‘The Citroën Traction Avant saved our lives’

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant, Poland, Romania by Deputy city editor on March 23, 2011

The car had “certainly not” broken down. Picture shows Citroën Traction in October 1939 on the 7km mud road leading to the  ‘vast estate’ at Suceava, Romania. The account of this episode in the Cranleigh RC parish magazine explains that it was the custom of the landowner to send his ox teams to pull cars through the deep mud – as ‘a gesture of friendship & welcome.’

Basia Weaver (née Rytarowska), who lives quietly today in Cranleigh, Surrey, a member of St Nicholas Catholic church and an amateur historian, has no trouble finding material. She has a story of her own – of an exile that involves escaping both Nazis and subsequently Soviets, each having invaded her native Poland within a few days of one another, in 1939.

Her account of her escape from Poland to Bucharest and subsequently Cranleigh via Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Algeria, Morocco and Portugal, contains the intriguing revelation (to a Tractionist) of the vital role played by her father’s new Citroën Traction Avant, which was the family’s vehicle for escape. Basia found a new home in England after making a perilous flight across the Bay of Biscay, an area where German air presence was assumed. She is now occupied translating family archives and trying to recover the story , so as to enlighten her grandchildren, when they ask why, and how, and what happened.

I met the remarkable Basia by pure coincidence, or Tractiondipidity, outside the Sun public house in Dunsfold, in the company of Modestine, my 1951 Citroën Traction Avant.

The power of the Traction to attract admirers and good stories has rarely been bettered. Basia spotted the car, one thing led to another, and over a soft drink she told me of her father’s beloved Traction, which outran incoming armies from two directions. I am of course fascinated, additionally when she said she had flown from Lisbon to Bristol, during World War II.  This is an air link that carries a certain distinction, in my Junior Jet Club plane spotters book. My former neighbour Rex Cowan in Hampstead many years ago also used this flight. There is a lot about BOAC Flight 777 on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

In this epic tale of exile, the Traction “saved our lives,” recalls Basia. “It withstood appalling road conditions and survived the first six months of the war impeccably. A broken exhaust, resulting from the roughly cobbled roads on the outskirts of Bucharest, was the only mishap it suffered.”

“To avoid the blocked roads caused by numerous breakdowns and the lack of petrol, my father sometimes drove over ploughed stubble fields or through the woods,” she recalls in her account published in the March 2011 edition of the St Nicholas, Cranleigh, parish magazine.

After the escape from the Germans, the family was only briefly safe. “We were staying within 5 km of the Polish/Russian border when the Russian army invaded south-eastern Poland on 17 September 1939.”  They drove to Romania, where in February 1940 the beloved car had to be sold.In a letter, Basia remembers Bucharest where there were a large group of Polish families as Romania had become the major escape route for Polish civilians and some in the military when Poland was attacked from the west and the east. She also remembers 2-1/2 years in Algiers.

“I remember some of the women we knew in Algiers were later with us in London so I presume that others made the same journey we did from Algiers/ Tangiers / Gibralter / Lisbon to Bristol.”

The BOAC flights between Lisbon and Bristol operated by brave KLM crews provide a colourful and tragic sidebar to the greater problems of civil aviation at the time. It is currently unclear to me if the commercial service was used by Basia and her mother when they landed in Bristol on 8 September 1942, or might they have been on another kind of flight. As Basia herself acknowledges: “The story of the Lisbon-Bristol flights is fascinating and needs unraveling.”

Basia’s father joined the Polish army in exile and after service in France was evacuated to Britain in June 1940. Basia’s sister married a French national in Algiers. Basia’s parents, born in the Ukraine, then part of Czarist Russia, had survived the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian civil war and the Polish-Russian war of 1920, and then the second world war. “Having lost everything twice in their lives, in 1948 they decided to stay in the UK and so start again. They died in England aged 85 and 93.”

What an amazing story!

Comments are welcome especially from those who can ‘interpret’ more about the Traction !

Modestine at Millau

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant, Millau by Deputy city editor on October 15, 2010

Modestine, 1951 Citroën Traction 11BL, crosses the Viaduc de Millau. French technology, old and new. Oil on canvas. Christopher Ludlow, 2010.

Modestine in Arras

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant, Classic cars by Deputy city editor on July 13, 2009


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.

Pictures: The Traction 11BL ‘Edition Spéciale’ from CTA Holland

Posted in cars, Citroen Traction Avant, Classic cars by Deputy city editor on July 9, 2009


The 75th anniversary ‘2009’ special edition Traction in Brabant, Holland this week.  The car is built from a Paris-built 11 BL that was manufactured 58 years ago this month, in July, 1951.


Here is another shot of the restored car on a road test.

traction before shot

Above is the donor car before restoration. In the pictures that follow, you can see what CTA did to it, to create a ‘new’ Traction out of an old one.


