The Citroen Traction Avant for dummies

In my view,  Citroen has made two cars that changed the world – the Traction Avant and the DS.   The Traction really established Citroen as an innovative car company but at the same time bankrupted the company, leading to their ultimate control by the Michelin family.

While Andre Citroen is probably better known for his ability to get publicity for his car company, he was an extremely competent organizer and was able, in only 4 months, to get a munitions factory going in WWI that produced more shells than all the other factories in Paris combined.   It was this experience that led him to look at mass production techniques for his car company, and Citroen realized that in order to sell the cars at a reasonable price, you needed to either produce cars at a massive scale (ala Ford) or amortize the tooling over a long period of time.   For the latter, that meant not changing the model very regularly.   And the only way you could keep the same model in production for an extended period of time was to produce a car that was so far ahead of the competition at launch that it remained relevant for many years.

It was with this plan in mind, that the Traction Avant was born.   Doing away with a traditional separate chassis, and focusing on a monocoque meant a lighter car, resulting in a cheaper build, smaller engine and many other benefits.   Moving to a front wheel drive design offered differentiation from the competition and similarly reduced materials needed and allowed the car to be lower and look more modern.  Further innovations included Rack and Pinion steering, independent front suspension, overhead valves etc.   None of these innovations were new to Citroen, but they had not come together on a single, mass produced car before.

However, Citroen was not a man to do things by halves, so he also rebuilt his factory from scratch and spared no expense.   All this innovation at the same time, coupled with the new factory and uncertain economic conditions caught up with Citroen and in the end he lost his company and never saw what a success his car would ultimately become.   The Traction would, in the end be available from 1934 to 1957 (with a pause for the war) and more than 760,000 cars manufactured.

As with the DS twenty years later, Andre Lefebvre and Flamino Bertoni were integral to the design, and again like with the DS, the Traction Avant was built for a long time with a plethora of options and model types, making it very difficult for somebody new to the car to understand the different models and where they fit in.   This article will concentrate on the post war models as you could write a whole book on the pre-war cars (and there are many excellent books available).

Outside of special models (covered later), you could have your traction avant in two main body sizes, the larger car being longer by 200 mm and wider by 140 mm.   An easy way to tell if the cars are not sitting side by side is that the rear windows do not roll down very far on the small bodied car due to the curvature of the door for the wheel arch.   The cars in RHD form were produced either in Slough (UK) or Paris.   Model names were derived from the fiscal horsepower system in use in Europe at the time, and the main differences were that Slough cars were more luxurious (leather, wood trim etc), used many english parts (lights, handles, gauges etc) for tax reasons and had 12v electrics.   Paris built cars were more spartan and had 6v and cost less when new.

The table below illustrates the most common models, with the Light 15 being by far the most common.

Body StyleEngineWeightTop SpeedParisSlough
Small1911cc 4 Cyl - 58bhp (later 65bhp)1,070kg120 km/h11BL (Legere)Light 15
Big1911cc 4 Cyl - 58bhp (later 65bhp)1,120kg112 km/h11B (Normale)Big 15
2867cc 6 Cyl - 80bhp1,397kg133 km/h15-SixBig 6

In addition to these, there were other variants including a 9 seater, and the 6H, which had the hydro-pneumatic suspension on the rear axle that would later appear with the DS in 1955.    The cars constantly changed during the production run, but the most obvious change was the big boot, introduced for the 1953 model year.   While today, the small boot models are a more popular, the lack of boot space was an issue when these cars were in everyday use and it was a welcome change.

Hopefully this article has explained a little of the background of these cars and simplified the available models.  Despite their age, most parts are still available through independent parts suppliers in France and Holland.

A pair of tractions

A pair of tractions.

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Paris built interior

2015 Sydney German car show

Today I attended the Annual Sydney German car show, which was put on by the Mercedes Club this year.    Unlike the Mercedes show I went to a few months ago, the German car show is an informal show without concours judging.   Unfortunately this means some of the pristine, concours only cars don’t show up, but you do get a great selection of cars over a wide range of marques including Mercedes-Benz, Benz, BMW, Audi, NSU, Messerschmidt, Borgward, Porsche and others.  I took the 250SE and put it on display.

Highlight of the show for me was the 1912 Benz (before Daimler and Benz merged).   The car had been painstakingly restored and was a credit to the owners. The Benz had an interesting dual ignition system with a set of plugs over the cylinders and a set over the valves.  You could run the car with one or both giving you some control over timing too.    There was also a nice selection of Microcars, the usual nice collection of Mercedes and a good showing of Porsches.   Unfortunately, not many BMWs showed up for some reasons.  There was a very impressive effort from one gentleman, who entered 11 cars in the show, ranging from a 1972 108 through to modern.

This year the show also included a ‘Guest Marque’ which was Rolls Royce,  a nice addition to the show.   The two highlights of the guest marque was the two Phatoms – a Phantom II and  a Phantom V.   The Phantom II was an incredible piece of machinery and the V was a former vice regal car and used for the tour of Queen Elizabeth II.   Given it was a vice regal car, It was probably the car that carried Sir William Kerr to dismiss Gough Whitlam, ironic given the event was held at Gough Whitlam Park.  I am told that Jaguar is the guest next year.

