Post-war France was an austere place, the war had been savage to its civilians and companies. But one of those companies that did much to restore French national pride was Citroen.
The Citroen H Van is a bit of an unknown quantity in the UK, yet it is instantly recognisable. It could be perceived to be unkind to call it a shed on wheels, but due to its unitary construction with no separate chassis is it a fairly accurate starting point for this auction review. The first ones rolled off the lines in 1947, a year before the 2CV made its official debut but actually has more in common with Citroen's other innovator, the Traction Avant. H vans used the same engine and gearbox due to a shared FWD layout.
The design of the body was influenced by the German Junkers aircraft which used a similar ribbed effect to add strength to its hull. The panels were easy to stamp out in the factory, which considering the low-tech tooling available, proved to be highly effective and contributed to the Citroen H strength.
However, the major news for those who are set for buying one of these charismatic vans is the post-1963 update. It's agreed that models made before this period were frankly diabolical for modern use - simply too underpowered and as the most recent example is almost 60 years old, there's not much to recommend it unless it is in tip-top condition and you don't intend to travel far in it. With this in mind, we would like to present you with this 1969 fully restored short wheel-base version with the benefit of being standard without any major modifications.
Bought off a specialist as a French import, it was shipped into the UK in 2016 and subjected to a full restoration. it comes with no evidence of its French past, other than a note of its original registration plate by the Citroen Car Club. The original plate (269 NN 30) corresponds to a department in Occitanie, in the South of France. This bodes well for the condition of the vehicle - but we have to remember that if you move to another region you have to change the registration plate of your vehicle but for logistic's sake, we can assume that it has spent some time in the South of France. On top of that, it has benefited from a Jeff Winterman re-commissioning, which speaks volumes to those familiar with the Citroen H world. Bought on a whim, it's has had a relatively easy life with very few kilometres added since the owner bought it - with around 600 miles use in 4 years. A few minor engine components and parts have been replaced since he's owned it. The current owner, who used it on the occasional family picnic and for the irregular shopping errand, has said it's not caused any major problems while he's owned it. He is selling it, as is often reported on these write-ups because he has too many classic cars and not enough time.
It has been notified to the HMRC on the Notification of Vehicle Arrivals system, so there are no issues regarding its use in the UK. The ever-changing London emission zones control favour this petrol version too, so worth considering if you intend to use a business vehicle in town. It comes with an MOT and V5 certificate, which states it as having one owner since the vehicle was imported. The Citroen has recently been serviced and the owners mechanic will be giving the van a final check over before it is released to its new owner.
This is a well-restored example, so as a result when you walk into the side door, you are greeted with an almost faultless floor pan. To the left is the spacious cargo area, we have some bespoke interior fittings in the form of some aftermarket wooden storage boxes acting as benches. To the right, we have the cabin and a generous view of the road ahead. The detailing is worth mentioning too, as items like glass rubber and door fittings are in exceptional condition. The seats have been well upholstered and are in excellent condition - these need to be highlighted as those items are actually rather pricey to renew.
The owner has left it relatively standard inside, meaning it could be converted according to a business or personal use. As a camper van, it makes a lot of sense - it’s quite possible for a six-footer to stand up in the back and the versatility of the four entry points makes it very accommodating.
These vans were known to be able to withstand impressive weights, thanks to the corrugated floor pan design and with its virtual box-like cargo capacity, they have become quite sought after by mobile food and drink catering businesses. The rear cargo space in this van is all ready for conversion. All doors are as expected fully operational and show no evidence of sagging, although perhaps a little WD40 might help the operation.
The cabin is in a similarly clean state, the footwells are in excellent condition. There are half a dozen dials, a speedometer that retains it Kilometre reading (with the exception of the ultra-rare '50s RHD Slough-built models, all H's will have metric speedometers) but to be honest you are not going to need to worry about speeding tickets...
The Citroen is in very good order, having received a restoration by a Citroen specialist in the recent past. This is important to know as restoration of these vans can be surprisingly expensive. This is in part due to its corrugated panels and metal folds, which were ironically cost-effective to produce in the factory but require a little more time and preparation to repair, as the lack of flat surfaces can obstruct prep and rub down for paint.
