In all the years that I have been visiting the USA – and it is a lot now – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Citroen on the road. And that is hardly a surprise, as the last ones that were sold in that market were in 1974, and the marque was not exactly a volume seller even when the cars were available. That being the case, you really would not expect, therefore, to find that there is a world class collection of Citroen cars on display, in a museum in America. Until, perhaps, you learn that the museum in question is the Mullin Museum, in Oxnard, California. This is where renowned car collector Peter Mullin displays a subset of his collection of cars, and his particular passion is for the glamorous cars of the 1930s, especially French ones. When I read, in various magazines and online sources that there was to be an exhibition of Citroen models at his museum, I assumed that these were all cars that wold have been shipped in for the duration of the exhibition. But no, as I found out when arriving on site. Mullin and his team of trusted advisors and assistants had spent a considerable period of time scouring the world looking to find the very best and some of the more unusual modes with the Double Chevron on and all the cars shown here do indeed now belong to him.
Because all visitors have to buy tickets in advance, the museum is never crowded, and it is assumed that most will wish to take advantage of a guided tour as part of their visit. I was not that fussed by this, but as a tour – led by what the Americans call a “docent” – was about to start just as I arrived, I joined a group of around a dozen people. Although I learned a certain amount, there were times when the docent simply dried up on knowledge, or even got things wrong. He latched on to my accent, and although he did ascertain that I was not actually French (!), he quickly realised I might know at least as much as he did about Citroen, and often he looked appealing at me when someone asked a question that was not in his script. He did tell me, after his tour finished, that all the docents had been asked to learn a lot about a marque most of them never heard of, let alone whose cars they were familiar with when the exhibition was announced, so on that basis, he did pretty well. And certainly for the rest of the group, his knowledge exceeded theirs – by some margin!
This was the second time I’d been to the Mullin collection, so I knew the basics. The museum is housed in what looks like an industrial unit, tucked away in a side street on the south side of Oxnard. The unassuming building with only a simple logo on the outside formerly housed the Otis Chandler collection of muscle cars and bikes. When Chandler passed away, the cars and bikes were sold and Mullin bought the building. Four years later, the fruits of a massive revamp by architect David Hertz resulted in a splendid display, perfect to show off the classic and racing cars contained within. It opened in April 2010, to critical acclaim. At the time of this visit, the whole of the ground floor was given over to the Citroen display. Upstairs some of the other cars in Mullin’s collection can be found, although a lot of them were, at the time of this visit, on display at the Petersen Collection in Los Angeles. The cars are mostly unprotected by barriers, so there are plenty of opportunities for some great photos and there are some wonderful views of the ground floor display from upstairs. Enjoy, as I did!
The Citroen story starts with this car. a 1919 Model A, the very first Citroën car ever made. During World War I, André Citroën was producing munitions. As early as 1917, Citroën investigated the development of a light car of the medium range under the direction of Jules Salomon. Under the designation 10 HP Type A the car had a water-cooled 1327 cc four-cylinder engine and an output of 18 hp. Its maximum speed was 65 km/h (40 mph). The chassis had inverted quarter elliptic springs at the front and double quarter elliptics at the rear. Braking was on the rear wheels only controlled by a hand lever with a foot pedal operated transmission brake. The chassis was made in two lengths and carried a variety of coachwork. The long chassis was available as Torpedo (four-seat tourer), Torpedo Sport, Conduite Intérieure, Coupe de Ville and light truck and the short chassis with Torpedo (3-seat), Conduite Intérieure, Coupe de Ville and camionette (van). The shorter 2,550 mm (100.4 in) wheelbase chassis was available only on demand until the start of 1920 after which the option was withdrawn in order to maximize standardization and derive the resulting cost and efficiency benefits. The final drive used a bevel gear with herringbone teeth, whose shape was the inspiration for the Citroën double chevron logo. In its first year of production, the standard Type A cost 7,950 francs. One year later the selling price had been raised to 12,500 francs. After a slightly hesitant start in 1919, sales took off in 1920, during which more than 20,000 cars emerged from the factory in a single year. With a production rate of 100 vehicles a day, Citroën became the first mass production manufacturer in Europe. 24,093 were made before the car was replaced in 1921.
Next to the Model A was a 1923 5CV, or Cinq Chevaux, with its own Lalique mascot on the bonnet — a crystal figurine of five horses that lights up when the headlights are switched on. There’s also a bright yellow 1927 5CV Trefle with three seats, the third being in the middle behind the front two. Also known as the Citroën Type C, around 81,000 of these cars were made between 1922 and 1926. It was updated to the C2 in 1924 which was in turn superseded by the slightly longer C3 in 1925. The Type C was, and still is, also well known as the 5CV due to its French fiscal rating of its engine for taxation purposes. More colloquial sobriquets, referring to the tapered rear of the little car’s body, were ‘cul-de-poule’ (hen’s bottom) and ‘boat deck Citroën’. The four-cylinder, 856 cc had a bore of 55 mm and stroke of 90 mm, generating an output of 11 bhp. There was a single Solex carburettor and magneto ignition. An electric starter was standard, allowing the car to be advertised as especially suitable for lady drivers. There were two types of chassis: the C, which was also used for the C2, and the C3. They varied in length with the original Type C/C2 measuring 7 ft 5 inches in length, and the 1925 C3 measuring 7 ft 9 in. The suspension used inverted quarter elliptic springs at the front and rear, braking was on the rear wheels only, controlled by a hand lever, and on the transmission by the foot brake. The maximum speed was 37 mph with a fuel consumption of 5 l/100 km (56 mpg). Only open bodies were made with the original Type C, often nicknamed the “Petit Citron” (little lemon), due to it only being available in yellow at first, as one of the more popular variants. The C2 tourer was a two-seat version but the C3 was a three-seat “Trèfle” (Cloverleaf) three-seat model with room for a single passenger in the rear. There were also C2 and C3 Cabriolets made. There was also a wide range of C2 and C3 commercial models with 32,567 being built. Although a great success, the car was not profitable, and Citroën decided to end “Type C” production in May 1926. Looking at it now, this really does look like entry-level motoring of the most basic kind. The only dial is an Ammeter. It’s apparently completely baffling to drive, the pedals were originally arranged with the accelerator in the middle and brake on the right. Though now converted to standard setup, you’re still left with brakes that only operate the rear wheels; and there’s no synchro, which is quite a test for the modern motorists. There’s also very little power so it is actually quite difficult to drive in modern traffic and you really have to keep your momentum going.
There were two examples of the B12 here, a competitor to the Peugeot 177 and the Renault KZ. The B12 was manufactured using modern mass production technologies which in France at the time, were still unique to Citroën. It also used “all-steel” (“tout-acier”) bodies for its two most popular body types. First displayed at the Paris Motor Show in October 1925, the Citroën B12 shared its chassis and engine with the B10, which it replaced. The size of the 4-cylinder engine remained at 1,452 cc, and as with the earlier model, the B12 was sometimes known as the Citroën 10HP (or 10CV), the HP in the suffix being a reference to its fiscal horsepower, a number computed according to the cylinder diameters and used to define its taxation class. A range of body types was listed, although most of the cars came with “Torpedo” type or “Conduite Intérieure” (two-box saloon/sedan) bodies. Other body types listed were a cabriolet, a “Torpédo commercial” and something called a “Normande”. The B10 had been the manufacturer’s (and Europe’s) first production car comprising an all-steel body. Its replacement — the B12 — was the second. This approach garnered much positive reaction in an age that valued innovation, but the B10 itself had forced the manufacturer onto a very steep learning curve, which unfortunately had been shared by customers. The B10 had been insufficiently rigid. Once the car got moving, the body had twisted and flexed, causing sections of bodywork to become detached and doors to open spontaneously. The B10 had inherited its chassis from the B2, but it was quickly apparent that a stronger and stiffer chassis would be needed to complement the necessary rigidity of an all-steel car body. The “Type B12” came with a newly reinforced chassis which addressed the rigidity issues, but the car was nevertheless significantly heavier. With the engine still offering the same 20 HP of horsepower as before, the manufacturer’s listed top speed was now 70 km/h (44 mph) as against the 72 km/h (45 mph) claimed four years earlier for the “Type B2”. (Actual top speed would no doubt have varied according to the body type specified, weather conditions, and the weight of the passengers and their luggage.) The popular “Torpedo” type and “Conduite Intérieure” (two-box saloon/sedan) cars were the only ones featuring the much vaunted “all-steel” bodies in full. The others used a combination of old and new body structures, which removed the need to tool up dies for stamping out the relatively small numbers of panels needed for the less ubiquitous body types. Criticism of the B10’s brakes was addressed with the “Type B12” which incorporated a new system of drum brakes that now worked on all four wheels. (On the earlier car the front wheels had been unbraked.) There was also a new semi-elliptical leaf spring arrangement at the front. Like the “Type B10”, the “Citroën Type B12” was in effect a one-year model. Partly because of the challenges with the new body making techniques, only 17,259 B10s had been manufactured. For the 1926 model year, the B12 more than doubled than figure, with 38,381 cars produced. The successor model, the “Citroën Type B14”, was formally released at the Paris Motor Show in October 1926 (although it would be 1927 before the last of the B12s found customers). 38,381 were produced.
