A truly excellent motor car

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60

“Motor Sport” forms a high opinion of the Citroen Six,

When the Citroen Six came to us for road test it came for a considerable period, as if in compensation for not having had a Press car from the Slough factory since before the war— of course, we have borrowed various Citroens in between, for to deny oneself completely the pleasure of driving these cars would indeed be monastic. But the lengthy trial of the six-cylinder version meant that it could be experienced under a wide variety of conditions, road, load, weather and circumstance, including taking it down to cover the Land’s End Trial.

As a result of this extended test, our enthusiasm runs high. We can recall no other car as roomy as this which has proved so enjoyable to drive in sports-car style. Certainly, after a four-fignre mileage it qualified as that exclusive class of car which we return with real reluctance.

Taking over this Citroen in London’s competitive rush-hour traffic we were reminded of Kent Karslake’s tribute to a very different form of automobile, the Hispano-Suiza, of which he once wrote that it has the rare knack of feeling far less bulky than measurements prove it to be, and so with the Citroen, for although one is conscious that it is a wide car (actually 5 ft 10 in wide and nearly 16 ft long), so accurate is the control, so excellent the visibility from behind the wheel, that one straight away on first acquaintance pushes through the traffic at a speed which appears quick and is actually faster than it seems. Gain the clearer roads and this liking of the Citroen for deceptive speed increases. Very soon the car makes firm friends with its driver and is cruising at a genuine 65-70 mph, more if circumstances call for it, if not in entire silence, certainly with seven league boots–comfortable, sure and very safe.

It might be said, in an entirely complimentary fashion, of this French conceived, British assembled and equipped car, that it is the last of the vintage vehicles. By this we mean that it achieves prodigies of performance for its modest output of 27 bhp-per-litre, is high-geared (20 mph per 1,000 rpm), possesses many very practical features of detail layout, and in handling is distinctly a man’s motor car.

The performance factor can be represented for the moment as a maximum in excess of 80 mph, 60 mph in second gear of the three-speed box and acceleration of the 0-50 in 121/2 sec order—this on 2.8-litres of very roomy five/six-seater saloon, with a wheelbase of just over 10 ft, weighing 1.65 tons.

The handling qualities constitute, perhaps, the greatest charm of this refreshingly unusual car. The front-wheel-drive can be dismissed as almost unnoticeable except for a happy knack that using more throttle on a corner proves an asset instead of promoting a disaster and for violent castor return on the steering out of tight corners. The torsion-bar suspension is somewhat softer than expected, allowing some up and down motion, transmitted as separate effects of front and rear wheels following irregularities over rough roads, bad surfaces being ironed out admirably in consequence. Yet, have no illusions, this tendency to softness promotes no handling headaches. The roll-factor when cornering fast is low and at all times, until rear-end breakaway occurs, the Citroen Six understeers. Moreover, the rack and pinion steering is so absolutely free from lost-motion that the car can corner with extreme precision, driving along winding lanes thus becoming a 60 mph affair, when in most cars you would feel you were really pressing along at 45 mph. The only way in which the Citroen reminds eager drivers that, after all, it is a family saloon and not a sportscar is when the rear wheels slide under extreme cornering methods. As, however, the steering is so high-geared—another “vintage” attribute—asking only two turns lock-to-lock, this is of no particular moment to anyone accustomed to sliding his corners. Incidentally, this high-gearing is further emphasised by the 18 in dia steering wheel.

It has to be admitted that the steering is heavy, due to the aforementioned strong castor action—very heavy when manoeuvring and still quite heavy when cornering at moderate speeds. But as speed is increased above 26 mph the steering alters surprisingly, becoming light and smooth in action. The turning circle is rather large (45 ft). The size and width of rim of the two-spoke steering wheel lends strength to our “vintage” comparison, making the Citroen more a man’s than a lady’s car. There is a little return motion at times, becoming excessive under light application of the brakes, but no column vibration. For our part, the excellence of the cornering and road-holding —the latter extends to well-damped suspension, producing arrow landings after hump-back bridges—allied to the comfort of the riding characteristics and roomy interior, effectively offset the muscular effort required to handle the car briskly.

Coming to the practical features of detail layout, there is, for instance, the tin box in the luggage locker enclosing a second petrol filter, to ensure clean fuel lines, the presence of tiny ventilator doors at the fronts of the bonnet-sides to admit cool air, the simple but effective quick-action radiator filler, the accessible under-bonnet battery, the simple heater turned off by putting a bung in the delivery pipe, the snap-shut oil filler on the valve cover, the extension tube for the starting handle, separate tool bag, etc. The engine, of the same size as that of the famous Light Fifteen but with two additional “pots,” pushes out its 76 bhp at a leisurely 3,800 rpm, and 2,500 fpm piston speed at 76 mph. It is finished in agricultural fashion, red paint, but no polish on the valve cover, but it and its fascinating appurtenances fill the under-bonnet space in satisfactory fashion. The asbestos shields for carburetter and battery, screw-down greaser for the water-pump, float-type oil level indicator, cowled fan, general under-bonnet accessibility and easy action of the bonnet fasteners did not escape us.

There is one aspect of the Citroen which is neither “vintage” nor modern practice and perhaps the one weak point in a brilliantlyconceived car. We refer to the dashboard gear-lever for the three-speed gearbox. This lever can be moved only if the clutch pedal is fully depressed. From the aspect of preventing the gears from jumping out of mesh this is a good feature, but a bulge in the bulkhead tends to impede one’s clutch foot, so that the pedal is not always depressed to the floor and a bungled change results. This is accentuated because the pedal is set further to the off side than is usual. As a mediator, the lever’s travel is not unduly inconvenient; there is synchro-mesh; but the change is not the equal of even a normal steering-column control. The keen driver sometimes regrets the lack of four speeds, too, although these objections are mediated by the mile-a-minute maximum in second gear and the engine’s ability to pull away fairly happily from about 10 mph in top, in spite of the high gearing. Here one is reminded of the hand ignition control in the centre of the facia, which encourages lazy drivers to slog along with a minimum of gear-changing, killing “pinking” by its ready aid.

In any other car we might make much of this somewhat tricky gear-change, but the other splendid qualities of the Citroen allow us to dismiss it with the observation that the car is at its best devouring the open—but not necessarily straight road, although rather more exacting as a town carriage.

It remains to enlarge on a few matters of detail. We can give full marks to so many—the comfort of the generously-upholstered leather seats, the leg-room, front and back, with foot-rail for the rear-seat passengers, the real wood instrument panel, the SGDG extension to the right of the steering wheel carrying controls for Lucas lamps, dipper (for both side and headlamp positions) and twin Lucas horns, etc. Alas, the designer departs from the vintage tradition by omitting a water thermometer and substituting a warning light for an oil gauge. The window winders work well, the doors shut nicely. Visibility, we have said, is excellent, the wheel low-set, both front wings visible, although the large rear-view mirror on the facia sill was obstructive (since replaced, however, by a smaller mirror). The instrument lighting is excellent and separate from the side-lamp circuit. The luggage locker is not very large, but the lid, carrying the covered spare wheel, falls back to carry extra luggage on a small platform and in the car’s country of origin a roof-rack would offer the complete solution. There is a lined cubby-hole, lidless but of adequate depth, and elastic-top pockets of the most sensible sort in scuttle doors and front-seat backs. The horn note is delightfully “Continental.” There are self-cancelling indicators. The hanging pedals are comfortable to operate and all work lightly, clutch action is good, the Lockheed brakes entirely adequate, silent, and free from vices.

The screen opens for ventilation, but not for fog (rare in France ?). A sliding roof is available as an extra.

The engine is smooth without being “silky,” scarcely runs-on after the hardest collar-work, starts instantly (with Bugatti-like ring of starter on open flywheel) and gives 16/17 mpg under hard-driving conditions (22, “pottering “). From 55 mph onwards it makes a “wind in the wires” sound, but otherwise the car is outstandingly quiet, although the speedometer-drive made an irritating noise (its needle also swung badly, making the logging of acceleration figures difficult; it was also about 5 mph fast throughout). The front wheels will spin momentarily on a dry road in bottom gear when accelerating fiercely. The headlamps are good but not exceptional; the anti-dazzle excellent.

