The Traction Avant was as advanced in the 1930s as the DS would be 20 years later. Front-wheel drive, monocoque construction, hydraulic brakes and torsion bar suspension; independent at the front. Not bad.
This means that the Traction can be a little more troublesome to look after or restore, but the upside is that it’s still a great car to use on a regular basis: comfortable, easy to drive and blessed with adequate performance.
There are a bewildering number of different versions of the Traction Avant, split between those built in Paris and those from Slough, UK. Most are four-cylinder – the Sept and the Onze – but the rarer, bigger-engined six-cylinder cars are of course significantly more powerful.
Body styles are: the saloon Berline, available as Légère or the larger Normale; the long-wheelbase six-light Familiale; the Commerciale, which is a hatchback Familiale; the Conduite Intérieure 5-Places, a Familiale without jumpseats; the pretty two-seater (plus dickey seat) roadster Cabriolet and the Faux-Cabriolet, a hardtop coupé version of the Cabriolet.
Which to go for? Of the affordable models, a post-war ‘small boot’ four- or six-cylinder are the obvious choices.
John Gillard (above) has been running Classic Restorations for 32 years, repairing, restoring and selling Traction Avants from a 4000sq ft workshop just off London’s Old Kent Road.
‘Traction Avant values have been quite static for about 15 years,’ he says, ‘but there’s been a recent increase – that’s a lot to do with overseas interest due to the strength of the euro.
‘The six-cylinder cars in particular have risen – I sell good examples for up to £20,000, and four-cylinders for up to £12,500. Fully restored cars will be more, and you’ll pay £3000-4000 more for a pre-war car than for a post-war. There’s little difference between UK- and French-built cars. Any Traction Avant with a valid MoT will be at least £3000.
‘The Roadsters whizzed up in value a couple of years ago, and good ones go for £75,000-plus.’
IN A NUTSHELL
The metal’s a reasonable thickness and the construction is relatively simple, so rust doesn’t affect a Traction Avant as badly as you might expect. Nonetheless, check floors, door and wing bottoms, boot, rear valance and especially the sills and the ham-shaped jambonneaux box sections that extend forward either side of the engine bay. Really bad sills can cause ripples in the roof, cracks in the bulkhead and binding doors. Slough-built cars can suffer because water gets in through the sunroof and trafficators.
Engines are tough, though pre-11D units have whitemetal big-end bearings, which cost more to recondition. They can be converted to shells, though many early cars have had later engines fitted instead.
A rattle from a six-cylinder engine at idle is likely to be a loose crankshaft damper, and the six also suffers a marginal cooling system, while water pumps on all engines can leak, dripping water into the clutch, which consequently sticks.
Driveshaft joints wear quickly – listen for clicking from outer joints on full lock and a ‘drumming’ from the inners at speed. It’s best to convert to modern CV joints. Six-cylinder cars have a rubber damper in the shafts, which breaks up. Gearboxes aren’t bad: make sure they don’t jump out of gear or crunch. The final drive can self-destruct: listen for graunching and whines.
Problems with suspension are usually confined to worn bushes (clonks over bumps and judders under braking). Brakes are hydraulic but simple. French car electrics were six volt – the UK’s 12-volt system is better. UK cars featured leather trim rather than cloth, and chrome bumpers instead of stainless steel, both of which increase costs.
What a great car to own! Wonderfully stylish, enjoyable to drive, with good spares back-up and a lively following. You’ll be wearing a beret and striped jersey before you know it.
Don’t get too carried away with the French experience, though. Some of the project cars you’ll find in France are really bad, well beyond sensible restoration. Similarly, some (but not all) French remanufactured spares aren’t great.
There’s no stigma to owning a Slough-built Traction Avant, and you’ll have the advantage of a more luxurious interior. There’s also a lot to be said for a car with a few updates, particularly to the transmission. Pre-war cars are rare, lack power and the earliest don’t have rack-and-pinion steering.
Always consult a club expert if you’re buying a roadster or coupé, because some are recently-built replicas. Some replicas are excellent, such as those built by the now defunct Peacock Engineering, but others are dire. Some even had glassfibre bodies.
Above all, buy the best car you can afford, and be sure to use it to the full, as it deserves.