Replacement for the B12 was the B14, and there was one of those here. too. The B14 “All Steel” was presented at the Salon of October 1926, and it represented technical progress compared to the B12 in many areas. The chassis was lighter, the engine more flexible and the foot brake acted on all four wheels. There was a 1539cc 4 cylinder side valves and water cooling engine without a pump (using a thermosyphon), and a 3 speed gearbox. The top speed was around 80 km/h. A number of different bodystyles were offered, including 4 door saloon, 2 door coupe and convertible as well as a Norman, open utility version. This model was quite successful, thanks to a competitive price compared to its rivals. This B14’s unique paint job was based on a design by Ukrainian artist Sonia Delaunay for the 1925 Paris Exposition, also known as the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The expo is more famous for the style it helped launch, which was later named after it: art deco.
Newest exhibit, as its restoration had apparently only been completed the day before I visited, is this 1931 C4G. The C4, along with the 6 cylinder Citroën C6, was presented at the Paris Motor Show of 1928, and was produced until 1932 The C4 was an evolution, at the same price, of the previous B12, B14, and B15 models , and took some inspiration from the American Ford Model A. When first presented at the Paris Salon of October 1928, it was under the name of AC4 and AC6 (AC for André Citroën), then C4 and C6. The styling was modernised and the car was bigger, more comfortable, and lower, with better handling. Engine power increased by 40%, to give a maximum speed of more than 90 km/h. The Citroën C6 version is powered by a Citroën 6-cylinder with 45 hp, which gave it a top speed of more than 100 km/h, and was aimed at the high-end market. Delage, Delahaye, Talbot, Hotchkiss, and American competition among others. There was a new C4 III version at the show in October 1929 and then again in 1930 with the C4F version at the Paris Salon of 1930, and a C4G version followed at the Salon of 1931. The model was replaced by the Rosalie in 1932.
1934 saw the introduction of the Citroen’s revolutionary and mould-shattering front-wheel-drive semi-monocoque Citroën Traction Avant. The Traction endured a troubled and prolonged birth process, however, and was part of an ambitious investment programme which involved, also in 1934, the bankruptcy of the business, and its acquisition by Citroën’s principal creditor. The patron himself died in 1935. In this troubled situation, availability of the larger Rosalies (although re-engined with a turned-around version of the new Traction’s OHV four-cylinder engines) continued till 1938: it is only through the distorting prism of subsequent events that its reputation has been diminished when set against the technical brilliance of its successor. Produced for over 20 years, many different versions were made during that time, all with the same styling outline, but with power outputs ranging from 7 to 15CV, and different wheelbases, as well as some with Coupe and Convertible body styles. There was even one model with a large opening tailgate, the Commerciale. Seen here were a number of versions of the range.
There were a number of examples of the legendary Citroën 2CV here. The “deux chevaux”, with its “two tax horsepower” air-cooled front-engine in a front-wheel-drive economy car was introduced at the 1948 Paris Mondial de l’Automobile and would go on to be manufactured until 1990. Conceived by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger to help motorise the large number of farmers still using horses and carts in 1930s France, the 2CV has a combination of innovative engineering and utilitarian, straightforward metal bodywork — initially corrugated for added strength without added weight. The 2CV featured low cost; simplicity of overall maintenance; an easily serviced air-cooled engine (originally offering 9 hp); low fuel consumption; and an extremely long-travel suspension offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Often called “an umbrella on wheels”, the fixed-profile convertible bodywork featured a full-width, canvas, roll-back sunroof, which accommodated oversized loads and until 1955 reached almost to the car’s rear bumper. Notably, Michelin introduced and first commercialised the radial tyre with the introduction of the 2CV.
In 1934, family-owned Michelin, as the largest creditor, took over the bankrupt Citroën company. The new management commissioned a market survey, conducted by Jacques Duclos. France at that time had a large rural population which could not yet afford cars; Citroën used the survey results to prepare a design brief for a low-priced, rugged “umbrella on four wheels” that would enable four people to transport 50 kg (110 lb) of farm goods to market at 50 km/h (30 mph), if necessary across muddy, unpaved roads. In fuel economy, the car would use no more than 3 l/100 km (95 mpg). One design requirement was that the customer be able to drive eggs across a freshly ploughed field without breaking them. In 1936, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, vice-president of Citroën and chief of engineering and design, sent the brief to his design team at the engineering department. The TPV (Toute Petite Voiture – “Very Small Car”) was to be developed in secrecy at Michelin facilities at Clermont-Ferrand and at Citroën in Paris, by the design team who had created the Traction Avant. Boulanger closely monitored all decisions relating to the TPV, proposing strictly reduced target weights. He created a department to weigh and redesign each component, to lighten the TPV without compromising function. Boulanger placed engineer André Lefèbvre in charge of the TPV project. Lefèbvre had designed and raced Grand Prix cars; his speciality was chassis design and he was particularly interested in maintaining contact between tyres and the road surface. The first prototypes were bare chassis with rudimentary controls, seating and roof; test drivers wore leather flying suits, of the type used in contemporary open biplanes. By the end of 1937 20 TPV experimental prototypes had been built and tested. The prototypes had only one headlight, all that was required by French law at the time. At the end of 1937 Pierre Michelin was killed in a car crash; Boulanger became president of Citroën. By 1939 the TPV was deemed ready, after 47 technically different and incrementally improved experimental prototypes had been built and tested. These prototypes used aluminium and magnesium parts and had water-cooled flat twin engines with front-wheel drive. The seats were hammocks hung from the roof by wires. The suspension system, designed by Alphonse Forceau, used front leading arms and rear trailing arms, connected to eight torsion bars beneath the rear seat: a bar for the front axle, one for the rear axle, an intermediate bar for each side, and an overload bar for each side. The front axle was connected to its torsion bars by cable. The overload bar came into play when the car had three people on board, two in the front and one in the rear, to support the extra load of a fourth passenger and fifty kilograms of luggage. In mid-1939 a pilot run of 250 cars was produced and on 28 August 1939 the car received approval for the French market. Brochures were printed and preparations made to present the car, renamed the Citroën 2CV, at the forthcoming Paris Motor Show in October 1939. On 3 September 1939, France declared war on Germany following that country’s invasion of Poland. An atmosphere of impending disaster led to the cancellation of the 1939 motor show less than a month before it was scheduled to open. The launch of the 2CV was abandoned. During the German occupation of France in World War II Boulanger personally refused to collaborate with German authorities to the point where the Gestapo listed him as an “enemy of the Reich”, under constant threat of arrest and deportation to Germany. Michelin (Citroën’s main shareholder) and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application as in the case of the future Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured during the war as the military Kübelwagen. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations; one was disguised as a pickup, the others were destroyed, and Boulanger spent the next six years thinking about further improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs were discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003 there were five known TPVs. By 1941, after an increase in aluminium prices of forty percent, an internal report at Citroën showed that producing the TPV post-war would not be economically viable, given the projected further increasing cost of aluminium. Boulanger decided to redesign the car to use mostly steel with flat panels, instead of aluminium. The Nazis had attempted to loot Citroën’s press tools; this was frustrated after Boulanger got the French Resistance to re-label the rail cars containing them in the Paris marshalling yard. They ended up all over Europe, and Citroën was by no means sure they would all be returned after the war. In early 1944 Boulanger made the decision to abandon the water-cooled two-cylinder engine developed for the car and installed in the 1939 versions. Walter Becchia was now briefed to design an air-cooled unit, still of two cylinders, and still of 375 cc. Becchia was also supposed to design a three-speed gearbox, but managed to design a four-speed for the same space at little extra cost. At this time small French cars like the Renault Juvaquatre and Peugeot 202 usually featured three-speed transmissions, as did Citroën’s own mid-size Traction Avant – but the 1936 Italian Fiat 500 “Topolino” “people’s car” did have a four-speed gearbox. Becchia persuaded Boulanger that the fourth gear was an overdrive. The increased number of gear ratios also helped to pull the extra weight of changing from light alloys to steel for the body and chassis. Other changes included seats with tubular steel frames with rubber band springing and a restyling of the body by the Italian Flaminio Bertoni. Also, in 1944 the first studies of the Citroën hydro-pneumatic suspension were conducted using the TPV/2CV. The development and production of what was to become the 2CV was also delayed by the incoming 1944 Socialist French government, after the liberation by the Allies from the Germans. The five-year “Plan Pons” to rationalise car production and husband scarce resources, named after economist and former French motor industry executive Paul-Marie Pons, only allowed Citroën the upper middle range of the car market, with the Traction Avant. The French government allocated the economy car market, US Marshall Plan aid, US production equipment and supplies of steel, to newly nationalised Renault to produce their Renault 4CV. The “Plan Pons” came to an end in 1949. Postwar French roads were very different from pre-war ones. Horse-drawn vehicles had re-appeared in large numbers. The few internal combustion-engined vehicles present often ran on town gas stored in gasbags on roofs or wood/charcoal gas from gasifiers on trailers. Only 100,000 of the two million pre-war cars were still on the road. The time was known as “Les années grises” or “the grey years” in France.
Citroën finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon on 7 October 1948. The car on display was nearly identical to the 2CV type A that would be sold the next year, but it lacked an electric starter, the addition of which was decided the day before the opening of the Salon, replacing the pull cord starter. The canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The Type A had one stop light, and was only available in grey. The fuel level was checked with a dip stick/measuring rod, and the speedometer was attached to the windscreen pillar. The only other instrument was an ammeter. In 1949 the first delivered 2CV type A was 375 cc, 9 hp, with a 65 km/h (40 mph) top speed, only one tail light and windscreen wiper with speed shaft drive; the wiper speed was dependent on the driving speed. The car was heavily criticised by the motoring press and became the butt of French comedians for a short while. One American motoring journalist quipped, “Does it come with a can opener?” The British Autocar correspondent wrote that the 2CV “is the work of a designer who has kissed the lash of austerity with almost masochistic fervour”.
Despite critics, Citroën was flooded with customer orders at the show. The car had a great impact on the lives of the low-income segment of the population in France. The 2CV was a commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list, which soon increased to five years. At the time a second-hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one because the buyer did not have to wait. Production was increased from 876 units in 1949 to 6,196 units in 1950. In 1951 the 2CV received an ignition lock and a lockable driver’s door. Production reached 100 cars a week. By the end of 1951 production totalled 16,288. Citroën introduced the 2CV Fourgonnette van. The “Weekend” version of the van had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle on the weekend as well as for business in the week. By 1952, production had reached more than 21,000 with export markets earning foreign currency taking precedence. Boulanger’s policy, which continued after his death, was: “Priority is given to those who have to travel by car because of their work, and for whom ordinary cars are too expensive to buy.” Cars were sold preferentially to country vets, doctors, midwives, priests and small farmers In 1954 the speedometer got a light for night driving. In 1955 the 2CV side repeaters were added above and behind the rear doors. It was now also available with 425 cc (AZ), 12.5 hp and a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). In 1957 a heating and ventilation system was installed. The colour of the steering wheel changed from black to grey. The mirrors and the rear window were enlarged. The bonnet was decorated with a longitudinal strip of aluminium (AZL). In September 1957, the model AZLP (P for porte de malle, “boot lid”), appeared with a boot lid panel; previously the soft top had to be opened at the bottom to get to the boot. In 1958 a Belgian Citroën plant produced a higher quality version of the car (AZL3). It had a third side window, not available in the normal version, and improved details. In 1960 the production of the 375 cc engine ended. In the front fenders round turn signals were integrated. The corrugated metal bonnet was replaced by a five-rib glossy cover. Simultaneously, the grille was slightly modified (flatter shape with a curved top edge).
The 4 × 4 2CV Sahara appeared in December 1960. This had an additional engine-transmission unit in the rear, mounted the other way around and driving the rear wheels. For the second engine there was a separate push-button starter and choke. With a gear stick between the front seats, both transmissions were operated simultaneously. For the two engines, there were separate petrol tanks under the front seats. The filler neck sat in the front doors. Both engines (and hence axles) could be operated independently. The spare wheel was mounted on the bonnet. The car had ample off-road capability, but at twice the price of the standard 2CV. 694 were produced until 1968 and one more in 1971. Many were used by the Swiss Post as a delivery vehicle. Today they are highly collectable.
In 1960 the corrugated Citroën H Van style “ripple bonnet” of convex swages was replaced (except for the Sahara), with one using six larger concave swages and looked similar until the end of production. The 2CV had suicide doors in front from 1948 to 1964, replaced with front hinged doors from 1965 to 1990. In 1962 the engine power was increased to 14 hp and top speed to 85 km/h (53 mph). A sun roof was installed. In 1963 the engine power was increased to 16 hp. An electric wiper motor replaced the drive on the speedo. The ammeter was replaced by a charging indicator light. The speedometer was moved from the window frame into the dash. Instead of a dip stick/measuring rod, a fuel gauge was introduced. Director of publicity Claude Puech came up with humorous and inventive marketing campaigns. Robert Delpire of the Delpire Agency was responsible for the brochures. Ad copy came from Jacques Wolgensinger Director of PR at Citroën. Wolgensinger was responsible for the youth orientated “Raids”, 2CV Cross, rallies, the use of “Tin-Tin”, and the slogan “More than just a car — a way of life”. A range of colours was introduced, starting with Glacier Blue in 1959, then yellow in 1960. In the 1960s 2CV production caught up with demand. In 1966 the 2CV got a third side window, This window made them look slightly bigger in size. In February 1965 Citroën Belgium introduced the 3CV AZAM6 which featured the 602 cc, 23 PS Ami6 engine and the Ami’s improved chassis. This version was manufactured until October 1967 and was also exported to certain continental markets although it was never offered in France.
In 1967 Citroën launched a new model based on the 2CV chassis, with an updated but still utilitarian body, with a hatchback (a hatchback kit was available from Citroën dealers for the 2CV, and aftermarket kits are available) that boosted practicality: the Citroën Dyane. The exterior is more modern and distinguished by the recessed lights in the fenders and bodywork. Between 1967 and 1983 about 1.4 million were built. This was in response to competition by the Renault 4. The Dyane was originally planned as an upmarket version of the 2CV and was supposed to supersede it, but ultimately the 2CV outlived the Dyane by seven years. Citroën also developed the Méhari off-roader.
From 1961, the car was offered, at extra cost, with the flat-2 engine size increased to 602 cc (36.7 cu in), although for many years the smaller 425 cc (25.9 cu in) engine continued to be available in France and export markets where engine size determined car tax levels. This was replaced by an updated 435 cc (26.5 cu in) engine in 1968. In 1970 the car gained rear light units from the Citroën Ami 6, and also standardised a third side window in the rear pillar on 2CV6 (602 cc) models. From 1970, only two series were produced: the 2CV 4 (AZKB) with 435 cc and the 2CV 6 (Azka) with 602 cc displacement. All 2CVs from this date can run on unleaded fuel. 1970s cars featured rectangular headlights, except the Spécial model. In 1971 the front bench seat was replaced with two individual seats. In 1972 2CVs were fitted with standard three-point seat belts. In 1973 new seat covers, a padded single-spoke steering wheel and ashtrays were introduced. The highest annual production was in 1974. Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became as much a youth lifestyle statement as a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroën “Raid” intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a “P.O.” kit (Pays d’Outre-mer — overseas countries), to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes. Because of new emission standards, in 1975 power was reduced from 28 hp to 25 hp. The round headlights were replaced by square ones, adjustable in height. A new plastic grille was fitted. In July 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced with the 435 cc engine. Between 1975 and 1990 under the name of AZKB “2CV Spécial” a drastically reduced trim basic version was sold, at first only in yellow. The small, square speedometer (which dates back to the Traction Avant), and the narrow rear bumper was installed. In order to keep the price as low as possible, Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. It also had the earlier round headlights. From the 1978 Paris Motor Show the Spécial regained third side windows, and was available in red and white; beginning in mid-1979 the 602 cc engine was installed. In June 1981 the Spécial E arrived; this model had a standard centrifugal clutch and particularly low urban fuel consumption. In 1981 a yellow 2CV6 was driven by James Bond (Roger Moore) in the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only. The car in the film was fitted with the flat-4 engine from a Citroën GS which more than doubled the power. In one scene the ultra light 2CV tips over and is quickly righted by hand. Citroën launched a special edition 2CV “007” to coincide with the film; it was fitted with the standard engine and painted yellow with “007” on the front doors and fake bullet hole stickers. In 1982 all 2CV models got inboard front disc brakes. In 1988, production ended in France after 40 years but continued at the Mangualde plant in Portugal. This lasted until 1990, when production of the 2CV ended. The 2CV outlasted the Visa, another of the cars which might have been expected to replace it, and was produced for four years after the start of Citroën AX production.Portuguese-built cars, especially those from when production was winding down, have a reputation for being much less well made and more prone to corrosion than those made in France. According to Citroën, the Portuguese plant was more up-to-date than the one in Levallois near Paris, and Portuguese 2CV manufacturing was to higher quality standards.
