Last week the world observed the passing of American actor Peter Falk, star of the hit 1970’s TV detective series, ‘Columbo’. Falk passed at the age of 83, from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While fans of the actor and his show mourn his loss, The Garage chooses to celebrate one of the oddest police cars in this history of television: the 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet. If you’re not familiar with ‘Columbo’, the show is about police Lt. Columbo-a detective wearing a crumpled overcoat, cheap suits and polyster ties, a man so disheveled in appearance you could hardly take him seriously. His bumbling nature would lead you to think him incompetent, but this was his weapon against the perp.
So, how does the car figure into this? Lt. Columbo needed a car for the show, but the producers did not want him in a standard police car. So, the producers escorted Peter Falk to the lot of cars they had sitting at Universal Studios for a look. Mr. Falk saw an odd, slightly beaten, boxy car tucked away, and selected the Pug as Columbo’s car. A rare, boxy, and ridiculously underpowered car for the US, the car was the perfect fit for Lt. Columbo. Despite it being a Cabriolet, fan sites confirm Columbo always had the top up. And this was a rare car-Introduced in 1956, by the time Columbo’s ’59 was made, only 504 models were constructed. When production of the 403 Cabriolet ended in 1961, a scant 2,030 cars had been built.
Unfortunately, in spite of their relevance to TV history, Hollywood generally sees the cars they use as expendable. And Columbo’s Peugeot is no exception. The stories of the 403 vary and conflict in my research, but this is the best I can offer. Universal owned one 403, but apparently leased two or three additional cars from Peugeot. When the series ended, Peter Falk had thought Universal retained the main car, but had sold it. Parties in Florida and San Diego claimed to own the Columbo 403, but according to Wikipedia, the car was found in Ohio. To complicate matters, the ‘Columbo’ series was revived by another network, and employed the same car. In any case, the lead pic shows a recent pic taken at Universal Studios of what is to be believed one of Columbo’s Pug’s. And, for your edification, a fully restored 403. Not that you’d ever see Colombo in a car this nice, nevermind with the top being down.