“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”
André Citroën and Henry Ford: An unlikely pairing?
The often innovative cars his Quai de Javel factory on the banks of the river Seine produced were noteworthy, as was his unmatched knack of thinking of new and audacious forms of publicity, but André Citroën always kept an eye open for new ideas and methods initiated by other manufacturers as well; notably those from the land of the free and the home of the brave. Over the course of two decades Citroën would Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 1”
A slice of contemporary automotive life through the lens of an artist.
Principally known in his later years, alongside better-known contemporary Henri Cartier-Bresson for his photojournalism work, Robert Doisneau captured on camera the working atmosphere of the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt during their pre-war peak in the mid 1930’s. Drawn to the camera aged around sixteen, Doisneau was so shy he preferred to Continue reading “Doisneau’s All Seeing Eye”
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”
We look at two proud Frenchmen who were really quite similar and so very different.
There are certain notorious rivalries in motoring history. Many of them were sporting ones, in the Senna-Prost mould, which sometimes went beyond good sense and risked the lives of those involved. But there are also rivalries that at first seemed less visceral, but that had equally grim endings.
One such is that between André Citroën and Louis Renault. Neither were self-made men from humble backgrounds in the vein of Herbert Austin or, even more so, William Morris. Both had comfortable upbringings, André’s possibly less stable due to the suicide of his father. Born within a year of each other, they actually first met as young children attending the same Lyceé. André studied engineering at the prestigious École Polytechnique whereas Louis was self-taught, building his first car before the end of the 19th Century and becoming part of the early history of motoring after forming a company with two of his brothers.
By 1909 both his brothers were dead and Louis was in sole control of Renault. Despite the subsequent images of their companies, it is reasonable to suggest that, despite lacking an engineering qualification, Louis Renault had the more creative and practical engineering mind, though he confined his ideas to Continue reading “Theme : Rivals – The Light and The Dark”
I’ve just spent a few days and 2,500 km driving around Eastern France. In that time, I saw two Citroën CXs, a Renault Dauphine, a Renault 12, a Simca 1100 and a Peugeot 504. And I also saw an Onze Legere Traction, but that was UK registered. Those staple cliches for the location director setting an episode of a popular UK TV series in France, the DS and the 2CV, were nowhere to be seen, save for a battered Snail sitting on the roof of a scrapyard. Of course a French person visiting the UK would notice the dearth of Morris Minors and Rover 2000s but, somehow, the homogeneity of the modern French industry is so much more depressing. Even a Peugeot 406 and a Renault 21 were almost cheering sights, being pretty Gallic compared with today’s eurocars.