It has been almost twenty years since France formally refused to take part in George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. While his refusal to take part in the epic American adventure based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction initially earned the French significant ill-treatment on these shores – Freedom Fries, anyone? – today the attitude is more that of “France, who?” variety. Carrying the French flag to America now is more an act of curiosity than an act of rebellion.
When it comes to French cars in the US, this has always been the case, although things have gotten worse. Despite the important roles of the French brand such as Peugeot and Citroën in the fate of Stellantis – the name given to the 2020 merger of the Italian-American FCA and the French PSA which was the fourth largest automaker in the world – the new company chose not to gave us the Yanks with its French brands, which came out of these shores in 1992 (Peugeot) and 1974 (Citroën.) Instead, the combined engine chose to enhance our sad impression of the European industry with its distressed Fiat Italy and Alfa Romeo which is always suffering, while relying on American brands Jeep, RAM, Dodge and Chrysler (and especially the first two) for most of its profits. Similarly, the French giant Renault, which was burned twice in the past in the US and was last seen selling new cars here in 1987, chose to focus its energy in the Free Country on the offers of its not always favorite roommate, Nissan. .
Nevertheless, the Milky Way continues to claim a small, albeit consistently loyal, following in America. For proof and a quick dip in French soup that we miss it more and more as new cars become more and more painless and of no national origin, there was no better recipe last weekend than to take the treatment on a trip to Ballston, New York, not far from the revered spa town of Saratoga Springs , for the annual Citroën Rendezvous. An event aimed at owners and fans in the Northeast, the gathering of which in 2022 some told us was the largest French carmaker on these coasts, with more than 200 cars, was in every way an incredible success.
A quick dip in the impressive stadium on an incredibly cold Saturday reminded fans of French style and idiosyncratic but clever engineering not only how many have been lost but also how many have been preserved.
Initially, the oldest cars involved were the Traction Avants, introduced in 1934 by the company’s founder André Citroën. Although the huge investment in the new model would soon give him control of the company he founded in 1919, the Traction sold well in the 1950s, in Legere (light) or larger Normale configurations, traveling for decades to the world wonder that welcomed its release, not only for its revolutionary front-wheel drive, but also for the robust and efficient construction of the unit’s body – a party trick released by the Philadelphia Budd Company but first used by the French. Indeed, the formula set by André Lefèbvre, the project engineer – with long-distance suspension with torsion bar, hydraulic brakes and many other modern comforts, all dressed in a simple yet elegant package, thanks to designer Flamino Bertoni (nothing to do with Italian design house that would later continue to do a lot of work for Citroën) – set a course that the company followed for the next half century or more.
Traction was followed chronologically and spiritually by Citroën’s greatest successes, the humble but useless 2CV, also known as the Deux Chevaux (or two horses) and the DS, also in Bertoni style and arguably the greatest design symbol in automotive history. Both were well represented on the pitch, with the 2CVs covering much, if not all, of their incredible 42-year production run (1948-1990) and enough DS to occupy the mind for days after our visit, contemplating evolution. a car whose great shape, many varieties, monocoque construction with lightweight panels without stress screwed, inboard disc brakes on all wheels and self-leveling, hydropneumatic suspension continue to fascinate, from generation to generation.
Along with wine and cheese, the DS, produced from 1955-1975 is something the French are most proud of, as are all current owners. Knowing a field with sedans, Safari wagons and a lonely convertible, one can not help but think, If it is wrong to wait for your neighbor’s cars, then I do not want to be right.
Less represented but highly desirable, however, were two Citroën H-Vans, in high demand around the world as food trucks, espresso bars and other mobile (or, even better, fixed) businesses that wanted to telegraph elegant retro fashion. Bring your Auxiliary Checkbook if you want to buy one, but do not expect to make a quick getaway – 50 mph is all that an H-Van can aspire to.
Which brings us to faster numbers in the Citroën quiver, especially in the glorious SM coupe that started conceptually in the early 1960s as a DS sports variant, only to appear more than a decade later as a complete new model. He tried to take advantage of the company’s brief association with Maserati, which he bought in 1968 and sold in 1975. The Maserati V6 engine, though not the fastest, gave the futuristic dream investment that was long lacking in the Poke Citroëns . It also received revised hydraulic suspension and braking systems that contributed to the specifications of the CX model that would replace the DS. Many SMs still exist, all of them breathtaking, beautiful and incredibly expensive to restore. Indeed, a banknote that made the rounds of the show is supposed to offer a green five-speed, no-run free rider to anyone wishing to go to the tony East End of Long Island to pick it up. Even for free, many dual chevron veterans have expressed their opinion on how it could be just a money-losing proposition, even with the best examples selling for $ 75,000 or more.
Although the CX was never sold from the factory in the United States, the car was a fittingly futuristic replacement for the DS, and many arrived in America, many of which went for the Rendezvous, along with a handful of GS models, a smaller one in shape and the CX specifications, but with a sturdy air-cooled boxer engine in advance. Among the most interesting GSs in attendance, the only one left is the factory-decorated GS break (wagon) for use at the 1972 Munich Olympics, discovered in Venice and currently offered by Morton Street Partners. A lone XM, the CX replacement, was present. Although superficially strange enough to be a good sequel, many thought at the time of its introduction in the 1990s that it had been weakened by Peugeot, which took over Citroën in the mid-1970s and worked all those years to integrate her offer. with its own most dynamic and declining offerings of French sentiment, a depressing trend that resulted in 21agcentury with a few Citroën or Peugeot of true distinction.
Although he arrived with the beautiful 1975 Peugeot 504 cabriolet he imported from France 22 years ago, Mark Diamond, an aviation consultant from Arlington, MA, said he considered himself “more a Citroëniste than a Peugeotiste, just because of innovation and weird factor “. It was first made by the Citroën bug when his parents’s friends showed up at his orphanage with a 1960s DS, he does not own a Citroën but he is happy to show up at the annual appointment, along with a dozen other Peugeot owners and a handful of Renaults, plus a Volvo 544 and a few other non-French cars, drawn to his enthusiasm for the Rendezvous brand and acceptance spirit. Many in attendance are members of the Arlington Classic Car Club, a team to which Diamond belongs, with members not only from the Boston suburb that took its name, but also from across the country and some from the sea. The club embraces the acceptable, non-olfactory attitude of Citroën. “I think people here value the fun factor as opposed to any kind of competitiveness in its manifestation.” This worldview informs the ACCC, he thinks. “We have a unique esprit de corps and the point is that we have no rules, no structure and no hierarchy. And this is a deliberate strategy, we decided to keep it as relaxed and fun as possible. And so we stay away from any design and keep everything ad hoc “.
“There is an old saying that dogs and their owners tend to look like each other over time and I think the same is probably true of cars. Citroëns and French cars in general tend to be a bit weird and a little weird and a bit weird and innovative and very, very interesting. I think you could say the same about their owners. They’s a little weird, you know, some are a little weird and I’m going to put myself in that category. But to have interesting and fun people “.
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