Citroën Cars History: Innovation That Shaped the Roads

1900-1910 – The idea of ​​Chevron was born

The origins of the French brand go back to 1900, when  André Gustave Citroën, 22,  discovered by chance during his trip to Poland a gearing mechanism in the form of a “chevron .” He quickly understood that if he could build it in steel,  his Possibilities would multiply, so he bought the patent. It is the beginning of one of the most incredible adventures of modern times.

 In 1902, Citroën betted everything it had on its discovery. Four years later, Automobiles Mors, famous for having broken the speed record at the beginning of the century, appoints him administrator and general manager: he reorganizes the workshops. He defines the new models of this company, which in ten years doubles production.

 1911-1920 – From Gear Society to manufacturer of grenades and cars

 In 1912 the  Citroën-Hinstin Gear Company was created, which later became the Citroën Gear Company. That same year, and on the occasion of a trip to the United States, the brand’s founder visited Henry Ford’s factories, where he carefully observed the organization of the workshops.

The war broke out in 1914 and needed more grenades. André Citroën, captain of the Second Heavy Artillery Regiment, proposes to the Ministry of War to go from manufacturing, in three or four months, from  5,000 to 10,000 grenades per day. To achieve this, he installed an extremely modern plant in the Javel neighborhood. On November 11, 1918, the factory manufactured more than 24 million grenades. After the war, the facilities were retrofitted to mass-build a single car model for the first time in Europe: the aim is to reduce its price and make it accessible to more people.

As early as 1920, the Type A Sport was introduced, a small luxury Torpedo-style series with sporty qualities. The French brand wins the grand consumer prize at Le Mans. Its prestige is proliferating, so the pace of production increases: by the end of the year, more than 15,000 Citroën are on the roads.

1921-1930 – A popular brand

 The Type A Sport was replaced by the  B  in 1921, the date the export of vehicles began (3,000 units). The Levallois plant was opened to manufacture the Torpedo 5 CV Trèfle (Clover). Also presented are the  Caddy, the first sports car derived from a series model, and the 5-hp Type C (“Petite Citron”).

Later, the Sant-Charles factory was opened (1923). The first  European assembly line, capable of producing 100 cars a day, begins at Javel. In 1924 the Sant-Ouen factory was put into operation when Citroën adopted the first all-steel body for the B10 (from now on, all models will be made of this material). At the end of the year, the Epinettes plant is added. 

A year later, the B12  (1925) was launched, notable for its four-wheel brakes. In addition, the commercial network was developed (the 200 agencies in 1919 became 5,000), and the fleet of taxis in Paris was renewed. Finally, Citroën puts its name on the Eiffel Tower with 30-meter-high letters (an initiative that lasts until 1934).

The brand specializes in its factories to increase production (1926). In addition, the Grenelle  (machining and assembly of front axles and rear axles of the new B14 ) is launched. The production capacity of all factories reached  1,000 cars a day in 1928. At the end of this decade, the most important models are the  C4  (replacement for the B14) and the C6, the first series with a six-cylinder engine.

1931-1940 – Front-wheel drive

 At the beginning of the decade, the Citroën Transport Corporation was created, and several models were launched: the C6 CGL, which will win numerous awards in elegance competitions; the C4G and C6G, equipped with the first floating engines; and the elegant 8hp monocoque body (Rosalie).

The economic crisis seriously affects the French automobile industry. But André Citroën, true to his theory of building cheaper and cheaper, completely dismantled and rebuilt the Quai de Javel factory. In April 1934, the 7A appeared: it was the first front-wheel-drive vehicle. Despite everything, the company suffered severe financial difficulties that year that prevented it from meeting its payments. At the government’s request,  Michelin, its main creditor, intervenes in the accounts and refloats the business.

After the crisis, the range of models stabilizes. On July 3, 1935,  the founder died of a severe illness. A year later, the manufacturer conceives the project of a popular small-displacement car, “four wheels under one umbrella”: it is the future 2CV. Three years later, the 15-Six appears, baptized as “The king of the highway.”

The start of the  Second World War causes the bombing of the Quai de Javel plant. The 2CV’s departure is aborted: the  250 prototypes ready for an Auto Show that never takes place are voluntarily destroyed  (except for one). Production tends little by little to zero, a consequence of circumstances and the stubborn resistance of the management to German demands.

