05 February 2015

Automobiles Citroën — a brief history

If you live in the U.S., where there are no Citroën dealerships and almost no Citroën cars on the road, you may think that the name Citroën applies mainly or exclusively to the famous old car called the 2CV or Deux Chevaux. You know, the car that looks like an old VW Beetle that might have been put together by somebody on an LSD trip.

I know that the name Citroën looks a lot like the French word citron, meaning "lemon." That's unfortunate, isn't it?

One of Citroën's first cars was this model A.


The Citroën car company was founded in 1919 by a French engineer (polytechnicien) named André Citroën. His factory was in Paris, on the Seine at the quai de Javel in the 15th arrondissement. Nowadays, that name has been changed to name the quai after him, along with a big park where the manufacturing facility used to stand. By 1920, Citroën was making more than 12,000 cars a year.






Célestine is one of Susan and Simon's Citroën Traction touring cars



In the 1930s Citroën designed and manufactured the revolutionary Traction Avant automobile. That's the one that came in any color you wanted as long as it was black, and it might be associated in your mind with 1930s-era gangsters. Traction Avant means "front-wheel drive." The Traction saved Citroën from bankruptcy. Our friends Susan and Simon of the Days on the Claise blog have two 1950s-vintage Tractions that they use to ferry tourists around on custom tours of the Loire Valley.



The legendary 2CV or Deux Chevaux




The Citroën 2CV was manufactured from 1948 until 1990. It was a "people's car" — inexpensive and sturdy, but basic. The name "two horses" didn't mean the car had just a two-horsepower engine, as some people might believe. The "horse" is a tax term in France. The Citroën C4 that I am buying has a 5CV engine, for example. It's real horsepower rating is 90.







A Citroën DS that I photographed in Alençon in 2001
The other model that Citroën was famous for was the DS, which was more of a luxury car — DS is partly a play on words because in French déesse means "goddess" — that the company manufactured from 1955 until 1975. It's the car with the famous hydraulic or hydropneumatique suspension. When you started the engine, the back end of the vehicle would rise up to the driving postion, and when you turned it off it would settle back down to its crouching position. The car's ride, as I remember it, was like that of a boat floating on gentle swells, and could almost make you seasick until you got used to it.



Today's little Citroën C3 is a "wink" at the old 2CV in looks.



In 1935, when André Citroën died, the company was taken over by the French tire manufacturer Michelin. In the 1970s, during the great oil crisis, Michelin tried to sell Citroën to Italy's Fiat, but the French government vetoed that move. Finally, in 1975, Citroën was taken over by Peugeot, and there it remains today. Citroën and Peugeot cars share many components and platforms, but the two brands still exist.





These days, Citroën has more than 13,000 employees and produces a full range of passenger and light utility vehicles. The C series has been successful — I'm acquiring a C4 — and the new DS series, while very different from the original DS cars, seems to be successful as well. The two brands Citroën and Peugeot combined produce nearly three million vehicles a year. None are sold in the U.S., however.

13 comments:

Gosia k said...

Interesting post about this model of car..

Tim said...

Lovely post... but...
"You know, the car that looks like an old VW Beetle that might have been put together by somebody on an LSD trip."....
That really is a bit unfair... I've owned both and I prefer the Deuche by miles!!
It is warmer in winter and more fun in summer...
I once did a winter's drive in my dark blue Beetle and we had to keep stopping....
and refilling the hot water bottles the thenwife and I were using...
to keep our feet warm.
The heat from the engine...
via the ducting from the back...
never ever reaches the front!!
With either 2CV, the heat from the engine....
is directly at your feet via the short length of ducting...
and, in the '89 Citroën, you can even demist the windscreen...
a luxury that was added post 1960!!

However, if you take a look at the original 1930's pre-war design for the Deuche...
also known as the "tin snail" or "upside-down pram"...
your "LSD trip" description is spot-ont...
and some of the paint jobs that we've seen...
and photographed over the years...
many owners may well still be under that influence!!

