Comment on the f.w.d. Citroen

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In the August issue we appealed for readers’ experiences of the f.w.d. Citroen, a normal car which, like many other Continentals, is a worthy substitute for a sports car and which should be an object-lesson to the British industry. P. A. Whittet writes enthusiastically of this car, with particular reference to the ” Light Fifteen,” and Myles Wadham equally so in respect of the ” Twelve.”—Ed.

Having been an f.w.d. enthusiast for many years, it gave me some pleasure to see space being devoted to the praise of this type of transmission.

I have personally been the owner of two Citroen f.w.d. cars and had a great deal of experience with many others. As what I might term an “ordinary” motor-car, that is to say, a car of average price available in large numbers to the general public, I think the Citroen is a truly remarkable product and one deserving much more attention from the enthusiasts.

The first model which I owned was a 12-h.p. saloon of 1938 vintage. This was bought second-hand in 1940, having done a very hard 22,000 miles, but after a little attention to universal joints the car seemed almost as good as new. The performance for a car of 12-h.p. was most amazing and she would climb Newlands Corner in top gear with six up and never drop below 40 m.p.h.

The cornering and roadholding were of the usual Citroen order, and this really has to be tried to be believed. I have never succeeded in skidding a Citroen, and I should be most interested to hear from someone who has. I have driven both this car and other ones on winding roads at really terrific speeds and they always appear to be glued to the road, so much so, in fact, that it leads me to wonder exactly what might happen if the car did finally skid.

The 12-h.p, model was sold early in 1942 and, after a number of other makes, was replaced early in 1945 by a “Light Fifteen” Citroen. This again was a car which had been driven very hard indeed for 30,000 miles and, for a 1939 car, it was in a remarkably rough condition. The previous owner, who is fairly well known in the motoring world, had used the car for carrying very heavy loads of steel in the course of his business.

The purchase of this car would probably amuse many enthusiasts. I had made up my mind to have another Citroen, but, after hunting all over London and the South of England, I finally resorted to the time-honoured method of chasing and stopping any Citroen I saw on the road and asking the driver if he or she would be open to an offer. Before I was successful, these tactics resulted in a number of rude and comic answers, and also in some very hard wear indeed upon my Renault Twelve, which, although good, was far from up to the Citroen standard. The engine of my “Light 15” was in a very poor state indeed, and I am sure you could have dropped pebbles down between the pistons and cylinder walls. The oil consumption was rather fantastic and the rest of the car mechanically was in about the same state. In spite of this, however, the performance was still all that can be expected from a Citroen, 70 m.p.h. being easily obtainable at any time, coupled with some excellent acceleration. An interesting point, upon which I should like a little confirmation from other enthusiasts, is that I obtained a better petrol consumption from the “Light 15” than from the 12-h.p. model, and I assume this to be due to the difference in final drive ratios.

Most readers will probably know that the Citroen is fitted with wet liners and it is, therefore, the easiest matter to fit a new set of pistons and liners. I have actually fitted a friend’s “Light 15” with new pistons and liners and had the engine running again in three hours single-handed. There is, of course, no need to remove the sump to fit these parts. In view of the excellent performance of my “Light 15,” however, I was very loath to take the engine to pieces and, to overcome the great usage of oil, I drained and refilled the sump with Castrol R, and this not only resulted in a most pleasing smell, but the engine actually seemed to like it and ran many thousands of miles without any trouble whatever. Whether Castrol R has some remarkable re-building effect, or whether it merely gums up all the clearances, I should not like to say, but the oil consumption was certainly reduced to something almost approaching normal and I found no ill effects, although many friends had warned me that I should ruin the engine.

Recently, after having saved up much basic ration, I decided to set out on a tour of Devon and Cornwall with my wife and daughter, aged two, and I think that our week’s running was probably as severe a test as one could give any motor-car. We ran down the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, choosing all the cliff roads. The mere sight of a notice suggesting that a road was impracticable for motors was enough to make us try it, and, touch wood, we always got through somehow.

At one point beyond Lynmouth we had taken an ” impracticable ” road and had descended about a couple of hundred yards, where the gradient was about 1 in 2 1/2, and it would quite obviously have been impossible on a grass surface for any vehicle to go up the gradient again, so we just had to hope that there was a way out by going ahead. A little further on we came upon a very small humped-back bridge over a ditch, and this very nearly proved our undoing. The bridge was so humped that the car grounded in the middle long before we were over, so there was only one thing to be done. My wife and daughter got out, I backed the car a couple of hundred yards and made a terrific rush at the bridge. The Citroen sailed into the air and landed some yards on with a most frightful clatter, but upon inspection seemed-none the worse for wear. Appropriately enough, the registration letters on this car were “FLY.”

