French Diplomat: 1952 Citroen Traction Avant

When it comes to cars that could be labeled as truly ground-breaking, the Citroen Traction Avant would have to feature in that category. It was a car that brought a number of new ideas to the automotive table, and it undoubtedly set the standard for many cars in later years. This particular 1952 model has had a diplomatic history and belonged to the same family until very recently. It is now being offered for sale and is located in Pomona, California. It is listed for sale here on eBay, and while bidding has currently reached $9,100, the reserve has not been met.

The first piece of ground-breaking technology that the Traction Avant brought to the automotive world was unitary, or unibody, construction. While Citroen was beaten to the punch with this technique by Lancia, who used the technique for their 1922 Lambda model, Citroen was the first company to utilize it for a mass produced motor vehicle. The major benefit of this system was that it lowered vehicle weight, and various estimates state that if the Traction Avant had been built using a traditional body-on-frame technique, then vehicle weight would have increased by at least 150lbs. The unitary construction also brought other benefits, with the car being able to sit lower, due to the body not effectively being “perched” on top of a separate frame. This particular Citroen has a very interesting story. The car was bought new by a gentleman in France. He relocated to the USA as a French Diplomat and remained in the US until he passed away. He didn’t want to leave his beloved Citroen in France when he relocated, so brought it with him. When he passed away, his nephew discovered the car hidden away in a wooden cabin, so decided to sell it to its current owner. The Citroen has survived remarkably well, and while it is showing its age a bit, I believe that the car is completely original. The body looks to be solid and clean, with no obvious signs of any rust issues. While to paint does look tired, I quite like it as it is, and I think that the freshly powder-coated original wheels set off nicely against the rest of the car.

The interior of the Citroen is completely original, and I don’t think that it looks to be too bad. There is some staining on some of the upholstered surfaces, but I think that there is a chance that these could be removed with the right techniques. The front seat looks immaculate, and this is in part due to the fact that it has spent its life hidden away under a sheepskin seat cover. Some of the trim in the rear seat area is showing signs of tears, but I would be inclined to have this checked by a reputable upholsterer, and if the material isn’t too sun-rotted, I would see if it could be repaired by blind patching. Otherwise, the interior would be fine to use as it is.

Citroen was not the first manufacturer to produce a car that was front-wheel drive, but it was the first to build what would be classed as a mass production fwd vehicle. During its production run, build figures for all variants of the Traction Avant numbered more than 760,000 vehicles. The Traction Avant was available with a number of different 4-cylinder engines, along with a 6-cylinder version, which was introduced in 1938. This particular car features the 1,911cc 4-cylinder, that produced 55hp. This sends its drive to the front wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission. While it was never a fast car, it was capable of reaching a top speed of 73mph. Not only does this car remain largely original (except for the fuel pump), but it is in good mechanical health. The owner says that the Citroen is a pleasure to own and drive, that it starts easily, and that the transmission shifts smoothly. The car has recently received new brakes and brake lines, new Michelin tires, and all of the fluids in the vehicle have recently been changed.

This Citroen Traction Avant is an unusual and cool car. I like the fact that it is so original and unrestored, and that it is in the sort of mechanical state that means that it can immediately be driven and enjoyed. Looking at the bidding history, it looks that there are at least 9 people out there who feel the way that I do about the car, and I can only hope that the next owner loves and cherishes it as much as the original owner obviously did.

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Comments

  1. Kevin

    IDK why, but my base desire when seeing a Traction Avant is to cane it through a modern urban core.
    No idea where that comes from.
    Just want to run one flat-out through alleys and the wrong way up one ways.

    1
  2. Al

    What a superb car. I only wish it was a 1954 model. In 1954 they had hydro-pneumatic suspension.
    That suspension (self-levelling suspension) is what they used in the in the rear end. It was not until 1955 that both front and rear had that suspension.
    Never-the-less what a fantastic car!!!!

    5
    • Jean Lecointe

      This 11BL is a very particular exemple.
      It has been assembled in June 1952, just before the introduction of the covered round trunk But 300 cars show this particularity..
      It shows some equipments which are special for the 1953 model like the factory turn lights, the wipers at the base of the windshield the new dash board cover.
      But the spare wheel still shows at the back.
      I happen to own the same june 1952 model.
      I have it since 1967, still running fine and named Penelope…

      11
      • MikeH

        Wow! You’ve had that car 52 years. I have a ’59 Morris Minor that I got in ’73, but you have me beat by 7 years. Hats off.