And your "lemon" link is valid...
his parents were Dutch...
and his great-grandfather was a citrus merchant!
Who called himself Limoenman...
and that was gradually transformed to Citroen...
via Limoenman-Citron...
and by the time they had settled as jewellers in Paris...
they had become Citroëns!!

But the DS was a real car...
the new DS badged versions of the C-series...
look like flattened bricks if you ask me!
They are too big at the front...
and there is no style... no panache
no flair... no matter how well they perform.
And the C3 isn't a "wink" at the Deuche...
but the impractical C3 Pluriel was meant to be...
with its mechanical hood that never works properly...
erk!!
Unlike the Deuche... totally impractical!!

But you liked your R4...
the van of which was perhaps the most sensible small van design ever...
especially the versions beloved by plumbers and roofers...
with the roof above the rear doors...
and the bit just behind the cab...
both opening upwards.
You could put lengths of pipe, or a ladder, through...
no need for a roof-rack!! Excellent design...
but... like my old R5... once the sills started to rot...
the car was dead!!
They were monocoques... not chassis-built.

But I am rather attracted by the Citroën Cactus...
especially the lime-green one I saw the other day!
However... Pauline ain't!!
She hankers after a Citroën SM with the Maserati engine....
and a thirst for petrol like a desert wanderer...
has for water!

Ken Broadhurst said...

Tim, I guess the wink is in the eye of the beholder ;^)

Have you seen this site on the subject?

Tim said...

Yes, and seen the full-sized maquette at Salbris...
it would have been wonderful...
it would have been fun...
but then the accountants....
the "consumer research"....
and other anon-eee-mouse persons....
looked at that totally radical design...
and decided that it wouldn't sell....
the fooooolz!!
Instead, they came up with another Euroblob....
leaving Renault a clear field with the Twizzy....
I want one of those...
I've wanted one ever since I saw one on display in Loches...
and the very kind powers-that-be in Indre-et-Loire....
have put special parking places for it....
with bornes electriques...
all over the place!
Then I can become a fully fledged badger....
Now, I just need to check that lottery ticket...
then Pauline can have her DS Maserati as well!

No, instead of a real car....
Citruin came out with the plastic-sided tank of a Cactus!!

And I think that Fiat's new 500 is a wonderful Retro...
the first time I saw one I did a dubbletake!
Whereas the BMW "Mini" is just a square tank....
almost three times the original in size...

And, now you've got me started....#
I came up behind one of the new Range Rovers yesterday....
with a fast-back? WHAT!!?

chm said...

I have fond memories of my own 2CV. You couldn't drive very fast, but it was sooooo comfortable.

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

I enjoyed your previous post, about your history with cars, that I just read this morning :) This one, too!
Oh boy!

Ken Broadhurst said...

Three different people I knew back in 1972-73 in Rouen had Citroën cars -- one a 2CV, one a DS, and another a sporty model called the GS. We all rode around for many hours and days in those cars. Great adventures and fantastic memories.

Evelyn said...

I've ridden in an elderly 2CV in the early 60s in Montpellier. The seat were canvas I think.Please give me the pronunciation of Citroen- is it Tim's "Citruin"?

Ken Broadhurst said...

E., it's [see-troh-EHN]. Hope that's clear. Phonetic transcription is difficult when two languages with different sound and spelling systems are involved.

The Beaver said...

For the DS - there is that famous one for Le Général ( he was in one with his wife when there was an attempt on his life back in 1962):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDoL68mh7C8

Evelyn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken Broadhurst said...

Oops, Evelyn, I accidentally deleted your comment. I clicked the wrong button.... Sorry about that. In English, I'd say [SIH-troh-en], I think.

Tim said...

Oh those dear days when all the Paris police (gendarmerie) cars were black Déesses and all the hurry-up wagons were H vans ... and the picture of a 1968 riot with a 2CV on fire. Happy days? Pauline