A Friend In Need

The Ami 6 was as expedient as it was successful. This is its story.

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

It is probably reasonably accurate to suggest that while Automobiles Citroën was confident about the prospects of its radical 1955 DS19, the initial impact, and subsequent retail demand must have taken them aback somewhat. The Goddess of course was a relatively expensive, upmarket car, well outside of what the average French motorist could afford; the gap between the rustic 2CV, which primarily appealed to rural customers and the DS19 would therefore remain chasm-like.

Despite attempts at offering the big Citroën in decontented form, it was clear that a smaller, more affordable car was an urgent requirement.[1] But not simply lacking a 7-8 CV contender, Quai de Javel also found itself without a viable rival to Renault’s popular 845 cc Dauphine.

When work on Études Projet M began in 1957, early thinking was allegedly for an entirely stand-alone model; Panhard’s 850 cc horizontally-opposed twin being considered as a possible powerplant. However, perhaps for reasons of speed to market, or a desire not to step on Panhard’s toes, it was decided to base the new car upon the A-Series 2CV platform and powertrain, lending the programme the AM moniker.

Pierre Bercot decreed that the car’s body must be a Tricorps (three volume) style, monsieur le Président having an elegant distaste for hatchback configurations. Initial studies at the bureau de style carried out by styling chief, Flaminio Bertoni were for a low nose treatment, à la DS, flanked by prominent headlamps, but this had to be revised once the Panhard engine was rejected in favour of an enlarged 602 cc (3CV) version of the 2CV twin, which necessitated a taller bonnet line.[2]

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

This was once again the subject of revision when French legislators forced Citroën to raise the position of the innovative Cibié rectangular headlamps, the resultant design pleasing nobody, least of all Bertoni himself, who according to historian, Jon Pressnell, was deeply unhappy with the result.[3]

Given the dimensions of the A-Series platform, Projet AM’s overall size was heavily constrained, so Bertoni employed a clever stylistic device, cantilevering the roofline well aft of the rear screen, which not only kept it clean, but created a visual illusion of length. The reverse inclined floating roof, dubbed ‘Ligne Z’, while redolent of some of Ford’s contemporary US market offerings[4], also had the advantage of maximising interior space while allowing for a commodious boot. Meanwhile, the heavily scalloped and swaged body-sides were employed as a means of strengthening what were by necessity lightweight body panels.[5]

Image: (c) Citroenorigins

Bertoni was famously mercurial in temperament, and while most observers rightfully consider his stylistic masterpiece to be the incomparable DS19, he took issue with this on the basis that his original vision had been diluted by external interference[6], citing the Ami (despite his stated misgivings) instead as the design he was most satisfied with.

Few would necessarily agree, but while the Ami 6 was certainly unorthodox, when one dissects its design in detail, was in fact quite clever, making the absolute most of a smaller than ideal footprint. Let us perhaps settle upon the term jolie-laide and leave it there. The Ami’s cabin, while a fairly stark affair, was sybaritic by 2CV standards, closely reflecting the larger DS19 in design, layout and finish.

Introduced to the French press on the 24th April 1961, the Ami 6 which was produced at a purpose-built plant in Rennes-la-Janais was dubbed by Citroën as “une grande petite voiture; le kilomètre-confort le moins cher du monde.” Marketed quite overtly towards women, the Ami was advertised as “the ideal second car for madame.” This clearly had an effect, Yvonne de Gaulle, wife of of the nation’s President being one of the better known Ami 6 owners; her husband having inaugurated the Rennes plant in 1960.

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

Early sales were less than stellar, not aided by the advent the same year of the cheaper and more versatile Renault 4. Improvements came rapidly however, with thicker gauge body panels and sliding rear windows, later that year. Gradually, the Ami’s power output also rose, culminating in a 35 bhp powerhouse and a better appointed Club model.

Image: (c) veikl.com

However, the Ami 6’s fortunes received a major lift with the 1964 advent of the Ami Break. The stylistic work of the bureau de style’s Henri Dargent, alongside Robert Opron (who would succeed the late Flaminio Bertoni that year), the Break was a more conventional looking estate model, which combined a less polarising silhouette with improved load space and versatility. It proved an immediate success, quickly eclipsing sales of the berline. By 1966, the Ami would (briefly) become France’s best-selling car.

What is clear is that the Ami 6 berline’s appearance soon became a hinderance to sales, which by 1968 had collapsed to a tiny fraction of that of its five-door equivalent. It was discontinued entirely in 1969, six months ahead of the estate. Both models were replaced by the heavily revised Ami 8 models of that year.

