CC has covered the Traction Avant extensively, and I maintain that technically, if not commercially, it is perhaps the most significant car of the 1930s. You could make a case for the VW Beetle and Tatra saloons, but the enduring adoption and success of front wheel drive tips the balance for me. So any, Traction Avant sighting should be noted and investigated.
But this one confused me at first. I’ve seen many French built Tractions, and UK built examples with their wood and leather interiors, convertibles, long wheelbase versions and even the hatchback Commerciale and Familiale variants. But approaching this car from the front had me a little puzzled. It was in France, at a small town’s summer festival of, well, being proudly French and all the good things that come with that, and it and the 2CV in the background were lined up (sort of) alongside a selection of old tractors and threshing machinery to be admired whilst we waited for a cider press to do its job. The initial comment to myself was not “That’s a Traction Avant” or even “which Traction Avant is it?” but “What is it?”. Many thoughts went through my head, but nothing registered.
As we got closer, it was apparent that it was a Traction Avant, but with a difference. That front grille and bonnet profile and the grille ornament were most definitely not factory, but where were they from? The puzzle remained, until we got home. And then CC kicked in.
I saw Tatra87’s feature on the Rosengart Super Traction, and although this car was clearly not one of those, there was a visible similarity around the revised grille and bonnet.
A few e-mails later, and the likely scenario became clear. As suspected, it was not a Rosengart car, but a 1946-1950 Citroen 11CV with what we would now call a bodykit, in this instance from coachbuilder Emile Tonneline.
The principle, as with body kits now, was straight forward – make the car distinctive compared with the others around, perhaps adding a little more modernity to a dating style as well. Certainly, it hid the Citroen identity well on first glance from the front, not only through the shape but the very different emblem as well.
Emile Tonneline offered these kits, and others with more complex shapes and greater changes, from the late 1930s well into the 1950s. Obviously, North American styles such as Cord and the Chrysler Airflow were an influence.
But there was another reason for this change, which may or may not be relevant to this particular example. The early 1950s were the period of early adoption of radios for police vehicles, for which the Traction Avant was a popular choice. However, accommodating the bulky equipment was not easy. The batteries, which had to be charged daily, took up all the boot space on these earlier cars, and the added volume ahead of the radiator was therefore required to house the transceiver equipment.
The next Citroen, and the successor to the Traction Avant, was the immortal DS. It did not hide its modern technology under a bushel. And I’ve never seen a DS with bodykit.
Hat tip to Tatra87 for this guidance and information