CITROňN CELEBRATES 80 YEARS OF THE TRACTION AVANT
launched the “7A“ in 1934. The new model soon referred to by the
general public as the “Traction Avant” for its front-wheel-drive system
– a first for a production model. The aim with the “7A“, developed in
just 12 months, was to distance CitroŽn from its rivals and bring the
brand lasting success.
Andrť CitroŽn pulled out all the stops to
that end, setting up a team of ultra-talented individuals. The car was
presented to the press on 18 April. The very next day, the motorsport
daily L’Auto wrote of the new model, “It is so new, so daring, so
packed with original solutions, and so different, that it deserves the
epithet ‘sensational’”. A concentrate of technologies, the Traction
Avant was a game-changer, laying waste to existing technical doctrine
to establish a new definition of the automobile. The Traction Avant was
fast and economical, boasted peerless roadholding, and featured
distinctive styling in comparison to the square-shaped bodies of the
time. Three models would be produced over the car’s 23-year lifetime:
the “7“, the “11“ and the “15 Six“. Available in a range of body
styles, the vehicle appealed to a broad audience. Some 759,123 units
were assembled at CitroŽn’s Javel plant in Paris, France – the
birthplace of the Brand – and at the Brand’s production sites in Slough
(UK), Forest (Belgium) and Cologne (Germany). Eighty years later,
people are still talking about the Traction Avant!
the dealership on Place de l’Europe in Paris, measuring 300 m long and
15,000 m2, was a former groupage centre for the French railway company,
Chemins de fer de l’…tat.
Located next to the Saint Lazare train station, the dealership was
opened on 30 September 1931, the day before the start of the Paris
Motor Show, and would finally be closed down after the Second World
War. It was here on 18 April 1934 that Andrť CitroŽn in person
officially unveiled the Traction Avant to the press, with all the
dealers and agents of the network in attendance. This photograph dating
from spring 1934 shows a 7 coupť in the window.
|In 1933 the talented and visionary civil engineer Andrť CitroŽn above
launched a project to develop a revolutionary front-wheel-drive vehicle
with a monocoque body, choosing Andrť Lefebvre as lead engineer.
THE FATHERS OF THE TRACTION AVANT
Three remarkable men were behind the development of the Traction Avant. At their head was Andrť CitroŽn, a
visionary and pioneering industrialist already famous for his daring and innovative ideas. At the start of the 1930s,
in the midst of a difficult economic environment, he took the high road to get through the crisis, by investing in the
future. For him, the future of the automobile lay in the production of
a front-wheel-drive vehicle – a technology that had never before been
used on a production model.
In March 1933, coinciding with the launch of titanic work at the Quai de Javel plant to adapt the production base, he
hired Andrť Lefebvre, a 37-year-old engineer who shared his ideas, to
develop the car. Firmly convinced by the project, Andrť Lefebvre said
that “the equilibrium of a moving body hinges on the distribution of
weight – heavy at the
front and light at the back”. Ready to take up the challenge, he quickly set up a team of specialists, calling on the
talents of Raoul Cuinet for the vehicle body, Jouffret and Alphonse Forceau for the transmission, Maurice Julien
for the suspension, and Maurice Sainturat for the engine.
The styling was entrusted to Flaminio Bertoni, an Italian sculptor who
had joined CitroŽn in 1932 (and who had no idea at that time that he
would spent the next 32 years – the rest of his life – at the company).
For the new car, which was to be different from all those that preceded
it, he drew on all his artistic talent to find the perfect balance
between beauty and aerodynamics. The result was the Traction Avant,
which in terms of styling and technology alike turned the automotive
industry of the day on its head and went on to become a legend.
|Two legendary figures in the Brand’s history: the engineer Andrť Lefebvre above and the stylist Flaminio Bertoni below.
Both would spend practically their entire career at CitroŽn.
Together they share the “paternity” of the Traction Avant, the 2CV and the DS.
|Above the Traction Avant was produced mainly at the Javel plant in Paris from 1934 to 1957.
Built in 1915 to manufacture shells, the site was rebuilt in record
time – from March to June 1933 – to produce the new CitroŽn. Here, the
body shop in 1952.
|Above an advertising poster used in the network to vaunt the efficiency of the hydraulic brakes on the Traction Avant, 1939.
|Above Paul MagŤs was a brilliant inventor and the father of the hydraulic system at CitroŽn.
He is pictured here at the tests of the hydropneumatics on a Traction Avant “11“ in Auvergne in June 1948.
The famous suspension system made its production debut not on a DS but
on the rear axle of the “15 Six H“, launched in April 1954.
starting in 15 May 1936, the Traction Avant “7C“, “11BL“ and “11B“ were
fitted with revolutionary high-precision rack-and-pinion steering,
enhancing driving pleasure and providing a sense of safety hitherto
unknown on such a car. Naturally, the advertising department at Quai de
Javel publicisedthe news wherever and whenever it could!
THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
“Front wheel drive is a solution that rhymes with revolution!” The revolution in question was the result of numerous
Below extract from an AC 4 606 advertising catalogue from September 1937.
innovations on CitroŽn’s Traction Avant, making their debut on a production car. The new model featured front wheel
drive, with front driving and steering wheels, an all-steel chassis-less monocoque body, torsion-bar suspension on
independent wheels (replaced in 1954 by hydropneumatic suspension) and
hydraulic brakes (replacing the cable brakes used until then). The
Traction Avant was also equipped with hydraulic shock absorbers,
rack-and-pinion steering, a synchronised gearbox (3 front gears plus
reverse) and an overhead valve engine with removable liners.
This extensive range of technologies ensured the car’s reputation right from launch.