Citroen Posts

History Through Model Cars: Citroën Traction Avant

A Guest Blog from Patrick Wehr, owner of Pat’s Modellauto and carcollectorsgarage.com and also a Curator and Champion at hobbyDB.

Note:  You can click on each of the images to open the relevant hobbyDB page.

 

Though looking to the untrained eye like so many other 30’s creations, the Citroën Traction Avant represented a new wave in mass-produced automobiles, a radical move for a then still-young manufacturer on the verge of bankruptcy. This seemingly humble car pioneered three features still in use today: four-wheel independent suspension, front-wheel drive and unibody construction. The Traction helped save Citroën and solidified its future as one of the most innovative automotive manufacturers. All these new features were part of a tidy plan for the Traction Avant, which André Citroën laid out  in these specifications:

  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 7CV for annual tax level
  • Fuel consumption of 7litres
  • Speed 100 km/h (about 62 miles per hour)
  • 4 doors
  • 800kg (about 1700 lbs.)
  • Unitary body
  • Hydraulic converter
  • Price 15,000 Francs

The beginning

In fact, the name “Traction Avant” means front-wheel drive, still quite a rarity in the early thirties. With the plan thus laid out, the car was designed by Flaminio Bertone and André Lefèbvre in 1933/1934 and built from 1934 to 1957, to the tune of 760.000 cars.

Not only was a different end given power than usual, the Avant had a very advanced suspension for the thirties. The front wheels were independently sprung, using a torsion bar and wishbone suspension arrangement, although the rear suspension was a simple steel beam axle which was bolted to the main platform.

As specified, the structure of the car was a welded unitary body/chassis and not a separate frame like most of the other cars used in that time. Beyond just sounding like a pretty neat idea, this resulted in a lighter body, saving 70kg (150lb) per car. Interestingly, Andre Citroën received inspiration for much of the idea and execution of this method in a visit to the U.S. at the Budd Corporation. It was here he observed a proposal for a monocoque automobile, with the additional innovation of placing the entire drivetrain in the front.

Big Steps

Such a revolutionary automobile requires a similar change in manufacturing. André Citroën built a whole new factory for the Traction Avant, raising the old 30,000m (320,000sq ft) factory. Construction on this new factory, four times larger than its predecessor,  started in April 1933. By October, André Citroën was ready to invite 6,000 guests to the new factory ( including dealers, agents and other people involved in selling the car) for a spectacular kick-off banquet. A year after construction of the new factory began, the first Traction Avant was presented at Citroën’s Paris Showroom.

Models

Over the years, Citroen’s innovative new machine existed as a variety of models with different features. The original model was the Traction 7A followed by the Traction 7B. In October 1934 came the Traction 7C.

In November 1934 came the Traction 11CV.

In June 1938 the Traction 15CV earned the nickname “Big Six” for its new 6cylinder engine.

Naming

So what’s all this “CV” nonsense? This designation comes from the French fiscal horsepower rating (CV) which is used to determine annual car tax levels. Nicknames for the Avant were decidedly more elegant, such as “Reine de la Route“ (Queen of the Road).

Put to the test

Despite it’s near universal use today, unibody construction didn’t immediately win acceptance. Many questioned its safety, and a sophisticated type of crash test was conceived for the Traction Avant: it was pushed off a cliff. After the crash, all four doors still opened and even the glass was still intact. A few men hoped in and promptly drove the car off.

War Years

Unfortunately for Citroen (and everyone else) the world went to war in September 1939 and the Paris Motor Show was canceled, though the Traction Avant carried on.

  • Production numbers for 1939: 8120 7C Models 27,473 11B Models
  • Production numbers for 1940: 1133 Models 4,415 11B Models

By September 1939 250 cars found their way into military service and Citroën supplied a further 570 to the army between 02/1940 and 05/1940. During WWII, many of the cars were registered with WH plates (Wehrmacht Heer) having been requisitioned by the German Army. Demonstrating that the Traction Avant had something to offer everybody, the Traction Models were also used by the French Resistance with FFI inscribed on their doors. The car was also used as favorite cars among gangsters like from the legendary Pierrot le Fou and his Traction Gang.

