Those unfamiliar with older Citroën models may wonder why it’s worth writing about the story of a company that seemingly creates cheap runabouts for people who are not really interested in cars. Well, put simply, it wasn’t always this way…
Citroën, In the Beginning
The Citroën story starts over 100 years ago in France with founder, André Citroën, an industrialist making armaments for the French war effort during World War 1. He made the switch to cars in 1919 with the company’s first, the Model A. From here on, the brand would be a pioneer of new technologies and design, many being decades ahead of their time.
The B10 and the Eiffel Tower
In 1924, Citroën was the first manufacturer in Europe to sell a car with an all steel body in the newly introduced B10. Many rivals at the time were still using wood in their construction, however, competitors soon caught up, making steel bodied designs of their own. The B10’s low sale price however caused Citroën heavy financial losses, a sign of how the company was going to be run for many years. Ever confident and proud of his creations, André Citroën rented out the Eiffel Tower in 1925 and created the world’s largest advertisement. 250,000 light bulbs and 370 miles of wiring spelling out ‘Citroën’ was adorned along the side of Paris’s famous landmark. The advertisement remained on the tower until one year before André’s death, in 1935.
The Traction Avant
Their first big break came 5 years before World War 2, in 1934, with the introduction of the innovative Traction Avant. This revolutionary car was the first mass-produced vehicle with front-wheel drive, independent suspension, a monocoque body and an early adopter of rack and pinion steering. These are all things we take for granted in our cars today, however, they were only ever seen in limited run, specialist cars before the Traction Avant.
Front-wheel drive brought the advantage of improved grip on poor surfaces (many roads at the time were not a sealed surface) as the weight of the engine also in the front, pressed the driven tyres into the ground. Independent suspension also aided grip by allowing each wheel to absorb bumps independently and not transfer shock across the axle like a beam axle. Lastly, the monocoque body reduced weight and overall height by doing away with the traditional body on frame construction. Production continued until 1957, with approximately 760,000 cars being built.
Citroën’s story is a long and colourful one that is far from over. Keep a lookout for “The Rise and Fall of Citroen: Part 2” on Killer Bee Car Talk!