The van for all reasons
Replacing the 1938-1947, Traction-powered, Citroën TUB (Transport Utilitaire Bras) in late 1947, the corrugated-steel H van became, along with the Traction Avant, DS and 2CV, one of the most enduring icons of post-war provincial France. With its square lines, prominent ‘pig’ snout and rippled bodywork, the H was a ubiquitous sight in every marketplace, town centre, farm yard, fire station, building site and lay-by (selling frites or farm produce) for many years until long after its demise in 1981.
Initially powered by the all cast iron 1911cc Traction Avant petrol engine, the basic block continued (with an alloy head in 1963) until the end of production. This made it the longest running automotive component ever, according to some sources, having been introduced in 1934. The vast majority of the nearly 500,000 H-Vans had three speed gearboxes, making high speeds and comfortable cruising a distant dream.
With the corrugations in the panels, inspired by the war-time Junkers bombers, providing great strength, and unburstable mechanicals, the H was a sturdy workhorse. Available in many different body combinations, from the standard short wheelbase, low roof line to long, extendable body variants for mobile market stalls. The chassis-cab variants were often used for building wooden betaillaire (horse-box) bodies or other specialist configurations.
Most H vans were sold as model HY, so many people know them only by this name. There were also models H (early ones), HX (lesser load capacity), HZ, and HW (more load capacity).
Once ubiquitous in France, the H has sadly died out in favour of more modern commercial vehicles capable of such rarified luxuries as driver comfort. A few are still seen in everyday use, however, with the three piece (upper half being top-hinged, two lower half side-hinged) rear door providing great flexibility for long or unusual loads in safety. There were very few major changes to the H in its 34 year run.
Designed single-handed by Pierre Franchiset, working under Pierre-Jules Boulanger (Michelin-appointed saviour of Citroën after André’s bankruptcy and the father of the 2CV), the bodywork of the H is notable, in part, for the introduction of the ‘Yoda’ pinless hinge. Formed from two curls of steel, this ingenious design was also used for fixing the bonnet, doors and bootlid of 2CVs and ‘A’-series vans. Now prized amongst 2CV and Citroën enthusiasts, the H van converts very well into a spacious, flexible motor camper.
Our HZ van left the production line in 1970, and benefits from the use of better quality steel than many other years of manufacture. She also carries the new ‘square’ wheel arches, and, introduced for 1970, the nouvelle suspension, making the ride almost smooth!
More information about the H van can be found onand