Motoring Trailblazers - Citroën Traction Avant

Sun 5th Aug 2018

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Citroën Traction Avant
To the outside observer, the Traction Avant may look like any of the other executive saloons produced between 1930 and 1950, but this French car’s unassuming looks hide some serious innovation.

Traction Avant is the French for front-wheel drive, which was one of three revolutionary features of Citroën’s pioneering motor. The Traction Avant was so far ahead of its time, that it was still being sold to the public 23 years after its debut in 1934 and 760,000 units later had changed the face of the motoring industry.

The car’s other groundbreaking features were the unitary body which had no separate frame and four-wheel independent suspension.

Designed by Andre Lefebvre and Flaminio Bertoni, the Traction Avant took front-wheel drive to the European mass car market, building on the work of Alvis’s FWD, which was very much aimed at the luxury market.

The unitary body made for a much lighter vehicle and took away the need for ‘coachwork’, whereby the frame and the non-structural body were created separately. Known in the industry as Unit Body, this process is seen as the standard in modern-day car production.

The suspension was also way ahead of its time in that it saw the front wheels independently sprung, with the rear suspension provided by a simple steel beam axle.

These innovations allowed for a much lighter car, which in turn made it capable of greater speeds and more economical fuel consumption. Development of the Traction came at a cost to Citroën, the costs to redevelop the company’s factory pushed the company towards bankruptcy and they ended up being owned by their largest creditor, Michelin. Credit to the tyre manufacturer that they saw the huge potential the Traction Avant and it became a classic of design and engineering.

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