Further on during our tour, we were ascending a hill of about 1 in 4, or even more, along a road so narrow that we were touching the verge on either side, when, on rounding a bend, we came upon a Standard Twelve very stuck indeed, with the passengers hastily scratching lumps of stone out of the hedge to put under the wheels. Apparently the hill was so steep that the petrol from the float chamber was simply pouring straight down the air intake and had stopped the engine. After a small amount of fiddling, we got it running again and, with several people pushing, the Standard got away, much to my concern, taking with it all its passengers and leaving the Citroen perched upon a remarkably steep hill. However, the clutch proved better than I had expected and we got away without any trouble at all and, in fact, without any wheel spin.

For the whole of our tour we averaged 25 m.p.g. with the “Light 15,” a truly remarkable performance when you consider how much first and second gear work we were doing. The car was never really driven at all with any view to getting good petrol consumption, and wherever there was a decent open road a steady 65 m.p.h. was maintained. Our last stage home to Bagshot from Hamworthy, a distance of 89 miles, was done in exactly two hours.

Much to my sorrow, my “Light 15” has now gone.

It is my good fortune to be able to own, within reason, almost any type of motor-car, and, of course, I have tried most makes. But I still repeat that at similar speeds on the average English roads I feel safer in the Citroen. Finally, for the sake of those who have not had, the pleasure of diving into the works of a Citroen, here are just a few interesting details. The engine is a very nice, large, 4-cylinder overhead-valve, push-rod affair, the “15” being of 2-litres capacity. The push-rods and rocker gear are nice and light and very quiet in operation. Clutch is ordinary single dry plate and a 3-speed gearbox is mounted right in front of everything underneath the radiator grill, the drive is thus taken through the clutch over the top of the differential into the gearbox and returned out of the back of the gearbox to the differential. The gear-change lever is mounted on the dashboard and operates two selector rods running from behind the scuttle down to the gearbox. The three-bearing crankshaft is pressure oil fed and runs in bearings of ample proportion, which never seem to give any trouble, however hard they are used. Oil is also supplied under pressure to the rocker shaft, which is drilled underneath each rocker arm. A point worthy of note is that when decoking a Citroen it is well worth while dismantling a rocker shaft and clearing the oil ways, as I find that these are rather inclined to become clogged, resulting in excessive rocker wear.

The suspension is by full torsion bar, coupled with good direct-acting hydraulic shock-absorbers. The torsion bars are all adjustable, and the height of the car can be re-set very easily in a matter of a few minutes. The previously mentioned shock-absorbers work better than any other type I have struck and never seem to require any attention. Steering is of the rack-and-pinion type and extremely accurate. At any speed the car can be placed beautifully to within a fraction of an inch.

The body is a pressed and welded steel affair, serving also as a chassis, the whole of the works being bolted on to the front end of the body. It is, in fact, quite an easy matter to unbolt all the works and wheel away the engine, gearbox, front suspension and, in fact, everything, leaving just a body, and, once you get the knack of wheeling everything away like this, it is a lovely easy method of getting to work on the car. Furthermore, for an enthusiast it means to say that practically a complete spare car can be kept and worked on for use at comparatively short notice without the expense of licensing two cars.

Of criticisms on the Citroen I have very few indeed, and these are only minor details. The gear-change lever might well be improved in operation, and, in fact, I think the whole system of linkage between gear lever and gearbox might be re-designed to advantage. The position of the front seats in many models can also be improved, and in each of the cars I have owned I have re-made the front seats and set them some 2 in. higher than standard. I do wish, too, that manufacturers would return to fitting an oil pressure indicator instead of merely a warning light. I know that for some people the disappearance of the red light is enough to make them feel happy about their engine, but personally I would much rather know exactly what pressure there is.

From this article readers will gather that I am a confirmed Citroen fan, but I still remind them again that this is in spite of the fact that I have the opportunity of trying other makes of car. Whether it be for the everyday motorist, who merely wishes to drive about the country in safety, or for the enthusiast who likes a car that feels “right” and gives some real performance, I really do not think there is anything else within reach of the average pocket which you can even begin to compare with the Citroen. — P. A. Whittet.

In 1937 I began to reach the age when sports cars, which I had always previously owned, were beginning to lose a little of the appeal which they had had for my youthful eye and car. Comfort had begun to seem more desirable than the hard springing then almost inseparable from the sportsman’s ideal, and silence rather than a healthy bark insidiously began to state its claims. I still felt the necessity of avoiding a closed car at all costs, although I wanted one that could be rendered waterproof and draughtproof if necessary — also I wanted something “different” and progressive in design. After much searching of the motor papers, I came to the regretful conclusion that there was nothing British that met my requirements within the limitations of my purse. Thus I came upon the 12-h.p. Citroen, which, as a roadster priced at £255, had almost everything that I desired.

I have now had it for eight-and-a-half years and covered over 93,000 miles, and every one of those has been a real joy. Repair costs have been very, very low, though I did have new cylinder sleeves put in at 50,000 miles in 1942, thinking that if the war persisted it might not be possible to get them later on when they were really needed.

This car has been truly “designed” not just grown up year by year from something pre-historic, like the average English car. Its general layout of chassisless construction, front-wheel drive and independent suspension by torsion bars all round are perhaps too well known to readers of Motor Sport for me to more than mention, but the easy accessibility of all components, the provision for adjustment of even minor things, such as bonnet flaps to prevent rattle, have to be experienced by the fastidious owner-driver to be fully appreciated. Even the ground clearance can be easily adjusted if the suspension should “settle” with age, or the owner decide to traverse unusually rock-strewn byways.

The engine, a 1,628-c.c., 4-cylinder, push-rod o.h.v. job, flexibly mounted on the Chrysler principle, is very smooth and quiet running right up to maximum revolutions, whilst the drive, taken from a 3-speed gearbox mounted underneath the radiator through universally-jointed cross-shafts to the front wheels, is entirely silent and free from roughness. In appearance the car never fails to attract admiring glances and comments, whether it be open or closed. With the hood erected and attractively rounded glass windows wound up into position, the car is completely weathertight and has the snug, sleek look of a rather dashing coupé. In fine weather, with the hood stowed in a recess out of sight and windscreen folded flat, it is transformed into a very well-bred looking sports car.

As regards roominess, three slim people can travel long distances in comfort in the wide front seat (the floor being unobstructed by gear or brake levers) and two broad ones can spread themselves in the dickey, where there is enough legroom for the tallest guardsman.

The suspension and roadholding are excellent, thus proving that by initiative on the designer’s part comfort need not necessarily be divorced from ability to stick to the road like the proverbial leech.

I think it should be no criticism that the very direct steering is inclined to be on the heavy side, because it is accurate and steady to the highest degree, whilst in all the mileage I have covered no adjustment of any sort has been done to the rather unusual steering mechanism, yet the steering wheel cannot be turned a fraction of an inch without producing an answering movement of the road wheels.

The technique of cornering with a front-wheel-drive car needs a little mastering, for the beginner must remember always to have the engine pulling him round the corner if he wishes to get the maximum result. It is on wet roads, or better still on snow or ice, that the Citroen really comes into its own, for it is almost impossible to skid this delightful car, and one can safely drive at high speeds when other drivers have to crawl. I said “almost” impossible, for it can be done if one really tries hard enough and tyres are suitably smooth. I have practised it on ice on open bends and the technique of getting out of such a skid quickly needs a little courage, though the method is unfailing — simply remember to tread on the accelerator pedal instead of the brake, and the traction on the front wheels hauls the car into the direction in which one is pointing them.

My one criticism is the gearbox. Though the car is a top-gear performer, almost ranking with the Americans, and though the acceleration is good enough to cause one’s passengers to comment admiringly, I sigh for a close-ratio 4-speed box instead of the 3-speed affair with a fool-proof, but “uninteresting,” type of change as at present fitted. That’s what comes of having graduated through sports cars and gained a liking for something one could play really snappy tunes on!

Petrol consumption is good and averages 28 m.p.g. on my daily 16 1/2 miles to work, which I invariably cover in under 20 mins. (not straight or arterial roads either!), whilst on a recent 270-mile run the total petrol used was a fraction under 9 gallons.

Surprisingly enough, I see that I have not mentioned speed, although I have indicated in the previous paragraph that excellent averages can be maintained. The maximum by speedometer is still, as it always was, 74 m.p.h. I believe the instrument to be some 5/6 m.p.h. fast in these regions, for I once tried to cover 60 miles in 60 mins. on the dead straight, dead level Brescia to Milan autostrada by keeping the needle as steadily as I could on the 65 m.p.h. mark. The journey actually took 60 1/2mins.

Now that my article is almost at an end, readers will have realised that it is written by an enthusiast, but that is inevitable. I have never talked to a Citroen owner who didn’t declare it the best car he had ever had. In case critics should say that I have painted too rosy a picture, I can only advise them to try one for themselves. It is a grand car and I only wish that England had produced it 100 per cent. – Myles Wadham.