by George Dyke….
Traction anniversary celebrations in France tend to be something special. The 75th anniversary in Arras was memorable for the museum and for the lovely backdrop of the town itself. This year, the 80th anniversary held at La Ferté-Vidame was impressive in itself. Set in front of the ruins of a large French Chateau in the quaint town of La Ferté-Vidame (and close by to Citroën’s secret testing grounds) it was an experience Traction owners that attended will be talking about for decades to come.
Organized through a joint effort of the Traction Owners Club, UK and La Traction Universelle in France, over 800 Tractions were displayed on the huge lawn in front of the chateau, arranged by year and set out in diagonal row fashion that was very “photo friendly”. The morning mist gave the whole setting a beautiful soft light.
View the full photo gallery here:
I went to the event with Citroënvie member Jeff Teerlinck, his wife Nicole, Jeff’s father Luc and his brother Bjorn. We took 2 Citroëns to La Ferté-Vidame from Belgium; Jeff Terrlinck’s Dad’s 1954 11B and Bjorn drove his 1989 2CV. We only had one minor incident along the way that could have been a fiasco had we not reacted quickly. Just west of Arras we noticed the distinct scent of gas in the Traction as we drove along. We pulled over to discover that the brass tube going into the carburetor had jostled loose and gas was pouring onto the carb body and the collector plate below. Of course, all this was just above the engine manifold. Pretty much a fire in the making! We removed the gas line from the tube, reseated the tube firmly and to be safe ran a wire wrap from the carb to the hose clamp on the gas line hose. [In fact no matter Citroën you have, if it has a carburetor you should do the same to prevent the brass tube into the carb from ever coming loose.]
Not only was it great driving the secondary roads in France in a Traction, but as we approached La Ferté-Vidame, Tractions became the dominant automobile on the road. There were tractions going every which way. It felt like we were in France in the 1950’s.
Our accommodations were equally as elegant. We stayed at the beautiful Chateau de la Puisaye on the outskirts of the nearby town of Verneuil-sur-Avre. Also staying there were some members of the Traction Owners Club. We were treated to a delicious dinner on Friday night and incredible breakfasts every morning. In fact, the only disappointing meal we had was the Saturday night “gala dinner” at the Traction event itself. People (including us) stood in line for over 90 minutes to get food from a cafeteria line that looked and tasted like the meal I had on the economy airline flight I took to get there. I guess it’s hard to serve a decent meal to over 1,600 people, but channeling everyone into one serving line caused lineups that were ridiculous.
The only other disappointment was our visit to the PSA Peugeot Citroën test track nearby. It was there where the Traction, TPV (2CV) and the DS were put through their paces and it is still in active use today. With a special pre-arranged pass we were told that we would get access to the facility and a chance to drive our Traction on the test track. In reality, we were only allowed in a small part of the facility along one entrance road to an old building that looked more like a well kept courtyard on a farm estate. We parked there and some folks looked at some of the modern Citroëns on display on the other side of the courtyard. Nobody from Citroën and no-one on the tour stepped forward to say anything about where we were. But I had a strange feeling that I had seen this area before in the pictures published about the find of the 3 2CV prototypes that had been hid from the invading Germans at the start of WWII. I spotted an elderly fellow wearing a PSA Peugeot Citroën shirt and asked him he worked here. He said yeas and I asked if it was in of these buildings where the 3 2CV prototypes were discovered. He nodded and pointed up to the roof a the end of the building we were standing in front of. I confirmed with him that was the spot.
Now I felt I was on truly sacred ground. I mentioned this to a few of the other Traction owners and guests standing around, but there was surprisingly little interest. People just got in their Tractions and drove out to the main gate, with no one publicly announcing what a special place it was to which we had been given access.
In any event, we made it back into town and into one of the long queues of Tractions lined up to get into the show field. Once in we saw virtually every type of Traction imaginable, shopped in an extensive parts market, checked out the museum display and had the opportunity to view the film Autropolis that profiles the construction of Traction Avants the Citroën factory in Paris. 43 minutes in length it provided an insightful look into had how the cars were made and factory conditions in that era. For example; it showed showed how Traction driveshafts were forged by massive steel presses that impacted molten steel beams. It showed the pressing of body panels and how workers installed interior trim around the doors with mouths full of nails, spitting them one-by-one into a slot in a small hammer and banging them in to the door surround. Not an easy life by any means.
When the Tractions became a bit overwhelming, we strolled through the “regular cars” parking area to discover a number of other Citroën classics, including Ami, DS, GS, and SMs, – even a SM convertible!
The highlight of the event was an impressive fireworks and laser light display on Saturday night celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Traction. Lasting almost 20 minutes it was truly a spectacle on a scale you would expect for a fireworks display in Paris!
Between our chateau stay, the Traction packed field at La Ferté-Vidame, all the camaraderie and the fun along the way, this was a vacation trip of a lifetime.
We were sorry that Larry Lewis from Toronto could not have been here with us. Larry has Tractions in his blood and had planned to accompany us when we first booked, but an unforeseen medical operation to remove a kidney in mid-August forced him to cancel his plans to attend. I kept him informed each day as to what we were experiencing. Although he was sad not to be there with us, Larry let us know that while the event was on his doctor informed him that all was well with the surgery outcome and he should be making plans to attend the Traction Avant 100th anniversary. We can hardly wait!
Update – Nov. 17, 2014: TF1 (French Television) ran a tribute to the Traction Avant last Sunday in honour of its 80th anniversary. While they cover the big event held at La Ferté-Vidame, France on Sept. 13 and 14 of this year, they also visit François-Xavier Despret, an avid Traction (with over 20 various types) and feature Andre Midol who took his 15-6 Cabrio on some of the worst roads in South America, Africa, Iran, and other places. It’s a very well produced video of our favourite car.
Have a look at the 7-minute french video (starting with 2 adverts) here: