The Citroen ‘Traction Avant’ (French for ‘front wheel drive’) wowed the crowds when it first appeared in 1934. Its production ceased in 1957, replaced by the legendary and luxurious DS with its hydraulic suspension. The technical innovations on this 1930’s car are dazzling – all steel monocoque welded body (structural – no subframes), hydraulic brakes, rack and pinion steering, torsion bar independent suspension, and, most of all, front wheel drive. It’s low on the ground, with no running boards, and has a wheel at each corner for excellent handling. The 4 cylinder overhead valve engine has wet liners, so there are two alternative displacements, achieved easily by inserting different sized cylinder sleeves. The drive shafts to the front wheels include CV-joints at the hubs consisting of double universal (Spicer) joints with an intermediate ball joint.
I saw this 1936 model 7C advertised seven years ago in New Hampshire and went down to take a look. Good news: essentially everything was original (including fabrics) and almost no rust. This is a late 1936 model that included several design improvements. Bad news: basically nothing worked and the engine block was cracked.
So the next 18 months produced many problem solving challenges and successes. First, I got the crack in the engine block successfully welded. I made numerous tools and parts, re-sleeved suspension bushings, rewound the fuel gauge meter and sender, replaced most of the original natural rubber, rewired the entire car. I kept the original interior fabric, though countless washings of the headliner never produced clean rinses.
Now the car has been on the road for 4 years, covering over 1000 miles per year, including three round trips to Saratoga Springs for the annual Citroen Rendezvous (and the Stowe meet, of course). It can still achieve its originally specified 100 km/hour (60 mph) and fuel consumption 10 liters per 100 km (24 mpg).
Overcoming the challenges to keep this car running is hugely rewarding; then driving is a blast; most of all, you meet great people you’d never have met otherwise. I spent a delightful afternoon in the Swiss village of Cormoret chatting with a former owner who owned the car briefly in the 1970s. He told me about the crazy American who insisted on buying it and shipped it to Virginia, and he gave me copies of photos of the car. The previous owner was in the nearby village of Gray, in Haute-Saone, France. Somehow this car survived the war – the ‘Traction’ was a favorite car to be commandeered by the German military, and it became the preferred transport for the Free French Army and Resistance. If only mine could tell its story.
You can see more, including photos, at http://users.gmavt.net/zimnystokes/traction
Editor’s notes…. Wendell Noble accompanied me to Ian’s home to meet him and his 7C on a 20 degree Vermont Monday. I know some would not understand how three grown men would not be freezing to death after an hour at that temperature, standing in a garage goggling over this beauty of a car, but we understand. It is amazing the features this car has and it was built 76 years ago. Ian is in the process of rebuilding the four universals on the two drive shafts…and doing a fine job at that. There are no stores that sells the parts he needs so he is ‘making’ them himself, right down to the individual needles of the needle bearings. When you see this car next, make sure to say Hi to Ian, he is a very inspiring person and his approach to car restoration is wonderful.