Anyone who’s ever been to France will know the profound loyalty the French have for their homegrown marques.
Unlike in the UK, where German prestige brands jostle for space with Japanese, South Korean, Swedish, French and, occasionally, British brands, in France, whether in town or country, on autoroute or rural lane, Citroëns, Renaults and Peugeots dominate.
That there’s such an overwhelming national pride in the country’s automotive industry is no bad thing, of course, and France has a long history in this field with much to be proud of.
It was here, in 1894, that the first organised motoring contest was held, a reliability test from Paris to Rouen. Then, the following year, what’s generally considered to be the first official motor race was run from Paris to Bordeaux and back. In both, Peugeots triumphed. We could go on, but you get the point.
France’s position as an automotive pioneer is well established, then, so we knew that when it came to celebrating the Citroën’s centenary at Rétromobile 2019, Paris would pull out all the stops to do the Double Chevron proud.
The marque might not quite have taken over the city as André Citroën himself did when he used 250,000 light bulbs to emblazon his name on three sides of the Eiffel Tower in a promotional exercise that lasted the best part of a decade, but the manufacturer’s own 30-strong line-up was wonderfully curated and very impressive.
Taking visitors from the brand’s earliest days right up to today – with vehicles such as Sébastien Ogier’s 2019 WRC car represented through road, concept and competition cars – it served as a reminder of the Citroën’s breadth and ability to think outside the box.
Away from the main display, whether on other manufacturer-backed stands or not, more Citroëns charmed and delighted. How do a ’69 Ami 6 Service Vitré, a rare and rather dashing ’71 SM ‘Le Mylord’ Cabriolet and a Méhari Azur from 1986 take your fancy? Or the stunning Karin wedge concept from 1980? Or what about a 2CV in a mousetrap (yes, really!)?
It seems the French are rightfully proud of their history while, pleasingly, not taking themselves too seriously.
Real wow-factor came courtesy of a huge, private collection of Chapron-bodied Citroëns. We lost count at 18… The rare stars being shown included a CX 2004 Prestige Landaulet, a Cabriolet Le Caddy, a Berline Lorraine, a Coupé Dandy, and a Coupé Le Concorde vandalised by an aggrieved partner and never restored.
That’s not to say that other homegrown marques at Rétromobile didn’t stir the soul, Renault marked 40 years since its maiden F1 victory and Peugeot premiered its e-Legend concept, an electrically-powered, retro-style car based heavily on the Pininfarina 504 coupé.
But, the gargantuan Berliet T100 truck notwithstanding, by virtue of their volume and variety, Citroëns stole the show at Rétromobile in their centenary year.