Tam caught sight of a Citroen 2CV in the wild, which is pretty cool. But it was only one of the very many cool products to come from Andre Citroen's french autoworks, and highlights the importance of culture (both the corporate and national variety).
Let's talk culture. Andre Citroen was a graduate of L'Ecole Polytechnique, France's foremost technical university. It's influence there is sort of like what we would see here if MIT, Stanford, and Cal Tech merged. It's graduates have always been a big deal in France, and Citroen was kind of the poster child for that. He put his company on the map with the Traction Avant, the first unibody car (introduced in 1935). It's gorgeous exterior hides just how revolutionary its design was:
The unibody construction is unremarkable today, but this was 85 years ago. It meant that the car sat lower because there was no chassis platform. This lower center of gravity made the handling better, and the Traction Avant had a reputation as a getaway car beloved of gangsters of the day.
But there were two other innovations: front wheel drive (hence the name: "Traction Avant" means forward traction) and hydro-pneumatic suspension. This last is an alternative to leaf springs:
Here's where culture comes in. Hydropneumatic suspension is very clever, and much superior to springs - so much so that Rolls Royce licensed the design for its Silver Shadow, and it is used today on the British Challenger tank. However, it's complicated, with a lot of parts compared to a spring. This is both very French and precisely what you would expect from a Polytechnique grad. That culture (what The Queen Of The World calls "complicating a cornflake") is why the design remained mostly confined to France.
But here's a story from my young days. A friend's parents had one of Citroen's later models, the DS:
You could drive this on only three wheels - the dealer actually did this and was stopped by a cop who ultimately realized that there was no law against doing this. The car didn't even come with a jack - if you needed to change a tire you just raised the appropriate wheel off the ground using the hydropneumatic suspension.
It was entirely revolutionary, have superior results, and was overly complicated. In short, it was very french, and neatly sums up why those people simultaneously charm and irritate us here.
But there's no way to describe the engineers at Andre Citroen's company as anything other than genius. The 2CV, the Traction Avant, and the DS were revolutionary.