1939 Citroen 15CV
Year of manufacture1939
Number of seats2
1939 Citroën Light Fifteen Roadster
Registration no. FOF 899
Chassis no. 123124
A curious mixture of romantic visionary and practical businessman, André Citroën knew a promising invention when he saw one. While travelling through Poland at the age of 22, he had visited a foundry and there noticed an unfamiliar type of gearwheel that used V-shaped teeth. He immediately recognised the potential of this design and bought the patent, setting up André Citroën & Cie in the rue Saint-Denis near Paris's Gare du Nord to manufacture his new double-helical gears.
During WWI Citroën held the rank of captain in the French Army and was charged with organising the mass production of munitions. Seeking to speed up the manufacture of artillery shells, he built a new factory at the Quai de Javel on the left bank of the Seine, from which the first Citroën cars would emerge after the cessation of hostilities bearing their maker's distinctive double-chevron badge a reference to his helical gears.
Having prospered throughout the 1920s, Citroën was determined that economic depression and a contracting car market would not prevent him from introducing a revolutionary new model the so-called Traction Avant - which he was convinced would ensure his company's future. It did just that, but not until after Citroën had lost control of his empire when a minor creditor commenced legal proceedings against him. Within two years, new owner Michelin had paid off all Citroën's debts.
Citroën's brainchild, the 7CV Traction Avant, broke new ground in almost every aspect of production car engineering on its launch in 1934. Unitary construction of the body/chassis; front wheel drive; all-independent suspension sprung by torsion bars; hydraulic brakes; synchromesh transmission; and a four-cylinder, overhead-valve, wet-liner engine were all incorporated in the new car at a time when the majority of its rivals employed a separate chassis, cart springs, sidevalve engines, and mechanical brakes.
This ground-breaking specification would have counted for little had the result not worked in practice, but the Traction soon gained a well deserved reputation for exceptional stability and exemplary handling that endures to this day. The 1.3-litre original was soon superseded by larger-engined versions, and from 1935 there were two four-cylinder models available - the 1,628cc 7CV and 1,911cc 11CV - to which was added a 2.9-litre 'six' - the 15CV - in 1938. Production resumed after WW2 and lasted until 1957 when the Traction Avant was replaced by the equally revolutionary DS.
The Traction was also built at Citroën's British factory at Slough in Buckinghamshire, which had opened in 1926 and would go on to build some 57,000 cars before being reorganised in 1965 for sales and marketing. The British and French horsepower ratings and vehicle taxation systems were different, so in the UK the 7CV was known as the Twelve, the 11CV as the Light Fifteen, and the 15CV as the Six-Cylinder or Big Six.
A superb example of one of Citroën's rarest and most sought-after models - there were no soft-top Tractions after WW2 - this Light Fifteen Roadster left the French company's Slough factory in June 1939. The current vendor purchased the car as a restoration project in 2002. A chance meeting with a previous owner, Mike Darrieulat, at the Goodwood Revival revealed that the Citroën had been driven to Cannes in 1966 and then sold on Clapham Common to the then secretary of the Citroën Car Club for £5!
When acquired, the primed bodyshell had already been restored and the car came complete with all the rare Roadster parts including the windscreen, rear seat, interior woodwork, etc. Contracted out to specialists, the rebuild took all of six years to complete, being finished in 2008. The car was repainted blue in the process, having previously been British Racing Green, and the odometer zeroed. The sensible incorporation into the electrics of fuses and a battery cut-off switch are the only notified deviations from factory specification.
Since completion the Light Fifteen has been used on rallies both in the UK and on the Continent, and currently displays a total of 14,750 miles on the odometer. Accompanying documentation consists of sundry restoration invoices, some expired MoTs, a V5C Registration Certificate, and a current MoT. Described by the private vendor as in excellent condition throughout, this beautiful and ultra-rare Citroën Light Fifteen Roadster is worthy of the closest inspection. An opportunity not to be missed.