The Ami 6 was as expedient as it was successful. This is its story.
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. 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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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.
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.
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).
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.
 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.
 It’s believed that the height of the air-cleaner necessitated the initial change.
 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.
 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.
 Weight was pared religiously; the roof panel was fibreglass, and the gauge of metal was kept as thin as possible.
 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