Andre Citroën was quite a character. You may know him as the name behind one of Europe’s most successful car brands, but there’s far more to the Parisian’s life story than just his eponymous car manufacturer.
In fact, depsite the fact that he died in near poverty in 1935, André Citroën remains to this day the only man ever to have advertised on the side of the Eiffel Tower. And this wasn’t just a quick viral marketing exercise, oh no. In fact the advert (all 30,000 bulbs of it) remained in place until 1934 – nine years after it was put in place. And the only thing that removed those bright lights from the Paris skyline was the bankruptcy of Citroën.
While cancer overcame André over 84 years ago the spirit of ingenuity and experimentation has continued as Citroën celebrates its centenary in 2019, celebrations they kicked off in earnest at the Retromobile Salon in Paris this week.
Citroën are always a mainstay of this giant classic car show, but in their 100th year they have stepped their presence up a notch, dominating the vast first hall with an incredible selection of their greatest hits.
The stand, Citroën only, no sign of its DS spinoff in 2019, features two prongs of the marque’s history. One side traces Citroën’s motorsport projects, from the earliest off road 2CVs to the current C3 WRC as rallied to victory last weekend by Sébastien Ogier. It would be quite easy to overlook Citroën when you think of car brands in motorsport, they’ve never had a big presence in the single seater or touring car world (their foray into the WTCC was wildly successful, but didn’t send shockwaves through the sporting world).
But outside of the UK there are forms of motorsport which can take precedence. Citroën have dominated the WRC over the last two decades, almost to the sport’s detriment, but it’s cross country rallying that really stands out in their history. The sheer variety of cars they’ve used (from modern custom-built buggies to the humble 2CV) is only display today and is extraordinary in its breadth. Quite how they came up with the idea of a short-wheelbase DS for cross country rallying is something of bizarre wonder.
The other side of the stand showcases the less speed-based part of the brand’s life. Here you’ll find some of the incredible concepts that have graced motor shows down the years. Citroën’s partnerships with some of the greatest styling houses of all time are prominent. With the Bertone-styled Carmague standing out next to the in-house designed triangle of the Karin.
The more esoteric end of Citroën’s history comes in the Tubik, a giant, mirror-sided van that features hints of H van with dollops of who knows what? Of course a list of concepts would not be complete without a GT concept, and Citroën’s effort still turns heads almost a decade after it was created.
It’s a lesson in motoring history – with the key point being that we should never let go of the weird and interesting. The car world is moving ever toward SUVs and hatchbacks, but the likes of Citroën should be allowed to keep being different. If we lose the spirit of André Citroën, the motoring world will be all the poorer.