Traction Avant

1934 CITROňN

WORDS MICHAEL STAHL

RETRO SERIES

Build it and they will copy

FRENCH TRAILBLAZER LEFT AN ENDURING LEGACY IN CAR CONSTRUCTION

CITROňN HAS A long history of producing cars that were fearlessly innovative and financially irresponsible. First to mind is the achingly gorgeous DS of 1955-í75, but the car that preceded it was, for its time, even more advanced.

The Traction Avant of 1934, officially known as the 7CV, 11CV, Light 15 (in Anglophone countries) and Big 15, also drove its manufacturer to bankruptcy and its creator to an early grave.

The Traction Avant introduced a number of features that would become commonplace 20 or more years later. However, within months of its 1934 launch, the car maker would surrender to its debtor Michelin, while Andrť CitroŽn, broke, would die from stomach cancer, aged 57. His piece de resistance revolutionised mass-produced cars and had a production run of 23 years.

In 1932, CitroŽn launched a new 8-10-15 ĎRosalieí. Outwardly just a conventional front-engined, rear-drive model, its novel construction married body panels to fabricated steel chassis rails.

It was a step towards the all-new 7CV and (longer, larger) 11CV, which adopted a chassis concept from US coachbuilder Budd Company. Developed further by CitroŽn engineer Andrť LefŤbvre, it was the industryís first monocoque steel body and was built in sedan, coupe and cabriolet (pictured) versions.

It also had front-wheel drive, a first in mass-production; sprung engine mounts; and four-wheel independent suspension, when few cars even had independent front suspension. So, too, hydraulic brakes (drums), and two years later, rack-and-pinion steering.

And it was beautiful, being created by sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, who sculpted rather than sketched the design.

In 1938 the four-cylinder models were joined by a 2.9-litre in-line six-cylinder, and in 1954, 20 years after the Tractionís launch, the 15 Six debuted CitroŽnís hydropneumatic suspension.

Unitary construction not only made the Traction Avant lighter, it also gave a flat floor (and impressive interior space), a rakish height of just 1520mm and a low centre of gravity, which brought formidable handling and stability.

RHD examples were built at CitroŽnís Slough, UK factory, from which at least a few thousand were imported into Australia.

By the mid-1950s, the car that had been so far ahead of its time was looking dowdy and dated. CitroŽn had a hard act to follow Ė but the DS of 1955, another LefŤbvre and Bertoni collaboration, pulled it off. The Traction Avant finally bowed out two years later, after some 760,000 examples had been built.

IN DETAIL

CAPACITY IN LITRES OF V8 Ď22CVí THAT DIDN'T MAKE IT INTO PRODUCTION 3.8†

100 KM/H TOP SPEED†

KM DRIVEN BY FRENCHMAN FRAN«OIS LECOT IN A YEAR 400,000†

1957 FINAL TRACTION AVANT IS DELIVERED ON 25 JULY

FORWARD THINKING

The Traction Avantís four-cylinder engine was distinctively front midmounted, gearbox 11CV sent with the transaxle ahead of it. The 1911cc†41kW/119Nm via a three-speed manual. The standard 11CV/Light 15 with nal torsion beam axle located by a Panhard rod rear. sat on a 2910mm wheelbase, wishbones and longitudinal bars front, torsion bars and

TO DIE FOR

On sedans (above), Ďsuicideí front conventional rears opened cabin. Front seats were bench on steel tube frames. protruded from the dashboard, a mechanical lock from changing gears. doors and to a spacious buckets or The gear lever steel keeping gravity†Pre-1952 malle plate (small boot) more valuable but less sedans are practical than later, big-boot models.