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First Encounters: John Grant and the 203

The first Peugeot I owned was a 1955 French assembled 203C which I bought at 30,000 miles for about £200 after I had been in NZ for a year. I needed it for everyday use and to tow my MGTC on an A-frame to race -meetings as it had become too highly tuned to drive on the road.
It proved very reliable – just kept going and going. It cruised and stopped very well – even when towing – something you could not say about a lot of its contemporaries. I started trialling it in the winters and my navigator, John Dowling, and I saw most of the back roads in the North Island as we entered Trials organised not only by the MG and Auckland Car Clubs but by others in Northland, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu etc.
We ALWAYS finished.
However we were not often in the top ten as there were just the two of us while serious rally competitors had a team of four – driver, navigator, time keeper and map reader. Keeping on course could be a real problem as the instructions were often designed to mislead. As timing was vital, if you went off course and had to backtrack, it was very difficult to make up the time – often impossible within the speedlimits. In addition there were frequently secret checks – on and off the correct route – which would record the passing and time of all entrants. However we had a lot of fun and as petrol was only about 2/- per gallon in those days it was not even too expensive, particularly as we usually stayed in cabins in camping rounds. We never actually slept in the car, even though that model had seats designed to lay back for that purpose.
After I had owned it for a year, I got Campbell Motors to bring a special inlet manifold out from France. The carburettor had twin chokes, one on either side, and that increased the top speed by 10mph – up to 85mph.
The only mechanical failure it suffered was near Te Puke on the way home after a rally. The universal joint blew apart and as that was in the days well before cellphones, we had to knock on a door and ask to use their telephone to ring the AA. A towtruck came out from Te Puke and towed the car to Maurice Washer Motors while we went back to Auckland by train. Campbell Motors sent down a new universal which they fitted and I flew down to the Mount and then took the bus to Te Puke to pick the 203 up. This had been the same weekend as the DC3 crash in the Kaimais and the airline subsequently became very wary of flying in cloud.
Many of the roads we used were not even gravel. Let alone sealed; real mudplugging. I had thoroughly rustproofed the car but inevitably the stone chips accumulated, so I got Ivan Cranch to repaint it and change the colour from its original grey to a pale blue – just as I have had done to my present 1955 203C which I acquired in 1992. [Its chassis number is about 100 cars later and it has had several changes, eg wider springs].
I sold this first 203 in January 1967 as I was going overseas for a year or two. I took it to the Grey Lynn Testing Station to get the required WoF – and a front spring broke at the centre bolt while they were slamming on the brakes. We pulled the car out of the way and I went into Queen St to Campbell Motors, bought a new spring of the correct size, took it back to the testing station, and as I always had my toolkit on board, was able to fix it on the spot – and get the new WoF. The new owner then drove me and my luggage down to the Arcadia to see me off on February 10th 1967.
A day or two later I met Jeanette on board – but that is another story.
About 15 years later, I was In Wiri on business and saw the car. I went into the office and found it still belonged to the guy I had sold it to. I had increased its mileage from 30,000 to 280,000 miles – without doing any work on the engine. He was living at Swanson and driving to work at Wiri every day so it had been round the clock a couple of times more. All he had done to it was one new tyre, and new spark plugs and points in the distributor. I’d like to see a modern car match that!


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