In honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of French automaker Citroën in 2019, the Mullin Automotive Museum has put together a fascinating and in-depth retrospective of the company’s storied history. Citroën is known the world over for its iconic styling and innovative engineering, and the 46 vehicles on display at the Mullin serve as a showcase of the famed French brand’s risk-taking philosophy. We thought we’d single out just a few of the highlight elements that make this automaker one of the most unique of the past century.
“Citroën: The Man, The Marque, The Mystique” is set to open to the public on Tuesday, March 14 and will run through the Spring of 2018 at the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California.
Andre Citroën graduated from École Polytechnique in 1900 with a degree in engineering. He started his eponymous car company in 1919, choosing a logo inspired by the double chevron helical gear that Citroën was instrumental in developing. Eventually this herringbone design would be used in the rear axle of his cars, one of many developments that would help revolutionize the automotive industry. It also found its way onto massive ships including the Titanic.
The Innovative Traction Avant
In 1934, Citroën made its most revolutionary technical mark on the industry with the debut of the Traction Avant, the first mass-produced front-wheel drive vehicle and one of the first to feature unibody construction. It also employed an independent suspension at all four wheels, further cementing its legacy as one of the most innovative cars in history. The developments pioneered on the Traction Avant eventually became the blueprint for many of today’s modern automobiles. But the Traction Avant’s fast-paced development and massive marketing efforts proved to be too great a financial burden for the company and it ultimately led to Citroën’s bankruptcy in December of that same year. Michelin, the automaker’s principal creditor at the time, eventually took over the company. Fortunately for Michelin, the Traction Avant ended up being a success. Andre Citroën died the next year of stomach cancer.
The Use of Corrugated Metal
Designed in 1948 to compete with post-war economy cars like the Volkswagen Beetle, the Deux Cheveaux — 2CV — was a front-engine, front-wheel drive workhorse made with the working class in mind. More than five million were made until production ended in 1990. The corrugated metal on the early CV, the H Van, and other Citroën utility vehicles was initially used as a way to add strength without piling on weight. We also think it gives these cars a signature look that is immediately identifiable as a Citroën.
The Citroen DS Brake Lights
In 1955 when the DS (pronounced “day-ESS,” which is also French for “Goddess”) was first introduced, it was like nothing the world ever seen before (we also might venture to say since). The beautiful streamlined body of the post-war DS19 Berline shocked the audience at the 1955 Paris Motor Show. André Lefèbvre, former designer and driver of the Voisin Laboratoire, clearly incorporated elements from his time with aviation pioneer Gabriel B. Voisin. The unique positioning of the brake lights at the top corners of the rear window and use of the rear quarter panels to cover the wheels are just two elements that make it stand out on the road. And if that’s not special enough, the DS was also the first production car with disc brakes.
Ask anyone who’s been in one how comfortable a Citroën is and they’ll tell you, very. Part of it has to do with the automaker’s ahead of its time hydropneumatic suspension that was lauded for absorbing bumps in the road, but it also has something to do with the seats. Channeled leather, which looks like it belongs on Winston Churchill’s club chairs, wraps the benches of the luxurious DS Pallas. The leather buckets of the SM are highly adjustable and equipped with roll padding. All we need is brandy and a cigar.
The Color Palette
Albatross Beige, Orient Blue, Moss Green, Rose Grey, Bordeaux, Sable Metallic, Sunflower Yellow, Rio Red, Tenere Orange, Swan White, Borely Ivory, Bronze, Burnt Straw, Sea Mist … we could go on, but you get the point. The color of a Citroën is as exquisite as the names suggest. Greens are verdant and lush, blues deep and mythic, reds majestic and bold. The French certainly know how to romanticize paint jobs.
Additional photography courtesy of Mullin Automotive Museum