1920s / 1930s / 1940s / 1950s / 1960s / 1970s / 1980s / 1990s / 2000s / Citroen / French

Ran When Parked visits the Citroën Conservatoire

The city of Paris, France, is loaded with things to do, see, eat, drink and otherwise experience, but one of the most interesting attractions for car enthusiasts is the Citroën Conservatoire.  Located eight miles away from the capital in a medium-sized town called Aulnay-sous-Bois, it consists of a 70,000-square foot building that houses nearly a century’s worth of Citroën automobiles, including several rare and one-of-a-kind models.

Prior to the museum’s inauguration in 2001, most of the cars, documents and memorabilia that are contained in it were scattered throughout northern France in miscellaneous PSA Peugeot-Citroën factories. Just about every piece of Citroën’s personal collection is now located in the Conservatoire but not everything is on display: only about 300 cars are on the floor at any given time and the document section is located in a separate room that boasts almost a mile’s worth of shelf space.

Visitors are accompanied through the museum by a guide that explains the historical significance of some of the cars on display. The first vehicle that appears when the doors open is a 1919 Citroën Type A, the company’s very first production car. Unfortunately, it was on its way to the Paris Motor Show when we dropped by for a visit so we were not able to see it for ourselves.

The vast collection of pre-WWII cars includes several C3, C4 and C6s, numerous variants of the Traction Avant and three TPV (“très petite voiture,” or “very small car”) prototypes, including two unrestored examples that were hidden from the Nazis in the late 1930s and found in the attic of a barn about 17 years ago. In our opinion, the Conservatoire is worth a visit just to see these two cars, which through various modifications carried out in the early 1940s morphed into the 2CV as we know it.

Speaking of, a 1950 2CV Type A discreetly signals the end of the pre-war display. Following it are no less than 16 2CVs, including a twin-engined Sahara, a British-built right-hand drive model and an aborted prototype dubbed 2CV Pop from 1974 that aimed to create a more upscale version of the car. Powered by a GS-sourced flat-four engine, it had a chrome grille that looked like a miniature version of the one found on the Traction Avant and an admittedly tacky vinyl roof.

One of the most technically interesting cars on display in the Conservatoire is a DS fitted with a two-stroke 1.8-liter V4 engine and a 200cc four-stroke unit that powers a Roots supercharger. There are other fascinating prototypes including the Project L, an early design study that led to the CX in 1974, the C60, a prototype built in 1960 which loosely prefigured the GS, the Project Y2, an Visa-esque vehicle built in 1975 on a Fiat 127 platform, and the notorious rotary-engined M35.

The French automaker did not forget its less iconic models and there are several Visas, C15s and BXs on display, as well as a lone LN and a Romanian-built Axel. On the far end of the room is a lineup that consists of an example of almost every van Citroën has produced since WWII.

Citroën says that it adds at least two brand new examples of every car it launches to its collection but for obvious reasons not all of them are displayed and the more modern cars are mostly limited to prototypes. That said, a C2, a C5 Tourer and a last-gen C3 were among some of the newest cars in the room.

There are also some odds and ends, including the RE-2 helicopter, a four-wheel drive tractor built in 1946, a roughly 240-inch long Chapron-bodied DS that was built for President Charles de Gaulle and a couple of late-model Chinese-spec cars. At the far end of the building are over a dozen Citroën race cars, including several rally-going ZXs from the early- and mid-1990s and a heavily modified SM that competed in the Rally of Morocco, among other events.

Compared to other manufacturer-run museums, the Citroën Conservatoire has a Spartan feel to it and it is not particularly well decorated.  There are no spinning displays, no lights that change colors and no music, but that makes walking through it all the more pleasant as there is nothing to distract visitors from the main focus: cars.

The museum is only open by appointment and charges a very reasonable five euros for a two hour-long visit.  At the end of the tour there is a small gift shop that sells books, models, t-shirts and other souvenirs.

Slightly off the beaten path and certainly off of the regular tourist circuit, the Conservatoire is undoubtedly the world’s most complete collection of Citroën automobiles, making it well worth trekking out to the outskirts of Paris from anywhere in the world to experience it in person.

10 thoughts on “Ran When Parked visits the Citroën Conservatoire

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