Citron Traction Avant 11CV Commerciale - The World's First Hatchback?
The Volkswagen Golf GTi may be what many consider the definitive “hot hatch,” and most enthusiasts credit it with popularizing the idea of a functional yet fun-to-drive and economical daily driver. From its roots have sprung countless pocket-sized performance variants, right up to today’s current Focus RS.
But the Volkswagen Golf was far from the world’s first hatchback. It wasn’t even close.
So where did the idea of a hinged-rear body panel begin? More than 40 years prior to the launch of the GTi, another innovative car introduced the world to the idea of the hatchback, among a few other new features. Are you surprised that it was French, after our Matra article last month?
Until 1934, Citroën had produced cars much like every other manufacturer at the time: rear-drive, body-on-frame construction. But in 1934, the French company introduced a new concept with its Type 7A model. The drivetrain moved entirely to the front, with the 1303cc inline-four good for 32 horsepower powering the front wheels. The innovative change meant that there did not need to be a conventional transmission tunnel, or indeed any running gear behind the firewall.
As a result, Citroën abandoned the traditional body-on-frame design and utilized new all-steel unibody construction. Innovation on the 7A didn’t end there, as the car had independent torsion bar suspension, four-wheel hydraulic brakes and rubber motor mount technology licensed from Chrysler that Citroën called “Floating Motor.”
The name given to the 7A was “Traction Avant” — forward drive — to help differentiate it from the automaker’s normal rear-drive cars. Shortly after introduction in 1934, an enlarged version of the 7A — the 11A — was revealed. Some 5.5 inches longer and nearly eight inches wider than the 7, the new 11 had an upgraded 1911cc motor producing 46 hp. As with the 7, the 11 was initially available in Berline, Cabriolet, and Faux Cabriolet models. However, Citroën further stretched the wheelbase another eight inches to create the “Conduite Intérieure” and the “Familiale” models. Starting in 1936, the trunk was hinged on the bottom, granting access to the back from outside for the first time.
This bottom hinge formed part of what would become the next important step for the 11. In 1938, the 11 (now with CV suffix) model added to its lineup the “Commerciale” model. The major change was the addition of a hinged roof section that allowed access to the entire rear of the car. The lower portion containing the spare wheel, supported by large chains, swung downwards and formed a platform, while the window section folded upwards and out of the way of cargo.
Intended for craftsmen and families in need of moving cargo, Citroën marketed the extreme versatility of the 11CV with an advertisement campaign highlighting the many things which could be loaded into its new configuration. It didn’t matter if you were just trying to move some baguettes or if you were a butcher in need of transporting a few vache — the Commerciale was the hatchback for you!
Citroën arguably also created the world’s first crossover with its “Familiale” model. Built on the same lengthened chassis as the Commerciale, it featured a third row of convertible folding seats called strapontins. This gave the Familiale model a total passenger capacity of nine, though admittedly it wasn’t quite as spacious as a modern-day Suburban. The storable seats slotted into the middle of the passenger compartment, unlike the contemporary rear placement, thoroughly eliminating legroom for all.
Unfortunately for the firm, the outbreak of World War II signaled a new chapter in French history, instead of the triumph of the unique platform. As fuel shortages set in, companies such as F.A.P. Elgazo Tarbes created a coal-powered alternative that could be grafted onto the Traction Avant. Large “aerodynamic” coal containers flanked the front fenders, and when ignited they produced methane that could be run through a special carburetor. The unique solution to a problem that probably shouldn’t have existed gave you a 30-mile range on coal alone. Only a few of these 11 Gazogene models still exist, but you can visit one at the Lane Motor Museum.
As Citroën struggled to get its feet underneath it following the destruction of World War II, the 11CV Commeriale model continued with minor modifications. Now simply called the 11C, the most recognizable difference was that the lower portion of the hatch was incorporated into the upper portion. This formed a much more identifiable hatch, no longer with the spare wheel integrated.
The Traction Avant was a very dated design by that point, and the car was anything but a sales success, though it helped to keep the lights on until Citroën introduced its new — and equally forward-thinking — DS was ready for market in 1955. 11C production lasted through the end of the 1957 model year, with only a few thousand ultimately produced.
There would be other hatchbacks built in the 1950s, such as the Kaiser-Frazer Vagabond, but none really caught on until the 1960s. Based upon the basic formula of the 11C and the 2CV, rival Renault would go on to produce what many feel is the first “true” hatchback in 1961 with its model 4. Though not as innovative as the 7 and 11 models had been for Citroën, the Renault 4 would go on to sell in the millions as a lower cost, extremely versatile family hatchback, the success of which would create many copies in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The hot hatch era had arrived.
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Crown They need to put the EcoDiesel back in the Grand Cherokee. I have a 2018 and it has been the most reliable vehicle I ever owned. 69,000 miles and only needed tires, and regular oil and fuel filter changes.
- El scotto Y'all are overthinking this. Find some young hard-charging DA seeking the TV limelight to lock this kid up. Heck, have John Boehner come up from Cincy to help the young DA get his political career going. Better yet, have the young DA spin this as hard as he or she can; I'm the candidate for Law and Order, I defied our go-easy office and leadership to get this identified criminal locked up. Oh this could be spun more than a hyper active kid's top.Now I'd do some consulting work for Little Kings Original Cream Ale and Skyline Chili.
- El scotto Pondering if he has a clean brandy snifter. Well but, ah, I mean the original Grand Wagoneer was fully loaded and had a V-8. The original Grand Wagoneer had an almost cult-like following with a certain type of woman. Attractive, educated high earning women; or those that put on the appearances of being that way.Our esteemed HerR DOKtor Perfessor again shows how ignorant he is of the American market. What he deems "bread-vans on stilts" are highly coveted by significant others that are also highly coveted. The new Grand Cherokee with the new well engineered V-6 will sell as well as the ones from the 80s some of us get wistful over. The only real question will be: LL Bean or Orvis edition?
- El scotto Well, I've had cats that are smarted than a great many members of congress. I rather doubt that any of the congresspeople Matt named are engineers, finance people or project managers. Ya know, professionals you call in to get a job done.Today is Wednesday, this will be out of the 36 hour news cycle by Friday. Oh it might get mentioned again on OCT 6. Unless there are cute animals to put on TV that day.
- El scotto Oh My Good Lord Yes! Gents, this is a Caddy that carries on the soul of Caddy. Loud, brash, and apologetically American. Also large and in charge and one of GM's best evah engines. What used to be a flash roll is now bottle service.Can't deal with that reality? There are plenty of excellent SUVs/CUVs on the market. I'm a former Escape owner. The Escape was a sensible lil CUV, this Caddy is just way over the top.Canyon carver? Not a chance, this is based on a Silverado frame. Easy to park? Toss the valet the keys. Will some of the other high-end SUVs have better "soft touch" materials that make car journalist get tingly all over? Of course.This Caddy is designed to eat up huge and I mean huge amounts of American interstate miles. Four people and their luggage? Easily.