1941-1950 – The arrival of a myth: the 2CV

 Production slowly recovered once the war was over: 1,600 vehicles in 1945 to 12,600 in just one year. Models 11B, 11BL, and 15-Six G reappear. In addition, the French brand launched the 15-Six D and created commercial subsidiaries in  Stockholm and  Buenos Aires  (1947).

But the big news comes at the 1948 Motor Show: the Citroën 2CV impresses with its unusual appearance, the strangeness of its solutions, its economical nature, and many possibilities of use. It is manufactured in Levallois, the only plant with both significant bodywork and a mechanical sector. The decade closes with the birth of the  H, a commercial vehicle with 1,200 kilos of payload.

1951-1960 – DS appears

The decade begins with the manufacture of the  2CV van  (1951). Orders for the 2CV are so high that delivery times reach up to six years. Meanwhile, the brand continues its opening abroad and creates Citroën Cars Corporation in New York.

In 1953, the Rennes-la Barre Thomas plant  (Brittany) began to operate. A year later, the Asnières factory started up the hydraulic workshops to manufacture the DS. Likewise, the 15-Six  incorporates the hydropneumatic suspension of constant height in its rear part, which combines the action of a gas and a liquid to improve comfort and behavior.

The  Paris Motor Show  (1955) witnessed the birth of the  DS 19, a revolutionary car for its line and for the technologies it incorporates: hydropneumatic suspension with automatic height corrector, front disc brakes (first time in a production vehicle). After the presentation of ID 19  (1957), the manufacturer inaugurated an assembly line for 2CV vans in Cambodia (1957) and the Citroën Hispania factory in Vigo (1958), destined for the construction of 2CV vans for the Spanish market and export. That same year the 2CV Sahara was presented, equipped with four-wheel drive. 

In 1959, the ID 19, driven by the Coltelloni-Alexandre-Desrosiers team wins the Monte Carlo Rally. As a result, it was decided to participate in the competition, and  Coltelloni was proclaimed European Rally Champion. On the occasion of the Milan Triennale in  1959, an international art and design exhibition, the brand exhibits the body of the DS. The convertible version of this model, presented at the 1960 Paris Motor Show, closes this period.

1961-1970 – The Mehari, Citroën’s first “off-road”

 The  Ami 6 completed the Citroën range in April 1961. Meanwhile, the French manufacturer continues its expansion by opening different factories  (Catila, Argentina; Rennes-la-Janis, Brittany; Nanterre; Caen, Normandy; and Mangualde, Portugal) and headquarters  (Canada, Austria, and Chile).

After the DS 19 (1962) redesign appeared the  DS 19 Pallas  (1964), a vehicle equipped with specially cared for interior equipment and finish. In addition, all models have optional seat belts at the Paris Motor Show. A year later, the 2,175 cc DS 21 and the Vélizy Study Center arrive, a space that expands and integrates three vital services dispersed until now: the Study Office, the Laboratory, and the Research Service.

In 1967, the assembly of the Dyane began in Belgium, a model that ranks between the 2CV and the Ami 6. A year later, the Mehari was born, an off-road vehicle with a  plastic body that offers good resistance to minor shocks. After replacing the DS 19 with the  DS 20  -more sporty-, the French group reorganizes and establishes a technological and commercial cooperation agreement with  Maserati and another withFiat to develop common industrial and commercial studies and investment projects.

The  Ami 8  (1969) replaces the Ami 6, while the DS with electronic injection completes the range (the first time it has been used in a French series production car). The Metz-Borny (Lorraine) plant and Citer, an international car rental chain, were operational. Finally, in 1970 the  SM, a luxurious coupe born from the agreement with Maserati, and the  GS came out. In addition, among the seven cars that pass the finish line in Rally Morocco, there are five DS 21s.

1971-1980 – The foundation of PSA

Citroën signs agreements with companies from different countries (Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador, Yugoslavia, etc.) to produce or assemble models (2CV, 3CV). The  SM  makes its victorious debut at the 1971 Rally Morocco. After two years, the Aulnay-sous-Boix factory was inaugurated to replace the Quai de Javel factory gradually. Although it maintains certain industrial and commercial relations, the brand breaks the agreement with Fiat- and removes the  GS Director.