How long can the classic car market sustain $200k Kombi Vans?

Those of you who follow the classic car market would have seen the recent sale of the $202,000 23 Window Kombi at the recent Shannon’s auction in Melbourne.   Somebody bid more than 50% over the guide price to secure this car.   The Kombi is iconic, but is it really worth that sort of money?   The market might say yes at the moment, but it is unlikely to be sustained.   This sort of exuberance feels like the 80s market where nice cars that are not particularly rare like the MK2 Jag were fetching silly money.    Of course, it all fell in a heap a few years later.

Frothy markets are not good for the classic car hobby.   Massively inflated prices brings in non-enthusiasts who just buy the cars for their value, and never drive them or show them.  Instead, they sit mouldering away in storage for years until that individual wants to sell it on.   Even for enthusiasts, the cars get to a point where they are no longer driven because of their perceived value.  This is a shame.

It is good for rare cars to have some level of value so they are saved and not scrapped, but boom and bust markets are no good for anyone.

Shannons Sydney Autumn Classic Auction 2014

The Citroen Club had a meeting at the Shannon’s auction display again and as usual Shannons had a nice selection of cars on show.

The pick of the auction for me was the Traction Avant.   Almost in my ideal spec.  (I would prefer a year older with the small boot).   As well as this there were some other interesting cars for sale including:

Lot 1: 1980 Volvo 242GT

The 242 is a real cult car and probably the squarest two door car ever made.   For an expected price of $6-10,000 you can look evil and sensible all at once.

242GT

Lot 2: 1974 Citroen D Special

Unlike the last D for sale, this is a lovely D Special that has not been partially converted to a Pallas spec car, or a DSuper 5, it is just a good honest D Special.   A D Special is a great way of getting into DS ownership, and this car looks like it has been fairly well maintained over the years.   Somewhat troubling is the sealant applied to the roof to fix probable water leaks, hopefully here is no rust in the roof rail or behind the C pillar trims.   I think it is worth more than the $8-$12,000 indicated.

D Special

Lot 4: 1973 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 Coupe. 

While this car isn’t perfect, I think these Alfa’s are great cars and well worth a look.   They are reasonably price, and I’m told, great to drive.  Something to own at some point.

Alfa

Lot 6: 1952 Citroen Light 15

This Traction Avant is almost the ideal spec in my view.   All it needs is to be a year older and have the smaller and more elegant boot.   It looks apparent that somebody has looked after this car, the paintwork is older, but nice, as is the interior, and the engine has had money spent on it recently.   I’m not in the market for another car at the moment, but if I was, i would be bidding on this car.    A Traction Avant is a car I want to add to the garage at some point.   The price guide is $15-18,000, which seems very good buying and this car could easily go for more.

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Honorable Mention:

Melbourne Summer Auction Lot 30:  XK140 FHC

This car is in Melbourne, so I didn’t see it in the flesh, but this is my perfect XK.   It is an XK140 FHC, with a 5 Speed and A/C Fitted.   This car is listed with a price guide of $70-$80,000.

Product Review: SCA Hydraulic Vehicle Positioning Jack

Supercheap Auto had their hydraulic positioning Jack on sale ($162 e.a.) last week so I picked up a set for the garage.   There are some parts of the Garage that are not easy to get cars in/out of, and I’ve also had situations such as with the 280CE where there are cars that are not running for extended periods of time as I work on them.   I also had a $100 gift voucher to use, and about $25 of credit on their loyalty card that was going to expire.

If you’re not familiar with how this tool works, basically it involves lifting the car a couple of CM off the ground by the tyres.  The jack moves two arms together against the tyre that pushes the car upwards, then you can push the car around on casters.

SLC

The photo above shows the 450SLC lifted up on the four jacks.  Overall the jacks work as designed, you can slide them up to the tyre, and lift the car and move it around.  Having said that, the effort required to push the car around was much greater than I was expecting.  It took considerable effort to push the 1700kg SLC around a flat painted concrete floor.   It does give you quite precise movement, so you can slide the car exactly where you want, although obviously if you slide it too closely against a wall it is stuck on the jacks until you move it out.   It is possible that the movement will ease up a bit as I use the jack more, but since they moved easily on the floor with no weight, I suspect not.   The removal process was also slower than expected, there is no quick release like with a floor jack, and I had to release the valve then use a rubber mallet to get the jacks to open up.

Overall I would rate this product 3.5/5.   It does the job, but could be easier to use, the wheels could give you a bit easier pushing ability.

Retrosound radio in the DS almost complete for the second time

Previously, I had been working on a nicer faceplate solution for the Retrosound Model 2 radio in the Citroen DS.

I am happy to say that this is now almost complete and back in the car.    There are a few more adjustments to do, but overall it is a much better solution to the one I had before.

