By L. Lewis….
I’ve done it, some of you have done it. Restore an old car. Make it work, drive it, even. Have you ever wondered why you do it? It seems crazy sometimes to do what we do. It’s always more expensive and more work than you first think but at least I knew that going in with this one. As they say in Alberta and Texas, this ain’t my first rodeo. So, I recently bought on Ebay a Challenger Motors 1937 Traction 11BL.
Challenger Motors in Los Angeles sold Tractions but due to some legal thing with the factory had to title them as “Challengers.” The brass chassis plate calls it “The Citroën by Challenger Motor Car Corp, Los Angeles, Calif.”
The speedometer reads in miles and the other two gauges are in English too. If the factory didn’t want these cars sold by Challenger then what is the story about that?
I am told that there are only 6 of these left. One is in Holland with a customized convertible body and is owned by Jeroen Kats. There have been articles about that particular car in Citroënvie. There is another one that showed up at Rendezvous a few years ago; a nice dark blue convertible with a full back seat. A bare body of a BL was sold on Ebay a few years ago with no running gear or interior but coming from the Southwestern desert had the kind of brown surface rust that you can brush off with your hand.
This car was owned by a woman in Arizona who used it and then sold it to the Mullin Museum in Oxnard, California when they had an exhibit about Citroëns in general. They eventually sold it at Pebble Beach and it went for over $20,000.00. I inquired at the Mullin about it but all they would say is that they sold it. But the thing is, coming from where it was the body has no rust that I can find except for the windshield frame which was rotting away and falling apart. Prewar cars had chrome plated steel frames, post war are aluminum.
Working on this thing and after dropping a tiny part into the carb-less intake manifold I think, “Am I the one who is nuts?” Probably. I was able to fish it out with a long pair of needle nose pliers so no worries. Hooray, I don’t have to remove the manifold which I am sure will be complete with broken studs and lots of frustration. And expense. It will come off eventually.
It sometimes seems to be a joke. There was a universal turn signal switch on the steering column, the kind you would use if you were adding turn signals to a Model T Ford. This wasn’t wired to anything and was there just for show. I added turn signals and when trying them out I watched the switch start to smoke because there was a dead short in the left rear. Fixed that then on to the next fiasco.
It looks like a bunch of not-very-clever monkeys worked on it. The instrument panel wasn’t wired to anything. The gas gauge and ammeter had no wires to them and the tank unit wires were cut off and left on the floor of the trunk. The headlights are replica “Guide” lights and are fairly common on street rods. These have a teardrop shaped housing on top of the pot that is the turn or parking light.
The headlights themselves were 12-volt halogen units and the small lights were LEDs. Very useful on a 6-volt car. The generator wire was connected to the positive terminal of the battery. Like I said, monkeys.
Removing the wiper motor proved that it wasn’t wired to anything. No wire and putting a new one down the A-pillar was all kinds of fun but the motor works now after a 90 dollar repair. The only things that worked when it was delivered were the tail and stop lights. That’s it. How was this car legal to drive? It was driven by the owner before it went to the museum but there was no way this was safe to be on the road. It looks like it was fixed up to be on display but not driven.
The monkeys that worked on the wiring did some job as there is a bundle of green wires running from front to back. None of them were connected to anything. Only one of these had any continuity, the rest didn’t work at all. I would redo these but with the headliner in place that’s not possible. I ran new wires for the turn signals and gas gauge but this is under the nasty looking carpet on the left side. The front lights are now re-wired with proper bulbs and I added wires for the two horns. There were no horns and no wires for them. Damned monkeys. The front parking lights now have common two-filament bulbs which will perform the parking and turn signal functions. In the rear I added proper Traction turn signal units which look a lot better than the usual big ugly aftermarket lights mounted on the bumper.
Are cars of a certain age exempt from inspections in Arizona? If so, that sure doesn’t make it a good idea to put such a car on the road. No horns, no headlights, no wipers, no ammeter, no gas gauge and no dome light. There are wires to it, but I have no clue where they go or what they are connected to so no dome light. The fore and aft bundle of wires I cut off and abandoned in place. Someone else’s problem if that day ever comes.
Mechanically it needs a little work. A new fuel pump was installed but some of the jets in the carb are clogged so that will need to be done. The distributor is of the type ‘RB” where new points, cap and so forth no longer exist so a new Ducellier unit will be installed. It has a post-war Solex 32 PBIC with an adapter plate. The Solex has a port and starboard flange to bolt it to the manifold but the manifold studs are fore and aft, so the adapter. But it still isn’t the original manifold. It has a throttle link pivot situated lower down on the bulkhead which would work on a side-draft carb so I’m guessing that’s what it had originally. It has a pivot mounted further up alongside the original so the Solex can be used.
It turns over on the starter, there is spark at the points but it seems like only one plug is firing so with the new distributor some new wires and connectors will be in order.
It has brakes, it goes in all gears and it steers OK but the rack may need work. Looking underneath at the ball-joint covers, they need to be redone which is a fair bit of work. It looks like it hasn’t been greased since the Carter administration. There is a lot of crusted-on dirt on everything. Glad I have all the proper Traction front-end tools. I haven’t addressed any of this yet. One thing at a time, as they say.
The interior has been redone with tan corduroy seats and door panels and a red headliner. Done very well and totally unoriginal. The red shag carpet is ugly and is glued down where it should not be. The inside of the trunk lid is carpeted! Luxury! But all of that is how it will stay. At least someone replaced the door seal rubbers as this is sure not my favourite job to do. The triangular anti-rattle rubber bits were gone and I re-installed new ones all around.
It’s been four weeks since this car was delivered and it’s been keeping me busy for sure. It’s harder and harder to find 6-volt stuff at auto parts stores and harder to find shops that will work on 6-volt generators and starters. What you need can be done but just takes patience when you have to search a little harder to find the right guys. All the old guys are retiring or dying off. New plug wires are ordered from the Brillman company in Virginia; they make cloth covered patterned wires that look nice and they are great to deal with. Spark plug terminals from NGK are for motorcycles but they are the best I’ve ever used and I have them on my other two Tractions.
Hopefully the gas tank won’t need to be removed. With any luck it should be running in a week or two. The wiring is almost done and is done according to the correct wiring diagram that I have but changes must be made to it because of the added turn signals and it was converted to a starter solenoid at some point. The starter does sound like it should be rebuilt but one thing at a time. I have no idea if the generator works or not.
Then comes the fun-time heavy work of pulling the brake drums and checking the bearings, upper control arm bushings and replacing the ball joint covers and probably the shocks too. I would rather not pull out the rack as that is a pain to do without a lift. Then there is the exhaust system. I haven’t even looked at the muffler yet. Soon. Well, I wanted a project and I sure got one!