The special edition models began with the 1976 SPOT model and continued in with the 1980 Charleston, inspired by Art-Deco two colour styles 1920s Citroën model colour schemes. In 1981 the 007 arrived. In 1983 the 2CV Beachcomber arrived in the United Kingdom; it was known as “France 3” in France or “Transat” in other continental European markets — Citroën sponsored the French America’s Cup yacht entry of that year. In 1985 the two-coloured Dolly appeared, using the “Spécial” model’s basic trim rather than the slightly better-appointed “Club” as was the case with the other special editions. In 1986 there was the Cocorico. This means “cock-a-doodle-doo” and tied in with France’s entry in the 1986 World Cup. “Le Coq Gaulois” or Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France. In 1987 came the Bamboo, followed by the 1988 Perrier in association with the mineral water company. The Charleston, having been presented in October 1980 as a one-season “special edition” was incorporated into the regular range in July 1981 in response to its “extraordinary success”. By changing the carburettor to achieve 29 hp a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) was achieved. Other changes were a new rear-view mirror and inboard disc brakes at the front wheels. In the 1980s there was a range of four full models: Spécial; Dolly (an improved version of the Spécial); Club (discontinued in the early 1980s); Charleston (an improved version of the Club). When production finally ended, in 1990, more than 3.8 million 2CVs had been built, as well as over 1.2 million small 2CV-based delivery vans known as fourgonnettes. Citroën ultimately offered several mechanically identical variants including the Ami (over 1.8 million); the Dyane (over 1.4 million); the Acadiane (over 250,000); and the Mehari (over 140,000). In total, Citroën manufactured almost 9 million 2CVs and variants.
Equally iconic a Citroen is the H Van. The Citroën H Van, Type H, H-Type or HY was a panel van (light truck) produced by the French automaker Citroën between 1947 and 1981 It was developed as a simple front wheel driven van after World War II. A total of 473,289 were produced in 34 years in factories in France and Belgium. Like the 1934 Citroën Traction Avant, the H had a unitary body with no separate frame, four-wheel independent suspension, and front-wheel drive. For a commercial van, this combination provided unique benefits – a flat floor very close to the ground, and 6 ft (180 cm) standing height, with a side loading door. The distinctive corrugated body work used throughout the period of production was inspired by German Junkers (Aircraft) starting from the First World War until the 1930s, the three engined Junkers Ju 52 being the last to use this construction. Henry Ford also adopted this construction for the Ford Tri-Motor passenger aircraft. The ribs added strength without adding weight, and required only simple, low cost press tools. The flat body panels were braced on the inside by ‘top hat’ box sections, at right angles to the ribs. The welded floor was strong enough to support a horse. Most H Vans were sold in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. At the Slough Trading Estate assembly facility (1926-1966), Citroën UK built a very small number of right hand drive versions. The German market was supplied by a key competitor, the Volkswagen Type 2. As with the Volkswagen, the H Van could not be sold in the US as a commercial vehicle after 1964, due to the Chicken tax. The engine, gearbox and many smaller parts are shared with other Citroën models. The engine and gearbox are nearly identical to those in the Traction Avant and later the DS, only mounted with the engine in front of the gearbox. The headlights were identical to those of the 2CV, while speedometers were successively borrowed from the Traction Avant and the Ami 6. While the derated Traction avant 4 cylinder engine and the unsophisticated 3 speed gearbox (non syncromesh on first gear) only gave a modest top speed of just under 100 km/h, the chassis and suspension layout provided remarkable roadholding qualities, especially on the short wheelbase version: low slung chassis, engine and drivetrain well behind the front wheels axles, with very little overhangs, combined with sophisticated totally independent suspensions (the front ones used double torsion bars instead of conventional coil springs) were features scarcely found on period passenger cars. Like the contemporary Citroën 2 CV, the H type van could often be driven “pedal to the metal” on winding rural roads. The 1.9 litre motor offered more usable power than the 1.2 litre motor of its competitor, the 1950 Volkswagen Type 2. The basic design changed very little from 1947 to 1981. Vehicles left the Citroën factory with only three body styles: the standard enclosed van, a pick-up version, and a stripped-down body which went to non-Citroën coach-builders and formed the basis for the cattle-truck and other variants. The basic version had an overall length of 4.26m, but vehicles were also available in a LWB version with an overall length of 5.24m. In September 1963 the earlier style rear window – a narrow vertical window with curved corners – was replaced with a square window the same height but wider, 45 cm on each side. The bonnet was modified to give two additional rectangular air intakes at the lower edges, one for a heater, the other a dummy for symmetry. In early 1964, the split windscreen used since 1947 was replaced with a single windscreen, while in late 1964 the chevrons on the radiator grille, previously narrow aluminium strips similar to those on the Traction Avant, were replaced with the shorter, pointed style of chevrons as used on most Citroën vehicles in the last decades of the twentieth century. In November 1969 the small parking lights were discontinued, the front indicators were recessed into the wings, and the shape of the rear wings was changed from semi-circular to rectangular. Rear hinged ‘Suicide’ cab doors were used until the end of production in 1981, except on vehicles manufactured for the Dutch market where conventionally hinged doors were available from 1968.
It is hard to imagine just how revolutionary this car must have seemed when it was unveiled at the Paris Show in 1955. 18 years in secret development as the successor to the Traction Avant, the DS 19 stole the show, and within 15 minutes of opening, 743 orders were taken. By the end of the first day, that number had risen to 12,000. Contemporary journalists said the DS pushed the envelope in the ride vs. handling compromise possible in a motor vehicle. To a France still deep in reconstruction after the devastation of World War II, and also building its identity in the post-colonial world, the DS was a symbol of French ingenuity. It also posited the nation’s relevance in the Space Age, during the global race for technology of the Cold War. Structuralist philosopher Roland Barthes, in an essay about the car, said that it looked as if it had “fallen from the sky”. An American advertisement summarised this selling point: “It takes a special person to drive a special car”. Because they were owned by the technologically aggressive tyre manufacturer Michelin, Citroën had designed their cars around the technically superior radial tyre since 1948, and the DS was no exception. The car featured a novel hydropneumatic suspension including an automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance, developed in-house by Paul Magès. This suspension allowed the DS to travel quickly on the poor road surfaces common in France. In addition, the vehicle had power steering and a semi-automatic transmission (the transmission required no clutch pedal, but gears still had to be shifted by hand though the shift lever controlled a powered hydraulic shift mechanism in place of a mechanical linkage, and a fibreglass roof which lowered the centre of gravity and so reduced weight transfer. Inboard front brakes (as well as independent suspension) reduced unsprung weight. Different front and rear track widths and tyre sizes reduced the unequal tyre loading, which is well known to promote understeer, typical of front-engined and front-wheel drive cars. As with all French cars, the DS design was affected by the tax horsepower system, which effectively mandated very small engines. Unlike the Traction Avant predecessor, there was no top-of-range model with a powerful six-cylinder engine. Citroën had planned an air-cooled flat-6 engine for the car, but did not have the funds to put the prototype engine into production. The 1955 DS19 was 65% more expensive than the car it replaced, the Citroën Traction Avant. This did impact potential sales in a country still recovering economically from World War II, so a cheaper submodel, the Citroën ID, was introduced in 1957. The ID shared the DS’s body but was less powerful and luxurious. Although it shared the engine capacity of the DS engine (at this stage 1,911 cc), the ID provided a maximum power output of only 69 hp compared to the 75 hp claimed for the DS19. Power outputs were further differentiated in 1961 when the DS19 acquired a Weber-32 twin bodied carburettor, and the increasing availability of higher octane fuel enabled the manufacturer to increase the compression ratio from 7.5:1 to 8.5:1. A new DS19 now came with a promised 83 hp of power. The ID19 was also more traditional mechanically: it had no power steering and had conventional transmission and clutch instead of the DS’s hydraulically controlled set-up. Initially the basic ID19 was sold on the French market with a price saving of more than 25% against the DS, although the differential was reduced at the end of 1961 when the manufacturer quietly withdrew the entry level ID19 “Normale” from sale.