Total Ami 6 production amounted to 1,039,384 examples, breaking down into: 483,986 Berlines (April 1961 to March 1969), 551,880 Breaks (October 1964 to September 1969), and 3,518 Enterprise (Van versions).

Image: (c) citroenorigins

Only in France with its punitive taxation system could a car like the Ami 6 really have succeeded, much less become a best seller. It took Peugeot’s 204 to hit its sales stride before the Ami’s appeal began to be truly challenged, Simca and Renault’s compact rear-engined offerings holding a somewhat different appeal (and higher taxation) within the (home) market.

A clever piece of platform sharing, the Ami6 was somewhat ahead of its time in product planning terms and while it wasn’t quite the mid-liner Citroen would desperately need as a new decade hove into view, it would provide a highly effective stopgap – possibly a better one than Quai de Javel could have imagined. Not so much the poor relation to the DS then – more of a friend in need.

[1] Citroen’s Bureau D’Études had been working on a number of projects to this end, primarily the C60 project, but none had been sanctioned.

[2] It’s believed that the height of the air-cleaner necessitated the initial change.

[3] Pierre Bercot was also said to have been quite unhappy about the Ami 6’s appearance, equating it to Quasimodo, the literary Hunchback of Notre Dame. Robert Opron latterly described it as baroque, stating he didn’t approve of its appearance. He would oversee the facelifted Ami 8, which presented a more rationalised appearance. 

[4] The reverse inclined rear pillar and screen made a brief stir in car design circles in the mid-Fifties, making its production debut (of sorts) in the US in 1957 (Mercury Turnpike Cruiser). Ford’s so-called ‘Breezeway‘ rear window also featured on certain Mercury and Lincoln models into the early 1960s. In addition, certain Italian carrozzieri employed it as a stylistic motif. 

[5] Weight was pared religiously; the roof panel was fibreglass, and the gauge of metal was kept as thin as possible.

[6] Pierre Boulanger and André Lefèbvre were both known to have applied pressure upon Bertoni as regards the definitive shape of the DS19, which had been somewhat more elaborate in appearance. 

The Ami name is said to have came from a wordplay on the project name (AM), the word miss (mademoiselle) and the Italian, amici.

Sources: Classic and Sportscar/ Citroen Origins/ L’Aventure Citroen/ Robert Opron L’Automobile et L’Art: Peter I Pijlman

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “A Friend In Need”

  1. My parents had an Ami Break after having owned two 2CV’s. I’m too young to remember to whether it was an Ami 6 or 8. At the time they wanted a car with more room than the 2CV, but they never really liked the Ami, so it was traded in quickly.

    One critical note: Isn’t the rear window called breezeway instead of breezeaway?

    1. You’re quite right Freerk. There’s always at least one typo that escapes. Duly corrected, and thanks.

  2. I had no idea the Break sold more than the Berline. It may be one of a very few instances the station wagon sold more than its sedan counterpart? Historically, I can think of only Volvo doing that consistently, and that was on its home market Sweden. I actually think this topic is worthy an article of its own, for those that are so inclined.

    1. How about the VW Passat? In Germany and Switzerland, the saloon is almost inexistent. But other, less estate-friendly markets, might change the picture.

  3. Good morning Eóin and thanks for a reminder of a car that I should have grown up with, but was vanishingly rare in 1960’s Ireland. The Ami 6 is charmingly idiosyncratic looking, but both the break estate and Ami 8 fastback were certainly much more palatable to the vast majority of buyers. Here’s a rather sweet comparative image from Citroënet website:

  4. Was there a more French car of the 60’s? It’s so pure and uncomplicated by desires to export in large numbers, which ended up rendering French cars much more bland and cosmopolitan.

    1. Hello S.V. – yes, extremely and enjoyably French.

      I prefer the early saloons; I always thought they looked as though they were made by a kitchen hardware company – that they should really be branded ‘Le Creuset’ or similar.

