Factory methods of the Vintage era

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No. II: CITROEN

Today the manufacture of the complex Citroën with its hydraulic services has reverted to France, although at one time it was largely assembled, then manufactured, at Slough, where the British Company is still based.

In 1930 Citroën was making popular cars in considerable numbers, its eye on its two competitors, Renault and Peugeot. Its new 4- and 6-cylinder models were proclaimed in flashing green, gold and red lights on the Eiffel Tower itself, from which the famous double-chevron trademark went out in vivid flashes.

In those times the company was known as La Société Anonyme André Citroën. Its headquarters were at 143, Quai de Javel, Paris, its capital amounted to 400-million francs, it employed some 25,000 people and had a capacity for producing 1,000 vehicles a day, if Citroën lorries and creeper-track machines were counted with the cars.

The foundries, forges and die-casting installations were at Clichy, in the Rue Vassou. The foundry was blown by a plant embracing eight 450-h.p. compressors, three 1,200-kilowatt turbo-alternators, an electrical sub-station, steam recuperators and four Stirling boilers of 35,000 lb./steam hour. The furnaces for the boilers were fed with pulverised coal and controlled by a master stokehole. There were ten enormous cupolas, grouped In pairs and automatically charged, capable of making 300 tons of molten metal every day. The moulds travelled to the pourers on rollers, over a concrete floor. Many coloured operatives were employed.

In the Avenue de la Gare at St. Ouen the press-shops were situated, where three Keller profiling machines made the prototype dies from which dies and punches for the presses and stamping machines were copied, and the panels for the Citroën all-steel bodies stamped out and assembled. Automation had already arrived in these press-shops by 1930, some 150 fully automatic machines punching out small parts without supervision. One complete Citroën body was produced every eight hours, painted and ready for its chassis, 57 assembly tracks, each nearly 400 ft. long, being employed. These bodies were conveyed on lorries to the assembly plant at Javel, smaller parts being taken away on Citroën-Kegresse creeper trucks.

At the Grenelle factory in the Quai de Grenelle front and back axles and steering gear was assembled by 2,000/3,000 operatives, jigs being widely employed and conveyor-belts keeping production moving. Fifty Gleason cutters, newly installed, turned out crown wheels and pinions and in a special corridor back axles were tested for quietness and the Ferodo-lined brakes bedded in. A German oven with moving conveyor was used for heat-treating final-drive bevels and a coppering installation was in operation at this depot of the great Citroën organisation.

Engines and gearboxes were assembled at the Guttenberg works in the Rue Saint-Charles, where over 2,000 people were employed and American hand-controlled and automatic machine tools had been installed. Overhead belting was still much in evidence; smoking in all departments was prohibited.

At the main factory at the Rue Balard, Javel, chassis were assembled, the coachbuilt bodies made, the cars finished off and dispatched to the hall from which agents and owners took delivery. Here, too, were the administrative offices. In addition, Citroën in those days built the Kegresse vehicles at Suresnes, made leafsprings for the chassis at Les Epinettes and had a machine-shop at Lavellois. Some 12,000 workpeople were to be found at Javel, assembling the cars on so conveyors extending over nearly 22,000 ft. of floor space. A chassis was completed every 24 minutes and as each left the assembly line its engine was started-up and it was driven away to have the body put on it. Pneumatic hoists brought engines to the assembly tracks on overhead railways. The components were bench-tested before assembly and the chassis run with its wheels on revolving drums, which recorded electrically the speed and power readings. This output of 1,000 cars a week did not include the British Citroëns, then manufactured at Slough.

Thus were the popular 13-30 and 20-h.p. Citroen cars of nineteen-thitty produced. Hand-assembly was a thing of the past at the Citroen plant—mass-production, clearly, had intruded into the vintage scene!