ITíS HARD to tell whether the Citroen Traction Avant genuinely looks evil as a piece of design, or whether we just so strongly associate it with The Bad Guys that we canít see it any other way.
This grand-grilled Citroen became the transport of choice for the Gestapo, who had commandeered them as the Nazis rolled across France. The sight of a black Traction Avant arriving in the middle of the night must have injected terror into thousands of French residents as the notorious Flying Squads went about their evil business.
Confusingly, though, it might not have always been bad news.
Rather cleverly, the plucky French resistance chose to use the Citroen as transport as well, as did the French mafia, including a gangster called Pierre ĎLe Fouí Loutrel. A proper scoundrel, Le Fou was a Nazi collaborator when they were winning and then started gunning down the Germans when he sniffed the winds of change.
All of the warring, stealing and killing parties chose the Citroen because it was big, agile and, unlike many cars of the time, it could actually stop, thanks to hydraulic brakes.
Styled by the great Flaminio Bertoni, an Italian-born former sculptor, the wicked-looking Traction Avant was ahead of its time in many ways and was the first mass-produced, unitary front-wheel-drive car. It was also built of steel at a time when coachbuilders were still making cars with wooden frames.
Independent suspension meant it even rode well, which prisoners being dragged off for torture must have appreciated.
HIT HIGH Design targets for the Citroen Traction Avant were modest by todayís standards, with a top speed of 100km/h and economy of 10L/100km. It remained in production for 20 years.
PAYING A PRICE
Andre Citroen, the companyís f ounder, probably died of a broken heart after the investment in Avant sent the company into bankruptcy.
Michelin bought Andre out in 1934 and he died a year later.