With the rear knobs cut down to size, the next task was to mount the shafts for the knobs to the front of the radio.   I had already separated the front of the radio from the main chassis when I originally installed the radio, and I planned to keep this separation for this update.     I used a number of the supplied washers and nuts to get a good fit.    An imperial spanner (from memory 1/2″) allowed finer adjustment.   I also used some stick on pads meant for the bottom of chair legs to cushion the faceplate against the uneven washers.

Faceplate solution

Different VIew

From there, the front of the radio could be slid into the cubby for the dashboard that I had modified to size.

In cubby

As can be seen in the picture, the knobs hold the face plate nicely against the radio, and the cut rear knobs allow them to still be used, with the front ones sticking out from the cubby.

Back inThe front of the radio is then plugged back into the main chassis with the ribbon cable and two telephone style cables for the knobs.

So far this new solution is working really well.   The faceplate I got from a kind member of the Aussiefrogs forum looks great, and the new knobs work much better than my previous solution.    I still need to shave off a bit more of the back of the cubby to get a good fit, and perhaps add a bit to the side to provide more friction, as the radio is not as snug as I would like in the dash.    I also occasionally get the volume changing on it’s own, so I need to see if that is plugged in correctly.   I also noticed a bit of the insulation on the wire for the volume knob is worn off, so I will also wrap it with electrical tape.     In the picture you can also see through between the radio and the face plate, so I need to fill that gap with something.

Finally, the original ashtray cover needs to go over my USB ports.

Site update – outage

This site went down on Monday of this week without warning.   Apparently a provider of the hosting provider discontinued a server without giving them notice and they didn’t have adequate backups.   The site is now up and running, but unfortunately my last database backup was corrupt, so I am having to manually upload a few months worth of posts.    This is rather unfortunate, but ultimately, there are only 2-3 posts that will be lost.

This site started out as a way of keeping a diary of the things I do to my cars.   Ultimately I started making the site for myself as it is good to keep a pictorial record of what you have done.   Given I like similar sites, I figured others may have interest.   Certainly some of the posts around the DS interior in particular have been popular, so I guess that assumption was true.

The posts that I have backups for, should all be up during the next week or so.

Sometimes these older cars break down, and so is the same for the site that documents them.

MBCNSW Run to Sublime Point

The Mercedes club had a run today out through the Royal National Park to Sublime point.   It was an official club run, so historic plated cars were welcome, and in particular was focused on the 107 series.   Given this, I took the 450SLC.    There were 7 107’s at the start and at least one more met us at the venue.   5 SLs and 2 SLCs, mostly 380, 450 and 500 models.

107sThere was one 450SL that had just had its interior re-done from a kit bought in the United States.  It looked great, even to the carpet in the boot.   My SLC performed well, and on the hot day the open sided but closed roof pillarless coupe kept me cool, especially as the air-conditioning has become tepid over the last week or so.

The drive took us down through the Grand Pacific Drive, the sea cliff bridge and then up to Bulli Tops (Sublime Point).      As usual most cyclists showed courtesy and rode in single file, but there were the usual selfish packs that hold everyone up too.

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I was also able to pick up the award for the 250SE for winning the display section of the Concours in 2014.

E-Type register new year breakfast run

The JDCA E-Type register had an unofficial new year run yesterday up to Dural, and a good opportunity to take the Jag out for a drive.   It was quite a hot day (around 34c), but the coolcat fan kept the temperature at or below 90 degrees, even in traffic or going up Galston Gorge on the way back.    As this was an unofficial run, club plated cars were not allowed, but there was still a good selection of cars, with around 10-12 E-Types on display.

Jags

In the photo above, there is an XK120, and two Series 3 E-Types.   The XK120 looks fairly stock, but it is actually a fairly heavily modified car, that includes air-conditioning, an automatic transmission, power steering and the like.   While I like to keep cars reasonably stock, well thought out modifications that result in the cars being used more are to be encouraged, as there is nothing worse than trailer queens.   Personally, If I were modifying an XK120, I would go with a 5-Speed manual instead of the automatic and probably forgo the power steering, but it is a lovely car and is used regularly.

The new year run is an annual event, I attended last year, but due to weather I didn’t take the E-Type.    The E-Type register is also proposing a semi-regular unofficial run.   I will probably try and attend one or two if I get the chance.

E-Type speedo bezel refitted

A while ago the bezel and glass that protects the speedometer had fallen off the E-Type.   I had tried to replace it in-situ, but the bezel fell off the next time I drove the car.    I later learned the correct way to do this and it is not very hard.

The panel under the dash that protects all the wires is easily removed providing access to the back of the instruments.   The speedometer has two thumb screws that hold it secure against the dash board.   They are hard to see, but can be felt.  They had slowly worked loose, letting the bezel rattle loose.  The fix is simply to un-tighten them, so the speedometer can be pushed out 0.5 cm, allowing the bezel to be twisted back on, then tighten up the screws properly.

Under Dash

I found it easier to move the steering wheel forward, and sit outside the car, leaning my head and arms into the footwell to reach up and unscrew/screw in the thumb screws.  The speedo needs to be held in place during the tightening so it stays straight.

Fixed

After that, since it was a beautiful summer’s night, what better than to make sure the fix was given a proper test drive!