The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant

It wasn’t officially called a hatchback

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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The Citroen Traction Avant is actually a lineup of front-wheel-drive Citroen executive cars, produced in a variety of body styles. The car was offered as a four-door sedan, two-door sedan (coupe), two-door convertible, and a five-door hatchback. It’s worth noting that the definition “hatchback” did not become officially recognized until 1970 in the Merrian Webster dictionary – an American reference book. Instead, the five-door version of the car was called Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale.

The hatchback version did not arrive until 1936

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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For the 1936 model year, the Citroen Traction Avant received numerous updates. The revised model was shown at the Paris Motor Show in October 1935. The most notable difference was the more practical rear hatch, which opened with the rear window. This granted much easier access to the cargo area of the car and also marked the beginning of hatchback cars.

Its name hinted at its drivetrain

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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Citroen Traction Avant was not a randomly chosen name. In French, “Traction Avant” means “front traction,” which signifies that the car is front-wheel-drive. Even more interesting is the fact that, despite power being sent to the front axle, the engine was still mounted longitudinally. In France, the car also has a very flattering nickname – “Reine de la Route” – which means “Queen of the road.”

The Citroen Traction Avant was very advanced for its time

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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Until not long ago, French cars were mostly known for being very comfortable and innovative. Later in 1936, the first representative of the hatchback cars also adopted a revolutionary for the time, rack and pinion steering, which replaced the old “worm and roller” system.

Although independent suspension and front-wheel drive were already becoming common at the time, the Citroen Traction Avant also featured a state-of-the-art aluminum front axle. Moreover, the chassis of the Citroen Front Traction was the first mass-produced car with a monocoque and unibody construction, which added lightness and rigidity, compared to the old, body-on-frame construction.

The first hatchback with hydraulic suspension

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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The inline-six variant of the Citroen Traction Avant, which received a 2.9-liter engine, was a testbed for Citroen’s self-leveling hydraulic rear suspension, which makes it the first hatchback car to feature such a system. The technology would, later, make it onto the iconic Citroen DS, which is considered one of the most technologically ground-breaking cars of its day.

The car had a few different model designations, depending on the engine and body type

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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“Traction Avant” was, actually, not the car’s official name. Instead, the car was named according to the French fiscal horsepower rating – CV. The CV rating is used to determine a car’s annual tax. That said, manufacturers did not always change the name whenever a change in taxation occurs or when a new engine was introduced.

Early models of the Traction Avant were called the 7CV. First was the 7A, which came with a 1.3-liter inline-four unit. In June 1934, it was joined by the 7B – a version with a 1.6-liter inline-four. In October 1934, the even more powerful 7C arrived, which featured a more powerful 1.6-liter engine.

Again in 1934 came the 11CV, which introduced a more powerful 2.0-liter inline-four unit. It was the 11CV that got the hatchback body style in 1936. June 1938 saw the introduction of the 15/6 – a version of the car featuring a 2.9-liter inline-six unit. The most powerful version would have been the 22CV, which featured a 3.8-liter V-8, but it never entered production. All versions came with a 3-speed manual transmission.

A hatchback car that was crucial to motorsport advancements

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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The hatchback body style may not be directly associated with performance, certainly not back in the day, but in the case of the Traction Avant, it was responsible for an important innovation in motorsports. Racing engineer John Cooper was in search for a lightweight axle, able to handle a good amount of power for racing in Formula One.

The front axle from the Citroen Traction Avant was the only available unit, sturdy enough to accommodate a stronger transmission. The light axle was fitted on the Cooper T53 “Lowline”, which is a derivative of the 1959 Cooper T51 racecar. Between 1959 and 1963, the car enjoyed success, with drivers like Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, and others, behind the wheel.

The hatchback did not look different than the sedan models

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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The car generally referred to as a Citroen Traction Avant, had more than a few versions, including a nine-seater long-wheelbase variant called the Familiale. That said, apart from the obvious convertible, coupe, and pick-up variants, the hatchback car was visually identical to the four-door sedan. The only difference is the rear cutout for the hatchback tailgate.

It was produced in the hundred-thousands

The First Hatchback Ever Made: 1936 Citroen 11CV Traction Avant
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You would think that a car so ahead of its time and the true founder of the hatchback segment would be somewhat exclusive. Moreover, the Traction Avant was classified as an executive car. However, the car was produced for a whole 23 years, from 1934 to 1957. At the end of its production, a total of 759,111 units have been produced.

Of those, 26,400 were produced in Slough, England, 31,750 were assembled in Forest, Brussels, 1,823 in Cologne, Germany, and 550 in Copenhagen, Denmark. In some of these countries, the cars were sold under different names. The bulk of production was, of course, focused in Paris, France.

Q&A

What was the first hatchback car?

The first hatchback car is the 1936 Citroen 11CV, also commonly known as the Traction Avant.

Who made the first hatchback car?

Citroen made the first hatchback car. It’s the 1936 Citroen 11CV, which was a version of the Citroen Traction Avant.

When did Honda first make a hatchback?

Honda’s first hatchback was the 1972 Honda CVCC, also known as the first-generation Honda Civic.

What is a hatchback?

A hatchback car is a car, usually a compact one, that has a rear tailgate opening with the rear window. Most hatchback cars feature a two-box design, as opposed to the sedan’s three-box design.

What does hatchback mean?

Hatchback refers to the way the rear tailgate opens. Instead of having a defined trunk, the rear of the car “hatches” open because of the tailgate design, which incorporates the rear window.

Are there four-door hatchbacks?

In a hatchback, the tailgate counts as a door, which is why the number of doors on a hatchback is always uneven (usually 3 or 5). Currently, there is only one four-door hatchback – the Hyundai Veloster.

Can a sedan be a hatchback?

A car’s body style cannot be altered without heavy structural modifications. However, many cars that have a sedan version also have a hatchback version. A case in point is the Toyota Corolla or the Mazda 3, both of which can be had as a sedan or a hatchback.

Is the Tesla Model 3 a hatchback?

The Tesla 3 is a hatchback. Despite featuring a sloped rear end, as opposed to a more abruptly ending one, the Model 3’s tailgate is a rear hatch.

Is the Audi E-Tron GT a hatchback?

No, the Audi E-Tron GT is a four-door coupe. Moreover, the car features a more traditional, three-box design, albeit very fluid, and it has a rear trunk instead of a hatch, meaning the cargo area does not open with the rear window.

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