Me and my mo­tor

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - CARSGUIDE -

SPEND some time with re­tired army sergeant Brian Wade and you soon learn some in­ter­est­ing facts about Citroen’s in­no­va­tive Trac­tion Avant.

Like the fact that in 1934 it was the first front-wheel drive car ( trac­tion avant is French for front-wheel drive), its en­gine had over­head valves, not side valves like most at the time, it had tor­sion bar sus­pen­sion and a mono­coque chas­sis and in 1937 was the first with rackand-pin­ion steer­ing.

‘‘I like things that are a bit dif­fer­ent,’’ he says.

Wade’s ob­ses­sion with Citroens started ‘‘by ac­ci­dent’’.

His first re­stored car was a 1930s Mercedes-Benz 150 S, which he sold when he was of­fered ‘‘a fair price’’.

He was on the look­out for an­other old car to re­store when his fa­ther stum­bled on an old Citroen Trac­tion Avant.

Be­liev­ing it was a rare 1937 model, they bought it only to be told later by a Citroen Car Club his­to­rian that it was a French­made 1951 ‘‘Light 15’’ (15 horse­power).

They paid $1000 for it, sold it in 1984 for $3500 and bought it back again 10 years ago for $6000.

‘‘I’ve since spent about $10,000 on it and have a fair bit to go,’’ Wade says.

His restora­tion has in­cluded ‘‘de-mod­ernising’’ the car by re­plac­ing blinker lights with pop-up in­di­ca­tors, re­mov­ing seat belts and restor­ing the sin­gle tail­light.

It’s not the only Trac­tion Avant in his garage. The other is a rare gem.

‘‘We were looking around for bits and pieces to re­store the ’51 and ended up buy­ing a re­stored ’48 and ’40s wreck,’’ he says.

The wreck turned out to be a very rare Avant Light 15 1940 model that was built in Oc­to­ber 1939.

‘‘Be­cause of the war, parts were scarce, so only 400 were built,’’ he says.

They were di­vided up into sev­eral mod­els: Road­sters, Light 12, Light 15, Big 15 (wider and longer) and Big 6 (six cylin­ders). ‘‘There are only two Light 15s left in the world. The other one is owned by an Ar­gen­tinian pi­lot who I speak with oc­ca­sion­ally,’’ he says.

‘‘I didn’t re­alise it was so rare when I bought it.’’

The car is in­sured for $25,000, but Wade be­lieves it could be worth a lot more.

Trac­tion Avants were made in Paris and in Slough, Eng­land, from where Aus­tralia got most of its mod­els.

Wade ex­plains that the English mod­els were bet­ter equipped but cheaper be­cause they had more than 50 per cent parts from the UK, such as all Lu­cas electrics, which meant they qual­i­fied for lower Com­mon­wealth im­port tar­iffs into Aus­tralia.

Of the 750,000 Trac­tion Avants built, only 26,000 were made in Eng­land, mak­ing them rarer.

Wade said the UK cars had leather up­hol­stery, chrome head­lights, car­pets and wood trim while the French-made cars had rub­ber mats on the floor, plas­tic trim and cloth seats.

Wade’s pas­sion for the French mar­que ex­tends through­out his back­yard shed, which also houses a 1977 GS Pal­las, 2007 C5, 1996 Xan­tia, 1978 GS Pal­las and 1980 Visa.

Wade claims the Visa is also a rar­ity as one of only two left in Aus­tralia.

The other Visa is in Mel­bourne.

His Visa was owned by rally leg­end Jim Red­diex and fea­tures a two-cylin­der, 650cc en­gine like in the 2CV.

‘‘The trou­ble is there are too many cars here to choose from,’’ he says.

‘‘That is what you tend to do with Citroens.’’

Wade will show his Trac­tion Avants at a 75th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion at Cleve­land Park, Long St, on Septem­ber 27.

Among the 20-odd cars ex­pected is one that ran in the 1954 Redex Trial.

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