There were a number of Traction Avant variants over the years, with a large range of engines and body styles.
Citroen started building Tractions in 1934 and continued until 1957 when the Traction Avant ceased production. This guide is a summary of what to look out for based on personal experience.
The most common body style is a four-door saloon fitted with 1.9-litre engines in four-cylinder form and they are not as expensive to acquire compared to some other 'classics' varying from £4,000 for a 'Barn Find' in France to £30,000 for a restored 15/6 in the UK.
Depending on how deep your pockets are, there are other variants, e.g. a two-door sedan and coupe, two-door convertible and the first ever five-door hatchback. There is an even a longer length ‘Familiale’ version with seating for 9 which are often found being used as 'Wedding Cars'.
However be aware that all may not be what they seem and those expensive 'roadsters' in particular may not be originals, but converted saloons made mostly in Asia which will significantly affect there value.
The Traction Avant was known as the 7CV, 11CV and 15CV in France as well as receiving different names in England with the 11CV renamed the 15HP and 15CV called the ‘Big Six’.
All cars had a three-speed manual transmission and shared similar running gear, except for the 1954 15H model (these are fairly rare though), which had an early version of the advanced hydropneumatic suspension ahead of its use in the replacement DS models.
Despite popular belief, all Traction Avants were not all delivered in 'Black', Pre war, various colours were available and in the 1950's some cars came in Metallic paint.
Generally, but not exclusively, Right-hand drive models were built in Slough with Left-hand drive cars being built in France and Belgium.
Small booted cars (Malle Plate) are more sought after than the post July 1952 Big Boot (Malle Bombe) cars. Beside the obvious difference at the rear of the car 1952 saw the 'moustache' bumpers on French cars replaced with straight ones and the windscreen wipers were moved from the top of the windscreen to the bottom. That makes opening the screen to allow airflow into the cabin more problematic.
The image below shows a small boot pre 1952 'legere' on the left and a post 1952 '15 6' big boot on the right.
BUYING A TRACTION, WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR:
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The biggest enemy of the Traction Avant is rust: Especially on Slough Built, Right Hand Drive Cars, which many have suffered from the ravages of UK salty winter roads. Some though were exported to South Africa and Australia and have since been brought back to the UK, so have survived better in the drier climate.
If the monocoque is weakened, the car will sink ahead of the windscreen 'A' pillar, as the engine subframe gradually pulls away. The first place to check for corrosion are the sills and the bottom of the 'C' pillars behind the rear doors. The rear suspension legs mount onto the rear of the inner sills – any rot here can cause dangerous rear axle movement.
Beware of patch repairs. The ‘Jambonneaux’ (front sill extensions forward of the bulkhead) should be carefully inspected for bubbling, cracks or holes. Stress cracks on the floor at the back of the engine bay are simply a fact of life for Traction owners. However, ripples in the bulkhead above the side arms point to front-end accident damage.
Floor-pans are susceptible to rotting, which can be exacerbated by blocked sunroof drainage holes on Slough-built cars and the 'Trafficator' openings. The scuttle vent in front of the windscreen rots, allowing water in. That water inevitably drips over your right foot whilst it's on the accelerator pedal in a left hand drive car! (a most unpleasant experience I have personally suffered before)
Long-wheelbase cars like the 'Commerciale' and 'Familiale' flex much more than the short-wheelbase cars and dimples in the panels between the rear door and rear wheel can be a sign of this.
Door gaps (2) need to be even on all four doors and they should open and close with no problems – it could be that the doors have dropped due to corrosion in the body, or accident damage.
Bottom edges of doors and boot-lids can rot, as can the boot floor if the drain holes become blocked. Citroen didn't fit much (if anything) at the lower edge of the door glass to try and stop water entering the door interiors, nor did they put drain holes in the sills.
The tail end of the front wings are mud traps and can rot (1 & 4). The rear wing stone-guards can also hide rust.
The sills are in 3 parts, outer inner and a strengthener between the 2 so corrosion on the outer sill (3) can be a sign of hidden rust on the inside.
Corrosion often takes hold in the seams between the bodywork and wings – watch out for bubbling paint and rust streaks.
Slough cars will often have a sunroof fitted, something not normally found on French or Belgium built cars.
However when the cars were constructed there was a panel let into the roof and welded in place as can be seen in the image.
That is not a replacement for a sunroof. Some cars will have been restored over the years and may well have had the raised weld smoothed out (my car has).
For 'originality' keeping the inset panel visible is preferable, but down to the individual.
Four-cylinder engines use wet-liner construction and are pretty reliable being slower revving (3,800 rpm max) and longer stroke (78mm bore X 100mm stroke)compared to more modern cars.
Crankshaft bearings and big ends in the original 'Perfo' engine were 'white metalled' a technique not readily available now, though some older cars have had that changed during rebuilds to shell bearings and upgraded con rods from newer 11D engines.
The oil must be changed every 1,500 miles to ensure longevity as they were built with NO oil filtration system, so ask about any previous servicing history. Timing chain rattle is nothing to worry about, as no tensioner was fitted from new (though an aftermarket one is now available).
Cars may have a Zenith or a Solex carburettor fitted and these are simple downdraught models with little to go wrong. Over time the intake float may leak and need replacing and butterfly spindles can wear. Modern 'copies' are available but the quality can be variable so having an original rebuilt by a professional tends to provide better results in the long term.
Piston rings can 'stick' on engines that have been laid up for a long time, so watch the exhaust for smoke.
