Market Finds: This Art Deco Citroën Roadster Is More Special Than It Looks

This Art Deco Citroën Roadster Is More Special Than It Looks

By Michael Banovsky
April 20, 2016

The estimate for this RM Sotheby’s lot stretches past a million Euros, which places it in serious company among collectible classics. Some of you may comment that the amount will buy a great classic Ferrari, or a garage full of new Porsches, or a container ship full of Honda Groms—just as long as it’s not spent on a front-wheel-drive Art Deco Roadster from France.

“Would you buy it?” is not a very important question—the car will surely outlive its next few owners—but why is its estimate so high? It’s been repainted over the years, has a reported 74 horsepower, and drum brakes at all four wheels: three details that should send some cognoscenti running for the closest Italian barchetta.

To start, at the very least, you can be assured that some of the most influential automotive engineers had a hand in its construction.

There were two-rows-of-seats Traction Avant convertibles built before the Second World War, yes, but this particular car is a 1939 “Roadster”, designed for two occupants. Here, the occupants were Anna Michelin and whomever she wanted. She’d been widowed two years earlier when her 34-year-old husband Pierre Michelin (who was a son to the company’s founder, Édouard), flew off the road—black ice and, likely, excessive speed are said to have been factors in his death.

Not only was he the heir to France’s growing industrial empire, Michelin, but he was also the President of Citroën—Michelin having settled Citroën’s debts in 1935, taking the automaker in hand. Pierre was lucky to have some of the world’s best minds at the company, and he encouraged visionaries like André Lefèbvre, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, Flaminio Bertoni, and Paul Magès to push vehicle design forward.

Their brilliance creates a problem for me, actually, because to give you an accurate picture of the vehicles they had a hand in making (and the technology on your car today because of them), the story will cease to be about this particular 1939 Citroën 15 CV “Traction Avant” Roadster. Besides the cars, including the Traction Avant, 2CV, DS, HY van, SM, and Ami 6, you must also consider the world-first technology that each of those models brought to market. Thinking about all that will make your brain hurt—it’s easier and more fun to read this book. (I bought a copy with my own money years ago, because who doesn’t want a book about old French cars on the shelf?)

Anyway, one of my favorite things about Citroën’s dream team of designers is how much of automotive history they helped to indirectly create.

For instance, one of the best Traction Avant facts to recite at your local Cars & Coffee is that the car’s revolutionary design was, in part, directly responsible for Cooper’s place in history as the first race-winning mid-engined car in Formula 1, and later, the first constructor with a mid-engined car to win the World Championship. Eh? Turns out that the Traction Avant’s (front-drive) cast aluminum transaxle was the only part suitable when John Cooper and Owen Maddock created their groundbreaking F1 car, the T43. Sir Stirling Moss notched its first win in the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix. A tangent, sure—Cooper’s indirect racing success isn’t a great reason to bid on this car—so what do we know?

The Roadster was designed to be the top model in the company’s range, with the largest 74 hp six-cylinder engine fitted, a longer hood, and that svelte two-passenger cabin. This car, chassis no. 680 959, is the first of four Roadsters constructed—as authenticated by Citroën Heritage—and the only survivor from a planned run of five.

Forgive yourself for not knowing that these cars existed: the Roadster was never publicly shown, owing to the outbreak of the Second World War. As such, it didn’t leave the “family” until 1951: Anna Michelin used the car, which was also equipped with a rear armrest, more capacious glovebox, larger fuel tank, and trafficator signals, as her daily driver. After it was sold on, its new owner treated the car to a repaint before an American enthusiast purchased the car in 1954.

Through a string of owners over the next few decades, this car has been repainted, updated, and restored. Its next buyer will appreciate that it retains its original engine, and that it’s arguably in its most original state since the engineers at Citroën decided to make a sporting, top-of-the-line Roadster from their Traction Avant.

All of this is to say: every highly-valued classic is different. In the case of this Citroën, the car’s next steward will be buying not only the metal—but a helluva story to tell about the woman it was built for. Hopefully, its owner will also memorize a few anecdotes about this Roadster’s creators.

–Originally delivered to Mrs Anna Michelin
–The first of four 15 CV Roadsters built
–The only surviving example verified built by the factory

~74 horsepower, 2,867 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, independent front torsion bar suspension, solid rear axle suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,087 mm

Vehicle information
Chassis no. 680 959
Engine no. PD 00195
Body no. EE 0016

–Includes Citroën Heritage certificate
–Auction house: RM Sotheby’s
–Estimate: €650,000–€1,100,000
–Price realized: TBD; Auction on May 14

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8 years ago

It seems to come right out of a Tintin book! Thanks for sharing this unknown (to me) car.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers
8 years ago

With all due respect sir, I read enough comments from people eager to show how superior they are to everyone else on the official forums for World of Warcraft.

I’d like to see you become a contributing writer to the site. Use your existing forum alias as your “nom de plume”.

Dan Picasso
Dan Picasso
8 years ago

… and I’m in a bit of a serious Robert Hughes with a touch of HST mood this morning …

Self-flattery will get you nowhere, chum.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
8 years ago

Despite all the hype and hoopla .. regardless of the somewhat insignificant celebrity ‘ bump ‘ …

[ seriously who gives a rats ( censored ) about Anna Michelin ? ]

.. putting all the auction houses marketing mavens bs and propaganda aside ..

[ which you’ve done a wonderful job of cutting and pasting verbatim Banovsky ]

This has to be the ugliest , most disjunct , hideous and desperately styled Traction Avant ever created . And in light of every other Traction Avant’s genuine styling , beauty and grace [ with just a touch of Jolie Laide and a side hint of French attitude and bad****] … thats saying a lot . South End of a North Bound French mule with digestive problems says it all quite nicely . One of 14 left you say ? Better we had none .. not to mention better my eyes were never forced to view this travesty . Honestly if anyone had told me before today a Traction Avant could be made to be blatantly fugly … I’d of told them they were insane ..

Yeesh … once again Banovsky .. y’all owes me .. not to mention time to make penance once again to St Gearheaditis . This car being living proof not everything old is a classic …. [ classic what .. classic error ? ] and not everything French has a sense of style . Apologies Banovsky … y’all caught me out with this before my 2nd cup … and I’m in a bit of a serious Robert Hughes with a touch of HST mood this morning …. Yeesh …

B Bop
B Bop
8 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

There it is ! Once again he manages to gnaw through the leather restraining straps and insult possibly the only site that allows him to rip articles and their authors to shreds. Go figure. With regards to the Citroen, I would like to take the liberty to say that I think it is stunning !!

Andrew Golseth
8 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

You know, for someone who seemingly disagrees with nearly every post made on this site, you spend an awful lot of time lingering here. Funny you mention digestive problems seeing as you suffer from chronic pedantic verbal bigot diarrhea of the keyboard. Mind returning to whatever bridge you reside under, permanently?

8 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

It’s a sad ,lonely loser that must comment on everything on the internet. ( how many other sites now?) Minor past accomplishments become meaningless once one spirals into that bitter state of inner personal disappointment that causes one to lash out with false superiority.

I was unaware of this car, and happy to have learned from this story.

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