Old School Americana & Nostalgia

Cars

Inside Detective Columbo’s Car: The 1959 Peugeot 403

Inside Detective Columbo’s Car: The 1959 Peugeot 403

Lieutenant Columbo was known for his unassuming demeanor, rumpled beige raincoat, mentions of his unseen wife, and his car, a Peugeot 403. After two pilot episodes in 1968 and 1971, Columbo was part of The NBC Mystery Movie series on NBC from 1971 to 1978. It then aired sporadically on ABC from 1989 to 2003. Many fans would argue that the detective’s 1959 Peugeot 403 was essentially his only consistent co-star.

Peter Falk Didn’t Want Columbo to Drive a Dumpy Car… Until He Spotted a Peugeot

According to MeTV, the creators and writers of the series, Richard Levinson and William Link, believed the detective’s vehicle should match his disheveled appearance and modest manner. When they suggested the lead character drive a beat-up car to star Peter Falk, he objected. He believed his trench coat, cigars, and hidden wife defined his character enough. An overly shabby car would be a tad much.

Levinson and Link persisted and eventually convinced their star by granting him the choice of a secondhand vehicle. With a variety of old makes and models scattered across the studio backlot, they informed him he could select any. Despite searching the backlot extensively, the actor came up empty-handed, until he caught sight of the Peugeot’s nose peeking out from the rear of the lot.

How Columbo’s Car Choice of the Peugeot Complimented the Character

Allegedly, just 504 of these budget-friendly sports convertibles rolled off the production line in 1959. The car Falk selected perfectly complemented Columbo’s persona. The vehicle always had a “lived-in” look, a touch of underwhelming charm, and a knack for puffing smoke like a seasoned pro.

For consistency, the studio procured two additional functioning Peugeots to ensure Lieutenant Columbo always had a reliable car at hand. While matching his shabby appearance, the Peugeots were not as dependable as the detective himself in the show. A running gag was the car’s lackluster performance.

In the NBC era, the Peugeot sported the license plate 044-APD. However, when ABC revived the series in 1988, the plate changed to 448-DBZ. Interestingly, after the final episode, NBC/Universal Pictures sold the Columbo Peugeot, which later resurfaced in Ohio.

Unfortunately, the original Peugeot was neglected to the point of being considered beyond repair after the series concluded. According to CGI Automotive, the eventual owner positioned it just 100 feet away from the high tides at Mission Beach, California. Mischief-makers then filled it with fish, allowing seagulls to dine on this pitiful remainder of a TV car beloved by generations.