After the war, the production resumed slowly and by the end of 1945 Citroën has made 1525 cars. In that year, the Traction was the only Citroën model available and as a sign of the times those customers who were not able to supply their own tires were charged for a set of five tires (including the trunk mounted spare) until may 1946 when the car could be purchased with tires at no extra costs.

Motorsport and other versions

Left-hand drive versions were built at Forest in Belgium and in Paris. In Copenhagen were built 550 additional cars for tax purposes (2 door commercial vans).

Some ideas never saw the light of day, including a 22CV with a 3.8litre V8 from which twenty prototypes were built, although the project was stopped at the beginning of 1935 after the company´s bankruptcy. When Michelin took control of Citroën (1934-1976) it’s likely that all the prototypes of the 22CV were destroyed. An automatic version also fizzled before reaching production.

A few variations that did reach the public were a 2 door Coupé and a convertible.

During development of the Hydropneumatic suspension that would become famous in the Avant’s successor, the DS, a 15CV (15-6H) model was used as a test car.

Production

  • 732,711 Traction models were made “at home” (Franc)e
  • 26,400 were built in Slough (England)
  • 31,750 assembled in Forest (near Brussels, Belgium)
  • 1,823 assembled in Cologne (Germany)
  • 880 were built in Copenhagen (Denmark)

 

Engines

  • 7CV 1934-1941 4 cylinder 1,3 to 1,6l and 32 to 36hp
  • 11CV 1934-1957 4 cylinder 1,6 to 1,9l and 36 to 60hp
  • 15CV 1938-1956 6 cylinder 2,9l 77hp (in the year 1957 2 special models were produced but their serial numbers are unknown)
  • 22CV V8 3,8l 100hp

Upon the sensational introduction of the DS, production of the venerable Avant was halted, though clearly the car’s impact remains felt today.

Citroën DS: A History Through Model Cars

A Guest Blog from Patrick Wehr, owner of Pat’s Modellauto and carcollectorsgarage.com and also a Curator and Champion at hobbyDB.

 

The Citroën DS19 was the successor of the Traction Avant and was first presented at the Paris Motor Show on October 5, 1955. During the first 15 minutes of the Motor Show, 743 orders for the futuristic new car were taken, and a total of 12,000 orders was reached at the end of that day. By the end of the show, after 10 days, some 80,000 cars were ordered, which was a record which stood for over 60 years, though Insiders think that those selling numbers were only a marketing trick.

 

 

The car was designed by the Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, as well as by André Lefèbvre, a French aeronautical engineer. The futuristic hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension was developed by Paul Magès. The car was such a success for aesthetics and engineering that it has inspired countless scale models.

 

The car was manufactured from 1955 to 1975 as a sedan, wagon/estate, and convertible. It was also the first production car that was equipped with disc brakes.

 

The DS used hydraulics for the power steering, the brakes, the suspension, the clutch and the transmission. In fact, with all that new technology it was a very expensive car, so Citroën decided in 1957 to produce the cheaper ID19. This car would have a conventional transmission, a simplified power-braking system and lack power steering. The ID was also not as powerful or luxurious. Maximum power for the ID19 was 69hp compared to 75hp for the DS. The ID submodel was produced from 1957-1969.

In 1962 the nose was redesigned and designated as Series 2. The car was more aerodynamically efficient and had also better ventilation. It was now available with an optional set of driving lights mounted on the front fenders.

 

French President Charles de Gaulle survived an assassination attempt at Le Petit-Clamart near Paris on August 22, 1962 while in a DS. The plan was to ambush the motorcade with machine guns, disable the vehicles, and then close in for the kill. De Gaulle praised the unusual abilities of his unarmored DS with saving his life – the car was peppered with bullets, and the shots had punctured the tires, but the car could still escape at full speed.

 

From October 4, 1955 to April 24, 1975 a total of 1,456,115 cars of the D-Series were built.

 

In late 1967 another new nose design with directional headlights came, now called the Series 3. That 1968 model of the ID/DS series had four headlights under a glass canopy. The inner lights swiveled with the steering wheel. For the US market this feature was not allowed, so a version with four exposed headlights was made for the US market.

In 1970 the ID was replaced by the D Spécial and the D Super. The D Super 5 was a D Super with the DS21 engine and a 5 speed gearbox. It was produced from 1970-1975.

