Loved by politicians, poets, and painters alike, the Traction Avant marked a watershed for both Citroën and the world’s auto industry. A design prodigy, it was the first mass-produced car to incorporate a monocoque bodyshell with front-wheel drive and torsion-bar springing, and it began Citroën’s love affair with the unconventional.
Conceived in just 18 months, the Traction Avant cost the French company dearly. By 1934, they had emptied the company coffers, laid off 8,000 workers, and on the insistence of the French government, were taken over by Michelin, who gave the Traction Avant the backing it deserved. It ran for over 23 years, with over three quarters of a million sedans, fixed-head coupes, and convertibles sold.
Citroën’s audacious sedan was the most significant and successful production car of its time, eclipsed only by the passage of 20 years and another voiture revolutionnaire, the Citroën DS.
With aerodynamic styling, unitary steel body, and sweeping wings without running boards, the Traction Avant was a technical and aesthetic tour de force.
Front-wheel drive made for tenacious roadholding.
BEAUTY NOT BRAWN
Though the Avant had a 1911cc engine, it only pushed out 46 bhp.
In 1952, Citroën dispensed with the earlier “bob-tail” rear end and gave the Traction a “big trunk.”
Michelin produced these Pilote wheels and tires for the Traction.
Three-speed gearbox was mounted ahead of the engine, with synchromesh on second and third. Drive reached the road by Cardin driveshafts and constant velocity joints at the axles. The dash-mounted gearshift lived on in the DS of 1955.
The Traction’s Maurice Sainturat– designed engine was new. “Floating Power” came from a short stroke four-cylinder unit, with a three-bearing crankshaft and push-rod overhead valves—equating to seven French horsepower.
Side-opening hood was a prewar feature.
Engine, gearbox, radiator, and front suspension were mounted on a detachable cradle for easy maintenance.
The Art Deco door handle is typical of Citroën’s obsession with form and function. Beautiful yet practical, it epitomizes André Lefevre’s astonishing design. The chevron-shaped gears were also pioneered for smoothness and silence.
The Traction looks and feels huge and was a real handful in tight spaces.
Any serious engine repairs meant that the hood had to be removed completely.
Citroën advertising tried to woo buyers with the line “on the road… the comfort of home.”
All-independent suspension with torsion-bar springing, upper wishbones, radius arms, friction shock absorbers, and worm-and-roller steering (later rack-and-pinion) gave crisp handling.
The world lavished unstinting praise on the Traction Avant, extolling its roadholding, hydraulic brakes, ride comfort, and cornering abilities. Despite the praise, it was this great grand routier that devoured André Citroën’s wealth and pushed him to his deathbed.
In 1954, as the car was approaching the end of its life, the six-cylinder Traction Avant was known as “Queen of the Road” because of its hydropneumatic suspension—a mixture of liquid and gas.
Small rear window meant minimal rearward visibility.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Citroën Traction Avant (1934–55)
PRODUCTION 758,858 (including six-cylinder)
BODY STYLE Five-seater, four-door sedan.
CONSTRUCTION Steel front-wheel drive monocoque.
ENGINE 1911cc inline four-cylinder.
POWER OUTPUT 46 bhp at 3200 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual.
SUSPENSION Independent front and rear.
BRAKES Hydraulic drums front and rear.
MAXIMUM SPEED 70 mph (113 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 25 sec
A.F.C. 23 mpg (8.1 km/l)