Columbo’s car is the stuff of Hollywood legend, much of which is recounted here on this web site: See, The Car, The Car Topless, Inside Columbo's Car, Columbo and the Worlds Strongest Man, and "It Could Use A Coat Of Paint": Columbo's Car Crashes and Car Problems
full facts are a bit more complicated than the official studio version of
the famous Peugeot’s biography. For example, there were a couple of
additional Peugeot 403s leased by the studio, acting in rotation as
the grisly tale, from a first-hand observer, of the strange and
terrible fate that befell one of Columbo’s cars.
thanks to Paul Leverenz for sharing this story, and for sending us his
photos of the car that he tried to save from a fate worse than death.
is true that Universal owned one of the Peugeot 403s used in the
“Columbo” TV series, they also leased two others. When the original
series ended, one of them was given to a good friend of mine, who still
TV series was to be revived, Universal fetched this copy
many a Saturday working on this car for my friend, who was not
mechanically inclined, and drove it around town in San Diego many times.
The car fell into total disrepair and I refused to work on it any longer,
telling my friend it was hopeless.
mechanics refused to even put it on their hoists, for fear it would
collapse in two.
photographed the car, I was extremely saddened at how my friend had let
this car fall into such disrepair. He had lost the keys to it long before
this day -- the last I saw the car -- and so he had allowed his lunatic
mechanic (a homeless former songwriter who burned his mind out on drugs
during the sixties) to unfasten the steering linkage, so it could me moved
onto the flatbed by wrestling each front wheel.
years prior to this, my friend had let the Peugeot sit out in the open in
Mission Beach, California., literally 100 feet from high tide, where
pranksters loaded it up with Grunion (fish), and then seagulls feasted on
the fish and the top and seat upholstery.
horrible damage could easily have been avoided if he had just covered the
car properly. But my friend was too busy with his law practice to take
care of his car in those days.
after he acquired the car (for free from his former brother-in-law), a
police car rear ended the Peugeot in the San Diego Police Dept. parking
police parking lot collision is actually a funny story in itself. My
friend was taking a client to police HQ to recover some belongings. His
client, a big, brawny drag queen who called himself "Tammy", had
been arrested for soliciting and was going back to pick up the female
clothes he/she was arrested in.
collision occurred, Tammy jumped out of the Peugeot, holding his/her neck
and crying out in pain. My friend said the expression on the cop's face
was of absolute fear. Tammy eventually got a big settlement for that
accident, and my friend was delighted to get a new paint job out of the
deal for the Peugeot, but he was oblivious to the shoddy repair work.
the smash-up in the police garage, my friend took the Peugeot to Tijuana,
where it was straightened out by attaching it to a telephone pole with a
chain, and then driving it forward fast.
Then, untold gallons of bondo were sculpted over the rear quarter
floorboards had rusted through, and the car sagged so much that I advised
him not to open both doors at the same time.
friend acquired the car from his then brother-in-law, he flew up to Los
Angeles from San Diego to get it and drive it back to San Diego. I recall
that it took him about a week and several stops at auto repair garages to
drive the car to San Diego -- a normal 2.5 hour distance.
drive south on I-5 until the Peugeot conked out, get towed to a nearby
repair shop, have whatever fixed, get back in the car and drive some more
until it broke down again. I believe he left it at various repair
shops and took a bus home to San Diego, and then when the car was ready,
he would somehow get back to L.A./Orange County to continue the trek.
night he finally arrived in San Diego, he called me during my dinner and
said he was sitting on the I-5 exit ramp to Pacific Beach (Garnet Ave.
exit) and needed a push. I jumped in my car and drove to the location and
found him there with a dead battery.
I was driving a Datsun 510 back then and we decided it would be okay to
push him with that car. My bumper rode up over his bumper and I put a dent
in his trunk before we even got underway. We managed to get the car
running and he limped to my driveway with no lights.
course was the first time I saw the Peugeot, and this would be the start
of several "lost weekends" working on that car in my driveway.
bought him a different trunk for something like $15 at a local junkyard.
Much later I foolishly found him a parts car, a 403 four door, for $75
which we decided was in better condition than his convertible, and so I
spent a lot of time making that parts car road worthy for him; that was
when the convertible was sort of abandoned next to his Mission Beach
house, and the rust really got to work destroying the floorboards and
sheet metal. He still has that 4 door somewhere, and probably the
rear window shelf is still lined with his collection of
"day-of-the-dead" dancing skeletons.
the former Columbo car now rests in a storage lot in Ensenada, where it
continues to deteriorate. I wrote a piece about this situation and was
published in Special Interest Autos a few years ago. My friend refuses to
sell it and I have no time to deal with it any more.
located a restoration shop here in San Diego who could rebuild the car,
but I don't think he has the money right now for that kind of repair. I'd
estimate it would take $30-50k to have it done. And my friend doesn't work
It's one of those sad situations without solution.