 

The most collectable and rare variants are the convertibles produced from 1958-1973. They were built by the French Carrossier Henri Chapron for the Citroën dealer network. Only 1,365 Convertibles were sold, due to the high price of that variant. On these, a special frame was used, which was similar but not identical to the frame of the Break variants.

 

Various variants

 

Before the war, Chapron built some custom made bodies for Talbot-Lago, Delage and Delahaye. In 1955 he turned his attention to Citroën, and he was commissioned to build a Décapotable for the French President based on a 15CV Traction. At the Paris Salon in 1958, he showed his first DS based creation, known as the Cabriolet DS19 Henri Chapron.

 

 

In addition to the range of special Citroëns, Chapron also built the Prestige and the “Usine Cabriolets” for Citroën. Chapron also built a special elongated DS for the President de Gaulle.

 

The Michelin Citroën DS PLR Break, “Fast Truck” or nicknamed “Mille Pattes,” was a tire evaluation car. It was based on a DS Break and was built in 1972 by the French tire manufacturer Michelin, who was a shareholder of Citroën. It was used on the Ladoux test-track in Clermont-Ferrand.

 

Here a DS19 from Vitesse for the 40 Anniversary of the DS (1955-1995)

 

The DS was successful in motorsports and won the Rally Monte-Carlo in 1959. The 1000 Lakes Rally was also won by a DS in 1962. In 1966, the DS won the Monte Carlo Rally again. The DS was still competitive in the 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally where it beat over 70 other cars, only five of which even completed the entire event.

Auto-Archives Car of the Month — 1986 Citroën 2CV6 Spécial (The Deux Chevaux)

Citroën unveiled the 2CV— The Deux Chevaux: signifying two nominal horsepower (initially it was only 12hp)—at the 1948 Paris Salon. The 2CV, conceived and designed by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger, quickly became a bestseller, achieving his aim of providing rural French people with a motorized alternative to the horse and cart the majority were still using in the early 1950s. It was unusually inexpensive to purchase and with its tiny two-cylinder, two-stroke engine, inexpensive to run as well. The early 2CV model pioneered a very soft, interconnected suspension, but did not have the more complex self-levelling feature that would appear later. The 2CV remained in production, with only minor changes, until 1990 and was a relatively common sight on French roads until fairly recently. It is astonishing to know that nearly nine million 2CV variants were produced, in eleven countries from France to Argentina, between 1948 and 1990.

The Citroën 2CV featured; low cost; simplicity of overall maintenance; an easily serviced air-cooled engine,  low fuel consumption; and an extremely long-travel suspension offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Often called “an umbrella on wheels”, the fixed-profile convertible bodywork featured a full-width, canvas, roll-back sunroof, which accommodated oversized loads and until 1955 reached almost to the car’s rear bumper.

citroen_2cv-002_web
Over the next forty plus year the 2CV went through many iterations (including the 2CV Fourgonnette van, the ‘Weekend’ version of the van that had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle at the weekend, as well as for business in the week) and modifications, including different size engines (from 375cc to 435cc and then 602cc), revised lights, extra windows, re-styled seats, and even door locks! The key to the 2CV’s huge success was its clever, lightweight engineering, which combined a small, fuel-efficient engine with an extremely light body and drivetrain.
In July 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced with the 435cc engine. Between 1975 and 1990 a drastically reduced trim basic version was sold, at first only in yellow. The small, square speedometer (which dates back to the Traction Avant), and the narrow rear bumper was installed. Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. It also had the earlier round headlights. From the 1978 Paris Motor Show the Spécial regained third side windows, and was available in other colours. Beginning in mid-1979 a larger 602cc engine was installed in some models.

The 2CV Special seen here was privately imported from Belgium (it still has a Belgian registration plate on the front), and had two previous U.S. owners, before the current owner Frank Barrett bought it in 2011. It is a totally original, un-restored car with only 53,000 miles (85,000km) on the odometer. This ‘Spécial’ features a four-speed transmission, front-wheel drive; shift lever on dashboard, and inboard front disk brakes, with drums at the rear. The unique longitudinal coil spring on each side works as both front and rear suspension. The roof folds back, and the seats are easily removable if you need them for a Picnic!

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