An estate version was introduced in 1958. It was known by various names in different markets: Break in France, Safari and Estate in the UK, Wagon in the US, and Citroën Australia used the terms Safari and Station-Wagon. It had a steel roof to support the standard roof rack. ‘Familiales’ had a rear seat mounted further back in the cabin, with three folding seats between the front and rear squabs. The standard Break had two side-facing seats in the main load area at the back. During the 20 year production life, improvements were made on an ongoing basis.
In September 1962, the DS was restyled with a more aerodynamically efficient nose, better ventilation and other improvements. It retained the open two headlamp appearance, but was available with an optional set of driving lights mounted on the front bumpers. A more luxurious Pallas trim came in for 1965 Named after the Greek goddess Pallas, this included comfort features such as better noise insulation, a more luxurious (and optional leather) upholstery and external trim embellishments. The cars were complex, and not always totally reliable, One of the issues that emerged during long term use was addressed with a change which came in for 1967. The original hydropneumatic system used a vegetable oil liquide hydraulique végétal (LHV), similar to that used in other cars at the time, but later switched to a synthetic fluid liquide hydraulique synthétique (LHS). Both of these had the disadvantage that they are hygroscopic, as is the case with most brake fluids. Disuse allows water to enter the hydraulic components causing deterioration and expensive maintenance work. The difficulty with hygroscopic hydraulic fluid was exacerbated in the DS/ID due to the extreme rise and fall in the fluid level in the reservoir, which went from nearly full to nearly empty when the suspension extended to maximum height and the six accumulators in the system filled with fluid. With every “inhalation” of fresh moisture- (and dust-) laden air, the fluid absorbed more water. For the 1967 model year, Citroën introduced a new mineral oil-based fluid liquide hydraulique minéral (LHM). This fluid was much less harsh on the system. LHM remained in use within Citroën until the Xantia was discontinued in 2001. LHM required completely different materials for the seals. Using either fluid in the incorrect system would completely destroy the hydraulic seals very quickly. To help avoid this problem, Citroën added a bright green dye to the LHM fluid and also painted all hydraulic elements bright green. The former LHS parts were painted black. All models, including the Safari and ID, were upgraded at the same time. The hydraulic fluid changed to the technically superior LHM (Liquide Hydraulique Minéral) in all markets except the US and Canada, where the change did not take place until January 1969, due to local relations.
Rarest and most collectable of all DS variants, a convertible was offered from 1958 until 1973. The Cabriolet d’Usine (factory convertible) were built by French carrossier Henri Chapron, for the Citroën dealer network. It was an expensive car, so only 1,365 were sold. These DS convertibles used a special frame which was reinforced on the side-members and rear suspension swing arm bearing box, similar to, but not identical to the Break/Safari frame.
This was a special display feature recreating one used when, in 1959, Citroën was invited to display a DS body at the Milan Triennale, an international exhibition of art and design chaired by the architect Gio Ponti.
There were a number of special bodied DS cars as here, all of them very rare, and very splendid. These were produced by the French carrossier, Henri Chapron, who before the war had built custom made bodies for marques such as Talbot-Lago, Delage and Delahaye. After the demise of these marques, he turned his attention to Citroën. In 1955, he was commissioned to build a Décapotable for the French President based on a 15 CV Traction. In 1958, he showed his first DS-based creation at the Paris Salon. It simply bore the name Cabriolet DS 19 Henri Chapron, later called the la Croisette Cabriolet. This car is noticeable for employing the rear wings of the Berline and for covering the join between the wing and what would be the rear door of the Berline with an hideous vertical chrome strip. This conversion was undertaken without the approval of Citroën and Chapron was obliged to purchase complete cars rather than chassis and engines. However, such as the interest in the car, that there was demand to produce more, with the result that Citroën asked Chapron to build a cabriolet based on Bertoni’s design proposals. The result was the Usine Cabriolet below which was sold via the dealer network. The 1960 version used a new, one piece rear wing which was also used in the Usine cabriolet. In fact its likeness to the Usine car meant that the La Croisette was dropped in 1962. Chapron went on to produce a whole series of very elegant DS-based cars, all of which were produced in very small numbers – fewer than 100 in every case. Mullin has managed to source a number of these rarely splendid creations. Pride of place went to a DS Majesty. 27 of these were built between 1964 and 1968.
Joining it were a couple of the Citroen Concorde from 1963. These were first seen at the 1960 Paris Auto Salon, and by the time that the last one was produced in 1965, 38 had been made.
Also here were a Citroen Le Dandy from 1963 and a Citroen Le Léman. 50 of the Le Dandy cars were made, and this is perhaps the best known now of the Chapron cars, as Corgi made a toy version of it in the 1960s (indeed, I have one myself!). The le Dandy was first seen in 1960 and was effectively a hard top version of le Caddy notwithstanding that that model was available with an optional hard top. Along with the le Caddy and the Concorde, the rear wings were redesigned in 1965.
The Léman was first shown at the 1966 Geneva Show. A total of 32 of them were built over the next 6 years.
Citroen’s next new model was rather small, the Ami, a four-door, front-wheel drive supermini (B-segment), made from 1961 to 1978. At times it was the best-selling new car model in France. The Ami was offered in saloon and break (estate) body styles over two generations, the Ami 6 and the Ami 8. The Citroën Ami had its formal French launch on 25 April 1961, four months ahead of the August introduction of the widely anticipated Renault 4. Both the Renault 4 and the Citroën Ami responded to a perceived market need for a vehicle slightly larger and less rustic than the 2CV. The Ami is a rebodied 2CV with certain mechanical upgrades (particularly a larger engine than the 1950s 2CV), to compensate for the added weight. At launch all the cars were powered by an air cooled 602 cc two-cylinder flat engine which would also be offered at extra cost in the 2CV from 1970. The platform chassis and suspension is similar to the 2CV, being independent all round using leading and trailing arms and coil springs interconnected front to rear. The Ami’s seats were easily removable. Sales pitches of the Ami included photographs of the seats being used as picnic chairs. The Ami and the Ford Taunus P3 were the first cars with rectangular or lozenge-shaped (non-round) headlights. This technical innovation was developed by lighting manufacturers Hella (Taunus) and Cibie (Ami). Soon this innovation found its way to the exclusive coach built Maserati 5000 GT. At the time, it was an unquestioned article of faith that headlights were round, and in the United States, it was the law, so these new headlights were illegal there until 1975. Ten years later this had inspired European automakers to come up with various non-round headlamp shapes. The car went on sale in France in April 1961, though Citroën implemented some simple upgrades in time for the Paris Motor Show only six months later. The most visible change involved the replacement of the fixed windows on the rear doors with two-part horizontal sliding windows, similar to those already fitted on the front doors. Sales initially were not as good as those of the older 2CV; the Ami’s first full year of production was 1962, during which only 85,358 of the cars were sold, while the thirteen-year-old 2CV managed 144,759 sales during the same period. Although the Ami had a modern body, it shared the aggressively minimalist underpinnings of the older car, and this made it hard to justify a starting price for the Ami which, at the end of 1961, was 35% higher. The 1961 Ami 6 sedan is distinguished by an unusual reverse-raked notchback rear window, similar in style to the 1959 Ford Anglia 105E. A Break (estate) model joined the range in the autumn of 1964.
