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Citroen Traction Avant: Buying guide and review (1934-1957)

Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant
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

Citroen 11CV 
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
 
Wheelbase 3090mm
Length 4450mm
Width 1760mm
Height 1560mm
Weight 1110kg
 
Common problems
 
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
 
Model history
 
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
 
• www.traction-owners.co.uk
• www.traction-avant.co.uk
• www.citroenclassics.co.uk
• www.citroencarclub.org.uk
 
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
Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant Citroen Traction Avant
Last updated: 31st Mar 2016
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Citroen Traction cars for sale

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Citroen Traction
14820 23522 GBP
  • Citroën Traction 11B '49

    £14,820 £14,820

    The Traction Avant, French for "forward traction", was designed by André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni in late 1933 / early 1934. While not the first production front wheel drive car - Alvis built the 1928 FWD in the UK , Cord produced the L29 from 1929 to 1932 in the United States and DKW the F1 in 1931 in Germany - it was the world's first front wheel drive steel monocoque production car. Along with DKWs 1930s models, the Traction successfully pioneered front wheel drive on the European mass car market.The Traction Avant's structure was an arc-welded monocoque (unitized body). Most other cars of the era were based on a separate frame (chassis) onto which the non-structural body ("coachwork") was built. Monocoque construction (also called Unit Body or "Unibody" in the US today) results in a lighter vehicle, and is now used for virtually all car construction, although body-on-frame construction is still suitable for larger vehicles such as trucks.This method of construction was viewed with great suspicion in many quarters, with doubts about its strength. A type of crash test was developed, taking the form of driving the car off a cliff, to illustrate its great inherent resilience.

    • Year: 1949
    For sale
    Oldertimerfarm.be
  • Citroen Traction 7C

    POA POA

    POA This 7C was manufactured in October 1939, and by 1944 was in Toulouse, at which point it was commandeered by the FFI, (Forces françaises de l'intérieur) and used by them in the Liberation of France in 1944, with the car is a copy of the original permit issued by the FF!Chef de Department Haute Pyrenees, showing the French military number FFI 89106. At the time the FFI numbers were painted on the bumper or wing along with a Tricolour signifying military use, an example is pictured In later years the 7C travelled to North America for the annual world Citroen rally in New England, and in 2009, moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands, with the occasional trip to French rallies as well as local events and displays. Overall the car is in very good original condition being well maintained over the years. The interior is original, as is the engine, the gearbox was exchanged in the early 1950’s and is good with no whine, or faults with gear changing or staying in gear. The floor pan is in excellent condition with no rust, on import in Jersey it passed the DVS vehicle check with no known faults, and has continued to be well maintained over the years. The body work is original, and in very

    • Year: 1939
    • Mileage: 9344 mi
    For sale
  • Citroën Traction 15 SIX '53

    £23,522 £23,522

    Lowered price from €35.950 -> €30.950 The Traction Avant, French for "forward traction", was designed by André Citroën and Flaminio Bertoni in late 1933 / early 1934. While not the first production FWD car (before Citroën : Alvis, Cord and DKW), it was the world's first front wheel drive steel monocoque production car. Along with DKWs 1930s models, the Traction successfully pioneered front wheel drive on the European mass car market. The Traction Avant's structure was an arc-wheeled monocoqued (unitized body). Most other cars of the era were based on a separate frame (chassis) onto which the non-structural body was built. Monocoque construction (also called Unit Body or "Unibody" in the US today) results in a lighter vehicle, and is now used for virtually all car construction, although body-on-frame construction is still suitable for larger vehicles such as trucks. The suspension was very advanced for the car's era. The front wheels were independently sprung, using a torsion bar and wishbone suspension arrangement, where most contemporaries used live axle and cart-type leaf spring designs. The rear suspension was a simple steel beam axle and a Panhard rod, trailing arms and torsion

    • Year: 1953
    For sale
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