The reasons for the development of the Citroen Ami6 are mainly based upon the actual market situation and economy in the prospering second half of the 50s.
Let's look back: After the end of World War II, the first years are marked by continuous economical developments. After many decades in which automobiles are associated more with “luxury” and, despite of several initiatives, are not affordable by everybody, now there is the wide-spread vision of individualization of transportation of people and goods.
Originally created end of the 20s / beginning of the 30s, the 2CV made it's first performance in 1936 preseries versions, but it's finishing was delayed because of the War. 1948 it was presented to the world in the Paris Motor Show. After initial taunts being a better tincan, it still made it's way onto the still bumpy French country roads and offered a comfortable yet spartan way of transportation. It's simple and affordable concept allowed many people to reach an unknown level of individual mobility and soon becomes part of everybody's daily life.
With the Citroën DS, the “Deesse” or “Goddess”, Automobiles Citroën presents in 1955 another revolution, an automotive milestone. The DS replaces the quite successful Traction Avant (which is being discontinued after 1957) and heralds the post-war modernism. The German journalist and author Alexander Spoerl stated a very famous sentence: “This is not the car of tomorrow. It is from today. Just - the other cars are from yesterday.”
The unprecedented and avantgardistic design and the sensational technology of central hydraulics, hydro-pneumatic suspension and semi-automatic gearbox, the excellent comfort and the enormous interior silence set the benchmark in the Olympus of automobile creation. Unfortunately, the sales price and maintenance costs are astronomic as well…
Between both models, the 2CV and DS, there is quite some gap which demands to be bridged. More and more people can afford buying a car - and they are more demanding. Potential buyers demand more comfort and luxury - yet not as expensive as the DS though.
Many other French car manufacturers already have identified that gap, and created new models for this market segment. The main national competitors, Renault and Peugeot, do offer middle class models eg. with the presentation of the Dauphine and the 203. Simca released the Aronde and from 1958 onwards the Etoile.
And what about Citroën?
It is Pierre Bercot, General Manager and later on Chairman of the Board of Management, who defines the mandatory and requested specifications for the new model to come:
A car has to be produced to allow transportation of 4 adults, including a big trunk, an optimal utilization of available room, a maximum length of 4 metres, and without a 5th door. The latter is because Bercot does not like the “utilitaires”, cars which we nowadays either identify as estate or utility vehicles.
It is on the design team to develop a saloon car for families and middle income groups, to give them an ability to show off a distinct level - but that's certainly not a commercial vehicle.
The first project drafts foresee the commercial production to be launched in spring 1960. (NB: with later project specifications, this ambitious time plan needs to be shifted backwards for another year - the Ami6 will be commercially available in 1961).
An extensive chapter of this site is related to the design of Citroen's first notch back, the Ami6.
There's lots of rumors churning in the French press mill during the second half of the 50s. Daily newspapers such as “Le Monde”, journals like “Paris Match” and also trade publications as well as journalists are speculating wildly about a new Citroën model to hit the market. Nothing is really known but whatever can be assumed is published.
On June 1st, 1959 is a remarkable yet unforeseen day:
The French “L'Auto-Journal” releases the issue 223. The headline “Everything about the new 3CV Citroën - a sensational documentation” not only brags about potential details from that new vehicle but also publishes first visuals of a prototype design which is remarkably close to the commercial version of this car - although that's gonna be presented 2 years later!
Drawn by the well-known designer and author Rene Bellu, the illustrations are verging on the suspicion that some industrial espionage must have taken place. Maybe it has been the employees leaking out some information? Or did someone climb over the walls of the Citroën test circuit at La Ferté-Vidame, or was it the backyards of the design offices in the Parisian Rue du Theatre tht somebody discovered and photographed one of the prototypes?
Citroën pressed charges against unknown and the office of the editorial company are being searched but there can not be found any evidence in this case.
