This 1937 Peugeot 402 is a beautiful French treasure
Classic Car Sunday always throws up a few surprises, a number of unexpected delights, and this Peugeot 402 is certainly one of them.
Built from 1935 to 1942 at Peugeot’s factory in Sochaux, France – where Peugeot still builds cars to this day – the 402 was a six-seat family car. This car, built in 1937, spent most of its life in the South of France before being restored 20 years ago, and then found itself an asset of The Automobile Magazine. From there it entered the hands of a collector until its current owner, Tim Edwards, took custody in 2012.
The car is no stranger to Goodwood, having been part of the Revival Tour de France centenary parade in 2013, but for the last year, Tim admits, it’s remained at home.
“I only got it running again yesterday after a year off the road, and drove it here today. When the Breakfast Club themes were announced I applied for the position here, and then I got your email and thought ‘I’d better get the car back together again’. Lost no water, lost no oil, so I’m pretty pleased with it.
“It’s not pristinely restored, it’s just a well-used car, you know? I don’t mind the odd scrape because it’s already got a few. You can spend thousands on a car and then worry about every little mark on it.”
“I’d forgotten how much I enjoy driving it”, he says. “It’s just such a nice thing to drive, very relaxing. You obviously have to be on your toes in terms of modern traffic because the brakes are cable… They’re reasonably efficient but the trouble is other car drivers forget you can’t stop as quickly as they can. And pedestrians might step out in front of you, whereas they wouldn’t if they knew how long it took to pull up!”
Tim guides us round the car, then opens the door to reveal a gloriously simple interior. “It’s got a gear change a bit like the Citroen 2CV, coming out of the dashboard. It’s only a three-speed, left-hand-drive obviously. Full air conditioning – you can open the windscreen!” He points to a screw-handle in the middle of each windscreen panel which opens up a gap between the glass and the bodywork.
Sitting on the back seats are several original posters for the 402. Pencil drawn, they’re very, very different to modern printed Peugeot ads. Where did you get all of these, we ask? “Just eBay. Quite often you can buy photographs of German soldiers with their boots on the running boards because a lot of these would have been requisitioned, you see, by the occupiers in France. And probably not many of them survived as a result of that.”
Is this Tim’s first adventure into the world of French classics? Is the 402 an easy car to live with? “No. I’ve always liked French cars, I’ve had French cars in the past. I’ve had 2CVs, I’ve had Renault 4s, a Renault 17, a Renault 12. That’s about it I think, but always loved French cars. My wife would have preferred me to have bought a Citroen DS I think, but I love the shape of this. It’s just so unique.
“If I did it again I’d probably buy a DS, to be honest. What you find with a pre-war car is parts are really difficult to get hold of, so you have to use a network of begged and borrowed parts. Whereas post-war cars there’s a big source of spares.”
Tim’s strategy for keeping the car in rude health is a simple one, or was until its year-long road sabbatical. “I was trying to get it out at least once a week or once a fortnight because you have to keep using cars. If you don’t take them out they then become temperamental. If you keep them in regular use they’ll be a lot more reliable. It always puts a smile on people’s faces when you drive past.”
We can understand why. It’s a beautiful machine that looks nowhere near as old as its build date suggests. “If you think 1937 British cars, they’re vertical, perpendicular shapes”, Tim says. “This, it’s completely out of the style of its time. Very art-deco. Whereas the English cars it took until the ‘40s for them to get some curves.”
While the bodywork hides its age well, the 402’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine doesn’t. By modern standards its 55 horsepower and 75mph top speed doesn’t sound all that impressive. But then again, in a car like the 402, would you really care? Thanks for bringing it down, Tim.