If you were to describe a car with front wheel drive, unibody construction, double wishbone independent front suspension, hydraulic brakes, and an aerodynamically shaped body with a low center of gravity, you could be talking about most of today’s cars. You would also be describing the Citroën Traction Avant – built in 1934. The Traction Avant was so advanced for its time that it remained in production for 23 years with only minor modifications and improvements (not including the World War II years).
Over 760,000 Traction Avants were made beginning on April 19, 1934 and ending when the last car rolled off the assembly line on July 25, 1957. Citroën’s first front wheel drive model was dubbed the 7CV, under France’s system for fiscal taxing of cars according to a formula based on their engine displacement. Since Citroën also made other models with the same designation, the carmaker called the new car the 7CV Traction Avant, to denote its front wheel drive. The name stuck and became the unofficial model name throughout its long history.
By 1938 Citroën had expanded the Traction Avant line to include the 7CV, 11CV, and the 15CV. All models had the same basic body style, but differed in engine size. The 7CV and 11CV were powered by four-cylinder engines of 1.6-liter and 1.9-liter capacity, while the 15CV had a six-cylinder engine displacing 2.9 liters.
The Traction Avant was originally available in a wide variety of body styles, including sedans in three different wheelbases, a cabriolet, and a faux cabriolet, or coupé. Citroën proved to be still ahead of the competition with the Commerciale model, which was a long-wheelbase sedan with a hatchback to open the entire rear of the car. The longest-wheelbase sedan, the Familiale, offered three rows of seats to hold nine passengers and was a hint of station wagons to come.
In the mid-1950s, Citroën offered only the 11CV models to finish out the production run. They did expand their outlook just a little by offering the car in a variety of colors – up until 1953, the only color available was black.
In 2002 a group of 30+ Traction Avants, as part of an International Citroën Car Clubs Rally, drove from Los Angeles to New York without incident, proving that the car known in France as “La Reine de la Route”, The Queen of the Road, still rules today.
Citroen History: http://www.cats-citroen.net/citroen/history.html
Ate Up with Motor: http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/citroen-traction-avant/
Photo by Rex Gray