There are a small number of issues that will need addressing, the nearside middle panel where it joins to another panel - likely to be an effect of condensation gone wild will require repair as there is evidence of rust coming through but that is the main issue. There are some joins that show up surface rust too but these can be treated before it becomes too serious.
The usual 'buy the best you can afford' applies here, as you'll want to spend the money on potential furniture or equipment for the van. There are a handful of potential issues to keep an eye on but the double-skinned floor pan, inner wheel arches, sills and general body structure are in excellent condition. Front nose panels are expensive to fix or buy, so this one has had the advantage of a virtually faultless one. This example is likely to have the maximum rigidity as it is close to factory spec, worth bearing in mind if you intend to cut holes out to act as serving hatches. Wheels and tyres are well above the legal requirements, the tyres are 185/75R16C types with inner tubes. The original tyres were the metric 17R400 type and tend to be quite expensive to obtain, so these modern boots are adequate but likely to alter the gearing and therefore top speed somewhat.
Electrically, everything is working, not that there’s too much to worry about - lights, wipers and the ignition are the main power outlets - no clock, radio, heater or anything considered a distraction when the van was current. We could suggest singing some Francois Hardy songs as you make your way through the gears, as a form of entertainment in lieu of radio but as you will discover in the mechanical section this may not end well. Joking aside, it is actually a fun experience to be part of, especially around town and at lower speeds. On the move, it's surprisingly agile and it's one of those vehicles people will sit up and take notice of and perhaps offer you a cheerful wave.
The mechanical aspect of the Citroen H is relatively straightforward, and its Traction-Avant derived engine is a strong unit but needs regular servicing (it was never fitted with an oil filter) It won’t like modern synthetic oil and needs old skool SAE 30. The owner has stated that it has had a recent service and will be checked over by his mechanic prior to dispatch to the new owner. The 1911cc engine was gradually updated while in production, with the biggest improvement arriving in 1963 - offering far better reliability, performance and economy gain making it significantly better than the original unit. That said, it cannot be compared to modern engines, worth considering if you need to travel uphill on a 50mph+ road.
This being a later 1969 version also benefits from a stronger gearbox, with higher ratios but like all Citroen H's it still won't go as far as including a 4th gear…this combined with the close proximity of the engine and covered by what can only be described as a large bread bin (Baguette container perhaps?) means the engine noise becomes an issue as soon as you set off. It's simply the nature of the vehicle and there's not much that one can do - with ear-defenders being a viable option for longer journeys.
On to more positive news, although it uses the single circuit brakes, the system is very good and is one of the best features of the van. The steering is... well let's put it this way, you can cancel your gym membership while you maneuver this beast into place. Due to the floor pan being close to the ground, and the combination of the relatively sophisticated suspension lent itself to a rather good reputation for road handling. Getting to the engine is novel, with access from both inside the cabin as well as the front bonnet.
A casual inspection underneath the van confirms the vehicles general condition - solid and rust-free. The exhaust, floor pan, steering and suspension components are good too. The engine seems to have suffered a radiator malfunction at some point, with rusty water evident around the engine bay. This is said to be completely resolved and there is no indication that the van overheats.
What makes this van unique is the many potential business propositions it offers. You can also bid, win and simply drive away and think about what you’d like to do with it. It is a well-restored example, with a couple of minor issues that can easily be addressed but certainly not needing immediate attention. Yes, it is LHD (what H isn't?) but you’re never going to overtake anything, are you?
The alternatives to the H are numerous and offer far better options, however, owning a Citroen H is a great place to start to get yourself noticed and if you are going to cover low mileages in the summer months then there is nothing better than being parked up at a festival feeding hipsters and cute families, as the Citroen earns its keep. If you were to convert this into a burger, noodle or ice cream van, the quirkiness and the charm of the design will be instrumental in attracting people. You don’t get that in a 15-year-old Transit.
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