The later Ami 8 saloon, launched in March 1969 has a fastback rear window. It was redesigned by the French car design and bodywork company, Heuliez. Most notable changes were the front part and bonnet and the sloping, rather than inverted, rear window on the saloon. The estate version of the Ami 8 had a similar general appearance to that of the Ami 6 although the later car’s taillights were integrated into the rear wings. The Ami Super was a flat-4 variant powered by the engine of the GS and produced between 1973 and 1976. At the launch of the GS, its original flat four-cylinder air-cooled 1015 cc 55 bhp DIN engine was considered to be underpowered. With surplus engines available, Citroën decided to fit the engine into the Ami 8 in January 1973. The car, which became the Ami Super, then easily reached 140 km / h. From the outside, it had a new front grille with six additional vents underneath. On the sides of the front wing there was a badge marked 1015 in reference to the new engine. The body is the same as the Ami 8 apart from changes to inner front wings, bonnet, front panel and bumper mountings. The chassis was also modified from the standard Ami 8 with alterations made to accommodate the 1015 cc engine. Other changes included thicker wire in the suspension springs, to give a tauter ride and front anti-roll bars. Rear anti-roll bars were fitted from 1974 onwards until the end of Ami Super Production in 1976. The Ami Super and Ami 8 Break (Estate) were fitted with 135 15 ZX Michelin tyres as standard while the Ami 8 Berline retained the Michelin 125 15 X although 135 15’s could be ordered as an option. Also on the Ami Super headlamps with built in Quartz iodine fog lights were offered as an option, other options included heated rear screens. Inside, the gear change is floor mounted, in place of the dashboard mounted gear lever of the Ami 6 and 8 and to accommodate this the hand brake of the Super curves up instead of down. The speedometer was also specific to the Ami Super differing slightly to allow higher speed numbers to be shown. The Ami Super was offered in the same three trim levels as the Ami 8, Luxe, Confort and Club on Saloon and Luxe and Confort on Break (estate) versions. These trim differences were fairly minor with Luxe models having bench front and rear seats and vinyl floor matting. Confort trim offered reclining front seats in place of the front bench. The Club models can be considered the Pallas of the Ami range featured sound proofing pads on the floor and bulkhead, carpet including boot lining, stainless steel trim on the window frames and side rubbing strips on the doors and rear wings. Club trim was only available up to the end of the 1973 model year, after that point Ami 8 and Ami super were only available in Luxe and Confort specification. From 1974 Ami Super models were revamped to feature a double line graphic along the exterior of the body sides, either in black or silver depending on body colour, with slotted wheels and double line detailing on the hubcaps. The rear window also featured a graphic in white proclaiming “Ami Super 1015cm³” As the Ami Super looked very much like an Ami 8, and could surprise many by demonstrating its dramatic performance advantage compared to the Ami 8 (55 hp compared to 32 hp). Quoted by Autocar magazine in the UK as a “Q car par excellence” sadly in France its 5CV tax rating made little sense in a small car and as a result sales were low compared to the Ami 8. In the UK however where no such tax penalties existed the Ami Super attracted healthy sales although is now a rare sight due to poor corrosion resistance, a feature suffered by many vehicles of this era. The Ami Super production reached close to 42,000 in sedan and station wagon by February 1976. The Ami 8 continued until early 1979 and reached in the region of 722,000 production, a significant percentage of the total of 1,840,396 of all Ami models.
There was a nice example of the uber-cool Méhari here. Much like the way the 1959 Mini became the 1964 Mini Moke, this small Citroen was based on an existing model, in this case, the 2CV/Dyane. 144,953 Méharis were built between the car’s French launch in May 1968 and 1988 when production ceased. A méhari is a type of fast-running dromedary camel, which can be used for racing or transport. A méhariste was a French Armée d’Afrique and Army of the Levant cavalryman that used these camels. The Méhari was based on the Citroën Dyane 6, and had a body made of ABS plastic with a soft-top. It also employed the 602 cc flat twin engine shared with the 2CV6 and Citroën Ami and because the standard Méhari weighed just 535 kg (1,179 lb), performance was respectable though very far from brisk. The vehicle also had the interconnected fully independent long-travel 2CV suspension used by all of the Citroën ‘A-Series’ vehicles. The colour was integrated into the ABS plastic material in production, and as a utilitarian vehicle, the options chart was quite limited. Only the Vert Montana remained in the catalogue for all the 18 years of production. Except for Azur blue, the official names of colours all refer to desert regions. Ultraviolet rays from the Sun impact the colourfastness of ABS plastic, so unrestored cars have a faded appearance. New bodies for restorations are only supplied in white colour, and now require painting on top of a specialist primer. A four-wheel drive version of the Méhari was produced from 1980 to 1983 and had excellent off-road qualities, due to the lightness of the vehicle. Unlike the earlier four wheel drive 2CV Sahara, which had two engines, this car only had one. Only 1300 were produced and so these cars are now both rare and highly sought after. The Méhari was sold in the United States in 1969 and 1970, where the vehicle was classified as a truck. As trucks had far more lenient National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety standards than passenger cars in the US, the Méhari did not have seat belts. The Mehari did have limited sales success. Budget Rent-A-Car bought a number of them and offered them as rentals in Hawaii. Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California, used them as groundskeeper cars. The cars had some differences from those sold elsewhere, with an altered front panel with larger 7″ sealed-beam headlamps being the most obvious. The car seen here was a European spec model.
This would be a rare car, even in Europe. It is the Citroën M35, a coupé derived from the Ami 8, and equipped with a Wankel engine and a hydropneumatic suspension. The bodies were produced by Heuliez from 1969 to 1971. The longitudinally mounted rotary engine had a nominal capacity of 497.5 cc delivering 49 bhp. According to factory figures the car had a performance roughly on a level with that of a Morris 1300. The engine was supplied by a company formed in 1967 by NSU and Citroën called Comotor. The M35 was an experimental vehicle and was not officially sold – rather it was supplied to loyal Citroën customers to get their comments on the usability of the design. Many aspects of the M35 made it to regular production. The rotary engine was deemed satisfactory and a dual rotor version of it was used in the GS Birotor in 1974; the gearbox used in the M35 was the GS 1015’s gearbox (albeit with a normal shift pattern); certain suspension parts found their way into the GS line when it was introduced in 1970 and the seats that reclined just above the waist were found in none other than the SM. 267 of these cars were produced, and most of them were reclaimed by Citroen, so you only see them very occasionally.
Citroen continued development work on the rotary engine, and produced a two rotor version of the GS in 1973. Dubbed the Citroën GS Birotor (also called Citroën GZ), it featured a much more powerful 106 hp Wankel birotor produced by the joint NSU-Citroën Comotor project. This style of motor is noted for its smooth power delivery which complemented the luxurious ride quality of the hydropneumatic suspension. Even better, the engine was small relative to its power, an advantage for Tax horsepower calculations, which drove automobile design in France. The Birotor was extensively re-engineered for the Comotor 624 engine. Discs all around (ventilated in front), different wheels with a five-bolt pattern rather than three, and a three-speed semi-automatic transmission were combined with a more luxurious interior and flared fenders to set the Birotor apart from its lesser siblings. The Birotor cost as much as the larger Citroën DS, and 70% more than the standard GS. The fuel economy was worse than the largest DS, the DS23 EFI. So it was not economical for its size, and its launch in October 1973, the exact start of the 1973 oil crisis was a further challenge. The Birotor version achieved poor sales and was quickly pulled from the market, after just 847 units had been sold. Indeed, the sales were so disappointing that Citroën attempted to buy back and scrap each Birotor, as it did not want to support the model with spare parts. A few of these remarkable vehicles have nonetheless survived in the hands of collectors, and Mullin has managed to find one. It was the only example of the GS in the display.
The splendid SM was here as well, of course. This glamorous Sports/GT Coupe still wows people over 45 years since its debut. The Citroën SM was first shown at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, but work on the car had started way back in 1961, with ‘Project S’, which was envisaged to be a a sports variant of the revolutionary Citroen DS. For the next few years, many running concept vehicles were developed, and these became increasingly complex and upmarket from the DS. In 1968, Citroën purchased Maserati, with the intention of harnessing Maserati’s high-performance engine technology to produce a true Gran Turismo car, which would combine Citroen’s advanced suspension with a V6 Maserati engine. The car was a sensation when revealed, with its distinctive styling, an amazingly low drag coefficient of just 0.26, and as well as the advanced features from the DS such as lights that swivelled with the steering and the advanced hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension there were numerous technical innovations such as variable assistance for the power steering, rain sensitive wipers and the option of lightweight wheels of composite alloys. It was a further six months before customers could get behind the wheel, with the SM finally going on sale in France in September of that year. The origin of the model name ‘SM’ is not clear. The ‘S’ may derive from the Project ‘S’ designation, and the ‘M’ may refers to Maserati, hence SM is often assumed to stand for ‘Sports Maserati’. Another common hypothesis is that SM stood for Série Maserati and others have suggested it is short for ‘Sa Majesté’ (Her Majesty in French), which would aligns with the explanation that the DS model was so called as a contraction of the French word ‘Déesse’ (The Goddess). Regardless of the origins of the name, it attracted lots of attention, and came third in the 1971 Car of the Year competition (behind Citroen’s own revolutionary GS model). For a couple of years, sales were reasonable, but they fell off dramatically in 1973, not just because of the Oil Crisis that struck late that year, but largely because the SM’s technical complexity came with a price tag of some terrible reliability problems, something which owners of rival cars simply did not experience. To compound the owner’s misery, they needed to find and pay for Citroen specialists who understood the hydraulics and a Maserati specialist for the engine. Both categories were kept busy. Citroen declared bankruptcy in 1974 and the company was purchased in May 1975. Thanks to changes in US legislation, sales in that market, which had hitherto been the SM’s largest had ceased, and so with global sales of under 300 SMs in 1974, having divested itself of Maserati, new owner Peugeot took the obvious decision to cease production of the SM almost immediately. During the SM’s 5 year product life, a total of 12,920 cars were produced. With the exception of a handful of conversions for the Australian market, all SMs were made in left hand drive, which is perhaps one reason why UK sales amounted to just 325 cars from that total. Although this is often labelled as one of the 4 “nightmare cars of the apocalypse” (along with the Triumph Stag and Alfa Montreal), the reality is that the surviving cars have largely been “fixed” and they are now not the fearsome ownership proposition that many still assume.
