The Start of the 15-H Project

Plaatje 15HydrlAutomobile 1969-TitelbladIn an article the French magazine ‘l Auto Journal in the early ‘70s I read about a limited edition of the Traction Avant, equipped with hydro-pneumatic suspension. This model had never been actively marketed outside France (only a very limited number appear to have been assembled at the Slough facility in the UK). The hype of collecting of Traction Avants -mainly initiated by Dutch students- was still in its early stages and the roaming of the French countryside resulted in an ever increasing flow of well preserved Tractions being imported into our country.

Among these were also a few 15-Hydrauliques which by the time they were 15-20 years old invariably were badly in need of maintenance or even more. At that time Citroën still treated knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of the hydro-pneumatic system as privileged information. Parts were available only from the Citroën source. It wasn’t until the DS entered the realm of collectable classic cars that other, independent sources of hydraulic parts and components emerged. Keeping a 15-Hydraulique in good running condition was considered something beyond the capability of the average amateur classic motorist. This and the fact that they were produced only in small numbers made that the 15-H is a rare appearance on the Dutch Traction Avant scene.

The thought of having a 15-Hydraulique had crossed my mind a few times but I had always put the idea aside as something beyond my reach. This was no stuff for beginners! However, as my knowledge of the 15-Six improved in the course of its reconditioning, I must have made the comment once or twice that at some point in time I might be able to successfully own a 15-H if one would become available at a reasonable price. I was quite sure that the last condition would be the killer because in the adds in the weekly La Vie de l‘ Auto the asking prices for these cars seemed to go up by the month.

Then, late 2005, a befriended Citroën dealer called me asking if I would still be interested in a 15-Hydraulique. Well… yes and no! I was quite happy with my 15-Six, etc. He told me that a car would be delivered to him shortly, of which he seemed to know that it had been sitting in a storage for many years. The storage needed to be cleared out and the car would be available at a reasonable price. The engine was said to be seized up which would nock down the price considerably.

So, a few days later on a Saturday I went to see the car. I was immediately sat down with a cup of coffee and told not to have too high expectations because the car wasn’t as good as expected. This was a wise way of getting me used to the idea because when I first saw the car -a 1954 model- I could not believe it had been stored under a roof, let alone inside. Well, it had been stored in a glass greenhouse and some of the glass panes had been smashed in a storm several years before. As a result, the elements had free access and even worse, the ground under the car had become so wet that it looked as though it was stored in a marsh. In short: this was a no-no!

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But then my friend came up with an idea he had obviously been thinking of for a while: wouldn’t I be interested to buy his 15-Hydraulique, a 1955 model and unfinished restoration project, and buy this car as well. Oops! This would mean buying not one but no less than two 15-Hydrauliques …

There was some merit to this proposition, the main one being that the “bad” car was as close to being in one piece as one could reasonably wish, whereas many of the major jobs on the “good” car had been carried out already. The main reason the project had not been completed was the fact that several essential parts were missing and -because they are so rare- not easy to come by. Although I was under no illusion that considerable extra cost would still be involved in finishing the project, I decided to go for it.

Obviously the “bad” car would be serving as a parts donor for the “good” car, but before undoing one single screw we pushed the car onto a lifting bridge and I took as many pictures of all sorts of technical details as I could think of. This provided me with an indispensable catalogue of all the parts I would be needing to complete the other project. Furthermore it showed me how things needed to be installed, what their intended purpose was, etc. On further examination of the “good” car it also showed me that some of the elements had not been installed as they should -for mere lack of a good example.

 

Please continue to the next Episode of the 15-H Project

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