Citroen Centenary

Citroën

A Century of Innovation

Celebrating the centenary of the manufacture of its first car in the spring of 2019, few motor companies have had such an impact the French company Citroën has had, perhaps one of the most innovative of car makers.

Our image above shows a Citroën Kegresse P4T half-track, manufactured in 1924 or 1925 in use as an aircraft tug at Croydon Airport. The aircraft depicted is Imperial Airways’ Handley Page H.P.45 a 4-engined biplane airliner, registration G-AAXC and named ‘Heracles’. It first flew in 1931 and was written off in a gale in 1940 at Whitchurch Airport after being blown into a similar aircraft.

The company was founded by the engineer and industrialist André Citroën (1878-1935), or ‘Le Patron’. It was known for his double-helical gearwheels, the herringbone pattern of which inspired the company’s distinctive double chevron logo. André Citroën’s first involvement with motor manufacturing was in 1908 when he was appointed as Managing Director of Mors to turn around their ailing fortunes. During his time at Mors he visited the United States where he met Henry Ford. He was hugely impressed by Ford’s mass production methods which he first utilized to manufacture shells in the Great War increasing production fiftyfold between 1915 and 1917 at the Quai de Javel factory in Paris. Once the war had ended needing to find work both for himself and his factory Citroen anticipated the proliferation of motor vehicles and turned his attention to developing mainland Europe’s first mass-produced motorcar, the Type A.

‘Le Patron’ not only recognized the value of publicity stunts including illuminating the Eiffel Tower with the giant letters CITROËN from 1925 to 1934 but the value of grand car showrooms including the “Marbeuf” in Paris (1929) and the showrooms in Amsterdam (1930). Such was Citroën’s success that by the early 1930s it was the fourth largest motor manufacturer in the world.

Further publicity for the marque was created by the vehicles utilized in a series of extreme overland exploration expeditions intended to prove the durability and reliability of Citroëns using Kegresse half-tracks similar to the one depicted in the main image above. In 1922 these ‘autochenilles’ made the first motorized crossing of the Sahara, followed by a crossing the African continent from north to south (1924-1925). Perhaps most famous was that in 1931-1932 traversing Asia and the Himalayas in both directions from Beirut to Peking where on occasions the cars had to be completely dismantled and carried to negotiate narrow paths.

Although modern for its day the Type A was still quite a traditional design and it was not until 1934 with the  launch of the Traction Avant that saw the first of a series of revolutionary designs produced by Citroën over a 40 year period. The Traction Avant brought together for the first time in a mass-produced car front wheel drive, all round independent suspension and a much safer, stronger monocoque bodyshell all of which remain commonplace today. Unfortunately the combined development costs of the Traction Avant and the modernization of the Javel factory in 1933 bankrupted Citroën which was taken over by tyre maker Michelin their main creditor. To compound matters the car was too hastily rushed into production being under developed and with several faults. Sadly, Le Patron didn’t live long enough to see the car’s eventual success dying in 1935.

The Traction Avant was followed by the utilitarian yet ingenious 2CV (1948) applauded by the motoring writer L. J. K. Setright as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car" (Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car (2004)). In production until 1990 the 2CV spawned several derivatives including the somewhat oddly styled Ami 6 (1961), at times the best-selling car in France.

In complete contrast to the 2CV and indeed virtually any other car hitherto produced, Citroën’s next car was the beautiful, aerodynamic and futuristic DS (1955). Popular with architects including Alison and Peter Smithson the DS (“déesse” or “goddess” in French) was, somewhat appropriately as a product of the Space Age, considered to have “fallen from the sky” by the philosopher Roland Barthes (Mythologies (1957)).

It was not until 1970 that the next most important models appeared. The mid-sized, technologically advanced, yet ultimately rather fragile GS and the SM an exotic, six-headlamp coupé powered by a Maserati engine. In contrast to the long-lived DS which was replaced by the elegant CX (1974) the SM was swiftly axed in 1975 when the by then bankrupt again Citroën was taken over by rivals Peugeot. From the late 1970s Citroën cars to the benefit of increased sales gradually became less individual, although there were some exceptions such as the distinctive C6 (2005) a relatively rare car (50 times more DSs were built!) most likely to be seen in use as a black, Parisian limousine.

All of the images are available to download, purchase or license.

Feature by Jonathan Makepeace.

1 ... 8 9 10 12 13 ... 3291
108600 items
RIBA4060Designs for Sleek Tower (left) and Verandah Tower (right), Brisbane, Queensland

 
RIBA4062Design for the restoration of the Parthenon, Athens

 
RIBA4063Design for remodelling Brownsea Castle, Brownsea Island, Dorset, for Colonel William Petrie Waugh: perspective


RIBA4064Design for the staircase of the chapel-library wing, Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire

 
RIBA4065Design for the extension of the east end of the Church of St Bartholomew, Brighton

 
RIBA4066Competition design for the South Kensington Museum, London: view from the south-west


RIBA4067Design for new Senate Houses in St James's Park, London

 
RIBA4069Design for a wallpaper frieze entitled 'Seagull'

 
RIBA4070Design for an imperial palace for sovereigns of the British Empire: perspective of one of the courtyards


RIBA4073Design for a library bookcase, Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton, Devon

 
RIBA4074Design for the Bishop's throne, Cathedral Church of Saint Finn Barr, Cork

 
RIBA4076View from the cottage of Humphry Repton at Hare Street, Essex, before proposed alterations


RIBA4077Competition design for the Rathaus, Hamburg

 
RIBA4078Designs for the New Bodleian Library, Oxford: perspective from Trinity College gardens

 
RIBA4079Designs for Oakhurst, Ropes Lane, Fernhurst, West Sussex, for Mrs E. F. Chester: perspective from the north-west


RIBA4080Designs for Dixcot, North Drive, Tooting Bec Common, London, for R. W. Essex: perspective of entrance front

 
RIBA4081Design for a poster for the Central Liquor Control Board entitled 'Use and Beauty' to decorate a pub or canteen, possibly in the Carlisle area

 
RIBA4082Design for a wallpaper entitled 'Bushey' produced by Essex and Company


RIBA4083Design for a wallpaper frieze entitled 'Shallop' showing shallops (boats), birds and islands

 
RIBA4084Design for a wallpaper and tapestry produced by Essex and Company to honour Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897

 
RIBA4085Design, prossibly for a wallpaper, showing stylized oak leaves and acorns


RIBA4086Design for a wallpaper and textile showing a bird among leaves, flowers and berries

 
RIBA4087Design for the 'River Rug'

 
RIBA4088Edwin Smith and Olive Cook


RIBA4089Olive Cook

 
RIBA4090Edwin Smith

 
RIBA4091Edwin Smith


RIBA4092Edwin Smith

 
RIBA4094Edwin Smith and Olive Cook in the garden, 9A Church Row, Hampstead, London

 
RIBA4095Preliminary design for Crooksbury House, near Farnham, Surrey


RIBA4096Unexecuted designs for a country house on the Hudson River, New York State, for Mr E. H. Harriman: perspective sketch of entrance front

 
RIBA4097Design for the dining room sideboard, Munstead Wood, Godalming

 
RIBA4098Unexecuted design for the Grand Foyer, International Music Hall and Opera House, Hyde Park, London


1 ... 8 9 10 12 13 ... 3291