The Citroen Traction Avant was a hugely innovative car when it was launched in 1934. Combining a number of automotive firsts and cutting-edge technologies, Citroen provided the motoring public with an executive car that was still leading the field when the equally impressive DS replaced it in 1957.
Boasting a front-wheel drive layout, unitary body construction and independent torsion-bar suspension setup, it was the work of a confident company, willing to invest huge sums in development. The costs of getting the car to production actually put Citroen in a tenuous financial position; with Michelin buying the company in 1935, secured the company’s future.
Pioneering the front-wheel drive layout in Europe, as well as being the first mass-produced car to use a monocoque chassis, the Traction Avant’s driving experience didn’t disappoint either. Buyers were rewarded with absorbent suspension, precise steering and short gearing to provide lively acceleration.
Visually the Citroen is well proportioned thanks to Italian designer Flaminio Bertoni’s efforts, and these cars are great useable classics that continue to beguile owners almost 60 years after production ended.
Which one to buy?
There were a number of Traction Avant variants over the years, with a large range of engines and body styles for every taste. Continuous development meant that the Traction Avant improved with age. The early 1.3-litre engines were a bit underpowered, and the first cars had no opening boot lid, however these issues were all remedied early on with a redesigned boot lid and larger capacity engines introduced later in 1934.
Engine sizes were increased in quick succession to 1.5, 1.6 and 1.9-litres in four-cylinder form. A six-cylinder 2.9-litre was introduced in 1938 giving improved straight-line acceleration, although at the detriment to handling. Upgraded rack and pinion steering as well as improved suspension made an appearance in 1936, however it’s worth noting that steering is relatively heavy at parking speeds on all models. These days, there are specialists that offer power steering conversions.
Numerous body styles were offered alongside the standard four-door saloon, including a two-door sedan and coupe, two-door convertible and the first ever five-door hatchback. There was even a longer length ‘Familiale’ version with seating for 9. The Traction Avant was known as the 7CV, 11CV and 15CV in France as well as receiving different names in England with the 11CV renamed the 15HP and 15CV called the ‘Big Six’.
All cars had a three-speed manual transmission and shared similar underpinnings, except for the 1954 15H model, which had an early version of the advanced hydropneumatic suspension ahead of its use in the replacement DS models.
Right-hand drive models were built in Slough including a lower spec 11L model. Post World War 2 these were the only models initially available, offered in black paint with grey interior upholstery. Soon more models reappeared, however it is the pre-war cars that are the most sought after today.
With such a diverse range available, you really are spoilt for choice. Availability of the rarer cars is limited to auctions and a few private sales, while the more common four-door variants can be found at a number of classic car specialists for very reasonable prices.
Performance and specs
Engine 1911cc 8valve OHV I4
Power 55 bhp
Torque 88lb ft
Top speed 73mph
0-60mph 27 seconds
Fuel consumption 19 mpg
Gearbox Three-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Maintaining and servicing your Traction Avant can be made far simpler by joining the UK Traction Avant club. Parts, spares and advice are all easier to source through the club and the knowledgeable members can always recommend specialists for those hard to find parts.
• Due to the car's revolutionary monocoque construction, rust is often a deciding factor in a cars overall value, as too much corrosion can render a car largely worthless. The major areas to check include the engine sub-frame and front bulkhead, which can pose major restoration headaches, although the thick high quality metal does make things easier. Stress cracks can also form at the back of the engine bay over time.
• Sills that allow water ingress aren't brilliant at staving off corrosion either, but a careful eye should be glanced over the floor pan, boot floor and door bottoms, as all of these can rot. A lot of the time, corrosion is the result of blocked drainage holes, so as an owner you should make sure these are checked frequently.
• As a pre-war design, even if it is an advanced one, the front suspension needs regular greasing.
• Oil changes should be carried out at least every 1000 miles. With modern oils, this can of course be extended, but seek specialist advice.
• Electrical issues are common and can usually be traced to ageing contacts and frayed wiring. The UK cars are considered to be superior in this regard, due to 12 volt electrical systems.
• Water pumps are situated above the transmission and if damaged can leak into the bell-housing seizing the clutch. Juddering clutches can be linked to perished rear engine mountings, indicated by an engine that rocks excessively.
• Four cylinder cars are long lasting if serviced and used regularly, although extended periods of inactivity can cause piston rings to fail. If you're expecting a smooth and refined engine, then lower expectations are required. Timing chains are noisy due to the lack of tensioners, while the engine note can be described as 'gruff' at the best of times.
• Six cylinder engines tend to run warmer than four-cylinder variants, meaning many will have had a modern electric fan installed at some point. Make sure this has been well installed, preferably making use of a temperature-controlled switch rather than a manual button on the dash. If an electronic fan hasn't been fitted, check for evidence of previous overheating as cylinder heads are prone to warping.
• Driveshafts are known for wearing out quickly, so on the test drive listen out for a loud clicking sound from the outer joints, with a lower pitched drumming sound from the inner joints signifying a problem
1934: Citroen Traction Avant model 7A released with 1.3 litre engine, revolutionary front wheel drive and a unitary body construction. Model 7B 35bhp 1.5 litre engine replaced 1.3 litre in June. Model 7C 36bhp 1.6 litre engine replaces 1.5 litre unit in September. Model 11 released in November with 46bhp 1.9 litre engine to complement range
1936: Rack and Pinion Steering replaces worm and roller system, and opening boot lid added to all models. Suspension system upgraded
1938: Model 15 launched with 77bhp 2.9 litre straight six engine as range topper
1945: Post War range initially curtailed to one model in black colour option
1954: 15H model introduced with advanced hydropneumatic suspension, a precursor to the DS models.
1957: Traction Avant production ceases with over 759 000 units produced in total.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Good right-hand drive four-door saloons and long wheelbase cars can be found for between £10,000 and £25,000, while the more desirable pre-war coupes can cost a fair bit more. Convertibles are on another level with values in the region of £140,000 for concours condition examples.
An advanced design at launch, the Citroen Traction Avant offered levels of handling and interior space its competitors couldn’t match. It is still a decent drive today, with supple suspension and accurate steering, in fact it remains a car that, with a few concessions can be used as a daily driver. There can’t be higher praise than that for a design that is over 80 years old.
Words: John Tallodi // Pictures: Dennis Images