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1935-1940 Peugeot 402

1936-1940 Peugeot 402
The flat deck lid of this 1937 Peugeot 402 has an integral spare tire cover.
The flat deck lid of this 1937 Peugeot 402 has an integral spare tire cover.

The 1936-1940 Peugeot 402 put its stamp on the entire Peugeot line.

October 1936 saw the introduction of the 302, a smaller four-window sedan in the 402 style. There was also a convertible. Built on a 102-inch wheelbase, the 302 was powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Starting in April 1938, both cars were offered with the bigger 402 engine; as such they were sold as the 402 Légère (Light).

In autumn 1937, there appeared an even smaller model, the 202, a replacement for the old 201, the last of the old-style Peugeots. Aside from its flat, undivided windshield and backlight, the 202 had the characteristic 402 look on a car that was just about 13.5 feet long.

Its engine was a new 1.1-liter ohv four that could take the 202 to a top speed of 62 mph, Peugeot said. Furthermore, Peugeot light trucks built before and during the coming world war had the same 402-style nose with headlamps hidden behind the grille.

The 302 and 402 also served as the basis for race cars made by one of the most important Peugeot dealers in Paris, Emile Darl'Mat. The man with the unusual name also was a race-car driver and designer. He built a small series of impressive roadsters and coupes, the latter with twin teardrop-style backlights and a heart-shaped license plate.

Three years after the introduction of the 402, a second generation was presented at the 1938 Paris show. Chrysler had stopped making Airflows the year before, but Peugeot pressed on with its interpretation of the futuristic design, modifying it only a little bit and calling it the 402 B.

The grille was more rounded with painted bars in place of chromed ones. On sedans, a new "bustleback" trunk replaced the former flush-fitting deck lid and exposed spare tire. Thanks to a longer stroke, the engine now displaced 2.1 liters and made 63 horsepower. Removable cylinder liners were another of the engine's new features. Transmission choices remained the same.

The crank hole cover identified the 1937 Peugeot 402 and flew the colors of the French flag as well.
The crank hole cover identified the 1937 Peugeot 402 and flew the colors of the French flag as well.

A big metal sunroof was newly available -- at no additional cost. The maroon velour interior fabric was replaced by a simpler, light-brown, striped fabric.

New body types included the first hardtop coupe in France, the 402 B Coach. It was the solid-roof companion to the "Coach Décapotable," which featured a folding fabric top over fixed window frames. The long-wheelbase series still consisted of three models: the Familiale, metal-roof convertible (now called the "Transformable métallique") and Commerciale.

The existence of the small 202 and the flexibility of body-on-chassis construction led to some comical designs. Peugeot put the 202 body on the modified chassis of the 402 Légère, gave it a longer nose, and sold it in 1939 as the 402 B Légère; 4,569 were built.

In contrast, a handful of prototypes of a diesel-engine 402 B were manufactured. Government restrictions that limited diesel use to utility vehicles put an end to this project.

Dark days were just around the corner for France. After the military forces of Nazi Germany overran the country in 1940 and civilian car production was ended, only a few 202 and 402 sedans left the factory until 1944. When peace returned to Europe, Peugeot revived the little 202 as its sole car line for a few years, but the days of the Airflow imitators was by now definitively over.

Production of first-generation 402s came to 33,815 cars between 1935 and 1938; another 6,718 long-wheelbase models and 2,038 taxis were manufactured. (By 1939, nearly 25 percent of Paris taxis were 402s.) Factory output of 402 Bs until 1940 came to 11,620. Long-wheelbase 402 Bs accounted for 4,512 assemblies. In the first generation, 10 percent were ordered with the Cotal four-speed transmission. Twenty percent of 402 B buyers chose it.

There is no doubt that the unusual 402 was one of the best-selling cars in prewar France. You could still see them on the streets in the 1950s, where they were hard to miss. Even after all those years, the distinctive look of the two-piece windscreen and the headlamps behind the raked grille gave them away very quickly.

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