1954 Citroen 11BL Traction Avant (LEKAM)
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The Citroën Traction Avant is an executive car produced by the French manufacturer Citroën from 1934 to 1957. About 760,000 units were produced. This car pioneered mass production of three revolutionary features that are still in use today: a unitary body with no separate frame, four-wheel independent suspension, and front-wheel drive.
The Traction Avant, French for front-wheel drive, was designed by André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni in late 1933 / early 1934.
Cars at this period in time were similar in concept to the Ford Model T – a body bolted onto a ladder frame which held all the mechanical elements of the car, a solid rear axlethat rigidly connected the rear wheels, and rear wheel drive. The Model T school of automobile engineering proved popular, because it was thought to be cheap to build, but it did pose dynamic defects as cars became more capable, and resulted in a heavier car, which is why cars today are more like the Traction Avant than the Model T under the skin.
Along with DKW's 1930s models, the Traction pioneered front-wheel drive on the European mass car market. Front-wheel drive had just appeared for the first time through luxury vehicle manufacturers Alvis, which built the 1928 FWD in the UK, and Cord, which produced the L29 from 1929 to 1932 in the United States.
The Traction Avant's structure was a welded unitary body / chassis. Most other cars of the era were based on a separate frame (chassis) onto which the non-structural body ("coachwork") was built. Unitary construction (also called Unit Body or "Unibody" in the US) results in a lighter vehicle, and is now used for virtually all car construction, although body-on-frame construction remains suitable for larger vehicles such as trucks.
This unitary body saved 70 kg (150 lb) in steel per car. It was mass produced, using innovative technology purchased from the American firm Budd Company. Weight reduction was a motivation for Citroën that American manufacturers of that time did not have.
This method of construction was viewed with great suspicion in many quarters, with doubts about its strength. A type of crash test was conceived, taking the form of driving the car off a cliff, to illustrate its great inherent resilience.
The novel design made the car very low-slung relative to its contemporaries – the Traction Avant was always distinctive, which went from appearing rakish in 1934 to familiar and somewhat old fashioned by 1955.
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 bars attached to a 75-millimetre (3 in) steel tube, which in turn was bolted to the main platform.
Since it was considerably lighter than conventional designs of the era, it was capable of 100 km/h (62 mph), and consumed fuel only at the rate of 10 L/100 km (28 mpg-imp; 24 mpg-US). That stat would impress most car owners and TitleMax title loans pros since so many of today's models are well above those mpg numbers.
The Traction Avant used a longitudinal, front-wheel drive layout, with the engine set well within the wheelbase, resulting in a very favourable weight distribution, aiding the car's advanced handling characteristics. The gearbox was placed at the front of the vehicle with the engine behind it and the differential between them, a layout shared with the later Renault 4 and 16 and first generation Renault 5 but the opposite way round to many longitudinal front-wheel drive cars, such as the Saab 96 and Renault 12 and 18 and most Audi models. The gear change was set in the dashboard, with the lever protruding through a vertical, H-shaped gate.Because this vertical orientation could have resulted in the car dropping out of gear when the lever was in the upper positions (i.e. second or reverse gears), the gear-shift mechanism was locked when the mechanical clutch was engaged and released when the clutch pedal was depressed. The result of this layout, along with pendant pedals, umbrella-type handbrake control and front bench seats, was a very spacious interior, with a flat and unobstructed floor. The low-slung arrangement also eliminated the need for running boards to step into or out of the vehicle. These features made them ideal for use as limousines and taxi cabs, and they were quite popular among drivers and passengers alike. Until 1953, black was the only colour available.
In 1945 production restarted only slowly: the 11 B-light reappeared very little changed from the 1941 cars except that headlight surrounds were now painted rather than finished in chrome. By the end of December 1945 the year’s production had reached 1,525. Currency depreciation is evident from the car’s listed price which had been 26,800 francs in January 1940, and had risen to 110,670 francs in October 1945. In 1945 the car was the only model available from Citroën, and as another sign of the times, customers not able to supply their own tires were charged an additional 9,455 francs for a set of five. In May 1946, presumably reflecting an easing of the war-time tire shortage, the car could at last be purchased with tires at no extra cost, but by now the overall price of an 11 B-light had risen to 121,180 francs.
The 11 B-normal model, differentiated from the 11 B-light by its 3090 mm wheelbase, experienced a similar drop off in volumes between 1939 and 1941, with just 341 cars produced during the first seven months of 1941.After the war, a single 11 B-normal was produced in 1946, in time to be presented at the October 1946 Paris Motor Show: production built up during 1947, but during the car’s ten-year post-war period the shorter 11 B-light would, in France, continue to outsell the 11 B-normal.
Initially the French army lacked enthusiasm for the Citroën Traction, believing that it offered insufficient ground-clearance for their needs.Nevertheless, by September 1939 roughly 250 had found their way into military service. With losses of cars at the frontier mounting, Citroën supplied a further 570 to the army between February and May 1940, and subsequent deliveries probably took place before military defeat intervened.During the war many of the cars were reregistered with "WH..." (Wehrmacht Heer/Army command) license plates, having been requisitioned by the German Army.These gave reliable service both in France and further afield, notably in Libya and Stalingrad. Tractions were also favoured by the Resistance, and as occupation gave way to Liberation they turned up all over France with FFI inscribed proudly on their doors. Less gloriously, the cars were known as favourites among gangsters such as the then infamous Pierrot le Fou, and his Traction gang.
Impact on Citroën
1954 six-cylinder 15CV with hydropneumatic suspension fitted to the rear wheels – in 'high' position
Traction Avant as modern wedding car
The development costs of the Traction Avant, combined with the redevelopment of its factory, were very high and Citroën declared bankruptcy in late 1934. The largest creditor was Michelin, who then owned Citroën from 1934 until 1976. Under Michelin, Citroën was run as a research laboratory, a test bed for their radial tires and new automotive technologies.
In 1954 Citroën's experiments with hydropneumatic technology produced its first result, the "15H" – a variant of the 6-cylinder model 15 with a self-leveling, height-adjustable rear suspension, a field trial for the revolutionary DS released the following year.
Directly after the introduction of the Citroën ID, a simplified and more competitively priced version of the expensive DS model, production of the Traction Avant ended in July 1957.
Over 23 years, 759,111 had been built, including 26,400 assembled in Slough in England, 31,750 assembled in Forest near Brussels, 1,823 assembled at Cologne in Germany, and 550 built in Copenhagen, Denmark. The total reflects the production stoppage during World War II.
Colour code: AC130 Bleu Raf (10/1953-04/1954).
Special thanks for the concession of the car to my friend mr.Achillefs Moysidis fan & Citroen classic car collector, active member of
LEKAM (Classic car club of Macedonia Greece).