Rather more familiar to many will be this modern C6. There’s quite a tale associated with this. Mullin wanted one for his collection, but there was a problem when he tried to import it. As Citroen’s are not certified for use in the US, they simply cannot be acquired overseas and imported and registered. Not until a car is 25 years can this be done. Younger than that, and it mus comply with all federal regulations, which of course the C6 does not. In the end, the car had to have the engine removed, on the dock side, so there was no possibility of it being driven on US soil, and then, and only then, could it be released from the docks. So, this car still bears its Scottish plates, but it has to be pushed or towed everywhere it goes.
When we went upstairs, I spotted a Dutch-plated C3 Pluriel, also a recent car, so I asked if this one had encountered the same problem. For reasons that were never explained, it did not, so it has an engine, and so it could, in theory, be drive on US soil!
This is not a Citroen. but it is French. and it is rather splendid. It is a Facel Vega. By 1962 the Paris-based company was facing bankruptcy. The Facel II was to be the company’s last attempt to create a luxury GT car in the French tradition. Jean Daninos, Facel’s founder and president, said of the Facel II, “The HK 500 was the most interesting car we ever made but the Facel II was by far the best. It was totally ‘elegant’ . The Facel Vega company advertised the Facel II as “Le Coupé 4-places le plus rapide du Monde” (‘The Fastest 4-seater Coupé in the World’). Sports Car Graphic described it as a “luxurious brute”. Bernard Cahier, a race-driver who tested the car in 1962, said of an early version (without the later limited-slip differential) that “the huge output of the Chrysler engine made it easy to spin wheels at light throttle pressure.” It was powered by an American 6.3 litre (383 cu.in.) Chrysler ‘Typhoon’ engine which produced 355 hp in automatic-gearbox form and 390 hp in manual. Using Chrysler’s three-speed Torqueflite automatic gearbox, the 6.3-litre Facel II could reach over 135 mph. With a French Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual gearbox the full-four-seater 6.3 litre Facel II could attain over 150 mph and out-accelerate two-seat GTs such as the Aston Martin DB4, Ferrari 250 GT and ‘gull-wing’ Mercedes-Benz 300SL, to 60 mph and all except the Ferrari to 100 mph. Dunlop disc brakes were fitted on all four wheels and Hydrosteer power steering, leather seats, electric windows and radio aerial all became standard during the production run, with Armstrong Selecta-Ride shock-absorbers adjustable from the dash while driving fitted to the right-hand-drive British models. The curvaceous wrap-round dash was in fact metal but meticulously painted to look like wood. Many of the controls were airplane inspired. The later manuals were fitted with the even more powerful 6.7 litre (413 cu.in.) Chrysler “RB” wedge engine and were faster still. Like its predecessor, the Facel Vega HK500, the Facel II was a heavy vehicle, weighing 1,880 kilograms (4,140 lb) (37 cwt) ‘dry’ and almost two tons with four passengers and a full petrol tank. There may have been some question about its ride and rear suspension – it used suspension virtually unchanged from the previous HK500 – but certainly none about its speed. In August 1961 Jean Daninos was obliged to offer his resignation and in 1964 the Facel company went into receivership, largely due to warranty claims against Facel Vega’s smaller Facellia with its troublesome ‘in-house’ engine. As a result, Facel II production had to be discontinued with only 180 Facel IIs ever built.
LADY OF THE LAKE
For many people, the chance to see this car, or rather what remains of it, would make the trip worthwhile in its own right, as it is very special. It is a 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia Roadster with a special body. From about 1935 until 2009, it sat at the bottom of Lake Maggiore on the border of Switzerland and Italy near the country of France. Built in Brescia, Italy, the touring car was initially registered in Nancy, France. A small brass plate found on the car bears the name ‘George Nielly, 48 Rue Nollet, Paris’ who was probably the owner in 1930. The car has four cylinders, a 1.5 litre engine and was able to achieve a speed of close to 100 miles an hour, a remarkable feat at the time. At some point, the vehicle changed hands again to, according to local stories, legendary Grand Prix driver René Dreyfus who lost it in a drunken poker game to Swiss playboy Adalbert Bodé in Paris in 1934 or it may have come into the possession of Marco (Max) Schmuklerski, a Zurich-born architect of Polish descent. Schmuklerski, who studied architecture at the very prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, may have acquired the car at that time. From whom is not known. He brought the Roadster back to Switzerland and put the vehicle into storage but neglected to pay the import duties. When officials learned of the unpaid tax they seized the vehicle. The cost of the import duties was more than the car was worth so the officials decided to destroy it. The locals say that Bodé attempted cross the border into Switzerland with the car but was unable to pay the import duties. Bodé advised the officials to do as they pleased with the car as it had minimal value at the time and walked away. No matter how it came about, the Swiss officials simply rolled the vehicle into the lake where it sank to the bottom. The Bugatti was not seen again until 1967 when diver Ugo Pillon located the wreck. It became a popular dive spot for over forty years until 2009 when a local dive club rescued the car from the bottom of the lake. A young local man, Damano Tamagni was attacked and killed in a random act of violence. In response to this tragedy, the club helped set up a non-profit foundation in Tamagni’s name in order to fight youth violence. The intent was to sell the vintage Bugatti to raise funds. The task took nine months to complete with thirty volunteers, and the car was finally recovered. There are still patches of the original blue paint, and the tyres were still inflated when it was brought to the surface. The car was prepared for Bonhams’ auction at the Retromobile in Paris and in January 2010 Peter Mullin bought the car for around $370,000. It will not be restored, and it sits in a special area of the museum, with low lighting, so it does not deteriorate any further.
SCHLUMPF RESERVE COLLECTION
At the back of the ground floor is a collection of Bugatti cars which came from what is know as the Schlumpf Reserve Collection. The story of the Schlumpf collection has been told many times, but here is a brief reminder. Back in the 1960s Alsatian textile tycoon Fritz Schlumpf and his brother Hans collected historic cars. During times when most people didn’t appreciate this kind of cars, they amassed some 580 classical cars, almost exclusively of European brands. Their favourites were the legendary cars of Ettore Bugatti, whose factory was located in the nearby town of Molsheim. The Schlumpf’s bought everything carrying the name Bugatti, including the 30 car collection of US business man John W. Shakespeare (1963) and the remainders of the bankrupt Bugatti factories (1963). Finally their collection included 151 Bugatti cars, including one offs, prototypes and two of the six ever made legendary Bugatti T41 Royale. These 151 cars represented almost 2 % of Bugatti’s overall production figures! Many of the Schlumpf’s cars were secretly restored in own workshops in the years to follow and placed in a converted former textile mill in the Alsatian city of Mulhouse. In the middle of the 1970s the textile industry in Europe went down and so did the Schlumpf businesses. When Schlumpf closed factories and set free thousands of workers, the workers went on strike and the Schlumpf brothers fled to Switzerland, shortly before the planned opening of their museum. In early 1977 the secret museum was discovered and occupied by workers and opened as “worker’s museum” for the next two years. In France the Schlumpfs were accused of having misused their businesses to finance their collector’s passion. The French state designated the collection a national monument to protect it and sold it to the “National Automobile Museum Association”, a consortium which was supposed to operate it as a national car museum. The sales price, which was much lower than the collection’s value at that time, was used to cover the debts of the Schlumpf businesses. Many of the restored Schlumpf cars still can be seen in the Cite de l’Automobile – Collection Schlumpf in Mulhouse, France. Less well known is the fact that a large portion of the collection remained in two reserve collections of unrestored cars. One reserve is located with the Mulhouse museum. Besides some restored cars, currently not on display, it contains a variety of rare and valuable unrestored cars and chassis as well as many spare parts. As most of these cars are under protection as national monument, the museum cannot sell them. A restoration is only possible for one or two cars per year, due to limited means. Unfortunately the Mulhouse museum foregoes the opportunity to publicly display the reserve cars in their current condition. This sure would be another (relatively effortless) attraction, appreciated by many visitors. The second Schlumpf reserve had been stored in the Alsatien villages of Malmerspach since the 1960s. Later the so called Malmerspach collection was relocated to neighbouring villages Illzach and Ensisheim. These 62 cars, among them 15 Bugattis, never belonged to the Mulhouse museum and thus were not protected. Nevertheless they had been seized by the courts to cover possible bills receiveable from the Schlumpf bankruptcy back in the 1970s. The lawsuit Fritz Schlumpf filed against the French state lasted about two decades. Finally in 1999 the battle ended and Fritz’s widow Arlette Schlumpf received the Malmerspach collection as a compensation. Arlette had the collection relocated once more to the French village of Wettolsheim. When she became fatally ill, Arlette arranged for the sale of the Malmerspach collection. After her death in May 2008 the collection was picked up by classic car dealers Jaap Braam Ruben (NL) and Bruno Vendiesse (F). Approximately 25 to 30 of the cars were sold to Peter Mullin to feature in this new museum, and at the time of acquisition, Mullin declared that he planned to leave most of the cars in unrestored condition, and so he has done. A subset of those cars were on show when I visited, all of them Bugatti cars.