      Despite having striking looks, they seem to blend in to the scenery quite well. Perhaps they look organic and unthreatening. They also never seem to look brand new, to me, even when new, as shown in this brochure.

      https://www.veikl.com/d/Citroen-Ami-6-Brochure-1965-NL-15887

    2. Hi Charles. I understand your observation about even new Amis looking ‘patinated’. I think it was a function of the thin gauge of the steel from which they were made. This made the panels look slightly rippled and they not sit flush or perfectly aligned. The shut-lines were often a bit inconsistent too:

  5. The dear Ami…an arresting sight no less. I’d not seen one until visiting a Citroën show around ten years ago., which, if it hadn’t come from a museum was definitely a showroom queen. Spotless. And I’m pretty confident in saying the information board accompanying the car mentioned the Hunchback link. I also remember hurrying past…but returning for another gander at this oddball. There really is nothing like it.
    Can you imagine the modern day Citroën boss saying “stuff hatchbacks?”
    The headline picture looks like this saloon has seen much weather, very atmospheric. I’m hearing Oxygéne…

    1. Citroën and Hatchbacks is quite a convoluted story indeed. Even when the whole line-up in the seventies consisted of fastback saloons (Ami, GS and CX), a hatch was out of the question by order of management. It took them until 1979 when the updated GSA finally received a configuration that was in line with its looks. From then on, the hatchback has become a most typical Citroën trait, and I found it quite shocking 25 years afterwards when they made a retrograde step and offered a small bootlid on the fastback C6 and even a notchback on the second C5 a few years later. In the few years between, there was the paradoxical situation that they had a notchback with a hatch (first gen. C5) and a fastback with a lid (C6)…

      At least they now went back to the hatch for the new C5 X – which is about the only good thing I can say about it. I might change my mind when I see one in the flecs, but chances are slim.

    2. Daniel, unless I’m very much mistaken that’s another forgotten model peeping out from behind the Ami, a convertible version of the Peugeot 104 based Talbot Samba. A thing now rarely seen indeed.

  6. I would have considered the Ami 6 quite shocking, except for the fact that the 105E Anglia had already normalised the reverse-rake back window – I didn’t know about the breezeaway Mercurys in those days. The only jarring note on the Ami was the droop between the headlights….

  7. The Reliant Regal and Invacar can also be added to the reverse rake window list. Standard Triumph contemplated it for the Triumph 2000 but got tipped off about the forthcoming Ford Anglia and dropped the idea.
    It jumped the species barrier when Paul Arzens started designing the so-called “Broken Nose” railway engines in 1964. He was employedby SNCF but the engines were built by Alsthom who also sold them in Holland and Yugoslavia. Allegedly he was inspired by a sprinter on the starting blocks but safety was also a justification, as the unusual glass angle would have made it hard to through a rock through the window from a bridge. They also had a benefit in rain and low sunlight. These were one of the features that made childhood trips to 1980’s France fascinating (I recall Citroen H vans- every single one now saved from the scrap heap and “Restomodded” into hipster coffee wagons, I assume- too but no Ami’s).
    I wonder if there would be a benefit to a reverse rake front windscreen in a car- same safety ones as the train I assume- but I’m also assuming enormous turbulence around the base of the screen and wasted power. Something that wouldn’t be an issue with 2000+hp on a train.
    The Ami 6 definitely looks like a kitchen appliance, I think it relates as much to the rounded corner at the top on the back door’s window. The squared glazing on the break and Ami 8 looses the look but gains a bit more sophistication. Minor change very different feel.

    1. Hello Richard, it’s a long time since I’ve seen those trains, but it was nice to be reminded of them – I’ll enjoy looking them up.

      A reverse-rake windscreen has been thought of, but the aerodynamics will be horrific. Nevertheless, Chris Bangle gave it a go, for a slow-moving city car:

      https://www.wallpaper.com/lifestyle/chris-bangle-discusses-project-redspace

      Coming back to the Ami, briefly, I notice that there’s practically no chrome on it, just what looks like polished aluminum and I think Panhard followed a similar approach. Again, it’s part of its character.

  8. Thinking back to another article exploring the idea of basing the Panhard 24 on the DS, another beneficiary would have been the Ami and a number of Flat-Twin powered Citroens who could have utilized the 848cc Panhard Flat-Twin engine. Which would have also given Citroen an incentive to enlarge the 2CV Flat-Twin above 602-652cc to eventually replace the Panhard unit (aside from the planned 750cc enlargement in Project F).

    1. Hello Bob, yes, I’d forgotten that Citroën had bought Panhard, largely to plug the 2CV-DS gap. The Panhard PL 17 was launched not long after the takeover; it wasn’t keenly priced. Still, ‘Not Invented Here’, and all that.

  9. The Miles Master and Miles Kestrel were both designed with reverse rake front screens. The advantages were slightly more lift, better screen clearance, better optics, no extra drag (likely a little less). They did not look conventional though, so people fixated on the unusual aesthetics of the reverse rake of the front screen, ignoring all other attributes and any advantages… The company surrendered to the inevitable and the design was changed for later versions.

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