The six-cylinder cars are also tough, but are higher maintenance and are prone to overheating whilst rattling while starting could be due to the starter ring gear working itself loose. Rattling while at idle is likely to be due to a loose crankshaft damper – this needs to be fixed before any damage is done. Cylinder heads are also more prone to warping than those on the smaller 4 cylinder engines.
If the engine requires a total rebuild by an experienced Traction Avant Specialist then budget for circa £3,000 +.
There is a difference between RHD (Slough)and LHD (French) cars. English built cars came with 12 volt Lucas Electrics powered by a dynamo. French cars came from the factory with 6 volt SEV Marchal / Ducellier electrical systems, again powered by a dynamo.
You will find a number of cars are now running alternators instead of dynamos for their higher output, especially French cars that have been converted to 12 volt.
Why convert to 12 volt?
Well on the 6 volt systems, at night with lights on, wipers on the dynamo is basically working at it's limit trying to supply sufficient power to run the systems, engine and charge the battery. Stop at a junction with the engine idling and the lights will dim considerably. The 6 volt indicators and brake lights are not the brightest in the world either and in today's traffic really need to be better, plus the front lights are no better than candles!
Converting over to a 6 volt alternator is possible, but the output is marginally different to the dynamo's. 12 volt alternators that come as a kit (cost around 265 euro for 6 volt and 290 euro for 12 volt from CTA Services in the Netherlands (other suppliers are available) as shown in the image on the left) for the Traction Avant with the required mounting brackets will supply 75 amps, double that of the dynamo so you can use things like a radio, sat nav etc. in a Traction (or convert the car to power steering!!)
It all depends on what you are going to use the car for as to whether you should convert to 12 volt.
Water pumps are mounted directly above the cars transmission where it joins the crankcase. Any leaks can lead to water running down into the bellhousing and seizing the clutch / destroying the clutch release bearing. A perceived juddering clutch could simply be due to a perished rear engine mount though – rock the engine to check for play.
Jumping out of gear or non-functioning synchromesh (there is none on 1st gear anyway) indicates internal gearbox wear. If the unit is noisy, particularly changing pitch on the overrun, then it could be a tooth having detached from the crown wheel – this can potentially do serious (often terminal) damage.
You may come across a car that has a 4 speed conversion using a gearbox from a later DS. Looked after these are OK but outside of the cars original build design.
Clicking from the drive-shafts on full lock at lower speeds is an indication that they’re worn. Gripping the shafts and trying to twist them will test for wear. A lot of cars will have had the original drive shafts replaced with modern 'CV' joints though, so wear may not be so apparent.
Servicing can a chore as the front-wheel drive axles require 60 strokes of a grease gun every 600 miles (I highly recommend a battery powered one from Sealey!)
The Traction Avant has Torsion Bar Suspension all around and the 'Silentblocs' (the main bushes) can perish over time as they are basically metal sleeves bonded to rubber bushes).
It's pretty easy to visually inspect the front bushes, but the rear ones cannot be checked just by looking, but assume if the front are going then the rears can't be good either.
You can see in the picture on the left below that the nearside one is badly perished with the rubber broken down, the new ones waiting to be fitted are shown on the right. I bought the complete kit for the front cradle including the 4 Silentblocs, new splined shafts, shims and bump stops from Jose Fransen in Belgium which were fitted to my car in 2016.
You can read about the process for rebuilding the Front Suspension HERE
The Rear Suspension rebuild is detailed HERE
If your having both front and rear done by an experienced Traction Avant specialist (special tools are required) then factor in £3,000 or more if the steering rack requires an overhaul and shock absorbers are required.
Look for signs of brake fluid leaks on the outside of the brake backplates, it's a sure sign that there is a problem with the brake cylinders and it's likely you will need to replace the seals as a minimum plus the brake shoes as they can become contaminated with brake fluid.
Do be aware though if taking the car on a test drive, which you should always do on a car that is purportedly 'a runner' that the brakes are drums all around, not discs and not power assisted so will not feel like a modern car. Properly set up though, they are adequate for the cars performance. The front drums do require a special tool to remove them, not a standard one.
Look out for water stains on the door cards and roof lining, especially around the rear window which is very prone to leaking (detailed information HERE ). All can be replaced though with period pattern cloth being available. Interior kits are not cheap though so allow for £1,000 for a period cloth interior.
However 'Slough' built cars were built with leather seats etc. which can be more expensive to replace and cost anywhere from £2,500 upwards.
Standard fitment on a Traction Avant are Michelin X Radial tyres and there is only 1 place to source those in the UK (apart from Traction Owners Club) Longstone Tyres
Check the tyres on the car you are looking at and if the date shows them to be more than 10 years old then your going to have to replace them. The example in the image shows that tyre was made in week 42 of 2012 (not long before I bought the 4 I had fitted to my car.)
A set of 5 will be likely to cost over £700.00, add in the cost of tubes, fitting and if the rims are not in good condition, shot blasting and powder coating, then the bill could reach nearly £1,000 so factor that into your purchase price.
In summary, always take a test drive to check the engine, gearbox, steering and brakes (don't forget, NO POWER ASSISTANCE) are working as they should be.
Check the floor pan from outside and inside the car (beware of carpets 'glued to the floor' to hide rotting floors.
Always buy the best condition car you can find in your price bracket as renovation costs can quickly add up.
Don't be put off getting a Traction Avant after reading all the points above. There great fun to drive and very comfortable, much better than a lot of modern cars!
If unsure about any aspect of buying a Traction Avant then try and find someone with experience to look at a car on your behalf.
Join the UK Traction Owners Club (or one in the country where you live) as a member near you may be willing to help.
The above guide was compiled from various sources PLUS personal experience
Last Revision: March 2017