On this day: Car Builder André Citroën Was Born le 5 Février 1878
André-Gustave Citroën was a French entrepreneur of Dutch descent who founded the French car builder named after him. He was born on le 5 février 1878 in Paris.
André-Gustave was the fifth and last child of the Dutch Jewish diamond merchant Levie Citroën and Mazra Kleinmann (of Warsaw, Poland). The Citroën family moved from Amsterdam to Paris in 1873. André was a graduate of the the prestigious École Polytechnique in 1900. (École Polytechnique is France's equivalent of the MIT.) During World War I, Citroën was responsible for mass production of armaments. He founded the Citroën automobile company in 1919, leading it to become the fourth-largest automobile manufacturer in the world by the early 1930s. Citroën automobiles became known for innovative design and engineering.
Citroën died of stomach cancer in Paris on le 3 juillet 1935 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. In 1998 he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.
After World War I Citroën founded a gear-making business, which became identified with the "herringbone" or double helical gear, which is the origin of the Citroën "double chevron" trademark. In 1919 the company produced it's first automobile, the Type A, which was aimed at the low-price market.
In 1924, Citroën began a business relationship with American engineer Edward G. Budd. From 1899, Budd had worked to develop pressed-steel bodies for railroad cars, in particular for Pullman. Budd went on to manufacture steel bodies for many automakers. Dodge (not yet part of Chrysler) became Budd's first big auto client. At the time, car bodies were wood-framed.
In 1928, Citroën introduced the first all-steel body in Europe. By 1930, Budd had created a prototype for Citroën with a unitized body and front wheel drive. It was this prototype that evolved into the innovative Traction Avant, introduced in 1934. The Traction Avant was the first mass-produced front wheel drive automobile. The Traction-Avant remained in production until 1956.
Because of their low price, Citroëns sold in volume. To counter Citroën's success, competitors introduced more aerodynamic body designs. Citroën's unitized body couldn't easily be redesigned. The highly competitive market caused Citroën to have heavy losses. That encouraged André Citroën to develop the Traction-Avant, a car so innovative that to it the competition would have no response. Achieving quick development of the Traction-Avant was expensive and contributed to the company having to be rescued in 1934 by its largest creditor, tire maker Michelin.
Citroën sponsored expeditions in Asia, the Croisière Jaune and in Africa, the Croisière Noire, to demonstrate the potential for motor vehicles to cross inhospitable regions. The expeditions conveyed scientists and journalists and were a publicity success.
To put the French public into an inexpensive car after World War II, Citroën introduced the 2CV (Deux Chevaux) in 1948. "The Ugly Duckling," as the 2CV was fondly called became almost as much as symbol of France as la tour Eiffel and was produced until 1990.
In 1955 Citroën introduced the DS, which was equipped with Citoën's now legendary hydro-pneumatic suspension system. The DS featured power steering, power brakes and suspension and, from 1968, directional headlights, all powered by the same high-pressure hydro-pneumatic system. This high-pressure hydraulic system would form the basis of many Citroën cars, including the SM, GS, CX, BX, XM, Xantia and C5.
In 1965 Citroën took over the French carmaker Panhard in the hope of using Panhard's expertise in midsize cars to complement its own range of very small, cheap cars (2CV/Ami) and large, expensive cars (DS/ID). In 1967 Citroën took control of Maserati, the Italian sports car maker and launched the sports car Grand Tourer SM, which contained a V6 Maserati engine. This maneuver was unfortunately-timed - the 1973 energy crisis made the manufacture of the Grand Tourer SM unprofitable.
During Citroën's venture with Maserati the Citroën high pressure hydraulic system was used on several Maserati models for power clutch operation (Bora), power pedals adjustment (Bora), pop-up headlights (Bora, Merak) and brakes (Bora, Merak), and the entire Quattroporte II prototype, which was a four-door Citroën SM under the skin.
Huge losses caused by failure of the Maserati tie-up coupled with crippling warranty costs by the unreliable GS and high development cost of CX led to Peugeot taking over Citroën in 1976. The combined company was known as PSA Peugeot Citroën. PSA sold off Maserati to DeTomaso soon after.
In the 1980s, Citroën models were increasingly Peugeot-based and Citroën lost much of its image for innovative engineering. The BX of 1982 still used the hydropneumatic suspension system, but was powered by Peugeot-derived engines. By the late 1980s, PSA shared most platforms between Peugeot and Citroën makes. The XM, for example, used the same engines and floorpan as the Peugeot 605, and the Xantia of 1993 was identical under the skin to the Peugeot 406.
PSA recognized that it must revive Citroën's reputation for innovative engineering and styling. Their efforts have paid off and in 2005, for the first time in its history, Citroën reached a worldwide production of 1,000,000 cars.
Andre Citroen: The Man & the Motor Car