Sometimes A Citroën Has To Travel Multiple Continents Before Finding New Life
Photography by Erik Olson
Little did Parisian expat Ben Pouliquen know when setting off to a friend’s house for dinner that it would be such an influential night. When the conversation turned to cars, he was surprised to learn that there was a Citroën Traction Avant in the nearby garage. Growing up in France, Pouliquen had seen these cars quite often as a child, but had yet to see one in the U.S. After seeing the car, he couldn’t get the thought of owning one out of his mind.
It’s easy to understand why: Traction Avants are surprisingly understated, yet elegant cars, and not in great supply. With a lovely low-slung body, they could be mistaken for a custom coachwork build, yet it’s a design that began production in 1934, paused during the Second World War, then went back into production after the war using the same tooling as before.
A search for a suitable Traction Avant led him to a seller that eventually—nine months later—decided to sell his car to Pouliquen. a 1952 Traction Avant 15-6.
With roots similar to its new owner, this 1952 Citroën Traction Avant 15-6 started life in Paris with an employee at Goodyear tires. When a job transfer took that owner to Venezuela, the car went with. Another job transfer brought the car to Crystal Brook Park, NY, where it saw light use at a vacation home until sometime in the late 1980s. Though it was started on occasion, its life was now predominantly spent in a barn, and it would be so until 2002 when the property’s caretaker bought it and restored it. Through a series of other sales and moves, the Avant made its way to North Carolina, before finally heading to the midwest.
Pouliquen dove right in. He suspected the car had more rust than was visible beneath the two-tone blue paint job, and had the entire car stripped to reveal the results of a life spent on at least three different continents. He found rust in the trunk, the floors, rocker panels, lower doors, and sprinkled throughout other areas. Now though, it’s repaired and as good as new.
The straight-six engine was also restored during this time, and the routine to get it started reminds you that in mid-Century France, the pace of life couldn’t be rushed. Next to the fuel pump is a lever with a spring attached, which needs to be pumped until fuel shows up in the glass bowl on top. After the bowl is full, the choke is engaged, and after any advance or retard adjustments necessary to the ignition are made, it’s time to crank away. And in the event it doesn’t crank, no trouble at all: slide the grill badge to the side, and crank it by hand. To run late, first one must run.
Once it fires and the choke is disengaged, the idle slows to something so smooth and quiet it’s almost watch-like. There’s a shift lever on the dash with an opposite pattern of what you’d expect: a tall first gear good for about 5 mph, and for indicating direction, a semaphore pops out to the amusement of the cars around you- also a most charming feature.
It’s easy to forget that this is a car from the 1950s, especially when placed next to an American car from the same decade. France was still rebuilding after the war, however, and it was more economical to put old tooling back into production rather than design something new. It was ahead of its time even with its original design, with rarely-seen front-wheel-drive and very robust mechanicals, it could hold its own when put to daily use.
This well-traveled Citroën is set to make another long trip when Pouliquen and his wife move to Southern California later this fall. He’s excited at the prospect of being able to enjoy his car all year, especially now that it’s finished. It’s comforting to know that there are still people willing to put time and effort into such a unique car, and to know that this one will be enjoying sunshine and coastal roads again soon.
If you see Pouliquen out cruising around, be sure to give him a wave or a honk, you’ll definitely get a response, maybe even a semaphore.