After World War II, France lost most of its prestigious car manufacturers. It was the end of a golden era that still fascinates today. From 1945, it was mainly Citroën who carried on this tradition, notably through the Citroën DS and then the Maserati-powered Citroën SM. A designer of Italian origin, Flaminio Bertoni (1903-1964), will be at the heart of this little automotive miracle. Let us take a look back at the exceptional work of this little-known designer, who has designed such remarkable cars as the Citroën Traction Avant, Citroën DS and Citroën 2CV.
Draftsman, sculptor ... and automotive designer
Born on January 10, 1903 in Italy, Flaminio Bertoni was recruited as an apprentice at the age of 15 by a coachbuilder from Varese, the Carrozzeria Macchi. He quickly gained recognition for his talents as a designer. He pursued an artistic training at the School of Fine Arts in Varese. He then imagined his first automotive design, in a futuristic style, and filed a patent for the pneumatic opening of car windows. Contacted by André Citroën in 1932, he took over the management of Citroen’s “Style” department. Then began an extraordinary collaboration for the French car manufacturer.
First master stroke, the Citroën Traction Avant
It took Bertoni just a few months to create his first major work, the Citroën Traction Avant. In collaboration with André Lefebvre, he prepared two traction prototypes which were presented at the end of August 1933 to André Citroën. Less than a year later, the vehicle was marketed, achieving immense success with customers who discovered innovations such as the self-supporting monocoque body, four independent wheels, torsion bar suspensions, brakes hydraulically controlled. Produced for 23 years, the Traction was available in many versions. We can mention for example the very exclusive Citroën Traction 11AL / BL coupé and cabriolet, or the Citroën Traction 7S roadster …
The Citroën 2CV, a popular design object
Two years later, Flaminio Bertoni struk again. He began to work on the “TPV” project, for the « Tout Petite Automobile » (very small car), which would become the famous Citroën 2CV. Inspired by the observation that the car is then inaccessible to common citizens, the Citroën 2CV development had very precise specifications, aimed at innovating at a lower cost. In 1936, Bertoni offered a sketch of the car. Presented at the Paris Salon in 1948, the Citroën 2CV continued its career until 1991, achieving unprecedented commercial success with more than 5 million copies sold.
The 2CV embodies all the genius of Citroën and Bertoni combined. On the one hand, it has exceptional dynamic qualities for the time and given its limited power. On the other hand, it offers through its line an original and endearing style. It is a design object in its own right. The balance and the fluidity of the shapes make it an icon of its time, just like the VW Beetle.
The Citroën DS, an absolute masterpiece
Flaminio Bertoni began working on the Citroën DS in 1938, initially as part of a project to restyl the Traction. After the war, Citroën management asked Bertoni to imagine a brand new car. He then sculpts various prototypes inspired by the shape of a drop of water between 1953 and 1954. The Citroën DS was launched in 1955. Bertoni redesigned the front of the car in 1963 creating a cult design object, symbol of “thirty glorious years”. Several variations of the car were produced (Citroën DS 19, DS 21…), including a luxurious series called Citroen DS Pallas.
Its style still fascinates today. In 1957, the Citroën DS won the industrial art prize at the Milan Triennale. It aroused vocations, especially among bodybuilders of the time. Henri Chapron was captivated by its line and produced coupe and convertible versions, on his behalf and on behalf of Citroen, which are today among the most sought-after cars in the world. The DS futurism, symbol of confidence in modernity, inspired politicians and philosophers, such as Roland Barthes.
The underestimated legacy of Mr Flaminio Bertoni
After Bertoni’s sudden death in February 1964, his assistants, Henri Dargent and Robert Opron, were inspired by his vision and his methods to produce the Maserati-powered Citroën SM, then the Citroën GS and the Citroën CX. But Bertoni remains irreplaceable.
His name is however poorly known today. Is it because he did not create his cars through his own design company, like Sergio Pininfarina or Giovanni Bertone in Italy? A museum is dedicated to him in his home town in Italy. Exhibitions are organized from time to time, in 2003 and 2004 for example. In the end, it is mainly his cars that the world remembers today. And for these, merci Mr. Bertoni.