Two of them were Type 40 models, a 1927 Bugatti Type 40 Shooting Brake and a 1931 Type 40A Roadster.
The other cars on show at this time were type 57 models, with a number of the many different bodies represented. There were a couple of the with the Ventoux body, dating from 1936 and 1937 as well as a 1935 Bugatti Type 57 Galibier Berline.
Upstairs, there was a double line up of race cars, almost all of which date from the pre-war period, all of which have quite a history behind them. Here the docent was more knowledgeable than me, as these cars constitute more of a permanent display.
Oldest of the cars on show was a 1911 Type 15 Hispano Suiza Alfonse. By 1909 the Hispano-Suiza company had some experience in the construction of sports cars, so it decided to bet on a higher quality r model. The then King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, and a great lover of automobiles, and who was an important client of the company’s factory in Barcelona, instituted the Catalonia Cup. The first and second edition of this event, obtained negative results for the Hispano-Suiza vehicles designed by Marc Birkigt, since these races were won by models of the French Peugeot. However, in the Ostend and Boulogne sur Mer races of the 1911 Coupe de l’Auto, a Spanish-Swiss team won. The cars prepared that year by the technical director of the Spanish brand created such a clamour that they convinced the brand’s managers to start the manufacture of a series production model, introducing some changes. King Alfonso XIII himself was so enthusiastic about the company that the new model was named after the King himself. The Alfonso XIII was basically a convertible model, but nevertheless, on request, it could have other bodystyles. The model was characterised by its large circular lights, located next to its front wings. It was the first model of the brand to wear the factory logo on the radiator. Initially, it had a longitudinal front engine of 4 cylinders in line with 3.619 cc and 60 HP, a 3-speed manual gearbox and traction to the rear wheels. It reached a maximum speed of 120 km/h. Its price at that time was 11,500 pesetas, a price that made it an exclusive vehicle of the aristocracy and other rich people. Despite this, the new model Alfonso XIII was a real success, and to ensure this continued, there were mechanical improvements in 1913. In 1914, production of the vehicle was suspended, but cars were sold until 1920, an estimated number of 500 units.
There were a couple of the long obsolete French marque, Voisin, here. Founded by Gabriel Voisin, this was the result of him turning his attention in 1919 from building airplanes to cars, hence the more formal name of Avions-Voisin. A whole series of different designs followed, numbered sequentially, and all prefaced with the letter C, as a tribute to Gabriel’s brother Charles, who had been killed in 1912 in a short chassis Hispano-Suiza Alfonso. Voisin’s cars were best described as luxurious, fashionable and somewhat idiosyncratic. Mullin owns 15 Voisins, the largest single collection of the marque anywhere in the world. The most spectacular of his cars were elsewhere, so these are the two that were on show: .
This is a 1923 C3 Strasbourg. Approximately 440 of these were built, and this model finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 1922 Strasbourg Grand Prix, hence the name.
This 1923 C6 Laboratoire Racer is one of 4 built, and was an experiment to see if light weight and aircraft principles could be applied to make a racing car go faster.
Another little known marque these days is the Bucciali. this being a 1924 B6-C24. Bucciali was a French automobile manufactured from 1922 until 1933. Built by the brothers Angelo and Paul-Albert Bucciali, the company’s first vehicle, produced at Courbevoie, was a cyclecar, sold under the name Buc. Initial offerings were powered by 1,340 cc two-cylinder two-stroke engines. In 1925 a 1,600 cc S.C.A.P.-engined model appeared, available in two versions, the “Tourisme” and the “Quatre Speciale” supercharged. A six-cylinder car of 1,500 cc displacement was also offered. In 1928, Bucciali stunned the world with the TAV6, a large and costly front-wheel drive model. For the next few years, the firm concentrated on large and costly cars, which would prove its undoing. The final models were made in 1933.
Even less well known is this G.A.R. Type B5 Roadster. It took its name from the first three letters of its founder’s surname, Gardahaut. In its heyday, the roadster’s advanced 1.375cc in-line eight-cylinder engine powered the racecar to speeds of up to 130kph, which led it to success in the 1930 Algiers-Djelfa race and the 1932 Circuit de l’Aisne. The company – which built cars from 1922 to 1934 – was based in the Parisian suburb of Asnières. Only a few of these costly autos were made. Today, there aren’t many left. This one, which underwent a complete restoration before being shown at Pebble Beach in 2013 is Chassis #795, and is one of three or four B5 models still around.
This spectacular looking 1946 Delage D6GP was developed by Louis Delage’s protégé, Walter Watney, when France returned to racing after the conclusion of WWII. This car was originally purchased and raced by Henri Louveau, who drove the car to second-place finishes at both Le Mans and the Grand Prix of Spa-Francochamps. The car was rebodied in the early 1950s and its true racing heritage was forgotten until it was acquired by Peter Mullin in 2002 and restored to its original configuration by Auto Classique Touraine in Tours, France.
The 1950 Talbot Type 26 features a cutting-edge chassis and a powerful engine designed to compete in a brand new Grand Prix class – Formula One. With rules that stipulated either a supercharged engine displacing 1.5 litre or unsupercharged engines displacing up to 4.5 litres, Anthony Lago mated a powerful 4.5 litre inline six cylinder to a new chassis that Autocar Magazine touted as the “fastest production chassis in the world.” The result was a small, aerodynamic Grand Prix car capable of 166mph that did much to elevate the prestige of French Formula One racing around the world.
There were several of the French Delahaye marque here. First that I came across was the “Prix de Million” 1937 Type 145 V12 Grand Prix Car. “Prix de Million” refers to a prize fund of 1 Million French Francs offered by the French government for beating one of the all dominant German Auto Union and Mercedes cars.
1937 Type 135M Roadster, a later 235M and a 175GP.
Final model here may not look like a racer per se, but it is. This is a Delahaye 145 V12 Coupe, dating from 1937. This is one of four originally ordered by Ecurie Bleue racing team owner Lucy Schell to compete in the famous Million Franc Challenge issued by the French government. The Mullin owns three of the four cars, one of which actually won the million franc prize at the hands of Rene Dreyfus. This particular chassis went to coachbuilder Henri Chapron to be rebodied into a touring car in 1939, but after delays due to the war it was finally completed as a two-seat coupe.
Final car on show here was a Bugatti Type 37A. An evolution of the renowned Type 35, whose chassis and body it reused. It was fitted with a new 1496 cc straight-4 engine, an SOHC 3-valve design which produced 60 hp The same engine went on to be used in the Type 40. A total of 290 Type 37s were built.
Although the cars are the prime attraction in the museum, there is plenty of other interest, with a special display upstairs which contains a lot of furniture that was made by Carol Bugatti, Ettore’s father, as well as portraits and sculptures created by members of the Bugatti family.
Needless to say, I was very pleased to have caught this exhibition, as it proved to be just as “world class” as I had been led to believe. The Mullin Museum is only open on every other Saturday (generally), so for those who are only in the Greater Los Angeles area only for a few days, you’re only likely to get one chance to visit. And you should. What I have now learned is that it is worth keeping an eye on the museum’s website and other communications to see what they will have on show. It was 2011 when I last visited. I certainly don’t plan to leave it anything like as long before I make another visit.
Although you would never find the museum by accident, it is easy to locate, about 3 miles south of the 101 freeway in Oxnard, 50 miles north west of Los Angeles. More details, including when it will be open, can be found on the museum’s own website: http://www.mullinautomotivemuseum.com/index.html