It was popular as a wedding car, used by the underworld and preferred by big families for its spacious interior

The Citreon Traction Avant is not the first, but definitely the most popular front wheel drive car to emerge in the vintage era. It outshone earlier FWD models such as Cord's L29 with its sleek monocoque shell, which made for lightness. With a range of models from 1934 to 1957 and a total production of 7.6 lakh cars, the Traction Avant created a worldwide and enduring popularity for Citreon.

The Traction Avant is among cars that have enjoyed multiple associations. When dressed in white paint, its languidly long body was perfect for someone looking to hire a wedding car. It also became entangled with the underworld. It was a safe bet to quickly take anti-social elements to safety.

Lighter than most comparable cars of the era, the Traction Avant managed a top speed of 100 kmp. As it was low-slung, passengers could ease into its seats. A feature that aided immensely in its role as a cab. For some, it was just the car for a big family. A model which featured six windows and a capacity to accommodate nine passengers was promoted as ‘familial'. Even regular models allowed space for little children to travel standing.

Fifty-four-year-old Solomon Byron from Puducherry recalls how his father, Byron Aroquinadin, would squeeze his 12 children into the family's five-seater 1952 Traction Avant 11L (11 stands for the French fiscal horsepower rating CV; ‘L' for ‘legere', denoting lightness in French). “As it was spacious, a few of us would travel standing,” says Solomon.

The quirky car (with the gearbox placed before the engine and the gear lever jutting out of the dashboard) has been with the family since 1956, when its French owner left Pondicherry to settle down in France. Aroquinadin was in no condition to drive the car he had bought. A member of the French army, he lost his eyesight during World War II. A chauffeur drove Aroquinadin (now 82) and his family around.

As a twenty-year-old, Solomon joined the French army, where he was assistant mechanic in the garage for heavy-duty army vehicles. When he returned to Pondicherry in the early 1990s, he brought along Traction Avant parts, including, new piston rings, an inline-four 11L engine and a gearbox assembly.

Like a true-blood armyman, he is prepared for an emergency.