Friday, August 28, 2015

Not Where You Would Expect

            Innovation is part of the automotive legacy. When most of us think of new and innovative ideas that changed the industry we think of them coming from American, British, German, or Italian manufacturers. But one of the leaders in automotive innovation over the last half of the 20th Century actually came from France.
            Citroen was founded in 1919 by Andres-Gustav Citroen and became the first mass produced automobile outside of the United States. Within eight years of its launch, Citroen had become the largest manufacturer in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.
            One of the things that spurred this growth and popularity was the constant innovation that went into the design of the cars. For example, in 1934 they introduced the Traction Avant which was the world’s first mass produced front wheel drive car.

           In 1954 they introduced the very first hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension system which was widely hyped and helped launch the revolutionary DS line a year later. The DS was the first mass produced car with modern disc brakes. Seen here is a later DS-21 from 1972.
            One constant knock on Citroen had always been that they were underpowered, especially as speeds increased following World War II. In hopes of changing that they helped develop the Wankel Rotary Engine. While somewhat successful, the Wankel proved to be a bit buggy.
    Throughout the 1960s Citroen acquired several other automobile companies and in 1968 the bought the struggling Italian sports car firm Maserati. During this time Citroen cars got the use of Maserati engines and other technologies and Maserati, essentially saved from the scrap heap, got to take advantage of all of the advanced hydraulics being used by the French firm at the time. This lead to some of Maserati’s best sports cars.
            A musical chair of ownership had swept up Citroen along with many of Europe’s major manufacturers. As ownership changed there was a constant buying and selling of other firms.
            Today the company is part of the PSA Peugot Citroen Group which is a major worldwide power. In fact, they were one of the first car brands to be sold in China, rolling into the country in 1984.  One market Citroen has not entered is North America. That is why there are so few of these uniquely brilliant cars around and why seeing this 1972 DS-21 was so special.

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