As apt as stepping down on to the low floor is stepping out from the wide doors, unimpeded by running boards, and the external appearance is as imposing as it is distinctive. . .

We hope we have written sufficient to emphasise that the Citroen Six is a car quite out of the ordinary run of cars, very fast in point of average speed, very comfortable, fascinatingly individualistic, essentially practical, with a spacious interior, yet possessing handling qualities to delight enthusiasts and render this an outstandingly safe vehicle in their hands. At the basic price of £980 it represents excellent value, for to its more obvious good qualities must be added the safety of Citroen steel construction and the durability of their wet-liner engine and, indeed, of the car as a whole.—WB.

By way of summing up we append the experiences of Cecil Clutten, well-known as a car connoisseur, with one of these Citroens over an appreciable mileage in private ownership.

He writes :— As soon as it was announced, I decided that the six-cylinder Citroen was what I wanted for every-day motoring, but I did not acquire one until 1950. JOP 623 was just out of quarantine and came to me with 10,000 miles on the clock. I have driven it for a further 20,000, after which I see no reason to change my original opinion and there is no car for which I would willingly exchange it, regardless of money. There are many more exciting cars, but none I would prefer for daily use embracing business and pleasure motoring. For me, such a car must be capable of cruising between 70-75 mph without fuss and of accelerating from 0-60 mph in not more than 20 seconds, It must be tough, durable and easily serviced. It must corner better than most and have absolutely positive steering.

It is staggering what people will put up with in the way of spongy steering. After two years of fiasco it took a Stirling Moss to point out that the BRM’s steering was no better than the average American saloon, and to suggest a course of rack-and-pinion. All my requirements are met by the Citroen. It does not corner as well as some cars, including the Light Fifteen because, with 60 per cent, of its weight at the front, it is not so well balanced. This endows it with understeer, but not to any embarrassing extent since, coupled with the superbly positive steering, it can change direction with great rapidity. If, when cornering at the limit, the foot is taken off the accelerator, this understeer turns into oversteer; but this is only embarrassing during limit cornering, when exactly the same applies to rear-wheel-driven cars. Owing to the heavy front-end the Six becomes rather soggy at limit cornering and cannot be “diced” like the Fifteen, but on wet roads the front wheels break away more readily and fun can be had. Either on wet or dry roads it can out-corner all but the very best. On wet or icy roads the engine can be used to drag the car out of an emergency, but if several emergencies succeed each other in rapid succession a day of retribution eventually intervenes. Under such conditions it is best to declutch, when the fwb effect of deceleration is no longer present.

Although the steering is heavier than some, I would willingly put up with much heavier steering than the “Six’s” for the sake of such positive accuracy.

The “Six” is not a perfect car—there is, of course, no such thing. It is a pest having to lubricate the front universals and king-pins every 600 miles. Front wheel judder under braking can be alarming, although never dangerous. It can be mitigated by balancing but never cured. The early Fifteens, which had much lighter wheels than those now fitted, had no such trouble, so the weight of the now standard wheels is probably the cause of the trouble. The engine runs very cool and at freezing air-temperature it cannot be got over 40 deg C. I consider that a muff is therefore essential, as also is an oil-gauge and water thermometer.

The sump oil-level indicator is an incurable liar, but may easily be converted to dip-stick.

Petrol consumption has been disappointing and I cannot better 16-17 mpg. with my methods of driving.

The change from second to bottom, involving a drop from 5.6 to 13.2 to 1, is not easy, and between 20-30 mph there is no really effective ratio, though second will pull away from walking pace.

With the single-carburetter breathing fades out noticeably above 3,500 rpm. (50 and 70 mph), and I believe two carburetters effect a great improvement, which would be particularly valuable in second.

The Citroen Six will certainly go down in history as one of the really great cars, in the best “30/98” tradition.