While it is widely known that the Traction Avant was produced in Citroên’s factories in Paris France, Forest Belgium, Cologne Germany, Copenhagen Denmark and Slough England, one significant bit of Traction Avant history eluding many Citroën enthusiasts is that a few Traction Avants and IDs were also assembled in Ireland.
We came across the Irish lineage of both models through the Irish Veteran and Vintage Car Club in an article written by Frank Bergin and are pleased to share the information here:
The first mention of the Traction Avant in Ireland was in an issue of ‘The Irish Motor News’ in Sept 1934, when the car was displayed in Belfast. Later that year there was an editorial in October dealing with streamlining trends at the London Olympia Car Show where the Front Wheel Drive Citroën received special mention.
The following year Isaac Agnew & Co was offering it for sale in Belfast for £250. However at that time there was nothing happening at all about the car within the motor scene south of the border.
Then, in October 1937, in an article in The Irish Motor News entitled “A running commentary on the Earls Court Exhibition”, Richard Twelvetrees gave details and prices of the various Citroên models displayed at the show. At the end of the piece, Ashenhurst Williams & Co Ltd. is mentioned as “sole distributors for Eire”, based at 15 Talbot Place, Dublin.
In December 1939 they placed a half-page advertisement for the saloon version of the car, but with war by then declared, supply of any not already in stock would have been impossible.
Obviously all Citroën and indeed all motor production stopped during WWII. Equally the tiny Irish market would not have been a priority for motor manufacturers after the cessation of hostilities. Also, there was an absence of any specifically Irish interest motoring magazines post war, as The Irish Motoring News had by then ceased publication.
Dublin-built Light 15
But Larry Whelan is able to confirm the situation with his clear memories. In 1951 Larry commenced his apprenticeship with Ashenhurst Williams at Talbot Place, Store Street, Dublin (between the Garda Station and the Morgue). One of his first jobs was the assembly of the Light 15 from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) crates supplied from the Citroën UK factory in Slough. Leyland trucks were also assembled at the Dublin site, which was by no means large – and must have led to very cramped and awkward working conditions.
Citroën production numbers were small — Larry estimates about 12 units per year — and although he was transferred to other work two years later, these low figures remained unchanged to the end of Light 15 assembly — presumably when production ceased at Slough in 1955. Assembly of the Irish Light 15 was later moved by Ashenhurst Williams to the site of the old Mountjoy Brewery at Russell Street, near Croke Park, Dublin. The cars were assembled in the ‘Old’ building there, while Leyland trucks were assembled in the ‘New’ building.
Ashenhurst Williams never did the final trimming or painting on the light 15, Instead, they were sent out by transporter to Callow Glimore Ltd. in Westland Row, Dublin, or to Standard Triumph at Cashel Road, Crumlin, Dublin, for final finishing.
Ashenhurst Williams only ever marketed the short wheelbase Citroën Light 15 saloon version (known as the 11 BL in France -but always referred to in the UK & Ireland as the Light 15). The assemblers did not have a dealer network then, but had some outlets, including Ever Ready Garage in Donnybrook, Dublin.
Noteworthy Irish owners of Citroën Light 15s included the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid and M/S Cotten Bros., Builders, of East Wall Road, Dublin.
Happily, we know of one Irish-assembled Light 15 from this era which still exists, and which has been restored to a high standard. This 1955 Citroën, with its Dublin registration FIK 629, is in the longtime ownership of Paul Burke-Kennedy, and is one of the last Light 15s to be assembled in Ireland by Ashenhurst Williams.
Enter the Goddess
The launch of the DS 19 at the Paris Salon on 5th October 1955 made a massive impact. Most frequently described as “la bombe Citroën, it was so avant-garde and so far ahead of its time that to this day it is frequently used by advertising agencies in modern contexts. On the first day of its launch in Paris, 12,000 orders were taken.
Backtracking in time, it is worth mentioning the earlier launch of the 2CV in 1948. It was an instant success in France with delivery delays running into years! While this car was produced in RHD at Slough from 1953 to 1959 it was not then a commercial success in the UK mainly for high pricing reasons and was discontinued. Efforts were made at Slough in 1961 to “normalize” the 2CV for the conservative British market by designing a fibreglass body and calling it the “Bijou”, but only 211 were ever made. In those days, no version of the 2CV was marketed in Ireland — indeed it would be the early ’70s before the Dyane would be first introduced here.
Similarly the quintessentially French H-Van was never marketed in Ireland, nor was it ever produced or assembled at Slough.
As a final digression, Citroën took over Panhard in 1955 with their notable 850cc flat twin engine, but sold that company off again in 1960. Panhard cars were assembled for a while in Lucan, Co. Dublin, for the Irish market.
Irish Assembly of Citroën ID
But back to the DS, whose slightly later (1956) and simplified manual version went into production at Slough in March 1958.
In Dublin, Ashenhurst Williams commenced assembly of the ID in 1959 from CKD crates supplied from Slough, as they had previously done for the Light 15. This work was carried out on the site of the old Mountjoy Brewery at Russell Street near Croke Park and was done in the ‘New’ building where Leyland trucks were also assembled. Production numbers were small, with a quota of just 14 per year, which was similar to the previous figures for the Light 15.
The Slough production of RHD Citroens closed in 1966, however assembly of cars in Ireland continued for about another year from stocks of crated parts.
The ID was quite an expensive car in its day and the original semi-automatic DS even more so. Not being assembled in Ireland, I can only assume that customers for the semi-auto version were very thin on the ground, with their numbers further restricted be the then government quotas based on local assembly of the ID. Again there was not a network of main dealers as such, but rather retail outlets like Ever Ready Garage in Donnybrook. For more major servicing and repair on this rather sophisticated and complicated car, they were returned to Ashenhurst Williams.
Ashenhurst Williams Moves to Bluebell
In 1971, Ashenhurst Williams relocated to new purpose-built premises on Bluebell Avenue off Kylemore Road, Dublin, and their premises at Russell Street were sold.
While assembly of Leyland trucks was continued in Bluebell, no Citroën assembly work was ever carried out there, and all future Citroën cars for the Irish market were imported directly from France fully built up. As an end note — these cars arrived in Rosslare from the lave] factory in Paris. Curiously, the cars arrived with their rear wings removed. This was to prevent damage from overzealous port drivers driving them off the ferries before normal ride height (following engine start-up) was achieved.
Thanks go to Bob Montgomery/RIAC Archive, Larry Whelan (snr), Brendan Dolphin and Trevor Jones for their assistance in providing information for this article, and Frank Bergin for writing this comprehensive history of Citroën assembly operations in Ireland.
the reproduction of the half page advertisement in this article is certainly not from 1939, since it shows an post war LHD 15Six/Big6 with the staright bumpers and indicators, not available untill late 1951.
You are correct Wiljan. Thank you for catching that and pointing out that the ad illustration is post 1951.