Citroen Centenary Gathering: the great and good on show

Published: 23 July 2019

► We join Citroen’s 100th birthday party
► … along with many, many others!
► The 10 most interesting Citroens there

Citroen called it the event of the century. Four years in the making, more than 5000 cars from all over Europe (and beyond) and estimated crowds of more than 100,000 for the weekend - the 100th birthday celebration of France’s most remarkable car maker certainly exceeded Citroen’s expectations.

Every model was represented, as well as a number of significant one-off prototypes, and never-before-seen rarities. It was apt that the gathering took place in the sprawling grounds of the Le Ferte-Vidame Chateau.

It was here on a series of punishing test tracks behind the high perimeter walls in this greenest corner of the Loire Valley where development work was undertaken on the original 2CV (or TPV as it was originally known), and also where a number of prototypes were secreted in barns during WW2 to avoid falling into the hands of occupying forces. 

Citroen 2CV takes centre stage

Celebrating the 2CV link at the 100th anniversary was a no-brainer - and Citroen displayed three of the remaining TPVs, alongside an interesting re-imagining of the 2CV from the late 1990s, which sadly never made it past prototype form. But beyond these, Citroen’s heritage department put on a great show of its greatest hits (DS, Traction Avant, CX, GS, SM et al) in the shadow of a replica Eiffel Tower, bedecked with the company’s name.

There were more than 5000 Citroens to see at Ferte-Vidame

Even these jewels were overshadowed by the sheer number and variety of cars brought to the event by so many enthusiastic owners. There were enough DSs and Traction Avants to fill their own fields each, while every other model had its own area, rammed with interesting examples. Then there were tree-lined avenues stuffed with cars - and the town itself suffered a complete Citroen takeover. The three days the event was held over simply wasn’t long enough to take it all in.

Citroen’s in good shape at the moment, and for once seems to be in touch with its heritage. CEO Linda Jackson was there, and she said that as the company enters its second century, it has huge growth plans for South America and India, as well as electrifying its entire range by 2025. She also said that out of all the classics on show, she’d really like to have a go at redoing the 2CV as an ’accessible, relevant car for the masses that makes me smile. Not retro, but something that you could bring in from, say, India at a very aggressive price point.’

While you wait for the next 2CV, here’s CAR's highly subjective Top 10 most interesting Citroens shown at the event…

Is there a more suitable setting for so many classic Citroens?

1. Citroen Traction Avant

Citroen Traction Avant

The Citroen Traction Avant was our star of the show. Not because it was a technical tour de force when launched in 1935. Not because it was low-slung in stance, thanks to being of unibody construction (rather than the more typical separate chassis of its rivals), and had front-wheel drive. No, it starred for us because they all (and there were loads) looked amazing driving towards us on arrow-straight rural roads, yellow lights ablaze. It looked so at home, so right.

2. Citroen DS

Citroen DS

The DS revolutionised the French middle classes, and did it by being clever. It rode like a presidential limousine, and was just as roomy. Interconnected Hydropneumatic suspension meant a level and astoundingly comfortable ride at all times, especially at high speeds, where its highly aerodynamic lines as penned by Flaminio Bertoni meant it cut effortlessly through the air.

3. Citroen SM

Citroen SM

The SM was - and is - Citroen's most determined attempt to build a national flagship. It was powered by a quad-cam V6 built and designed by Maserati, and like the DS, was better the faster you drove it. Great aerodynamics and suspension were the reason for this. Speed-sensitive power steering, swivelling headlamps, self-levelling suspension, and the ability to run all day at more than 100mph make it just as desirable today.

4. Citroen 2CV

Citroen 2CV

The DS and SM might have been from a different planet from the 2CV, but this functional people's car was off-the-scale clever and is a long-time CAR favourite. It rides better than most cars 10 times its price, and makes more with its meagre power than it has any right to. It's probably due a Mini-style rebirth, too.

5. Citroen CX

Citroen CX

Replacing the DS must have been one of the toughest gigs of the century, but the CX is more than good enough to stand proud compared with its predecessor. It was designed to do everything the DS could, but a whole lot more efficiently. As a consequence, it's the better car – which makes current values all the more remarkable. 

6. Citroen BX Dyana by Heuliez

Citroen BX Dyana

This interesting one-off was built by coachbuilder Heuliez in an attempt to encourage Citroen into making a larger investment. That would have been via this smart three-door shooting brake that could have taken the fight to the Honda Accord Aerodeck. Not sure how many would have been sold, but we can't imagine it would be many...

7. Citroen BX 4TC 

Citroen BX 4TC

It's a controversial view, but valid nevertheless – Group B rally cars were born to be ugly. Maybe the Peugeot 205 T16 gets away with its motorsport transformation, but it's still worse-looking than its donor car. However, it was an oil painting compared with the Citroen BX 4TC. You might be thinking it doesn't look too bad in the picture above, but trust us - it's the best angle. Despite its challenged visage, we love it, and love the fact this one made it to the event in one piece.

8. Citroen GS Birotor

Citroen BX Birotor

Along with the SM, Citroen wanted to fit a rotary engine to the GS and CX. And of the three, only the GS made it to production - and even then, a mere 847 were made before the plug was pulled. It shared a Comotor rotary engine with the NSU Ro80, and made the most of a Hydropneumatic suspension system that proved it could work just as well for small cars. Easily the most advanced and irrelevant small cars of the 1970s.

9. Citroen TPV prototype

Citroen TPV prototype

For many years, it was believed that just two TPV (Très Petite Voiture) prototype 2CVs had survived the war. But in 1995, three more were found hidden at Citroen's design office in Ferte-Vidame, where they'd been kept out of view from the Nazis. After the war, they were ordered to be scrapped, but again, they were smuggled away by engineers who understood their historical significance - bravo to Citroen for not restoring them, leaving them as is, and displaying them at the 100th birthday celebrations.

10 Citroen SM Opera by Chapron

Citroen SM Opera

The SM as a two-door was off-the-scale good-looking, but coachbuilder Chapron proved that it worked pretty well when stretched into a four-door saloon too. The long nose is balanced by the stretched wheelbase, and the rear doors are nicely integrated. Only seven were made, although it did form the basis of the French presidential limousine that our very own HM Queen rode in once...

Do you agree with Keith Adams' highlights from the 100th birthday party? Be sure to sound off in the comments below

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR