Modestine in Arras
Eight hundred cars and thousands of collectors and admirers gathered in Arras, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, from July 10-13, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Citroën Traction Avant.
More than 2m of these cars were built in the long production run from 1934-57. The car found favour with a wide variety of customers including French gangsters, General DeGaulle and Francophiles everywhere. There are thought to be as many as as 200,000 still in some form of existence, in more or less every corner of the globe. The car is a symbol always quintessentially French, even when built in Slough, which some were, and even though the designer, Flaminio Bertoni, was an Italian.
Amidst the foule of Tractions in the great squares of Arras, Modestine was not put to shame, attracting more or less constant attention and hundreds of questions and compliments.
Although hundreds of pictures were taken of the car I was pre-occupied speaking French comme une vache folle anglaise and grabbed only a handful of shots on my iPhone, one of which I share above, albeit this is not the greatest camera of all time. You can see the top of my head, and the iPhone, at the bottom of the picture!
It shows a fairly typical scene as Modestine exhibited herself (topless, of course – that is to say with her bonnet up) revealing her two big carburateurs and alternator. Boys of all ages were seduced. And some girls, too.
There were especially complimentary comments about her immaculate Vert Olive paintwork.
There were one or two old boys who muttered grimly of Modestine that she was “pas originale“. Mainly, I think, there was admiration for a well-tailored performance. CTA Holland has done a great job with Modestine. She arrived in England this morning after roaring through France, had a nap through the tunnel and passed her MOT this afternoon. Yes, you can hear the stereo when she’s moving. Yes, she is more powerful with the twin carbs. The CTA power steering is amazing – it 90% removes fatigue from driving the car, especially manoeuvring. The seat belts are great. And yes, like the French, elle a toujour soif.
Why Modestine? I have named her after Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey. From a behaviourist’s analysis, Stevenson’s initially troublesome relationship with Modestine only improved, once he began to understand her character. And thus, also, might a driver come to terms with the demanding character and lust for attention of a Traction.
Illustration by Walter Crane for Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, London, C. Kegan Paul, 1879.