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...of left and right hand drive

I recently read an article in a computer magazine about the size of the UK market for computer software which stated that our market represents something in the order of 8% in relation to the size of the American market. For this reason, software from the States has a distinctly American feel - American spelling, date formats, etc. This lead me to thinking about the way that Citroën must perceive the UK market; we drive on the wrong side of the road, we use imperial measurements and we demand extras like electric windows and sun roofs. 

Over the years I have owned many Citroëns, both left and right hand drive and am therefore aware of the differences between continental European and UK models. Back in the mists of time, my Father had a number of Slough built Ds - these cars were substantially different from the French built cars - leather upholstery, 12 volt electrics, wooden dashboards, indicators on a timer switch mounted in the middle of the fascia to mention but a few. The funny thing is, the suspension ride height control lever was mounted in the passenger footwell where it was unusable while on the move unless one's passenger did the necessary. Later French built, UK market cars had the ride height lever moved to the driver's side - very sensible. The minor controls (lights, wipers, etc.) were however left in the left hand drive configuration so in a manual car one could not change gear and indicate simultaneously. The hydraulic D must have been one of the few right hand drive cars with a right hand gear change and this meant one could perform the aforementioned multi-tasking operation with little difficulty. The demisting system was however left with a left hand drive bias - the passenger's side of the windscreen would clear before the driver's side.

The GS was a different kettle of fish - the windscreen wipers on UK market vehicles were left in left hand drive format, the parking brake was difficult to operate due to the release lever being set up for right handed index finger operation but the minor controls were reversed so one could change gear and signal at the same time. The centre console was however left unchanged so the ride height lever was more readily accessible by the passenger than the driver.

The PRN equipped GSA and Visa meant that your left hand did nearly everything - change gear, operate the lights, horn and wipers, leaving your right hand free for gesticulating, nose picking or anything else that took your fancy.

UK market BXs have only one glovebox whereas mainland models have two. Again, the ride height lever is designed for right hand operation. I recall one car - I forget which model - which had the speedo calibrated in mph at 20 mph intervals. The trouble was, it read 20 - 40 - 60 - 80 - 100, notwithstanding that our speed limits are 30 - 40 - 50 - 60 - 70 mph. 

Perusing Fabian Sabate's book "22CV V'là une Traction" shows that the Light/Big Fifteen had the gearchange offset to the left - just as in the French models.

The 2CV and derivatives have a very sensible, easy to use gearchange - if you are sitting on the left. Sit on the right and the spring bias operates against you. Likewise the parking brake is ideally situated for use by the passenger in a UK market car. 

I could go one and I am sure that you will all be aware of the occasional shortcomings of Citroën's conversions. Presumably Citroën would justify this on economic grounds since the market for right hand drive vehicles must be small in comparison to that for left hand drive cars. Perhaps it's time for us to renounce our peculiar driving and measurement standards and go over to driving on the right side of the road. However, accident statistics indicate that driving on the left is marginally safer than driving on the right - there are fewer head on crashes, due, it is believed, to most people having a dominant right eye, thereby making it easier to assess the speed of oncoming vehicles. Furthermore, the tendency amongst most right handed people is to swerve to the right rather than the left in an emergency - this results in higher levels of pedestrian injuries in countries that drive on the right - although concomitantly it results in more urban vehicle to vehicle collisions in countries that drive on the left.

Finally, perusing some old (and not so old) Citroën brochures recently reveals that negatives are frequently reversed to give the impression that they are portraying UK models - GS/DS with nearside fuel filler, GS with right hand drive wipers, even a Visa with PRN satellite on the right and instruments calibrated in a widdershins direction!

© Julian Marsh 1995

This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .