CitroenIn 1934, CitroŽn presented their first front-wheel drive cars and started a revolution in auto production.
Andrť CitroŽn was born in 1878. A successful student, he attended the Polytechnical school in Paris and worked for some time with the car company "Mors". In 1905, at the age of 27, he founded his first company, "Andrť CitroŽn & Cie", which was changed to "Sociťtť des Engrenages CitroŽn" (CitroŽn Cog Factory ) in 1913. Also in 1913, CitroŽn founded yet another company to take advantage of a patent he had regarding carburettors. This company was located on the Quai de Javel (today Quai Andrť CitroŽn) in Paris. Early in his career, CitroŽn was impressed by the production methods of Henry Ford, who pioneered the use of the assembly line as early as 1908 for the Ford Model T in the U.S.A. CitroŽn understood that he had to analyse production methods and that he had to divide it into single logical steps in order to calculate the industrial production of an item mathematically.
With the outbreak of World War I, Andrť CitroŽn received a commission, beginning in 1915, to produce 7,500 75mm grenades - good work for a small company. CitroŽn was able to convince the French Ministry of Defence that he could deliver much bigger quantities with industrial production. The company grew rapidly and in 1918 it occupied 80,000 square metres at the Quai de Javel in Paris where, in 1914, there were still garden allotments. 12,000 people were occupied producing grenades. At the peak the output reached 20,000 pieces! The company was very progressive in the social field: a cantine and a kindergarden were present as was a dental clinic. During the war, CitroŽn started thinking about the "days after". He talked about building 1,000 automobiles a day at a price that would enable everyone to own one of his cars.
1919: The first "CitroŽn"...
By 1919, the first CitroŽn auto was produced - the Type A. Equipped with a 4-cylinder engine of 1326 cubic cm (10-fiscal-HP) capacity, it was capable of a top speed of 65km/h. One was able to order six different body styles directly from the factory, this at a time where one got the chassis and the engine from other makers and had it completed by a coachworks of your own choice! Even the spare wheel and the lighting were included in the price of F7,205. From June to December 1919, CitroŽn produced 2,500 cars. In 1920, they had already produced 20,200!
Also in 1920, CitroŽn first tested half-track autos called "Autochenilles" using the patents of Adolphe Kťgresse. In impassable regions they were very useful, and their reliability helped to improve the reputation of CitroŽn as an automobile manufacturer. The half-tracks were not only used by the armed forces, in road-building and agriculture, but also by different post offices, among them the Swiss PTT which equipped their "Autochenilles" with skis at the front.
In 1921, the first CitroŽn Taxis appeared on the streets of Paris. The big news at the Paris Motor Show in October was the 5 hp Type C, a real car for the people with 856 cubic cm engine, 60 km/h top speed, available as a Torpedo with two seats. The car was first available in the summer of 1922 and was sold only in one colour: lemon yellow. The small car was a real success. In 1924, it was presented as a three-seater. The third seat was in the rear in the middle and the passenger put his feet between the two front seats. This version, named the "TrŤfle" (Clover Leaf) gained a great deal of fame. Up to March 1926, it stayed in production with only minor changes - about 90,000 were built and quite a number still exist today.
After the B12 of 1925, the B14 was introduced in 1927, driven by a 1538 cubic cm engine with 22 true horsepower. It was followed by the C4 in 1929. Also in 1929, the C6 was introduced - the first six cylinder CitroŽn (2442 cubic cm), and the first CitroŽn to reach 100 km/h.
Andrť CitroŽn was very successful in drawing the public's attention with elaborate publicity campaigns. In 1922, airplanes wrote the name "CitroŽn" in the sky over Paris; in 1925 the name "CitroŽn" could have been read on the Eiffel tower: 200,000 lightbulbs were necessary and several kilometers of cabling!
From 17 December 1922 to 7 January 1923, a CitroŽn expedition crossed the Sahara desert by automobile for the first time, from Algiers to Timbuktu, a distance of 3,200 kms, averaging 150 kms a day with 10hp B2 half-tracks - an enormous effort for the period!
From 28 October 1924 to 26 June 1925, a further expedition, the famous "CroisiŤre Noire" (Black Journey) crossed the African continent from Algeria through Kenya to the Cape of Good Hope.
On 4 April 1931, the "CroisŤre Jaune" (Yellow Journey) started in Beruit. The goal was to reach Beijing with the C4 and C6 type half-tracks. In between there were deserts, glaciers, mountains, and war zones. One C4F reached 4,208m and set a world altitude record for cars. In the Himalayas, part of the way through, the paths were not driveable and the cars had to be taken apart, carried through, and rebuilt afterwards! On 12 February, 1932 the cars triumphantly reached Beijing.
From the beginning of 1932, the C4 and C6 were equipped with the "Floating Power" engine which was mounted in a new way, using a Chrysler patent. The engine was secured with rubber mounts instead of being bolted directly to the chassis, thereby eliminating major engine vibrations. The first cars using this new engine mounting were recognizeable with a stylized swan in front of the CitroŽn double chevrons.
By the end of 1932, the types "8", "10", and "15" followed, called "Rosalie" after a CitroŽn "Rosalie 8" which covered 300,000 km in 134 days with an average of more than 93 km/h and breaking not less that 106 world records! More runs of the same kind followed and proved the reliability of the small CitroŽn.
Andrť CitroŽn advertised his products not just to adults. Soon he produced toy cars to capture the attention of children - his future customers. The first words he wanted them to be able to speak were: "Mama, Papa, CitroŽn".
The first clouds on the CitroŽn horizon appeared after the Wall Street crash of October 1929 and the ensuing world crisis. In 1933, at the peak of the crisis, CitroŽn rebuilt the factories at the Quai de Javel completely, in order to have sufficient capacity to produce his impending new model. Enormous halls were built. 6,000 guests were invited to the grand opening.
The rebuild was a big challenge for the company. In April 1933, t here was a strike which served to amplify the difficulties. The cars didn't sell well abroad because of the exchange rates and the restrictions certain countries introduced against foreign products. By the end of 1933, CitroŽn had so many debts, that the Michelin company had to be called for financial help.
With front wheel drive to the future...
Within a short period the Traction Avant Type "7" was developed - a car that was radically different in all respects to other cars of the time: self-supporting uni-body, front-wheel drive, torsion bar suspension, to mention only the most important features. The first plans even called for an automatic two-speed transmission - a feature that had to be dropped. The most significant feature was that the car was about 20 cm lower than its predecessors and contemporaries - with equal or even more interior space. Thanks to the low center of gravity and front-wheel drive, the Traction Avant has superb road-holding.
In April 1934, production started - at the beginning with 1303 cubic cm and 32 hp (good enough for 95 km/h) but lots of small problems. In the same year, much better versions with 1529 cubic cm and 1911 cubic cm (7S for Sport - top speed 110 km/h) were presented. The car was then called the "11CV" and made the name "Traction Avant" known world-wide. With only small changes it stayed in production until 1957.
The following body styles were offered by the CitroŽn factory:
Shorter wheel base called the "LťgŤre": Berline, Cabriolet, and Faux-Cabriolet (Coupť)
12cm wider and medium (20 cm longer) wheelbase, called "Large": Berline, Cabriolet, and Faux-Cabriolet
Same size but even longer (a further 20cm) wheelbase: the Familiale and Conduite Intťrieure.
In 1934, about twelve of the famous 8-cylinder prototypes with front-wheel drive were built - the "22CV". Three of them were presented to the public on the occasion of the Paris Auto Show. They never saw series production and none of them are known to exist today.
During the same car show, CitroŽn showed a publicity film in which you can see a new Traction Avant being pushed over the edge of a 8 m high cliff. It lands on its nose, is thrown back, lands on its nose again, and sits on its four wheels after rolling. Only one window is broken, all doors open and close. The car drives off by its own means!
By this time all weaknesses in the 4-cylinder model were eliminated, but for Andrť CitroŽn it was too late. By 21 December 1934, the company went into bankruptcy. Andrť CitroŽn died as a poor broken man on 3 July 1935.
Under Michelin the company developed further. At the beginning of 1939, the 11CV Commerciale on the long wheelbase was presented. More importantly, the Traction Avant 15/Six was introduced with a top speed of 130 km/h and its legendary driving abilities. Its 2867 cubic cm 6-cylinder with 77 hp gave the "Reine de la Route" (Queen of the Road) abilities that are still quite modern today. As the underworld also liked this special fast car, it was soon known as the "gangster limousine". The police with the 4-cylinder models had great difficulties following their "enemies".
During WWII the production practically stopped. The available cars were used by the German occupying forces and by the French Rťsistance. After the war the pre-war models were produced again, but only a limited range was offered. The cars were still liked by business people, doctors, and rich farmers. In the years following WWII, most of the Tractions were delivered in black and that's how most people remember them.
Unfortunately the Cabriolets and Coupťs were not built any more after the war. Only some coach builders are producing small series or single items of the open cars. In Switzerland these are famous companies like "Langenthal", "Worblaufen" and "Beutler".
During the Paris Car Show of 1948 the 2CV was introduced. Smiled at by all, this comfortable small car of 375 cubic cm started a long life around the world.
In 1955, we start to see the end of the Traction Avant. "La Dťesse" , "The Goddess", was presented and the automobile world was once more astonished by CitroŽn. "This is not the car of tomorrow, it's the car of today. It's just that all the other cars are from yesterday..." was one of the publicity slogans. Indeed, it was and continues to be an unusual streamlined car - with front-wheel drive, height adjustable hydraulic suspension, power steering, semi-automatic gear box, one spoke safety steering wheel, and much more.
Andrť CitroŽn built armaments for France during World War I and after the war he had a factory and no product. In 1919, the business started to produce automobiles, beginning with the conventional type A.
The CitroŽn logo is the 'double chevron', referencing CitroŽn's early work on the 'herringbone' or double helical gear, but there are other theories about this. CitroŽn, was Jewish and also an internationally well-known Freemason, attached to the Lodge of "La Philosophie Positive" in Paris. The logo may be interpreted as a masonic symbol - a double masonic square or a double masonic compass, associating the masonic ideology of CitroŽn with his invention of the double helical gear. In masonry, the compass is associated with the symbolism of the 'architect's tools', so it is possible that CitroŽn used a double compass to represent his invention, in a masonic way.
CitroŽn was a keen marketer - he used the Eiffel Tower as the world's largest advertising sign, as recorded in the Guinness book of World Records. He also sponsored expeditions in Asia (CroisiŤre Jaune) and Africa (CroisiŤre Noire), intended to demonstrate the potential for motor vehicles equipped with the Kťgresse track system to cross inhospitable regions. The expeditions conveyed scientists and journalists and were a publicity success.
In 1924, CitroŽn began a business relationship with American engineer Edward G. Budd. From 1899, Budd had worked to develop stainless steel bodies for railroad cars, for the Pullman in particular. Budd went on to manufacture steel bodies for many automakers, Dodge being his first big auto client. In 1928, CitroŽn introduced the first all-steel body in Europe.
In the beginning the cars were successful, but soon competitors, who still used a wooden structure for their bodies, introduced new body designs. CitroŽn did not redesign the bodies of his cars and they began to be perceived as old-fashioned. CitroŽns still sold in large quantities, despite the stylistic drawback, but the car's low price was the main selling point and CitroŽn experienced heavy losses.
This encouraged CitroŽn to develop the Traction Avant, a car so innovative that the competition would have no response. The 'Traction Avant' had three revolutionary features: a unitary body with no separate frame, front wheel independent suspension, and front wheel drive. CitroŽn commissioned Budd to create a prototype, which evolved into the 7 fiscal horsepower (CV), 32 HP Traction Avant of 1934.
The Traction Avant set major elements of the mechanical design that were followed 30 years later by the Mini, and by nearly every other manufacturer today.
In 1933 CitroŽn also introduced the Rosalie, a passenger car with the worldís first commercially available diesel engine developed with Harry Ricardo.
The Michelin era
Achieving quick development of the Traction Avant was expensive and contributed to the financial ruin of the company. In 1934 debt forced the company into foreclosure and it was then taken over by its biggest creditor, the tyre company Michelin. Fortunately for Michelin, the Traction Avant met with market acceptance and the basic philosophy that had led to this design continued.
CitroŽn has always been undercapitalized, so its vehicles have a tradition of being underdeveloped at launch, with limited distribution and service networks. For both the important DS and CX models, development of the original engine the design was planned around proved too expensive for the finances available, and the actual engine used in both cases was a modest and outdated four cylinder design.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, CitroŽn researchers continued their work in secret and developed the concepts that were later brought to market in the 2CV and DS. These were widely regarded by contemporary journalists as avant garde, even radical, solutions to automotive design.
This began a period of unusual brand loyalty, normally seen in the automobile industry only in niche brands, like Porsche and Ferrari. The cult-like appeal of the cars to CitroŽnistes took almost two decades to fade, from 1975 to about 1995.
CitroŽn unveiled the 2CV (2 fiscal horsepower, initially only 12 HP) at the Paris Salon in 1948. This car become a bestseller, achieving the designer's aim of providing rural French people with a motorized alternative to the horse. This car remained in production, with only minor changes, until 1990 and was a common sight on French roads until recently.
1955 saw the introduction of the DS, the first full usage of CitroŽn's now legendary hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension system that was tested on the rear suspension of the last of the 'Tractions'. The DS was the first production car with disk brakes.
The DS featured power steering, power brakes and power suspension and, from 1968, directional headlights. A sigle high-pressure system was used to activate pistons in the gearbox cover to shift the gears in the transmission and to operate the clutch on the "Citromatic", CitroŽn's semi-automatic transmission.
This high-pressure hydraulic system would form the basis of many CitroŽn cars, including the SM, GS, CX, BX, XM and Xantia. These vehicles shared the distinguishing feature of rising to operating ride height when the engine was turned on, like a 'mechanical camel' (per Car & Driver magazine). The dashboard included a lever that allowed the driver to select whether the car would travel with the body in the high or low position. This type of suspension was uniquely able to absorb road irregularities without disturbing the occupants.
During CitroŽn's venture with Maserati, the CitroŽn high pressure hydraulic system was used on several Maserati models, for power clutch operation (Bora), power pedals adjustment (Bora), pop-up headlights (Bora, Merak), brakes (Bora, Merak, Khamsin), steering (Khamsin�) and the entire Quattroporte II prototype, which was a four-door CitroŽn SM under the skin.
CitroŽn was one one the early pioneers of the now wisdespread trend of aerodynamic automobile design, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and improve high speed performance by reducing wind resistance. The firm began using a wind tunnel in the 1950s.
In 1963, CitroŽn negotiated with Peugeot to cooperate in the purchase of raw materials and equipment. Talks were broken off in 1965.
That year CitroŽn took over the French carmaker Panhard, in the hope of using Panhard's expertise in midsize cars to complement its own range of very small, cheap cars (e.g. 2CV/Ami) and large, expensive cars (e.g. DS/ID). Cooperation between both companies had begun 12 years earlier, and they had agreed to a partial merger of their sales networks in 1953. Panhard ceased making vehicles in 1967.
1968 saw a restructuring of CitroŽn's worldwide operations under a new holding company, CitroŽn SA. Michelin, CitroŽn's long-time controlling shareholder, sold a 49% stake to FIAT, in what was referred to as the PARDEVI agreement (Participation et Dťveloppement Industriels).
That year CitroŽn purchased the Italian sports car maker Maserati and launched the grand tourer SM, which featured a V6 Maserati engine, and fully powered steering system called DIRAVI. The SM was engineered as if it were replacing the DS, a level of investment the GT sector alone would never be able to support, even in the best of circumstances. Circumstances became more unfavorable as the 1970s progressed. CitroŽn suffered another financial blow in the 1973 energy crisis. In 1974, CitroŽn withdrew from North America, due to design regulations that outlawed core features of CitroŽn cars.
Huge losses at CitroŽn were caused by failure of the Comotor rotary engine venture, plus the strategic error of going the 15 years from 1955 to 1970 without a model in the profitable middle range of the European market, and the massive development costs for the GS, CX, SM, Birotor, Maserati Bora, Maserati Merak and Maserati Khamsin models - each a technological marvel in its own right.
The PSA era
CitroŽn was weak and unable to withstand the softening of the automobile market that accompanied the 1973 oil crisis. In 1973, FIAT withdrew from PARDEVI and returned its 49% stake to Michelin. This was an ominous sign of things to come and, less than a year later, CitroŽn went bankrupt. The French Government feared large job losses and arranged talks between Michelin and Peugeot, where it was decided to merge Automobiles CitroŽn and Automobiles Peugeot into a single company. In 1974 Peugeot purchased 38.2% of CitroŽn and became responsible for managing the combined activities, in particular their research, purchasing and investments departments.
Peugeot sold off Maserati to DeTomaso in May 1975 and the Italian firm was quickly able to exploit the aspirational image of the Maserati brand to sell tens of thousands of newly-designed Bi-Turbo models.
The takeover was completed in May 1976, as Peugeot SA purchased a 90% stake of CitroŽn SA and the companies were combined into a holding company, known as PSA Peugeot CitroŽn.
Since CitroŽn had two successful new designs in the market at this time, the GS and CX, and Peugeot was typically prudent in its own finances, the PSA venture was a financial success from 1976 to 1979. PSA then purchased the aging assets of Chrysler Europe, leading to losses from 1980 to 1985.
PSA gradually eliminated CitroŽn's ambitious attitude to engineering and styling in an effort to rebrand the marque as an economy brand. In the 1980s CitroŽn models were increasingly Peugeot-based. The 1982 BX used the hydropneumatic suspension system and still had a CitroŽnesque appearance, while being powered by Peugeot-derived engines and using the floorpan later seen on the Peugeot 405. By the late 1980s, many of the distinctive features of the marque had also receded - the AX GT, for example was noted by contemporary journalists for its poor ride quality, an unusual attribute for the brand.
CitroŽn has expanded into many new geographic markets. In the late 1970s, the firm developed a small car for production in Romania known as the Oltcit, which it sold in Western Europe as the CitroŽn Axel. That joint venture has ended but a new joint venture between PSA and Toyota is now producing cars like the CitroŽn C1 in the Czech Republic. In China the C3 and Xsara are sold alongside the Fukang and Elysťe local models. CitroŽn is still a global brand except in North America, where the company has not returned since the SM was effectively banned in 1974 for not meeting NHTSA bumper regulations.
The ubiquitous and versatile 2CV workhorse was finally killed off in 1990, without replacement. Companies like Chrysler with the PT Cruiser, Toyota with the Scion xB and Honda with the Element have recognized the 2CV concept and translated it to the modern era. Latterly, CitroŽn has introduced the C3 Pluriel, an unusual convertible with strong allusions to the 2CV, both in body style (such as the bonnet) and in its all-round practicality.
The Pluriel is but one example of CitroŽn's return to innovation, after launching somewhat dull (although efficient) models throughout the 1990s. Other examples are the C2, C4 and C6. The introduction of newer models, such as the long-awaited XM replacement, the C6, indicates CitroŽn's continued commitment to innovation in the 21st century.
In 2003 CitroŽn sold 1,372,500 cars, according to the PSA Peugeot CitroŽn group's 2003 annual report.