The Citroën Traction Avant was nicknamed ‘Queen of the road’, and we can say that that is deserved, although it wasn’t sunshine and roses in the beginning. This pre- and post-war classic set the tone for decades of ‘Citroën innovation’, let that be a term in itself, leaving traces even in the 21st century.
The whole story began in the mid-interbellum, early 1934. Citroën was in a financially difficult position and the Citroën Traction Avant had to provide sufficient revenue (in Autumn 1934 Michelin bought Citroën after bankruptcy). Premature and unfinished, the Traction Avant was released as ‘well begun is half done’, although a good beginning seemed to have different meanings. Countless problems, poor design and a lazy attempt to keep Citroën alive. The automatic transmission was the biggest source of problems, which was eventually replaced by a 3-speed manual transmission.
After a crisis period, Citroën (which was led by Michelin) decided to start from scratch again: all problems got solved and the Traction Avant was actually improved and revised based on those problems, co-creation as never seen before. Co-creation that turned out to be setting tones in later decades. The Traction Avant was the first commercial vehicle with a frame made of one single part (monocoque unibody), which provides less weight and better fuel economy with a consumption of approx. 10 litres per 100 kilometres. It was also the first commercial vehicle that was front-wheel driven, a fact that didn’t come coincidental because ‘traction avant’ means ‘front-wheel drive’ in French. Also highly innovative were hydraulic brakes and overhead valves, which ensure that compression remains at level and ensures that the engine ignites fuel at the same speed.
The Traction Avant came in various versions as Citroën wanted to sell to a wide range of customers. On engine level, the 7CV, 11CV and 15CV and were released with 32 or 36 hp, 46; 56 or 60 hp and 77 hp, respectively. The 7-series was only produced until 1939 and the 15-series was introduced in 1938. The production of the 11-series and the 15-series was completely stopped during World War II, after the war, the production was resumed gradually. In terms of bodywork, there was also a distinction made, with the four-door ‘Légère’ as the base. In addition to the ‘Légère’, there was also the wider four-door named ‘Normale’, a roadster and a coupé named ‘Faux Cabriolet’.
The 15-Six was released in 1939 and had been produced until 1956. This vehicle was available as a default ‘Berline’ with the same dimensions as the ‘Normale’. The 15-Six featured a unique 2867cc in-line-six cylinder engine, which inspired Citroën in the designing of the C6. Over the years, the 15-Six underwent both mechanical and aesthetic changes. Mechanically, it changed in response to the constant fluctuation of gasoline quality. The biggest aesthetic change was made in 1952, the spare wheel which got covered in the trunk instead of a tailor-made wheel cover.