Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 8th August 2018

There have always been trailblazers within the car industry. They are the innovative vehicles that have introduced new features and designs to the world. An early trailblazer was the Citroen Traction Avant, which became the world’s first mass produced front-wheel drive car. It also featured four wheel independent suspension and a unitary body with no separate frame. We’re looking into the history of this iconic model.

Origin story

The Traction Avant was designed by Andre Lefebvre and Flaminio Bertoni in 1934. Its name translated literally as ‘four-wheel drive’ but that wasn’t the official title. Rather, it was named according to the French fiscal horsepower rating.

The design proved to be revolutionary from the moment it was created. It had a welded unitary body and chassis, while other cars of the era were based on a seperate chassis. This resulted in a lighter vehicle, with the unitary body saving 70 kg of steel per car.

The Avant innovated front-wheel drive in the European car market. At the time, front-wheel drive had only just appeared through the likes of luxury vehicle manufacturers like Alvis and Cord. Citroen aimed to use the technology for a wider market.

Another innovative feature was the independent suspension. The front wheels were independently sprung, thanks to a torsion bar and wishbone suspension arrangement. The lightness of the Avant meant it could reach a top speed of 62 mph.

Public reaction

The car was first presented in the Citroen Paris showroom in 1934. When the Second World War broke out, the Avant was supplied to the French army, but there was a lack of enthusiasm from the troops because they didn’t feel it had enough ground clearance for their needs.

The Avant had an impact on motorsports, thanks to the aluminium alloy transaxle that it used. It was incorporated into other cars like the Cooper T43, which won an F1 championship race in 1958. Its successors also used the transaxle, with the Cooper T51 winning the 1959 World Championship.

Even though the Avant was innovative, the costs of making it bankrupted Citroen. This led to  Michelin owning Citroen from 1934 until 1976. In the modern day, the Avant is remembered as a revolutionary vehicle that is driven by a number of enthusiasts.

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Image credit: Wikicommons