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Why Citroën Cars Matter

Founded in 1919, French automaker Citroën is nearly unrivaled in its longtime dedication to ingenuity and creativity in both aesthetic design and engineering. Although French brands have long been known as being especially unique, many of Citroën's automobiles have a unique silhouette that is almost always instantly recognizable. Founded by Andre Citroën, the company had been manufacturing armaments for the French army in World War I, but pivoted to autos when the war ended. Through intensive marketing and forward-thinking engineering, the brand became the largest car manufacturer in Europe within its first decade.

1937 7CV "The Traction Avant"

The Citroen 7CV (commonly called the Traction Avant (French for "front drive), was first sold in 1934, and was an engineering marvel for the time.

Citroen Traction Avant

This car debuted three separate technological innovations that are still used today: front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and the use of unibody construction. The monocoque chassis gave the car a low-slung look relative to its contemporaries, a feature that would be repeated by later Citroën models with their hydraulic self-leveling suspensions. 

1954 2CV 

The 2CV was created as a cheap, no-frills option for basic transportation.

Citroen 2C

Produced from 1948-1990, there would ultimately be 3,867,932 of the model produced. Although it would be outlived by it's European competitors the Mini and Beetle, the 2CV is a testament to old-world minimalism and utility.

1959 ID 19 Saloon

When the DS replaced the Traction Avant in 1955, the price increased by a whopping 65%. The ID models were created as a de-contented version to serve as a cheaper model for buyers who couldn't quite stomach the more luxurious DS.

Citroen ID 19

Sharing the same incredible design of the DS, the ID featured a more traditional drivetrain with a 69hp 4 cylinder, no power steering and a conventional transmission and clutch instead of the DS's hydraulically controlled set-up. The incredibly innovative hydraulic suspension, however, was present. This suspension allowed the car to achieve sharp handling combined with top-shelf ride quality. 

1969 Ami 6

The Ami 6 served as an upmarket medium-sized car for Citroen beginning in 1961. By re-bodying the bare-bones 2CV entry level car, the company had a stylish car to slot under the DS model.

Citroen Ami 6

The Ami's most interesting feature is the reverse-sloping rear window, which allows for a creative packaging of the interior. Along with the Ford Taunus, the Ami was the first vehicle that featured non-round headlights, which remained illegal in America until 1975. 

1973 SM

The SM represented the company's first foray into high-powered (for the time) front-wheel drive vehicles. The 2.7L V6 made 176hp and had a top speed of 137mph.

1973 Citroen SM

In addition to the same hydraulic systems of the DS, the SM debuted a self-centering variable assist power steering the eliminated nearly all feedback from the wheels to the passenger. Combined with the unique styling of designer Robert Opron, the car would be the first import to win Motor Trend's coveted Car of the Year award in 1972. 

1982 Mehari 4x4

The Mehari was designed as all-terrain adventure vehicle in 1968.

Mehari 4x4

Engineered with an ABS plastic body, the Mehari was rust-resistant and could handle impacts much easier than traditional metal-bodied vehicles, making it a popular rental for beaches around the world. Interestingly, the cars were not painted, but rather the color was integrated into the molded plastic. Only 1,313 of the 4x4 vehicles were sold, making this example quite rare. 

In the mid-1970s, Citroën would ultimately be bought by fellow French manufacturer Peugeot. Although there were still interesting models released, the company's offerings became more and more similar to their new owner. Platform-sharing was encouraged, and eventually much of the uniqueness was abandoned in exchange for cheaper or more marketable solutions. Nashville-based Lane Motor Museum has done a remarkable job of curating the best cars from that remarkable era of automotive design. For more images of their incredible collection of Citroëns, don't miss the gallery below.

Want more Euro action, don't miss our coverage of the rally-fighter Lancia Delta HF Integrale!

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