1957 Citroen Traction Avant 11BL
Updated: Feb 15
My Uncle Jim Oles has a thing for French cars, it seems. Perhaps it's the unique blend of innovative and unusual engineering coupled with the French style that makes them so appealing. Because they were ahead of their time when new, they are a good choice for vintage motoring because they have many features that make them useable on modern roads. After restoring two Citroen SMs, the question of "what next?" came up and led to the discussion of the Traction Avant as a suitable answer.
Although the Traction Avant was as common on European roads in its time as a Honda Accord is these days, they are quite rare on American shores. I happened to see one back around the early 00s while I was on a commercial shoot production in New York. Although there were several vintage cars parked on the street for a film production, the Traction Avant was the one that stood out to me. At least enough to grab this picture.
Like many of our Citroens, our Traction Avant was sourced from Bring A Trailer. The former owner, Steve, had the car for about a decade before he was ready to part with it. Under his ownership, he entered the car in many shows, including the Santa Fe Concours where it was chosen for an award from judge and auto racing legend Stirling Moss.
The Traction Avant was originally designed by Andre Lefebvre and produced between 1934 and 1957. Our car is from the last year of production. In its day, TAs saw duty as family cars, French Police cars, gangster getaway vehicles, and transport for everything from taxi customers to German soldiers and the French resistance! Our car is the petite Legere model, which had the smallest, narrowest and lightest body. There were also coach built 2-door convertibles and coupes as well as larger Normale and Familiale sedans which could seat up to 9 passengers. Notable engineering achievements included independent torsion bar suspension, front wheel drive, and modern unibody construction which saved weight and gave the car its unique low-slung appearance. Our model has a 1.9 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 58hp - enough for a claimed top speed of almost 70, which makes highway travel possible, at least for short distances. The interior of the Legere model is not exactly spacious by modern standards, but very similar to vintage VW Beetles with slightly more legroom in back.
Our car was originally purchased in Holland. It was restored some time in the 90s, and later imported into the US in 2009. The first US owner was Gary Bartholomew in Chicago, who we would later meet at a local car meet. Gary has owned several vintage Citroens, and it was quite a surprise to meet the car's former owner by chance! Gary owned the car for about a year until he sold it to Steve in Arizona.
Besides the overall clean condition of the car, one of the key selling points was inclusion of several period French appearance accessories from Robri, including fender guards, turn signal garnishes and the hood mascot. Despite a sub-20K buy in, the car sports quite a bit of style and charm.
Together with the two SMs, the Traction Avant fits in nicely, providing a peek into the technological sophistication that gave Citroen its reputation. After purchasing the car in October, we had about a month of driving enjoyment before work would begin tiding up a few various loose ends. Like all vintage car projects, the scope of this project would expand to include an engine out service and some unique upgrades to make the car even more drivable (and safe!) in modern traffic. Stay tuned for updates.