Me and my motor
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.