph), the Légère was considered particularly fast for its class.
Light commercial van and utility variants of the 402 were also produced, and during the car’s final years, during World War II, assumed increasing prominence within the range. Sources vary as to whether production was ended it 1942 or continued further, possibly till 1944.
The car was launched with a four-cylinder water-cooled engine of 1991 cc with poppet valve. Claimed maximum output was 55 PS (40 kW) at 4000 rpm. With 55 PS (40 kW) the car could achieve top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph). In 1938 the capacity was raised to 2142 cc with the introduction of the Peugeot 402B, stated output now being 60 PS (44 kW). Given the wide range of body lengths and styles offered, there was and is correspondingly wide range of different performance figures quoted for the standard-engined 402.
Other engine versions existed, with a claimed output of 70 bhp (52 kW) for a Darl'mat bodied performance coupe version.
A 2.3 L Diesel engine was also developed which would have made the 402 one of the very first diesel saloons available commercially: approximately twelve diesel 402s were constructed but the outbreak of war prevented the introduction of the 402 diesel to the market. The development work was not wasted, however, and in 1959 Peugeot would launch one of the world's earlier diesel powered saloons, albeit beaten to the market by Mercedes Benz.
Standard transmission was a three-speed manual system, driving through the rear wheels.
The option of a Cotal three-speed automatic was offered, but this was an elaborate system more commonly seen on upmarket models from the likes of Delahaye and Delage. It was too expensive to appeal to 402 buyers.
Stopping the car was achieved using cable operated drum brakes: cable-operated brakes were by this time regarded as an old technology which compromised the innovative image presented by other aspects of the 402.
Approximately 75,000 402s were produced during the seven or more years of production. It took Peugeot from the 1930s to the 1940s, covering two decades that saw a dramatic reduction in the number of automakers in France. Of the survivors, Citroën was taken over by a tyre/tire company in the 1930s: Renault was nationalised in the 1940s. Peugeot survived and retained its independence.
France declared war on Germany in 1939 and after this date cabriolet and convertible versions of the 402 disappeared from the price lists. The April 1940 price list shows only the standard bodied and long wheelbase saloons. Peugeot only became a regular supplier to the army in 1938, but during 1939 and 1940 several thousand 202s and 402s were operating with the armed services, the long wheel base 402 being a particular military favourite.