History of Citroen – The Pre War Years


Citroen are renowned as the first company outside the United States to start the mass production of cars. The company was formed in 1919 by Andre Citroen who was left an empty factory following the end of the First World War and the ending of war production. He turned to manufacturing motor cars, the first model being the Type A. Andre Citroen was a master of PR and used the Eiffel Tower to help advertise the new car.

In 1921 the Type C was launched at the Paris Motor Show and the first Citroen taxis were seen in the French capital. The previous year the company had launched the Autochenille, a half track vehicle useful for road building and agriculture, as well as for use by the military.

Following a tie up with the American-based engineer Edward G Budd, Citroen were able to introduce the first all-steel car body into the European market in 1928. But, despite this initiative, the French-based company was facing increased competition from vehicle manufacturers in both France and the rest of Europe. In the face of this competition the company maintained their standard body design and their low prices ensured a large volume of sales, though not enough to make a profit and by the early 1930s the company were actually losing money. In response Citroen revolutionised their design with the Traction Avant. It was launched in 1934, complete with unitary car body and independent front wheel suspension as well as front wheel drive.

The car, labelled the “Type 7”, could top 95 kilometres per hour, but a superior version,labelled “Type7S” was launched the same year. The 1303 cubic cm engine was replaced by a bigger 1529cc or 1911cc one with a top speed of 110kph. The model became known as the 11CV and remained in production, albeit with minor improvements, until 1957.

Another initiative was introduced by Citroen in 1933, a year before the launch of the Avant Traction. It was the Rosalie, a diesel powered car.

Despite being seen to be ambitious in its development of new vehicles, Citroen’s financial difficulties finally caught up with them. By December 1934 the company was declared bankrupt and taken over by its biggest creditor, Michelin.

Under Michelin the company enjoyed a new lease of life. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the 11CV Commerciale, with its long wheel base was put on the market. A new range of the Traction Avant, the 15/Six, with a top speed of 130 mph, was launched. Known as “La Reine de la Rue” – Queen of the Road – the 15/Six became a favourite of the Parisian underworld.