It hasn't been the first time since “L' Auto-Journal” already disclosed confidential information to the general public. Already June 1952 they released initial concepts and drawings around the DS prototype and it has been no easy partnership between Automobiles Citroën and the journalists. With this new publication, “L'Auto-Journal” de facto receives a status of “persona non grata” and it will take many years until that relationship is coming back to a normal level again…
It is in March 1961 when the first official press pictures and a press release are being published by Citroën communications department. An invitation to join the world premier presentation a couple of days later is being mailed to the leading motor journalist, editorial offices and publishers in Europe.
Finally, the day is to come: on 24th April the new model Ami6 is being presented to the audience on the regional airport of Villacoublay in the south of Versailles, at the same time like other European presentations eg. in Cologne (Germany), Amsterdam (NL), Brüssel (B), Genf (CH) and Milano (I).
The timing wasn't optimal though and the campaign in Villacoublay almost would have to be cancelled. The Generals' putsch in Algier Putsch der Generäle in Algerien (21.-26.4.1961) forced French troops to do some manoeverings at Villacoublay, and it was a number of journalists who cancelled their participation on the presentation event (although that took place without further disturbances).
Of course, the Communications department had planned to receive big coverage on press and media but the African events of course could not be neglected by the journalists and thus on that day the main attraction was not only for this new Double Chevron model.
Let's have a closer look at the photographies - and check out some details from the preseries version.
The car shown on this photo is the Ami6 prototype No. 3. There are two important details to discover which one will not see again when the mass productions will commence.
All along the front there are two inox bar right above and below the blinkers which are going from one side to the other without fixation at the front grille though.
What seems to be very stylish and looks great in theory and on blueprints, is rather unsuitable for the day-to-day traffic in an area where you would expect to see efficient bumpers.
The fragile bars are bent or broken and can not cope with torsions or leaning against it, and stronger touches. The main bumper as well can not take the forces when other cars hit on the middle. Even low speed bumps cause major deformations on bumper and also the very fragile front mask (the part between the lamps) gets torn and dents too easily.
This puts some pressure onto the design department which adapts the front to meet the demands of daily traffic. A bigger bumper is installed in the middle, a strong inox bar protects the front grille and the two horizontal bars all along the front are reduced to being design elements just above and below the blinkers.
Another quite visible design element shown on this prototype is the big Double Chevron which is being discarded again by Bertoni after the presentations because he feels that the logo dominates too much the front of the car design.
While we're talking about the logo - when inspecting closely other Citroen models built, the Ami6 is the only Citroen built so far where the Double Chevron was never visible from the outside. (Later versions of the Ami6, those built after September 1967 do show a decently designed visualization of the logo in the front grille. But that is not clear to everybody…)
When looking at the press pictures you can distinguish pretty well the differences of both the limited number of preseries cars vs. the later version. Both versions are being shown to the press and media at Villacoublay.
A remarkable topic to remember is the photographer's perspective as seen in the Citroen brochures:
The photographer tends to take pictures not from a standing position but rather squatted or lying perspective, using wide angle lenses on the camera. The front of the Ami6, being very profiled, now is even more emphasized, and the doors and interior seems to be smaller than in reality. The suggestion is rather obvious - making a difference to the 2CV (although the Ami6 body is more or less based on the 2CV chassis…).
Certainly prominently visible is the rather large chassis clearance which promises a rather comfortable ride along the still pretty bumpy French cross country roads. That is also reflected within the avertisements.
The famous French “Paris Match” are the first ones to reveal the “real” shots in their edition No. 629 released 29th April 1961. The pictures show the very first views onto the car. Three years of speculation and wild guessing are coming to an end - now here's the real stuff!
It is the rather unspectacular village of Nogent-le-Roi (1420 inhabitants), ca. 78 km near to Paris, where the photographers manage to catch several shots of one of the first Ami6 is being unloaded from a transport truck. Of course it attracts quite a number of curious spectators - it is the first time that more than the 40 invitees from the official press launch are going to see the so far rather well-safeguarded Ami6.
…in the following section.