Motoring: Marques Of The Century No.3 Citroen

Citroen's chevron badge is distinctive. What are its origins?

Andre Citroen founded a company producing gear wheels in 1913 - the double chevron represents two gear wheels meshing. This badge on popular mass- produced cars and single- deck buses and taxis built for his own transport companies through France.

Weren't Citroen at the cutting edge of technology?

Not until 1934, when they stunned the world with the Traction Avant, which means "front-wheel drive". This was the first mass-produced car in Europe to have front-driven wheels and independent suspension, and the chassis incorporated into the bodywork rather than being separate. It remained in production until 1957.

Was M. Citroen pleased?

Unfortunately the huge cost of developing and producing the car bankrupted the company and M Citroen died a year later.

What's the 2CV story?

The original specification for Citroen in 1936 called for a car to carry two French farmers in clogs and 50kg of potatoes at 30mph and 90mpg. The war got in the way, but the tin snail was launched in 1949 only in grey until colour paint arrived in 1959. The French press called it Citroen's biggest mistake; seven million have been built.

Eh? Where exactly?

In Slough in the Fifties, among other sites. The 2CV became a hit only when reimported in the Fifties. Slough also built Citroen's remarkable futuristic DS (pronounced "goddess" in French). Launched in 1955, the DS had hydraulically powered brakes, steering, gear change and self-levelling suspension.

So this sealed the company's success?

No, they flirted with rotary engines, a doomed technology, and were bought by Peugeot in 1975. Despite the technically and visually challenging CX and XM, worthy successors to the DS and the popular BX, Citroen has been absorbed into the Peugeot empire

What about Citroen supercars?

In 1969 they bought Maserati when Citroen wanted expert help to develop their ill-fated luxury coupe, the SM. It had a Maserati Bora engine but not enough buyers were convinced.

Are Citroen still quirky?

Sort of. The Xantia has hydraulic suspension and the bizarre Berlingo is a van with windows. Today, the model Claudia Schiffer promotes the dull Xsara. Enough said.