The CitroMuseum Is More Like CitroënHeaven
Photography by Federico Bajetti
It feels like entering a cave, forgotten and almost hidden away from the eyes of unassuming travelers of the Route Napoleon. The French alps in the South of France are the maybe the least likely place in the country to find such rarities: Monte Carlo is more than two hours from here, well far away from the usual “supercar madness” that animates the tiny Principality almost every day.
There is nothing that would let you think that in this lonely region of France lies one jewel of a museum, dedicated to one of the most innovative and extravagant car manufacturers of all time. Car collecting doesn’t get any better than this: “All of the cars you see here are just as they left the factory, and every one of them has extremely low mileage” Henri Fradet, the owner of the CitroMuseum in the commune of Castellane, says with pride. “If I get offered a car which is not in good condition, I won’t buy it. Every car here has its own story and is unique.”
Speaking of ticking all the boxes and moving the gears which turn in every vintage-petrol-addicted mind: History? Check. Pristine? Check. Original paint? Check. Patina? Check. Rare? You bet!
One could literally spend hours in such a place, a true time capsule. “I relocated here from the West of France, where I used to live,” Henri recounts, upon being asked about the reason for choosing to build his museum in this particular region, “here the weather is great for preserving the originality of the cars and it is also very safe.”
Henri Fradet began collecting pristine Citroëns about 35 years ago, upon acquiring a low-mileage 1959 2CV: “I was a teacher back in ’79 and my commuter car was a 2CV,” he says, “the idea of making a museum came into my mind when a student of mine, knowing of my fondness for these cars, told me that he’s seen a 20-year-old 2CV with only 4,000km on it for sale. I decided to buy it to start a collection…and here I am!”
Ranging from 1949 to 1974, Henri’s collection is a place you should visit if you’re traveling on the Route Napoleon, which also happens to be one of the best driving roads in the world. Each of the cars preserved here gets driven regularly in order to keep them in working condition too—they aren’t left to become inoperable in order to preserve their low mileage. Also, each one of them has a unique story and Henri is capable of talking about each one of them for hours! One of his favorites is a rare 2CV Sahara: a four-wheel drive, twin-engined masterpiece. “I got this car in Norway, where I was living at some point in my life. It still has less than 3,000km on it and I took it with me when I came back to France.”
Among the great amount of 2CVs and DSes (which include the 32nd ever made, and the oldest in existence, plus a couple of rare Henri Chapron convertibles), Mr. Fradet is perhaps the only man in the world to have more than one original M35 in his collection. “I have six of them, all unrestored and with low mileage” he says with a grin, upon noticing my surprise in seeing the two that are on display. If this particular car doesn’t tell you much, just keep in mind that it’s one of the rarest Citroëns ever made, and one that most collectors would kill to own.
The M35 was a very special project for the brand: only 400 were made, and were to be given to loyal customers with the good habit of putting loads of miles on their cars. The M35 was never sold to the public, and it was a production factory prototype in a sense, made to test the new two-rotor Wankel engine. As you might guess, the actual test drivers of this model were the owners themselves! Despite the revolutionary design and gorgeous looks, most M35s were scrapped, so seeing one is a special occasion, but seeing two together, from a man who owns six, that’s something totally different!
The CitroMuseum is not just a collection per se, but a testament of the great work made by Citroën in the past. It is a place to cherish and celebrate the brand, where time has stopped. If you happen to travel on the Route Napoleon, just remember to pay a visit to Henri and his amazing collection: he’ll be more than happy to show you his cars!