From Freedom Fighters to Taste Makers: The Story of One Couple’s’ Lifelong Journey Within the Citroën Community

By Alison Hartzler….

While most families in the early 70’s were purchasing Pontiacs or Buicks, Kathy and Carl Petroczy had their hearts set on Citroëns. Carl’s love for Citroën began all the way back in his home country of Hungry in the mid 50’s when he was just 19 years old. In that time, only the privileged had cars, so when something as magnificent as a Citroën drove by, heads would turn.

Carl knew when the time came, Citroën was the only car he wanted. Though he had plans in place for attending school in his home country, the Hungary Revolution of 1956 changed everything. Carl, along with hundreds of thousands of others went to the streets to march against the Communists. What started out as a symbolic uprising soon turned into a deadly revolt once the Russian army stormed. 12 days this violence lasted. In the end, thousands of Hungarian citizens lost their lives.

The violent end of the Hungarian Revolt led to a mass exodus. Nearly a quarter of a million Hungarians fled the country, Carl included. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones to find sponsorship in the US with a lovely young couple. After a year of finishing school in America, he got a job with American Airlines as an airline parts cleaner. He then went on to get an aircraft mechanical engineering degree which he used to continue his work with American Airlines. Though his future seemed bright, the communist regime was still doing everything they could to punish the Hungarian revolters. For 8 long years, Carl and the rest of the “Freedom Fighters” were banned from returning to their home country. He was left wondering if he would ever see his family again.

Thankfully, during the Vienna Summit of 64’ the tense relationship between America and Russia started to thaw, which finally allowed the American Hungarians to return home. It was during one of these visits that Carl met his forever wife, Catherine. She had been working as a school teacher and was set up with Carl by a mutual friend. Sparks instantly flew and it didn’t take long for them to marry.

In the year 1970, newlyweds Kathy and Carl knew the first thing they wanted to do once moving to the United States was purchase their dream car. Carl never got the image of that Citroën DS driving through the streets of Hungry out of his mind. So when they happened to come across one for sale driving through Marina Del Rey California, they knew it was fate. Using their newly received tax refund, along with their first American credit card, they purchased Grand Old Lady for $3,500. And so, in the year 1971, Kathy and Carl drove their new Citroën DS, Grand Old Lady, home. The Citroën wasn’t the only new addition to the family. That year also saw the arrival of Monika, their beautiful baby girl. With their dream car in the garage, and their newborn baby in their arms, Kathy and Carl started off on their many adventures.

As new arrivals to the US, Kathy and Carl were looking for ways to integrate into their new home. Luckily, they soon found the Citroën community – some of the most welcoming and fun people. During the mid to late 70’s, Citroën, and Citroën owners, were everywhere. They would meet in parks or member’s homes. They would participate in games, drives, and even competitions. Members would exchange technical notes and offer mechanical assistance. This came in handy especially after Citroën left America in ’74 as the company did not leave behind much support for current owners.


One of their favorite memories with the club was the Rendez Vous in 75’. With their young daughter napping in the back, they took a road-trip up the coast of California to Carmel. Many competitions were held during that trip, such as the 3-wheeled race. Drivers had to race around the track with the left tire removed. Chalk was put along the drum to make sure it did not touch the ground. There was another competition to see how tight you could get the alignments on your Citroën. Their Grand Old Lady won second place. Finally, there was a hand-crank competition in which they proudly won first place!

Some of their favorite meetings were actually held at their home in San Pedro, CA. One of the most memorable was with a fellow member, Bob Sothen. Bob was an auto engineer and his wife lived with a disease that required her to be connected to oxygen tanks 24/7. So Bob outfitted his Citroën with oxygen tanks so he and his wife could still experience all their adventures together.


Some other favorite memories Kathy and Carl have with their Citroën were driving the Grand Old Lady up to Northern California to go camping as a family in Yosemite. Kathy remembers how their young daughter was able to sleep so comfortably on the plushy back cushions. She said their daughter Monika’s first movie was in the back of the Citroën at a drive-in for Snow White. 


Before their camping adventures, they attached a trailing arm to the rear to tow their camping trailer with them. Once, on their way up, the car broke down on the side of the road. Upon further inspection, Carl found they had blown a gasket. Miles from civilization, Carl was able to use an old piece of cardboard and scissors from Kathy’s knitting kit to fashion a temporary replacement. Shockingly, his fix worked and they were able to drive it back into town.

Over the years, Carl’s airline expertise allowed him to make amazing modifications to their beloved car. Though the Grand Old Lady was originally purchased as a DS 21, Carl upgraded her to 2.3 litre engine along with a 5-speed manual transmission exported from Holland. After pulling out the old engine himself using a make-shift level system in his garage, Carl installed the new one seamlessly. Another notable upgrade was the conversion to an electric distributor.

After 43 and a half years, Carl retired from his job as an airline engineer. This next stage of life for Kathy and Carl brought bountiful new adventures for them as they traveled the world.  Some of their favorite trips were to the French colony Tahiti. And while most couples bring back souvenirs like novelty t-shirts or beach shells, Kathy and Carl always made sure to bring him gallons of green hydraulic fluid for their Grand Old Lady. Furthermore, on the many occasions they were able to visit Amsterdam, the first thing they did was head to the nearest auto shop and purchase many of the readily-available Citroën parts. Because Citroën had packed up and left America by 1975, parts had become incredibly hard to come by. So when Kathy and Carl had an opportunity to bring home little gifts for their beloved car, they jumped on it.

To Kathy and Carl, this Citroën was more than just a car. Over the 50+ years that they have loved and cared for her, she had become a member of the family. This car was one of the first purchases they made as not only newlyweds, but as new citizens of this country. They started their family with this car and she has brought them on more adventures than they could count.

Now this Grand Old Lady starts the next stage of its journey with another young couple, ready for the many adventures awaiting them.

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