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Automobiles Citroën has made it a habit to be at the forefront with the newest
technological inventions. This began in the year of the company's foundation, 1919,
as the Type A was presented: it was one of the first cars to be delivered with
bodywork, electric starter, and electric lights. At that time it was normal for
the client to buy a bare chassis from the manufacturer and to take that to a
coachbuilder to have the bodywork of choice mounted onto it.
The Type A was also one of the first European cars to be built on an assembly
line following the practice of the construction of the famous
Model T (Tin Lizzie).
With the presentation of the Type C2 in the year 1922, Citroën offered a kind of
It was a small car that did not need much technical understanding, had enough
space for two people, and was easy to drive. The car was sold in yellow only in
the beginning and since that time these particular Citroëns models have been
known by the name 'lemon' (in French, "citron"...). By the way, a short
time after Citroën, the German company
presented a car that looked almost identical to the C2. It was called the
"tree-frog" as it was delivered only in green.
At Citroën, the company's progress continued in 1925 with the introduction
of the 'tout acier' (all steel) bodies. As the first manufacturer in Europe to
use this process, Citroën introduced this way to build a car body with the
type B10, replacing the nailing of sheet metal to a wooden frame.
In 1932 Citroën introduced the flexible engine suspension, following a
patent. The transmission of the engine vibrations to the body was reduced
dramatically by the use of rubber motor mounts.
The Birth of the Traction Avant
In the year 1933, Citroën had need of a totally new model despite all its
financial problems. It would be a revolutionary automobile. The features wanted
in the new model included the following: 100 km/h maximum speed, a consumption of
10 litres / 100 km, uni-body construction, front-wheel drive, and automatic
gearbox. To realize these plans, Citroën engaged André Lefèbvre
as engineer for the project. Flamino Bertoni was responsible for the design of
the car (no relationship to Nuccio Bertone , who also does contract work for
The first prototypes were soon prepared and ready for testing. The automatic
gearbox showed many problems, but the rest of the car seemed fine. Within three
weeks, a new manual gearbox was designed, with three forward and one reverse gear.
On March 3rd 1934 the Type 7 ("7" indicating the fiscal horse power -
related to the engine size of 1303 cc) was presented to the dealers and it was a
sensation - uni-body, front-wheel drive, independently sprung front wheels, torsion
bar suspension, hydraulic brakes, rubber motor mounts for the engine, and so on.
Compared to what was on the roads at the time, the car was very low. Thanks to the
way it was built, it had no running boards. The road-holding and the way the power
was transferred to the road were described as outstanding.
The Traction Avant in Production
First, a short explanation for the term 'Traction Avant': It means front-wheel
drive and was used by Citroën to distinguish the new models from the models
still in production with the same fiscal horse power, but rear wheel drive
(Propulsion Arrière). Most people soon adopted the new term and the
revolutionary cars became called, simply 'Tractions'.
In the beginning, only the 'small' body was produced (overall length: 4.45 m) in
Berline, Cabriolet, and Faux Cabriolet versions. The engine grew from 1303 cc
to 1629 cc to what would have been a 9CV. But as Citroën had invested a
great deal of money into the marketing campaign to launch the new '7' they kept
The first sedans were distinguished from later versions by the roof being made of
moleskine (an early artificial leather). The art of welding was not far enough
advanced to make a steel roof to the high standards of the rest of the car. The
boot was accessible only from the inside. Up to the beginning of WWII the
Tractions were delivered in a large variety of colours - nothing about a Traction
having to be black!
For the Paris Motor Show in October 1934, Citroën presented the 'big' body
with a 1911 cc engine, the type we know today as the 'Normale' or 'Large'. The
body is 12 cm wider and 20 cm longer than the small one with similar technical
specifications. The small body was now called the 'Légère'. At the
same Motor Show, Citroën showed the 22 CV with a 3.8 litre V8 engine. With
only very few prototypes being built, the car never reached production. Today,
every Tractionist dreams of owning one of these rareties. Unfortunately, no
original car is known to exist in the world.
The body of the Normale was built in the same versions as the Légère
(Berline, Cabriolet, and Faux Cabriolet). Two new variants, the 'Conduite
Intérieure' and the 'Familiale' were added. They were 20 cm longer again
and had a third side window. The Familiale had a third row of seats which could
be folded into place, making it a 9-seater.
In 1936, all models got a boot that was accessible from the rear as well as
high-tech rack-and-pinion steering.
1938 saw the presentation of the 6-cylinder model: 2 cylinders were added to
the 1911 cc 4-cylinder engine giving a capacity of 2867 cc. Derived from the
fiscal horse power, the car was also called the 15CV or 15/6. Soon the car
adopted the name, 'Reine de la Route' (Queen of the road (in French, cars are
usually female)). Also in 1938, the now very rare 11CV 'Commerciale' was presented.
From the outside this car is recognizable by the two part hatch door (similar
to the pattern the DS estate or many American station wagons use). This model was
of interest to craftsmen as both everyday transportation and a Sunday vehicle.
During WWII, the Tractions were a favourite of the French Résistance
because of their agility and road holding. That's why it's quite difficult these
days to find a pre-war Traction in reasonable condition. Most of them 'died' for
the French people. In wartime, the production at Citroën was practically non
existant. As far as possible, they produced for the French armed forces as well
as many utility vehicles, and later on, during the occupation, the factory was
forced to produce for Germany.
In 1946, after the factory was reconstructed, production restarted slowly. The
'luxury' versions, 'Cabriolet' and 'Faux Cabriolet', were discontinued. Tires on
the wheels were an extra cost! Only three models were available: the 11CV
Légère, the 11CV Normale (Large) and the 15/6, all in a colour
that can be described as 'nearly black'.
1946 wurde nach dem Wiederaufbau der Fabrik die Fertigung langsam wieder aufgenommen.
Die 'Luxuskarrosserien' Cabriolet und Faux Cabriolet strich man aus dem Programm.
Pneus auf den Rädern waren aufpreispflichtig! Nur 3 verschiedene Modelle konnten
gebaut werden, und auch diese nur in der Einheitsfarbe 'fastschwarz': die 11CV
Légère, die 11CV Normale (Large) und die 15/6.
This was the situation up until 1952, except that Citroën was able to
deliver a true black. In this year the range was 'modernised' and the only major
body change took place: a big boot was added, similar to what all other cars
In 1954, even the colour choice grew - you were able to order 'gris perle'
(grey) and 'bleu R.A.F.' (dark blue). Two body styles from the pre-war cars
were reintroduced: the 11CV Normale in the Familiale and Commerciale variant
(but now with a one piece hatch). The 15/6 was available as a Familiale.
With a new version of the 15/6 you could guess that Citroën was working on
a totally new model: the car was available as a 15/6H (Hydraulique), equipped
with a rear suspension that was "sprung" by means of pressurized
hydraulic fluid. The amazing
was waiting on the horizon!
At the Paris Motor Show in 1955, the DS was presented to the public, but this
is another story! The production of the 15/6 had already stopped.
The last Citroën Traction Avant, an 11CV Familiale, was delivered on 25
July 1957, with no big fuss. Finally, it was just another outdated car.
In total, including the cars built in Forest (Belgium) and
Slough (Great Britain):
Thalwil, 26 December 1995