If only Red Dellinger were alive to see this event; On May 14, 2016 at the RM Sotheby’s Monaco auction, The Madame Michelin Citroën will go on the block. It is the first of four 15 CV Roadsters built by Citroën and originally delivered to Mrs Anna Michelin.
This very car that was purchased by Red Dellinger in the USA. To quote Red from the interview we did with him on May 19, 2007 in Carlisle Pennsylvania (published in the Winter 2008 Citroënthusiast); “David Allen and I were talking about cars and he came to visit one day. I think it was after the event in Northfield, the Rendezvous at Northfield Mountain. Well, he went home and then came back for some reason or another. We were sitting in my shop and he showed me some pictures he had brought me. He said what do you think. I took one look at the pictures and immediately recognized what the car was. He knew it was a 15/6 (it was a cabriolet) and this gentlemen wanted to use his services. David was selling cars for people and what you would do is send him a roll of film that you had taken of the car. He would document everything and then put the car for sale. So luckily he showed me a couple of the pictures first. And the pictures were from Augie Pabst, the heir of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer out of Milwaukee. So I looked at these pictures and I had studied and thought about these cars many many times because I had a couple of Traction Cabriolets and they are very very rare. So I looked at this thing and I knew from looking at the pictures that looked down on the transmission shafts that it had to be a left-hand turning engine. The cabriolets were around then and there were even some counterfeit ones. He told me what the guy wanted for the thing and my heart started thumping away and I looked at it and said it is a left-hand turning engine and a 15/6. It must be a very rare car and it’s a cabriolet. He [David] said that if I was interested to give him a call. So I went and tore my place apart looking for anything I had on Tractions. I said this must be one rare car. I could not let this opportunity go by.”
Red Dellinger at Carlisle PA, – May 2007
“So Dave gave me his number and I gave him [Augie Pabst] a call, – A real nice guy, and he said I’ll send you some more pictures and what not. I’ll need some photos of the car so that I can identify it with serial numbers and such. He [AP] said it is a rare call all right, but I’m selling two cars. The other one is also a six-cylinder. It was a Familiale 1929. So it was a pair. He sent me the pictures real quick but I knew before the pictures came that I had to go and see the cars. I said what’s your timeframe? Can I come and look at the cars? I will be there tomorrow morning! The cars were located in Wisconsin at Oconomowoc Lake where their residence was located near dairy farms etc. So I jumped the flight to Washington and flew to Milwaukee. When I got there I jumped in a rental car and drove out to his place. He was sitting in his office and I went in and introduced my self. He took me out to his barn. It was all tongue and groove pine. It was huge and he had many collectibles in there but there sat the Traction and the C6 Familiale. That (the C6 Familiale) was not of terrible interest. The first interest I had was in the Cabriolet. So I went over to it and raised the hood and had a look to see whether the serial numbers had been mutilated or any changes and I started looking at the frame to see if it had been changed. Looked at it for about five minutes before I determined that it was an original car.”
It is the only surviving example verified built by the factory. 74 bhp, 2,867 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, independent front torsion bar suspension, solid rear axle suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,087 mm.
Brad Nauss driving the Mme Michelin Traction at Red Dellinger’s Garage – circa 1991. Interior of the Mme Michelin Traction as found by Red Dellinger – circa 1991.
Here is what RM Sotheby’s says about the car:
Among all of Citroën’s Traction Avant, the 15 CV (formally called the 15 Six) is arguably one of the most coveted models. Launched in October of 1938, it was rapidly dubbed “The Queen of the Road”. Even more amazing was the beautiful open cabriolet, which received what is widely considered the most attractive bodywork built by the factory. Exceptionally well designed, the 15 CV Roadster had the same lines and proportions as the 11 CV Normale Cabriolet, but the hood was extended 11 centimetres, accommodating the longer six-cylinder engine block, giving the styling unique balance and a longer, more slender appearance.
The first 15 Six roadster was produced on 20 May 1939, with the model intended to be launched at the Paris Salon the following October. The outbreak of the Second World War in September put an end to the project, and the 1939 production run never occurred; the 15 CV Roadster never even appeared in the Citroën catalogue. Four examples were produced out of a planned production run of five, making this one of the most celebrated and lowest-production Traction Avant models.
The car offered here is chassis number 680959, the very first example built. It was assigned to Mrs Anna Michelin, the widow of Pierre Michelin and daughter of tyre baron Edouard Michelin, who used this exceptional car for her personal transportation. It was outfitted with several unique and special features, such as a retractable armrest in the back of the seat, a deeper glovebox than standard, a 75-litre fuel tank, and trafficator-style turn signals. In addition, it was finished in green with plum leather upholstery.
It was sold in 1951 to Eric Bloch, who had it refinished in a darker green shade. Three years later the car was sold to an American enthusiast, Richard Haynes. Mr Haynes was fully aware of the significance of his purchase and commissioned American Citroën distributor Charles Buchet to research its history. Upon its arrival at the port of Detroit in 1954, the car was fitted with a chrome radiator grille and straight bumpers, the body refinished in metallic gold.
Following Mr Haynes’s passing in 1980, the car was inherited by his son, who stored it in Wisconsin before selling it in the early 1990s to Donald “Red” Delligner, a Citroën dealer and collector in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Mr Delligner sold the car in 1997 to the prominent Dutch Traction Avant collector Nico Michon. According to Michon, when he purchased the car he tracked down the original engine at a Citroën dealer in Rouen, care of a tip from Mr Delligner. In Michon’s ownership, the car was restored to its original factory configuration and refinished in a contemporary colour and trim.
Mme Michelin Traction after restoration by Nico Michon
The Citroën was afterward displayed to considerable fanfare at Rétromobile in February of 2003. Registered in the Netherlands as AL-24-56, it has since participated in various rallies, including the EuroCitro on the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans and the Tractionades on the Charade circuit in Clermont-Ferrand. In its present ownership in Germany, it has been carefully restored and repainted in what is believed to be original elegant dark green (traces of which were found in the shut faces), which perfectly showcases the majesty of its lines.
Today, this unique car is the only surviving 15 CV Roadster to have factory serial numbers, and therefore, to have been formally built by Citroën. Furthermore, the car includes a formal certificate from Citroën Heritage confirming its pre-war production date and original numbers. Its status as the first example built of an unfulfilled production run, and its fascinating history with important characters in French motoring, adds to its importance. It is, without question, the most significant example of the landmark Traction Avant to be offered for sale in recent memory and would be a landmark in any collection—of Citroën or otherwise.
To view this car and others currently consigned to this auction, visit the RM website at rmsothebys.com/.
With an estimated €650.000 – €1.100.000 auction price, this should be one for the record books as far as Citroëns are concerned!
Update – May 16, 2016: The Traction 15 CV Roadster do not meet reserve and therefore was not sold. However a 1937 11BL Berline Traction sold for €12.320 which is encouraging as it indicates that while typical Traction prices are not escalating, nor are they declining.