RETROMOBILE is always an event with a surprise or two. Maybe more.
The 44th annual classic car show this year celebrated the 100th anniversary of Citroën, a brand long known for ingenuity, creativity and avant-garde ideas.
But among the many gleaming cars, some straight from the museums of their makers, others lovingly restored, was one that drew attention for other reasons.
It was a Chapron-bodied coupe known as The Concorde, with only 38 examples made by the celebrated coach builder in 1963 — and it was in a very sorry state.
There were various tales of how it became vandalised.
One story is that it was owned by a businessman who parked it in the town square and used it to embarrass payment defaulters by painting their names on it, but the more popular version is that a furious wife took to it with various implements after learning of her husband’s infidelity.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and the poor Citroën, which might have been the host of the alleged infidelity, got a severe hammering.
Well, apart from its turning headlights, hydraulic suspension and five main bearing 2.0-litre engine, it did have a larger cabin than a regular DS, and a particularly comfortable back seat.
Another oddball at Retromobile was an enormous mousetrap with a 2CV as its victim.
Pourquoi? No, we don’t know either.
There were, of course, all the other French brands on display, but with 100 candles on its cake — it was Citroën’s day.
André Citroën, born in 1878, was an automotive legend.
A technical genius, he introduced a herringbone bevel gear final drive in cars — that’s what’s reflected in the brand’s double chevron logo.
His Type A of 1919 was the first affordable car to have a self-starter and electric lights, and he was the first to mass produce cars in Europe.
He was also a hell of a guy for creating awareness of his products.
In 1925 he rented the Eiffel Tower and used 250,000 light bulbs and 600km of electric wiring to make the 30m high letters.
It was so bright that Charles Lindbergh used it as a beacon when coming into land after his solo flight across the Atlantic, and it was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest advertisement.
His goal was to make car ownership affordable to every family in France, and in that he succeeded.
However, his Traction Avant of 1934 was the forebear of the modern motor car.
Unlike every other car at the time, his new range had no chassis, front-wheel drive, aerodynamic body, excellent handling and road holding and lots of safety features.
It was followed by the DS, another stunner in 1955, with the supersleek sedan with self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension which is still used in the current C5 and C6 because, as the brand’s fan club says, ‘over 50 years on, nothing can touch it.’
More than ‘car of the year’, it became widely known as ‘car of the century.’
Today there are Citroën clubs all over the world, 200 of them in France, but the company is now part of the giant Groupe PSA, a French multi-national maker of cars and motorcycles sold under the Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel and Vauxhall brands.
CHECKOUT: Time for Citroen to Shine