Telling the 100th anniversary of Citroën is as if you were asked to talk about your life. “Where do I start?” Is the question. There is so much to say that you don’t know where and how to start. In fact, the French house has a very rich past of iconic cars, technical innovations and historical events, so it becomes difficult to condense everything in a few lines.

Moreover, the history of the house is inevitably intertwined with that of its founder Andre Citroën, a brilliant man who has transferred his inspiration to the company, making it capable of always arriving ahead of its time.

So here we are dealing with the history of the French brand, founded by Andre Citroën in 1919 at the end of the First World War , when the French entrepreneur – after supporting his country’s war industry – thought about how to invest after the end of hostilities. . His idea was to focus on the car market, at that time in its infancy: it was the right choice, because a year after the foundation Citroën was already selling 10,000 cars.

Citroen and the important dates


The first car of the French company is the subcompact Type A , a small car with a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine on sale since July 7, 1919. Its success is resounding: Citroën in fact reaches 10,000 cars sold already in 1920 and it touches 50,000 four years later .

100 years of citroen

In 1922 came the B2, an evolution of the Type A, and the Type C, a completely new model initially available only in yellow, which earned it the nickname petite citron (small lemon). Citroën also began a crossing of the Sahara in 1924, the first of many other great enterprises that it will complete in the course of its history.


The second decade of history is perhaps the best in Citroën’s history, despite the bankruptcy of 1934 (ownership becomes Michelin ) and the death of its founder (July 3, 1935). In fact, in 1934 the revolutionary Traction Avant sedan made its debut , one of the first with front wheel drive, independent suspension and monocoque bodywork, a car technically very similar to most of today’s cars. 

100 years of citroen

Citroën then begins to design the 2CV (it will arrive in 1948) and launches its first work vehicle, the Citroën Tub, which is also far ahead of its time: it has an advanced cockpit, a sliding side door and a cargo floor. lowered.


The 1940s do not seem as fortunate as the past decade, as Citroën immediately finds itself having to deal with the destruction of the Parisian factory of Quai de Javel. The French company was among the first in Europe before World War II, with sales of around 100,000 cars, but in 1942 the production was only 9,000 units.

100 years of citroen

Citroën, however, manages to “hold its own” and after the war it restarts with the Type H van, launched in 1947, before the 2CV subcompact car is shown the following year , an essential car, basic but suitable for its purpose, that is to become an affordable and reliable means of transport for the middle class of the population. The 2CV will be built until July 27, 1990 in over 5 million units.


The 1950s also started off on the wrong foot for Citroën, because on 11 November 1950 Pierre Boulanger , the general manager who had revived the company after the 1934 bankruptcy, died in a car accident, placed in charge of the company behind the at the behest of Michelin, which became the main creditor of the French company.

100 years of citroen

To make Boulanger’s disappearance “forget”, however, thinks the DS, the legendary sedan that seems to come from the future, due to the unprecedented lines compared to the cars of the time (the work of the Italian Flaminio Bertoni, father also of the 2CV), with an interior of the highest quality and the famous air suspension, which isolates passengers from any roughness of the road. The Traction Avant went out of production in July 1957, after more than 750,000 units .


The soul of the French company in these first decades of activity is the brilliant Varese designer Flaminio Bertoni, who after having signed very elegant cars such as the Traction Avant and DS puts himself to the test with a much more elaborate and courageous car: it is the compact Ami 6 from 1961, a five-door with the front reminiscent of a human face and the unmistakable solution of the rear window tilted inwards.

100 years of citroen

Three years later, its wagon variant arrives. 1964 is also the year in which the doors of the 2CV change, which open in the traditional way (and no longer in reverse), while in 1967 the “rotating” headlights for the DS make their debut : two headlights of the four they rotate following the steering wheel to better illuminate the curves, a solution once again ahead of its time.


In this decade Citroën returns to present great cars, also by virtue of the agreement that brings it into possession of Maserati (it is 1968). The French company decides to make the acquisition pay off and develops a two-soul coupé: the Citroën SM in fact has hydraulic suspension and therefore offers great comfort, but the 170 HP 2.7 V6 engine makes it pleasant to drive.

100 years of citroen

In 1974, however, the CX sedan made its debut , less revolutionary than the DS but still a true Citroën, thanks to the air suspension, touring interior and steeply sloping rear window, so much so that it was named Car of the Year in 1975 . On April 24, 1975, production of the DS ended: 1.3 million were built.


Large sedans play a fundamental part in Citroën’s history, but the same goes for small cars: in 1980 the famous  Charleston version of the 2CV arrives on the market , with its successful two-tone paint, and in 1981 it is the turn of the renewed Visa, a small one with an affordable price that begins the long line of sporty shoes of the French brand.

100 years of citroen

In fact, Citroën launched the 80 bhp Visa GT in 1982 and three years later did an encore with the lively Visa GTI, which had 105 bhp, enough to reach 190 km / h and entertain even the most sporty. In the 1980s, the medium- sized BX sedan and the large XM also went on sale, which went down in history for its unmistakable wedge profile.


The Citroën XM sets the standard and inspires all the following models, because the ZX and Xantia both have angular lines and a very pointed front. In 1996 a car arrives that combines the space on board a van with the comfort of a sedan: it is the Citroën Berlingo , the progenitor of today’s multispaces, immediately put to the “whip” in one of the famous crossings organized by the French company, which on 22 August 1997 leaves Paris and reaches Moscow.

100 years of citroen

Before the new millennium, there was also time to debut the Xsara Picasso, a car with an unmistakable profile (reminiscent of an egg) which is, together with the Renault Scenic, one of the most famous compact minivans. The Picasso is based on the Xsara sedan, which has been on sale since 1997.


At the beginning of the new millennium the name of a young rally driver began to be known, who in 2001 took over the French championship and the junior world championship: he is Sebastien Loeb , rally legend who binds his name to the French brand, together with whom wins all the World Championships from 2004 to 2012.

100 years of citroen

In 2001 the new flagship C5 was presented , which although technically very advanced does not have the distinctive and characteristic appearance of its ancestors. The situation is reversed for the second generation of the C5, shown at the 2008 Brussels Motor Show, more pleasant in look and with the inevitable characteristic of the hydraulic suspension, but this is not enough to make them “win” the competition from German rivals. The moment of the new flagship C6 is at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show.


The decade leading up to 2019 is the one in which Citroën diversifies its offer , because it launches the first SUVs in its history: in 2012 the C4 Aircross, based on the Mitsubishi ASX, makes its debut, before the current C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross.

Test Citroen C5 Aircross (2019)

In 2010, with the subcompact Citroën DS 3, the French company launched the first of a series of refined and luxurious models inspired by the DS, until the DS became an independent brand (in 2014).

Paolo Alberto Fina
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