In a long history of iconic cars, Citroën’s Traction Avant put great-riding, front-wheel-drive cars into limelight. A C5 Aircross signals the epitome of this tech
At just over 100 years old, Citroën is one of younger legacy car companies of the world but they have set some great milestones along the way. Right from the beginning, with the ‘Type A’ in 1919, they have been at the cutting edge. (It was Europe’s first assembly-line mass-produced car). In 1934, a new large-sized (for its period) family sedan was introduced which would not only prove to be classic, but also save the company, which was ailing at the time. Originally called just ‘7’, it would come to be known as the Traction Avant, translating to ‘front drive’, named because the engine spun the front instead of the rear wheel, as was the case in most cars of the period.
The Traction was designed by André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni, both highly influential designers in Citroën’s history. It looked unlike anything else in the market. It was low and sleek, allowed by its unibody (monocoque) construction. The prevailing construction method for the period was for the body to be bolted on a structural frame chassis. With the unibody, the chassis was integrated with the body. This gave the car a comparatively lower weight, and also saved on steel. Combined with its unique front wheel drive layout used by a high-end vehicles, and its independent suspension allowed the car to sit lower, giving it a very good stance. The result was a light, good-looking car with spacious interiors and a comfortable ride, which was also relatively fast yet frugal on the fuel.
The Traction would remain in production for 23 years, albeit with war time production stoppage. In total 759,111 cars were built, with a bulk of these produced in France and about 26,000 in England and a few thousands in 3 other European countries. It went through various upgrades through its life, and would go on to earn the nickname "Reine de la Route" or Queen of the Road.
There were a number of Traction Avant sold in India, but very few survive today. Fortunately for us the example we came to see is rather a special one. Manufactured 1952, it has a larger 6-cylinder engine, and was raced in India, back in the 60s and 70s. Seen as the golden age of Indian motorsports, when large crowds of spectators thronged the tracks to see a diverse range of machinery battle for top honours. This car regularly campaigned on the old Barakpore track in Calcutta by Mini Pan, a lady of Chinese descent living in then Calcutta. The Traction still retains its free flow exhaust from its racing days, music to any pertolheads ears.
Its current custodian is Indrojit Sarkar, a rallyist himself and also a second generation restorer. Indrojit’s first encounter with this car came way back in the 2008, when his father, the late Mr. Rahul Sarkar, procured and restored it for a friend. Fast forward to 2012, and the friend decided to sell the car. Knowing the background of the car, and its racing history, Indrojit was quick to secure it in his diverse collection. “The Traction is already an iconic car, add to that its racing history, made it a no brainer”, says Indrojit on his decision to purchase it.
Today, the car runs perfectly. Its six-cylinder engine offering tremendous torque and its independent suspension gives an extremely pliant ride. Makes you forget the age of the car. For something engineered in the 30s, it is extremely refined, and it is precisely why it was taken racing.
If you can say one thing about Citroën, it is their ability to consistently offer class leading comfort, and space combined with cutting edge technology. Like the Traction did so many decades ago, the new C5 Aircross does today. Its roomy interior is a joy to be in, and its class leading suspension is a revelation on our mixed surface roads. “I am amazed by the Aircross’s ability to soak up all the potholes and surface imperfections, and shelter the occupants”, mentions Indrojit after taking the wheel of the C5. “The engine keeps pulling, and the shifts are almost seamless. It does a great job nipping through our traffic, and on open roads it’s effortless” he adds.
The large SUV may not yet have the title “Queen of the Roads”, but it sure has enough credentials to do so. This is Citroën’s first entry into the Indian market; and going by it we can be excited for what is coming ahead.
Disclaimer: Content Produced by Citroën India