The Citroen Traction Avant buying guide. A pre-war pioneer

The Citroen Traction Avant was a landmark model for the French automaker, its influence can still be seen today.

Every auto manufacturer that has been around long enough has a few models in its back catalogue that helped shape its future. For Citroen, one such historically significant model is the 1930s Traction Avant.

The Traction Avant combined several cutting-edge technologies into one package and remained in production for over two decades. It also became the first production vehicle to offer hydropneumatic rear suspension; the precursor to the system that debuted in the DS in 1955.

From a 21st century perspective, the Traction Avant helped shape Citroen’s future. Today, it’s clear the Traction Avant helped to shape Citroens future, but ironically the car also brought Citroen to ruin during the interwar period, thanks to their prodigal marketing efforts. Michelin fortuitously took over ownership of Citroen in 1934, just in time to ensure the survival of Citroen and the Traction Avant.

When this ground-breaking car was introduced, features like front-wheel-drive, monocoque body construction and independent suspension were in their infancy. Lancia’s release of the Lambda in 1922, meant they were the first to offer unibody construction and all-round independent suspension. However, Citroen’s Traction Avant took these innovations and made them commercially viable in a mass-produced model for the first time.

Aside from its front-wheel-drive layout which it was named after, this new model stood out thanks to its lowered stance, a trait of the lighter monocoque design. The monocoque construction paid dividends in the Traction Avant’s handling and acceleration capabilities. The ambitious project also mandated a hydraulic braking system and from 1936-on, rack and pinion steering. These too, were uncommon in a volume production car at the time.

The original 7A was soon joined by a larger bodied 11A and a longer wheelbase nine-seater Familiale variant in 1936; another innovative body style that offered great flexibility in interior layout. A three-speed manual was common throughout and engines ranged from 1.3 to 1.9 litre inline-fours as well as a 2.9 litre inline-six.

Citroen Traction Avant Engine

The powertrain is one area where Citroen stuck to convention. The first models were offered with a 1.3 litre OHV inline-four which incrementally increased in size to 1.5, 1.6 and finally 1.9 litres.Aside from the later 11D variants, none had a normal oil filter and no Traction Avant came fitted with a warning light for oil pressure. With this in mind, frequent oil changes are recommended, some owners recommend a maximum of 1,500 to 2,000-miles between changes. If this is adhered to, engines are thankfully quite robust.

Timing chains can get rattly, this is partly due to the lack of a tensioner on the block but if it is excessive then it may need replacing.Aftermarket tensioner kits are available, as are other modern replacements for old-tech solutions, like shell-type bearings which are stronger than the white-metal bearings used on earlier engines. A 2.9 litre inline-six was also offered, these can suffer from head gasket leaks so check the cooling system is in fine fettle and there is no mayonnaise type build up on the radiator cap. This generally means that oil is seeping into the coolant.

Citroen Traction Avant Gearbox

A relatively straight-forward three-speed manual transmission was used on all models. Due to its layout, a clutch interlock system latches the gear lever into position when the clutch is raised. If this is faulty the car tends to jump out of gear. The water pump is located right above the clutch so leaking here can cause the clutch to seize.

Citroen Traction Avant Suspension and Brakes

 Not much goes wrong with the all-round independent suspension setup either Nevertheless, check for wear and tear on the suspension bushes, especially if the car feels loose in a straight line. Replacing the full set of rubber bushes generally requires specialist attention. The brakes are conventional drums all-round, operated hydraulically so check the system for any leaks.

Citroen Traction Avant Bodywork

The Traction was not particularly rust-prone, but after so many years there is more than likely going to be some evidence of repair work on the body shell. Cars fitted with a sunroof tend to be more susceptible to tin worm thanks to perished seals and clogged drainage holes.

The sills are an integral part of the structure, so should be thoroughly inspected for signs of corrosion. Ill-fitting doors are a sign that the structural integrity has been compromised due to either accident damage, or rust finding its way into the chassis. Check around the wheel arches and footwells as well as in the boot to ensure that the body is not showing signs of rot. Replacement panels are still available but prices can vary wildly.

Citroen Traction Avant Interior

The location of both the engine and gearbox in front of the cabin firewall makes for a lot of interior space. Retrims are quite common and there are kits available for most models but they can be pricey.  The electrical system is simple and French market cars had 6 volt systems while UK-spec Tractions had Lucas 12 volt setups. Many cars have been upgraded to 12 volts over the years which allows for a bit more flexibility if you intend to add any additional electronic devices or lights. This may be a good idea as the Traction Avant did not come fitted with indicators as standard.

Model History Of The Citroen Traction Avant

1934:   Citroen Traction Avant 7A released in four-door saloon body style and 1.3-litre inline-four engine. 7B replaces first variants with a number of minor changes including a 1.5 litre engine and twin windscreen wipers. 7C replaces 7B, engine capacity increased to 1.6 litres. 11CV ends off an eventful first year by joining the 7C and increasing engine capacity once again, this time to 1.9-litres. It was available in both standard and long wheelbase versions

1936:   15/6 variant introduced alongside 11CV. New model has 2.9 litre inline-six powerplant. Rack and pinion steering system now standard on all models. Two-door coupe and convertible body styles were offered until the commencement of WWII

1938:   Commerciale model added to lineup-hinged roof section makes for easier cargo loading-creating the first hatchback body configuration

1941:   7C variant ends production

1952:   Boot capacity doubled, identified by extended rear section

1954:   15/6 H introduced with hydropneumatic rear suspension-the precursor to the system used in the DS models. Sold for one model year only

1956:   15/6 variant ends production

1957:   Production of all Traction Avant models ends as the last 11C rolls off the line


Which Citroen Traction Avant To Buy

The most common Traction Avant is the 11CV 1.9 litre model, more often than not in the four-door saloon body style, these tend to be the most affordable route into Traction Avant ownership. The more powerful 15/6 2.9 litre models are significantly pricier while the Familiale and Commerciale variants are similarly dear. RHD models built in Slough in the UK had the added advantage of being equipped with 12v electrics, but the more numerous LHD cars are still very desirable and few have been left with their 6v electronics. The rarest early 7A cars as well as the convertible and two-door coupe or ‘Faux Cabriolet’ are highly desirable and good ones can be hard to find.

If you are looking for a slice of classic French nostalgia then look no further than the more easily accessible 11CV saloon, post-1936 variants had the much-improved rack and pinion steering setup, making for a thoroughly enjoyable pre-war classic.

Citroen Traction Avant Specifications

1.9-litre OHV inline-four

Power:             56-60bhp

Top speed:       71-78mph

0-60mph:         27.4sec

Economy:        25mpg est.


2.9-litre OHV inline-six

Power:             77bhp

Top speed:       81mph

0-60mph:         21sec

Economy:        22mpg est.

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Text John Tallodi  Photos Newspress

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