Other models in the Citroën Family
We have already looked at the 2CV, DS/ID, and the SM. To be fair, there are many more models.
In order to keep things current and orderly, We’ll start with the Traction Avant. Yes, there were models preceding the Traction, but to me, this is a good place to start.
The Traction Avant was a revolution in engineering. The first mass produced front wheel drive car. (Hence the model designation Traction Avant).
Whenever one sees old French films, or any films depicting France from 1933 to about 1960, you’ll see a Traction Avant in a scene somewhere. The TA was the identifier.
The TA was designed in a revolutionary fashion. The whole front drive was removable, so mechanics could work on it without hindrance.
The magnificent TA is a very desirable collector car. Production ceased in 1956. Some of the last models had hydra-pneumatic suspensions on the rear. If anyone has one cheap, let me know!!
Intrigue always seems to follow Citroën. In 1934, designers and engineers worked feverishly on a pet project of André Citroën, The 22 V8. A Traction with a V8 engine. Several prototypes were built, all but one destroyed. (The last prototype is in the hands of a collector in Luxembourg.) The 22 V8 almost bankrupted the company. Citroën never seemed to get the V8 right. (They tried marrying two 4 cylinder engines) A lot of mystery has surrounded the 22 V8.
The 2CV was revolutionary. Like a popular TV show, it had its spinoffs. Most notable: The Ami, the Mehari, the Bijou and its touted replacement, the Dyane.
As far as I’m concerned, the appeal of the Ami is the fact that it is butt-ugly. I don’t mean to insult Ami owners, but i’m reminded of a story in New Mexico where a local radio station had a contest going for the ugliest car. Lo and behold, an Ami entered the fray and won unanimously. In its ugliness, there was cuteness. Using the 2CV drive train, and a more luxurious interior, it was known as the car that your elderly unmarried Aunt drove around in.
The Ami has its following. Rightly so. It is a car that stands apart, which makes it a true Citroën!
The Brits were blessed with the Bijou. This car used the 2CV platform and was marketed with the ladies in mind. To make a long story short, it was a flop. (I always thought it should have been a cabriolet!)
The Dyane was supposedly the replacement of the 2CV. Sharing the 2CV’s drive train and looking quite a bit like a 2CV, it never quite managed to replace it. Maybe it was because the 2CV was so unique, and the Dyane looked like an attempt to civilize the 2CV, to make it more mainstream. Whatever Citroën intended, it didn’t work. The 2CV’s sales far outstripped the Dyane’s. I think the Dyane has a charm all its own, but I agree with the rest, it looked more mainstream. It didn’t have those headlights proudly perched on the front fenders. The base price was higher. One thing I remember vividly when my father test drove the very first one in Holland was that it did not have that “new car” smell. In fact, it smelled like fish inside. Whatever new materials were used weren’t inspected by a Gallic nose!
Handling, speed, everything, was very identical to the 2CV. So the logic was: “Why buy the same thing, not as cute, for more money?”
The Mehari was a very good concept. It was Citroën’s little Jeep. Taking advantage of the 2CV “go anywhere” capabilities, it was a “must have” for the beach crowd. Mehari’s sold everywhere, including many to a car rental firm in Hawaii. Charlton Heston can be seen driving one in “The Omega Man”.
The car used the base of the 2CV, and mounted a plastic-like body on it. There was no paint used. The composite panels and body were coloured by injecting the dye into the solution before pouring into molds. The drawback was the colours faded in the bright sun, and there was very little one could do to prevent this. The little fun Mehari sold well enough to last a decade. It was an original from the get-go. Personally, to me they look like a blast!
The Sahara was the most enigmatic of the 2CV offspring. This was a 4WD 2CV! The French engineers rose to the challenge in building this tough little hombre. Instead of using a transfer case like everyone else, the designers at Citroën decided to use two engines and transmissions, one front, as usual, and one in the rear. Both engines were of the 375cc variety. They shared clutch, gearshift, and accelerator. There were two ignition keys. The idea was that the Sahara could be driven on one engine, front or rear, then engage the 2nd engine for 4WD. The suspension was re-rigged. An incredible feature was that the Sahara could drive over your foot, without hurting you. The Sahara was designed for, well, the Sahara Desert. Specifically, the French Foreign Legion.
In order to accommodate a rear engine and transmission, fuel tanks were mounted under the front seats, with the filler necks coming through the front doors. The spare tire was mounted on the hood.
Nowadays, an original Sahara is rare, and worth a bundle. I saw one sell on EBay last year for over $35,000 USD, and it was of a mediocre quality. There are perhaps less then 40 originals left.
We’ve covered the many 2CV spinoffs. Lets look briefly at other models. The GS/GSA was introduced in the early 70’s. the 4 cylinder air-cooled engine was a great little power plant, the hydraulic suspension was a nice touch as well. A lot of those 4 cyl. engines were claimed by 2CV owners, who simply bolted them on their own cars, making their 2CV’s go 160kph. Yikes!
The GS and Ami’s also played with a rotary engine. Here’s a very interesting story.
In 1968, Citroën began designs on the SM. Many engine options were examined, including a Wankel (rotary) engine. Citroën went into an alliance with NSU to produce a rotary engine for the SM. NSU had major problems. The design didn’t work. NSU was near bankrupt. There was no way they could produce a trouble-free Wankel for the SM. Citroën then went to “Plan B”, using the now famous Maserati powerplant. However, the deal didn’t totally die. NSU did design the Bi-Rotor for Citroën, which was installed in some GS and Ami cars. Mostly experimental, with very limited production. NSU finally bit the bullet, but its patents, designs, etc were bought out by a Japanese manufacturer, who managed to overcome the design flaws. Mazda uses the rotary engine in their model line up with regularity. Ironically, the RX-7 rotary engine reputedly works very well in an SM, go figure!