The story of one visionary at Citroën’s Bureau des Etudes Avancées.
The Bureau des Etudes Avancées Citroën or BEA, under the direction of Pierre Jules Boulanger, was the idiosyncratic French carmaker’s creative ideas laboratory. Fittingly located at number 44 to 48 on the Rue du Théâtre in Paris, it exuded an air of secrecy and mystery. Not just engineers and stylists were employed there but also scientists, mathematicians, physicists and even an astronomer.
Born in 1891, Fridtjof Le Coultre came from the famous Swiss jewellery and watchmaking family of Jaeger-Le Coultre. He had worked as an astronomer at the observatory in Geneva for several years but left and moved to France in the early thirties after a dispute with his boss. There being not much demand for his trade, Le Coultre worked in various jobs to sustain himself and developed and sold an artificial marble-like material that enjoyed some popularity in decorative lamp-posts. Continue reading “The Stargazer of the Rue du Théâtre”
While it’s undisputed that the Raymond Loewy-designed International Harvester Metro van remains an icon of American commercial vehicle vision, it remains precisely the latter to this author’s eyes, in that I’ve never seen one. Today’s encounter on the other hand, far from veiled, may best be seen from just behind the covers. Welcome to the beast that many find beautiful – the Citroën H van.
Similarities between the Yankee and that oh-so Gallic commercial vehicle are limited to their periods of production. The Metro boasted a firm quarter century before changing in no way for the better, whereas the French fancy managed thirty one at a glacial rate of change. But for the worse? Don a beret, spark up a Gauloise and swing those rear doors open wide to Continue reading “Occupation H. Monster”
“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
André Citroën, the French industrial giant, may not have possessed a level of ambition quite as extreme as that claimed by the controversial Spanish artist, but few amongst his peers in the automobile industry could match his boundless energy and determination to lead the way, often eschewing received wisdom and conventional thinking in the process. These attributes brought him fame and fortune, but would also eventually prove to be his undoing.
A salient example of the double-edged sword of Citroën’s ambition and overreach was the Traction Avant of 1934. It was a revolutionary, highly modern and accomplished design in almost every possible way. Citroën’s original plan was for the Traction to be equipped with a newly designed fully automatic transmission, the brainchild of a prolific Brazilian inventor. Continue reading “Shift Happens”
The roaring twenties was a favourable decade for Citroën; not only did his cars gain a reputation for reliability, economy of operation and modernity, but the carmaker also was one of the first in the field to appreciate and apply the power of publicity on a grand scale. And we do mean grand. During the 1922 Paris motor show he hired an aeroplane to fly over the city and write his company name in the sky – over three miles long – the first time this was ever done.
A few years later, the Eiffel tower would become the world’s largest lighted commercial display by means of 250,000 light bulbs; upon his final descent to the airport of Le Bourget after his 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindbergh used the lighted Eiffel tower as a guiding beacon. Seizing the publicity opportunity, Citroën invited the aeronautic pioneer to Javel where the entire workforce as well as the domestic press greeted the first man to Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 2”
Over sixty years ago, Citroën discovered that you can only go so far in stripping a vehicle of its amenities.
During most of its existence the car has presented itself in countless shapes, sizes, capabilities, not to mention levels of price, performance and equipment. Todays subject however belongs to that rare class of decontented cars, true strippers not to be confused with the usual sparsely equipped entry level models aimed at fleet buyers, taxi companies and buyers for whom price and economy are absolutely predominant selection criteria.
The 1955 DS19 was an unprecedented showstopper, and although it suffered a range of quality and especially reliability issues in its early years, it did Citroën a world of good image-wise. As far as sales were concerned however, after the initially high amount of orders by the affluent and Avant Garde started to level off the French firm was confronted with a problem.
As automotive aficionados, we accept and embrace the backstories which sit behind the cars we choose immortalise, yet as with most aspects of life, the people behind these vehicles are often themselves at least equally compelling when viewed from a narrative perspective.
Rivalries between carmakers frequently loom large over marque iconographies: General Motors versus Ford, Austin and Morris during the pre-war era in Britain, or indeed, BMW and Mercedes in more recent times. However, for a great many years, an equally compelling battle of wills was said to have played out in France between Louis Renault and André Citroen, with both carmakers seemingly hell-bent to Continue reading “Weekend Reissue : Filigree and Shadow”
Originally carpenters made horsedrawn carriages with wooden bodies. They carried this technology over to the horseless carriage.
Then it became clear that for large scale production, a saw, hammer and some nails would not be up to the task. Design involves choosing a balance between what the material needs to do and how it can be formed. The appearance emerges from this compromise – the required look can drive material selection and vice versa. Often the balance is not even something at the forefront of the designer’s mind if they are working out of habit or tradition. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – Body Building”