As the Nazis occupied France and commandeered production at the Citröen factory, Citröen's design team was still secretly working on their own projects. One of those was the iconic 2CV economy car. Another was an equally quirky-looking but very different sort of vehicle called the Type H. And interestingly enough, one of its key design elements was inspired by the aircraft used by the Germans occupying France.
Like the 2CV, the Type H was meant to do more with less. But whereas the 2CV was meant to haul people and their farm goods, The Type H would be its urban counterpart, a proper delivery van. It would be a direct successor to their TUB and TUC delivery vehicles, whose production had been killed for want of raw materials during the war. Here's what that pre-war TUB looked like, by the way:
As you can see, a van requires a lot more surface area than the 2CV. This raised the problem of how to stiffen the van's structure while using materials as economically as possible. The answer was flying above Citröen's heads and landing at airfields in occupied France:
That's a Junkers Ju 52, the Luftwaffe's delivery van of the skies, used to ferry troops and freight around. And you cannot help but notice the heavy use of corrugated
steel [corrected] Duralumin (aluminum alloy) panels. While the Americans had the resources to build sleek-bodied airplanes with as many internal structural framing elements as their engineers wanted, Germany, like France, was pinched for resources. Look at the rather minimal internal framing of the Ju 52:
Now contrast that with the beefy support arches inside the similarly-sized American B-24 Liberator:
As you can see, the Ju 52's designers had to compensate for the lighter structural elements. Corrugated Duralumin provided a measure of stiffness at a relatively inexpensive cost, whether they used a roll-forming machine or stamping. In any case, Citröen's designers took note of the benefits of these corrugated panels, and used them to produce a very funky-looking design for their Type H:
Ugly, innit? A face only a mother could love? When this hit the postwar market in 1947, the French called it the Nez de Cochon ("the pig's nose"). This makes a little more sense when viewed from the side:
The subjectiveness of aesthetics aside, the corrugated panels added the desired structure while maintaining a relatively light weight. Also note the sliding door on that shot of the red model—that door style was carried over from the blue, smooth-skinned TUB model pictured further up, which provided the world's first sliding door for a van. (Spies around the world who abduct people from sidewalks have Citröen to thank for it.)
Citröen also produced a pickup truck version:
The Type H design remained practically unchanged until the early-to-mid-1960s, when it received some cosmetic upgrades: The split-window was replaced by a single windshield, vents were added to either side of the bonnet, the Citröen chevron symbol on the front became smaller, et cetera.
And while one passenger variant had windows all around...
...another version had side flaps that made it one of the world's earliest food trucks:
If you're wondering what that little square panel is just fore of the rear wheel, in this shot you can see it conceals the spare tire:
As a straight-up cargo van, by the way, the capacity is deceptively large for such a small-looking vehicle:
For even larger cargo, sharp-eyed collectors might be able to find oddities like this Type H converted to car-carrier:
Amazingly, the Type H made it all the way to the '80s. The last model rolled off of the production line in 1981, and collectors in Europe and the UK have been hunting down surviving models ever since. Speaking of which, we believe we've spotted the most unusual Type H of all right here.
A Brief History of Citröen Innovation:
Part 1: Ignoring War and Sabotaging Nazis on Their Way to Producing Funky, Iconic Cars
Part 2: The 2CV - Designed in the 1930s, Built until the 1990s!
Part 3: World's First Food Truck Borrows Production Methods from the Luftwaffe