        1
    • luke arnott

      I had a ’54,assembled in the UK.It did not have self-levelling suspension – that was the DS19,introduced in 1955.

      1
      • DavidLMM

        The 1954 15H and perhaps other models were used as field trials of the self-leveling rear suspension, prior to its introduction in the DS/ID cars.

  3. Rube Goldberg

    Looks like something out of a vintage WW2 movie. It is pretty cool, but keep in mind what WE were driving in 1952. V8 Oldsmobiles that would suck these through the intake,,,

    5
    • James

      Or as the French and ROW would have said – look what they are driving – this won’t end well! Seriously though – point to point times surely matter more and I doubt the Citroen would be left behind

      1
      • Dave Mazz

        Didn’t French bank robbers of the period favor the Traction Avant as an urban getaway car, because of its’ good handling??

        1
  4. Tom Henderson

    Wow, very good article. Informative.

    2
  5. Jack Quantrill

    louis Jourdan, and Claude Dauphine, buzzed around Paris in one of these in the series: “Paris Precinct”. Remember The wee-ooo, wee- ooo, siren.

    1
    • don

      I believe the “bad guys” also drove one of these around Istanbul in “From Russia with Love”

      1
  6. Ken Nelson

    DavidLMM is right – the Traction only got the hydropneumatic suspension on a very few test cars starting in 1954, and not on the 4 cyl cars, but on the production 6 cyl 15-6H (for
    hycdropneumatic) cars. The gas springs were only on the rear axle with standard but longer torsionbars at front. A nice feature of those test cars was they also had the loadleveling feature of the DS19, which was introduced in Oct. ’55 at the Paris auto show and shocked the world with its incredible advanced features. Both the Traction Avant, introduced in 1935, and the later DS series with full hydraulic suspension, ran little changed for 20 + years, which has to be a production record.

    The regular 6 cyl 15-6 cars had longer torsionbars in front to handle the much higher wt of the 6 cyl engine and all cast iron FWD transmission. I had two of the 15-6H cars – one being the ex-GM test car that they acquired to study the special suspension. The normal 15-6 was good for 100 mph and became a favorite of French gangsters as they could outrun anything else at the time, and they could keep going even if the Gendarmes shot out the rear tires.

    As for speed and handling, Bob Lutz, then Pres. of Chrysler told me his personal Traction 15-6 in his car collection could outcorner and outhandle any other production car on the planet. And being a tall ex-Marine, he loved the huge rear seat room in the 6 cars so much that he incorporated that legroom into the LH series Chrysler cars the corp. introduced in 1990 under his leadership.
    Bob drove his Traction in a California Mille maybe 14 yrs ago – had a fuel feed problem during the rally, which I heard was diagnosed and repaired by non other than Phil Hill – a simple cracked rubber hose at the tank pickup.

    4
  7. Tom

    Just a little note the 15-6H cars the hydropneumatic suspension were very popular with the smugglers along the French/Spanish border. They could be loaded up and driven across the border with arousing any interest from the customs men who did not know about the special setup!

    • MikeH

      Reminds me of a trip from our home in Texas to Oklahoma in the early 50s. Oklahoma at the time was totally dry. For whatever reason, the trunk of the car was heavy and rode lower than normal. We were stopped by the highway patrol on suspicion of being bootleggers. So yes, they did stop cars if their ride geometry didn’t look right.

  8. Manuel Broyer

    The numberplate 4514 SJ 06 seen in the car was delivered in 1973 in France (Alpes Maritimes département) when it was already 21 years old. So it is likewise it was exported after this year in the US, already as a rather old – or classic car.

  9. TimM

    This is a car that should be preserved for what it is!! So many innovations for the time!! It’s in really good shape for a 65 year old car!! Now this to me is a car with patina (no rust so bad you need a tetanus shot to look at it) A clear coat on it to preserve the 65 year old wear and keep the mechanicals up to par and for heaven sake drive it!! It’s a fantastic machine!! Oh and I love the trunk opening like a passenger door!! Really cool!!!

  10. Del

    For some reason this reminds me of Vietnam.

    Luckily I had foot problems and never got there.

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