by Per Ahlstrom…..
The Citroën family in the US has got a new addition. I, Per Ahlstrom of Yardley, PA, have brought my 1939 B11 Commerciale over from Sweden to my new homeland. And now it is back on the road, purring happily over its resurrection from the dead.
The car was built at Quai de Javel in Paris in February 1939 and sent to the Citroen subsidiary in Copenhagen. From there it was delivered to Mr. Erik Abrahamsson of Junsele in the north of Sweden, who was just about to open a Citroën dealership in neighboring (well, 150 km is neighboring in the north of Sweden) Kramfors. When I interviewed Mr. Abrahamsson in 1985, he no longer remembered if he had driven the car from Copenhagen (a three day trip at least in those days) or if the car had been delivered by rail. It must have been one of the first cars he sold, because he told me that he used the Commerciale for his move from Junsele to Kramfors, before selling the car to a painter, Johan Sandin, who needed a car for transporting his equipment. It was registered to Mr. Sandin on June 15, 1939.
Mr Sandin only used the car in his business. As he needed it for his business he got a limited supply of gas each month during the war. It didn’t matter much to him as he never was fond of driving. His son, Herbert, whom I interviewed just before his death in 2007, told me that he borrowed the car on a number of occasions, using up the gas ration that his father never got close to using up. To save on gas, Herbert turned off the ignition whenever he was going downhill.
Herbert Sandin recalled that the family had made only one longer trip, to Edsbyn, 300 km away. “It was very slow,” he said.
The explanation for this slowness was given by Arnold Mattsson, a car mechanic who did the service on the car throughout the 1950s. When interviewed in the late 1980s he recalled how he took Mr. Sandin on a test drive after having performed a de-sooting of the engine. “When I shifted into third, Sandin yelled: ‘Stop stop! I’ve never tried that!”.
Driving around only in second gear took its toll on the car, and Mr. Sandin’s neighbors recalled that they had frequently seen the car with the front lifted for gearbox work.
Mr Sandin died in the mid-1960s, and the car was handed down to a younger generation. His granddaughter, Ann-Sofie Andersson, used it for driving to the university in Umeå (200 km) and recalled that “It was a weird car. It leaked everywhere.” It must have been tough to drive the Commerciale in the winter, and Miss Andersson looked for a better car. The Commerciale was taken off the road in 1969, and out of the car registry. But it avoided being scrapped, as a car collector from Stockholm, Claes Asker, bought it. It is not clear if he got it going again or if it was the work of the next owners, a pair of twins, Per Götlin and his brother, who lived in the center of Stockholm, who put the car back on the road in April 1971.
In the fall of 1971 the twins needed money to participate in the sailing world championships in Brazil, and put an ad in the local newspaper. It was a one line ad saying “B11 C tel. 0000000”. This caught my eye as I was looking for a Traction Avant, but I had no idea what a B11 C was.
I was delighted with the Commerciale, bought the car and used it as a daily driver for about two months. Then it literally started leaking everywhere, no spares were to be found and I had no money. So the car was parked, waiting for my riches to come.
The Commerciale photographed in 1971. It had only 60000 km on the odometer, and I used it as a driver for two months. But then all hoses started leaking. No spares could be found and the car was parked, waiting to be restored.
Two years later I bought a home with a garage and started the restoration. That is, I dismantled the car.
To be able to participate in the gatherings of the Swedish Traction Avant Club, Svenska B11-klubben, I bought a restored (I thought) 1939 Traction Avant 15-Six in 1977. It ran for about a year, and then a main bearing broke. I decided to fix the six-cylinder engine before I continued with the Commerciale. While the engine was out of the 15-Six I decided to paint the engine compartment – and you can guess the rest.
Then I moved, with two Tractions dismantled. The 15-Six was put together in 1989, and took all my money and attention for 15 years, until I sold it to the Netherlands in 2005.
Now I finally could turn my attention to the Commerciale. I rented part of a communal classic car garage, but progress was slow. And in the middle of it all I met a friend from my year as an exchange student in Michigan, sparks and stars were flying and we decided to marry. Which meant that I would have to move to the United States.
The problem was that I could neither sell nor move, a basket case of a car, so we decided to get professional help.
In 2011 I loaded all the Commerciale parts on a rented truck and drove them across Sweden to the professional Citroën restorer Ulf Stålnacke in Gothenburg, Sweden.
How he managed to make a car out of the heap of parts I don’t know, but 3 1/2 years later the car was (almost) finished, and I could drive it again for the first time in 43 years. I participated in the summer meeting of the Svenska B11-klubben and then had the car shipped over to my new home in Pennsylvania.
There was still a lot of work to do on the car, but before I could start working on it again I had to have a garage built for it. The garage was finished in the fall of 2015, and after tinkering for almost a year, I could finally take the Commerciale for its first real test drive on November 10, 2016. I am happy to say that it performed very well.
The car is as close to original as I could get it, with a few minor exceptions. The changes have mainly been made to make the car more safe and more drivable in modern traffic. The old universal joint driveshafts have been replaced with modern driveshafts with CVT joints. I have designed and built a new electrical system with fuses and relays. The old generator was not restorable, so I have replaced it with a 6V alternator. I also put turn signals on all corners of the car. The old semaphore turn signals are cute, but not very effective.
There are still some details to fix, but the car runs strong, stops well (as well as anything stops with drum brakes) and it is a joy to drive.