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Citroen Traction Avant
The Top Gear car review: Citroen Traction Avant
What is it like on the road?
The car you see here is from 1955, and benefits from rack and pinion steering (all cars after 1936 did, before that it was worm-and-roller) and 57bhp. For cars from that era, it feels modern, progressive, reasonably light and easy to drive. And then you remember that it had only lightly been modified since its first appearance 21 years earlier. In 1934 it must have been borderline miraculous.
The drawbacks first. There’s no synchromesh for first gear, and the H-pattern three-speed manual is an almost perfect mirror image of how we’re used to them working nowadays. The lever jabs out from the dash, first where you’d normally find fourth, then across to first for second and back to second for third if you see what I mean. The throttle is an organ stop pedal in the footwell, the handbrake is over on the other side of the narrow cabin, inconveniently close to your passenger’s knee.
The steering needs less effort than you expect, but occupies an awful lot of the space in front of you – imagine having a dustbin lid on your lap. Getting going is actually smooth and simple – it’s shifting back down into first as you come to a stop that’s the hassle. Smooth it out with a blip of the throttle, although that’s easier said than done when the accelerator pedal is basically a small organ stop.
But it’s the benign smoothness of it once you get up and running that makes you realise the Traction Avant represents something special. It rolls smoothly and easily along, there’s a real dignity and ease to its movements. It rides very well indeed. Sure, there’s some shake and shudder on the Paris cobbles, but when you remember this car is 65 years old you appreciate how limber and lithe it must have been.
Speed? Not fast, but it doesn’t weigh much more then 1,100kg, so second gear has a reasonable turn of pace. That’s for this 1.9-litre 57bhp version. Safe to assume the same is probably not the case for the 1.3. The engine pulls cleanly, it’s not too noisy or intrusive, either. In fact I reckon you could sit it on an A-road at 55mph and tick the miles away very easily.
You’re not really aware of the innovation as you drive it, especially at a distance measured in decades, but the fact it isolates you, is absorbent and driveable, engaging and occupying, actually enjoyable, makes it different to much else that traces its roots back to the pre-war period.
1911cc 4cyl, 3spd man, FWD, 57bhp @ 3800rpm, 0-62mph in NAsec, 71mph max, 28mpg, 1155kg