Launched in 1947, the Citroën H van has become a ubiquitous snapshot of post-war utilitarian French design. With a variety of body styles, including pick-up and flat-bed, the Citroën H-type was introduced to meet the needs of a native commercial sector that might have previously turned to the company’s earlier offering – the Traction Avant-based Citroën TUB. With the Traction Utilitaire Basse (TUB) ending production in 1941, the H-series would be a welcome arrival in a country picking up the pieces after World War II, but such was its success, that its official run would extend into the 1980s.
Although launched a year before the Citroën 2CV, the principles behind the two models were almost identical; the simple aim being primarily to mobilise French working communities with a low-cost, strong, reliable vehicle. Of course, the deux chevaux was limited by size, but the various body styles and lengths of the H van offered huge flexibility – particularly when also available as a stripped-down version that could be enhanced by willing coachbuilders and altered to meet specific needs.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but despite the pronounced ‘snout’ and angular looks, the H van garnered approval from many; its practical abilities never really in question. The ‘corrugated’ panels that make up much of the exterior were produced in order to provide the strength demanded of a commercial vehicle, but drew upon a tried and tested method of ribbing used in the aircraft industry – their inclusion on Citroën’s van going on to become an instantly recognisable ‘design’ feature as well as an engineering necessity.
Production of the H van at the Paris factory would last until 1981 – amazingly with very few changes in the 34-year run, but during that time, they were also manufactured in the Netherlands and – albeit briefly – at the Slough plant in the UK. However, the mark of a true icon is its longevity and the Citroën H van remains a common sight throughout Europe – its unique looks and practical flexibility still being put to good use by mobile traders and vendors looking for a touch of class and a dash of now retro style.
Despite appearances, the Citroën H van in normal guise was a very stable and well handling vehicle thanks to its low-slung construction, rack and pinion steering and an independent suspension setup that could be considered advanced for the time and market. With its 1911cc four-cylinder engine and three-speed gearbox driving the front wheels, it’s fair to say that it was never going to trouble anything with a sportier tilt, but its purpose was never such and was squarely aimed at providing localised transport instead of being a cross-country commercial wagon.
As you might expect, the combination of bare steel box and engine sitting just forward of the front seats with minimum padding, the overall noise level requires a certain degree of dedication from those considering anything other than countryside ‘pottering’, but character, charm and practicality win at the end of the day and such inconveniences do little to deter the true enthusiast.