The automobile crisis, caused by oil, caused production to drop considerably in 1974. Michelin and Peugeot decided to unite Automobiles Citroën and Automobiles Peugeot to form a group with an international dimension. Each brand maintains its network of dealers, vehicles, and image but shares the development of research, purchasing, and investment policy. The new  CX  is less revolutionary than the DS, which it replaces.

The break with Maserati came in 1975 when exports  (55%) improved the French manufacturer’s production figures. After a year comes  PSA, the group resulting from the merger with Peugeot, SA: the LN model is the first fruit. Subsequently, the Orense plant was started to construct mechanical parts for the Vigo facilities (1978), and the Visa was presented. Likewise, the integral electronic ignition equips cars manufactured in series (Visa and LNA) for the first time in the world. On the other hand, an agreement with Fiat and Peugeot establishes the creation of an industrial vehicle. After the inauguration of the  Trémery factory and the departure of the  Mehari with all-wheel drive (1979), the first  Quality Circles appeared in the Rennes-La Janis factory (1980). The 2CV Charleston with two-tone bodywork and round headlights adds the finishing touch.

1981-1990 – The benefits return

The decade begins with the C25, a commercial vehicle manufactured and marketed jointly with Peugeot and Fiat. In 1982, and after 68 years, Citroën left the Quai de Javel to establish its headquarters in Neuilly-sur-Seine. On the other hand, the delivery of 150 CX to the Dong Fang Hotel in Canton allows entry into the Chinese market. During this period, the  BX  (1982), the Visa convertible (1983), and the  C15  (1984) arrived. In 1985 a new brand image was adopted, in which the colors red and white replaced blue and yellow. The CX 25 GTI Turbo, the first French car with ABS  (optional), is also launched.

After six years of losses, the firm returned to profit in 1986 and achieved significant penetration throughout Europe. On the occasion of the birth of the  AX, the Aulnay assembly unit was modernized. In 1987 expanded the AX range (five-door, Sport, and GT versions) and the CX 25 diesel Turbo 2 and the BX 19 GTI 16 valves appeared.

A year later, the AX Diesel arrived, and a significant increase in sales outside France (12%), especially in  Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The Activa is also presented, a prototype that enables the development of four-wheel steering and pilots suspension. 

The launch of the  XM  takes place in 1989: the high-end saloon designed by  Bertone has suspension for the first time hyperactive as standard. As the Paris Motor Show star, the Activa 2 is presented, a ready-to-run prototype equipped with a 3-liter 24V V6 engine. The ZX Rallye-Raid’s official presentation represents the manufacturer’s return to international competition as a last novelty.

1991-2000 – Sales record

The ZX  becomes the first European vehicle with a  sliding rear bench seat and a reclining backrest with its arrival. Meanwhile, the AX debuts restyling, and  Ari Vatanen triumphs at the wheel of the ZX Rallye-Raid at the 13th Paris-Dakar (1991). A year later, the brand definitively entered the Chinese market thanks to the joint venture that led to  Dongfeng Citroën Automobile Company.

In 1993 the  Xantia appeared, the result of the collaboration of the Style Centers and  Bertone. In addition, the Aulnay plant manufactures the “two million” unit of the AX. Already in 1995, and after the launch of the Evasión minivan and the Jumper (1994), Citroën Hispania received awards for manufacturing quality and the company of the year in Spain

The little Saxo and the  Berlingo are the next to arrive (1996). Built exclusively in Vigo, the latter has tremendous commercial success in Spain. In 1997, the brand launched the  Xsara (five-door version) and ranked first in the European light retail vehicle market.

On January 21, 1998, Jean-Martin Folz presented the new PSA Peugeot Citroën organization: two brands, one group. Meanwhile, the Xsara brings out the coupe and break versions. A year later, the French manufacturer beats its historical sales record with more than one million vehicles: it has improved its results in the third consecutive year. Likewise, the Xsara Picasso and the new Saxo are presented. On the other hand, the less polluting HDi engine is progressively extended to the entire range.

This period ends with obtaining the  ISO 9001  (2000 version) certification: the first brand to achieve this in the automotive industry. Ultimately, the DS ranks third in the car of the century finale in Las Vegas.

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