Three Amazing (and True) Stories About André Garnier.

by Ken Nelson…..

We’ll all miss André – he was a real visionary for Citroën. These remembrances are from André directly – told to me when I visited him sometime around year 2000: 

1.  Seems André had only been in business in Buffalo for a short while, around probably the late ’50s/early ’60s, when two guys in suits showed up at his shop one day to ask him if he wanted to buy some cars.  He looked behind them, and there was a car transporter full of DSs!  Turns out GM had bought a bunch of them to analyze from top to bottom as the cars were so amazing back then, but now that they’d learned all they wanted to know, they had to dispose of them, and hoped he would want to buy them!  As I recall, André didn’t have the money to oblige them, and he didn’t know what happened to them after that.  (I have a personal story along similar lines – told to me by a GM Exec I met during one business meeting).

2.  André was so intrigued by the abilities of the suspension that one day he removed the entire right rear suspension arm, sealed off the suspension and brake lines, and drove the car around town on 3 wheels!  The car’s balance was so good he thought Citroën management was missing a great way to advertise the car.  To get them thinking about doing an ad of the car sans a wheel, he drove from Buffalo to headquarters in New Jersey on only 3 of them!  Seems management didn’t cotton to his bold idea – possibly thinking André was a nutcase, or that they’d get in trouble promoting driving the car unsafely – short one wheel, so they rejected his idea.  Disappointed, he drove back to Buffalo the same way,  then kept driving it around town. Of course he got pulled over by the local Gendarmes for “driving an unsafe car”.   He had to appear in court, but since the cops didn’t have any hard evidence against him, the judge dismissed the case.  However, he continued to use the car that way, and kept getting harassed by the cops.   Ordered to appear in court this one time, he got a lady judge who couldn’t believe André’s Citroën could drive around on only 3 wheels.   So he invited her to go for a drive in it, and she accepted!  They ran around the block, the car didn’t tip over or have a problem, and when they all got back in court, the judge reprimanded the arresting cops and told them to stop badgering him! 

3.  Often André and Yvette would go back to France for a week or two every summer.  During one trip, he heard an apocryphal story about an old car molding away somewhere in the woods not too far away.  Intrigued, André went exploring on some back roads and came upon a growth-encrusted car.  On clearing some brush away, he couldn’t believe his eyes – it was a Bugatti from the ’30s!  It was barely visible and some distance from a major highway.  

André looked it all over, got some numbers off an old license plate and the engine, then went to the local authorities to ask what could be done with this apparently long-abandoned property.  They told him that someone would have to research the ownership history of the property if possible to see if any family members had any interest in the item.  
He did some research on the plate, found that the prev. owners had long ago passed away, without any progeny to claim anything they’d once owned.  No one remembered the car at all.  

So back to the authorities he went, and reported his findings. “What happens now?” he asked.   The lady in the office said “we hold an auction and the property is sold to the highest bidder”.  Surprised, he asked how such an auction might take place.  She said “well, the person interested in acquiring something tells us what it is, and makes this office an offer”.  “And how soon could an auction take place, and what happens if someone makes an offer” he asked.  “Well, Francois upstairs could do this right now if you’re interested”.  Astonished, he tentatively asked “how would the bidding start?”  She replied, “tell me what you want to bid for it, and I’ll take your offer upstairs and see what Francois says”.  Sweating bullets, André said “I’ll bid one franc”, trembling as he said it.  “Very well” she replied, and went upstairs.  About 10 minutes later, she came down and said “your bid is accepted – pay the one franc and we’ll make out a bill of sale”.  André practically fainted, but paid the franc, and tore off back home!   

After gathering some friends, he led them to the car.  They hauled it back to someone’s yard, deforested it, checked fluids and tried to start it.  Not having any luck, they towed or pushed the car then popped the clutch and finally got it to fire.  

He drove the car for some time, eventually taking it back to the US.  Having recently relocated to Florida, where he wanted to open a new Citroën dealership in a warmer climate than Buffalo, he needed funds and sold the Bugatti to give him seed money. 

Although André got a good price for the car, he regretted having to sell it, considering how valuable that car became a few years after he sold it!  Still, a Bugatti for one franc is astonishing!  

3 comments

  1. I think I had told this story to George Dyke,
    When I had immigrated to Toronto, back in ’88, I had bought my first 1972 DS 21 Pallas BVH a year latter which had come with factory CoolAire it was a North American model fixed head lights, the previous first owner from new- Mr Bick had bought it from Raymond’s on Dufferin Street, Toronto.

    I had done a similar thing, as I had a tire blow out , didn’t think that a brand new Michelin XAS was going to shred it’s tread away with the steel belt still intact onto the inner rubber.

    I too have had to remove the rear fender and remove the wheel and drive it on with the 3 wheels on the road , I was pulled over, giving me a ticket, I have had to appear at the court, the rest was thrown out of the court as the judge knew Citroën , he simply pounded his hammer – court dismissed.

    ‘Disappointed, he drove back to Buffalo the same way, then kept driving it around town. Of course he got pulled over by the local Gendarmes for “driving an unsafe car”. He had to appear in court, but since the cops didn’t have any hard evidence against him, the judge dismissed the case.’

    1. Wow, what a great story. Loved the three wheel part. He was obviously a fascinating character who really appreciated Citroën’s intriguing technology.
      His like are getting few and far between!
      Gary

  2. PS: One more André story – André told me he designed his first car, a Panhard racer, by sitting on his garage floor and chalking an outline on it for a tubular chassis rear-engined SCCA car. He used a Panhard drivetrain in the rear to create a true mid-engined design, with the Panhard engine ahead of the gearbox as it came straight out of a sedan. This gave the car an excellent weight balance. He built the car himself, but when he tried to enter his first race, they didn’t want to allow him in it, but I forget the reason – possibly because they didn’t have a category for a 2 cylinder car.
    Somehow he managed to convince the race officials to allow him to enter, and he promptly beat everyone! This shocked the officials, so they kept pushing him into higher displacement categories.
    In short order, he was pushed into running against 1500 cc cars, and still did extremely well. That was years before he moved to Florida as I recall, but he ran his DB Lemans at Sebring often, along with other venues.
    When I last saw André – around year 2000 – he had parked his homebuilt car atop his DS wagon in his home garage! It was so compact, it fit on the wagon’s luggage carrier and just cleared the garage ceiling. He kept his DB racecar in a trailer near the house.
    I seem to remember the DB was sold to someone back in his homeland some yrs after I visited him.

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