Starring the late Peter Falk, Columbo was an American crime drama television series that depicted a shrewd yet inelegant working-class homicide detective who shares the namesake of the show. Based in Los Angeles, it spanned 10 seasons and was a hit among the masses. Lieutenant Columbo, the detective, had iconic trademarks such as his unassuming demeanor, rumpled beige raincoat, an unseen wife that he mentions regularly throughout the episodes, an old car, and the catchphrase “Just one more thing.” But among those iconic elements, the most iconic one was his car.
Some might think why a car would be iconic. It’s just a piece of metal being driven around by the main character. Could there be more to it than what meets the eye? The answer is a solid and resounding yes!
So, like any good mystery, what car did Columbo drive? What was it like? And where is it now?
1959 Peugeot Convertible Model 403 – “This is the one”
Back when episode 2 was still in planning mode, the writers and creators Richard Levinson and William Link decided that the detective should be portrayed as someone who drives a dilapidated car in order to match his character’s personality. Initially, Star Peter Falk resisted the idea as he pointed out that the detective already has the cigar, the wife, and the raincoat; he believed that should be enough characterization. But, he caved in and was not hunting for one in the back-lot of Universal Studios. There were a lot of choices, but what car did Columbo drive?
Peter Falk got to pick Columbo’s car, which was a run-down 1959 Peugeot 403 cabriolet model that didn’t even have an engine in it. “This is the one”, he declared.
To be sure that there’s always a running car, the studio decided to have two additional cars, under a lease, with the same model and specs to make sure that the continuity of the story makes sense. After all, we don’t want people getting confused as to what car did Columbo drive in-between episodes.
The 1959 Peugeot 403 cabriolet car also is iconic in the real world as well as it was the first model from Peugeot that exceeded the 1 million production mark, making it one of the most popular models for the French carmaker. The model came in with various variants – Saloon, Pickup, Commercial, and Cabriolet. Though that was a win for the makers, the convertible variant Cabriolet only had around 2000 models that made their way to the market.
Inside the Columbo Car Dashboard and More
Taking a good look inside the Columbo car dashboard is nothing short of amazing. No, we’re not talking about the exact car that he used during the shoots but rather the one being sold in the market at that time.
The all-leather interior offered a lux feel to the driver and those in the passenger seat. The 1959 Peugeot 403 cabriolet models also boasted about the extras it offered. The tires could be exchanged with white-wall ones. The padded dashboard offered both comfort and functionality. The usual reclining seats, windshield washers, electric clock, trip mileage counter, dual-tone horns, and “outside rearview mirror” were also present. The only thing not on the list was the radio, to which Peugeot commented, “We don’t make radios.”
Where is Columbo’s Car Now? How is it doing?
So we already solved the mystery about what car did Columbo drive. Now, let’s talk about where is Columbo’s car now and how it is currently.
After the series initially ended its run on television, one of the cars was given to one of Paul Leverenz’s friends. By the time Universal decided to revive the show, the car appeared to have already suffered a lot of damage when it was found. The people who left the car thought it would be taken care of; but, that wasn’t the ending that they hoped for.
Already in a deplorable condition, the studio then had the Peugeot 403 examined to no luck as the car was deemed beyond restoration. Paul tried to salvage the car but to no avail, which is why professionals were then brought in. However, they too refused to even hoist the car up for the fear it would disintegrate even more.
It all started when Paul’s friend left the car to the elements of Mission Beach, California.
Left exposed to the sun and passersby, the car started turning for the worst. It was only 100 feet away from the high tides. The salt in the air corroded the floorboards and sheet metal. Pranksters would then vandalize the car. They would load up the car with Grunion (a type of fish). They then let loose a colony of gulls that would end up feasting on the fish while damaging the top and upholstery. He then lost the keys to the car. And in order to fix the situation, he allowed a “mechanic” unfastened the steering linkage so that it can be moved to a flatbed while wrestling each front wheel.
As of now, Columbo’s car is resting in a storage lot in Ensenada while it continues to deteriorate. That is a sad ending to such an iconic car of American Television.
What other cars have featured in Columbo?
A blue Ferrari Daytona featured in an episode of Columbo on December 15 1971. The episode was called “Lady in Waiting” and Leslie Nielsen made a guest appearance.
One thing that’s for sure, is that cars have always been part of both television and cinema. Some of them just make cameos during the fast-paced car chase scenes; some, like Columbo’s car, are made to support the roles in every scene when the main character seems to be in a pinch or even just a simple drive around. This 1959 Peugeot 403 cabriolet car will always be part of history. It will live on its legacy and more.
Why? Because it was the closest thing the series has to a regular supporting role. It appeared as many times as Lieutenant Columbo did in-between episodes; it also had its fair share of action in the series. The long running show lasted 10 seasons, which included 69 episodes. The pilot episodes aired for the first time in 1968.
Arguably, Peter Falk’s most famous co star was William Shatner, who appeared in 2 episodes.
After talking about what car did Columbo drive, we are sure you have been brought to a time where TV’s crime dramas had made any car an icon. And though it may not have survived the test of time and humanity, it lives on as the car of one famous detective Columbo drove.