There was a lot of rust.

Where to start? As the project went forward and the car was dismantled, the extent of the problems was revealed and the program of work expanded.

There was serious rot to the underneath and the rear, the engine was leaking at both ends, the electrical system looked as if it has been nibbled by mice, and that was only the start. The door hinges were rotting, the seats collapsing, the brakes wonky and it only started when it felt like it. What to do? With its pre-war body panels and ID engine, nothing would ever make it worthwhile to restore this car to original so instead a decision was taken in certain respects make it radically modern.


When this picture below was taken, the car had already been extensively rebuilt.


Above is a view of the front suspension. The Pilote wheels were later replaced because of safety concerns.


A lot of work had to be done on the floor pan and at the back of the vehicle in the boot/trunk area including fitting a new fuel tank.


Preparation of the cabin before re-installation of lining, upholstery & seats…


A replacement 11D motor is installed for the 11D unit leaking at both ends…

DSCN6092The bottom of the car was in poor shape and this is what replaced it…


Here is the new engine with a good view of the twin carbs. These were installed to give the car some additional horsepower. Performance details will be released after the car has been tested.


Leather door lining has been installed to match upholstery. Note early Jaeger instrument panel.

All these pictures are by kind permission of Marcel Smits at CTA Holland.

Some more Traction pictures

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant, Classic cars by Deputy city editor on July 8, 2009

2009 Citroën Traction 11BL Edition Spéciale (CTA Holland Photo)

La Traction Edition Spéciale (CTA Photo)

La Traction Edition Spéciale (CTA Holland Photo)

La Citroën Traction 11 BL de ‘2009’

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant, Classic cars by Deputy city editor on July 7, 2009

Edition Spéciale

Edition Spéciale (CTA Holland Photo)

Finally finished – the 75th anniversary ‘2009’ Citroën Traction Avant BL. The vehicle is currently being road tested in Brabant, the Netherlands, and will be at the 75th anniversary Citroën re-union in Arras, northern France, this weekend.

The car is the culmination of 10 months work at CTA Holland. In the 75th anniversary year of the Traction, the intention has been to make a car fit for the the next 75 years. The emphasis has been on useability rather than slavish authenticity – a restoration decision that may provoke some mutterings of disapproval among some Traction collectors.

The basis of the car is a monocoque Paris-built in 1951. Nothing is known of the early history of the car although the vehicle subsequently became the property of a Belgian general/Traction enthusiast who attempted to restore the car backwards to a superficially 1936 appearance (though fooling no expert).

The general fitted pre-war body panels, lights, seats and in a deviation forwards in time, an 11D engine – the same engine fitted to the early Citroën ID. By 2005 as the car passed from his family to eBay to me, this engine was leaking at both ends and the gearbox was on its last legs.

All this restoration may or may not have been well-advised at the time, but judging from the norm, there are very few cars with unblotted claims to originality and the general did create an attractive vehicle (although an expert will notice, for example, the post-war rear-window molding) but with the power of the later performance versions of the Traction.

Because the car was not original in any case, the restoration was not inhibited by the requirement for preservation. Nevertheless, visually, modernisation has been done as sympathetically as possible, with the intention that the car should still superficially appear as a pre-war vehicle, albeit with 21st century technology where it could hardly be seen.

As the car was dismantled and deterioration was revealed, the decision was taken to profoundly restore the extensive body deterioration underneath the car. To achieve more power, the nominal 60hp 11D engine was replaced with a CTA re-built 11D unit with twin overhead carburetors.

The car was entirely re-wired with a 12v electrical system enabling a largely invisible updating of the vehicle’s communication, entertainment and navigation systems to 21st century standards. An electrical power steering unit added directly to the base of the steering column transforms the driver control of the car eliminating all fatigue associated with the Traction’s notoriously heavy front end.

The 12v system also powers LED lighting which is fitted to the rear for improved evening and night-time visibility.

The car is compatible with GPS, iPhone/iPod and similar devices. Bluetooth hands-free telephony is available through an Alpine head unit under the glove box. Seats and interior have been finished in leather. Inertial seat belts have been added for driver and passenger.

The colour scheme uses a 1936 paint colour named Vert Olive with the fenders in black.

CTA Holland did the work.

Vive La Traction! Vive les 75 prochaines années!

1954 Citroën Traction 11B Normale

Posted in Citroen Traction Avant by Deputy city editor on June 15, 2009

citroen traction 11B N

This is my 1954 Citroën 11 B Normale – garaged at the Starter Château in Caux. The condition is original.

This car is a limousine compared to the sporty 11BL.  I think these cars would benefit even more than the BL from 12V and power steering. Not everyone would agree.