SAAC: "Shoreline Standout" - Didier Rocherolle's 1950 Citroen 15-Six makes a Feature Appearance in Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, September 2010 edition
(this page new as of 8/18/2010)

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Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-SixHaving been super-impressed with the great beauty and uniqueness of this particular automobile over the past few years, having met the owner, and also learning more about the details of its restoration (& who restored it), we could not be more enthusiastic about its choice as a restoration feature in the high-end antique automobile magazine, "Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car."

My first time seeing this car was at the 2008 Labor Day Weekend car show hosted by the Shoreline Recycled Teenage Cruisers car club, at the Westbrook Elks Lodge #1784 BPOE, in Westbrook, CT. Like most spectators at that event, I was bowled-over by what a fantastic, and rather out-of-the-ordinary car it was. During that day at the Westbrook car show, I had the opportunity to chat with local CT Shoreline-area antique auto restoration specialist Mr. David Hackett, of David Hackett Motorcars (381 Middlesex Turnpike, Old Saybrook, CT 06475, 860-388-1082), who, as it turned out, had recently completed the restoration of this very automobile. He had many stories to tell about the special challenges this 1950 Citroen had presented, and was quite pleased and proud with how the end product turned out (and with good reason!). During that day, Dave also introduced me to its owner, Mr. Didier Rocherolle, who was also obviously very proud of his magnificent 1950 Citroen, and very pleased to chat about his knowledge of, and history with this car.

IMAGE AT THE UPPER RIGHT (and all other original car images appearing on this page): The actual car--the subject of this page--Didier Rocherolle's magnificent 1950 Citroen; this and all other car photos on this page were taken by SAAC Webmaster, at either the 2008 or 2009 Westbrook Labor Day Weekend Car Show.

I snapped a few pictures of the car that day at the 2008 Labor Day show, and then, having attended the 2009 version of the same show, and seeing Didier and his '50 Citroen show up there again also, it was another pleasure to chat with him, and snap a few more pictures of his beautiful car, which was looking every bit as magnificent.

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-SixFast forwarding now to the summer of 2010, we were again very excited to run across a very detailed feature about Mr. Rocherolle's 1950 Citroen in the latest issue of one of our favorite magazines, Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car (www.hemmings.com), which told the story, in words and pictures, about the car, Mr. Rocherolle's history with it, and all the steps it went through during the restoration accomplished by Mr. Hackett. We decided this would be as good a time as any to showcase some of our favorite pictures of the car, from the 2008 and 2009 Westbrook Labor Day Weekend car shows, and also showcase how the article in Sports & Exotic Car appeared, including our own hand-retyping the article text (as far as we could tell, this article was not available anywhere online at the time of the creation of this page).

Please enjoy the article, and pictures!

Restoration Profile – The Pull of History, by Mark J. McCourt
Photography by Matthew Litwin
Restoration Photography courtesy Didier Rocherolle

(this article originally appeared on pages 68 through 73 of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010 edition)

It’s hard to overestimate the impact that the front-wheel-drive Traction Avant had on the motoring world when it debuted in 1934. Unlike the expensive and glamorous front-wheel-drive Cordsin America, this car was within reach of the average middle-class buyer. DidierRocherolle was a three-year-old boy in Paris when his parents bought a new 1938 Citroen 11 Normale, the four-cylinder Traction Avant. This car, and ones that would follow it through the mid-1950s, were directly responsible for the purchase of this 1950 15-Six, a car that Didier owned for 32 years before treating it to a four-year intensive restoration.

Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010, page 68 detail view“We first came to the States in 1938, when my father was named CEO of the US operations of our family business, Roger&Gallet. We went back to France for the first time after the war in 1946, and after that, we’d go every summer. At tha t time, Citroen had a great deal, like a lease program, where you’d purchase a car, and you could sellit back after two months. At the end of the summer, we’d bring the car back to the factory, sign the papers and go home. We had brand-new cars every time we went over there. I learned how to drive a Citroen in France. I spent my summers as a teenager driving a Traction 11 Normale; I have a lot of good memories.”

IMAGE AT RIGHT: A photo of a portion of page 68 of the Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine article about Didier Rocherolle's 1950 Citroen 15-Six restoration, September 2010 issue. A photo of the cover of this HSEC issue appears further down on this page, and photos of the open pages of the magazine, to show how the article was laid-out, appear at the bottom of this page.

The Rocherolle family never drove a 15-Six, which shared the four-cylinder (in 7 and 11 variants) Traction’s all-steel, Budd Company-licensed monocoque body design, tubular shock/torsion bar suspension and three-speed manual gearbox. Under a longer hood was the 2,867cc straight-six, whose 6.25:1 compression ratio and two-barrel downdraft Solex carburetor helped it make 76hp at 3,700 RPM and 138 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2,000 RPM. “The Six was a bit more pricey, and I don’t think my parents felt comfortable with having that size of car, especially if my mother had to drive it; that engine up front was very heavy, and without power steering, it’s difficult to turn at low speeds.”

Heavy steering wouldn’t dissuade Didier from buying a 15-Six, which he did in 1972. “I joined the family business in 1968, and we had a factory in Normandy. I told one of my colleagues over there that I really wanted to buy a Traction, but I didn’t want the 11, I wanted a 15 because I felt that the six-cylinder was rare.” Production of the prestigious 15-Six was indeed a fraction of that of the four-cylinder 7s and 11s, amounting to 47,671 out of a total 700,961 Traction Avants built. “I wanted to get a pre-1952 model, because in 1952, they changed the dashboard design to use cream-colored plastic; I wanted mine to look more original.”

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-SixDidier purchased his roughly 40,000-kilometer 15-Six in Normandy from its original owner for $600. “Being also in the import business, we used to bring containers of merchandise from France. One day, the container was half-full, and in the other half was this car.” Getting it out of the shipping container was tricky though; “We had to get the truck to back up to a gas station with a lift. Using some boards, we backed the car onto the lift, and then lowered it to the ground.”

Despite the Citroen’s low mileage and accident-free history, it did have a few physical issues common to a 22-year-old car. “One of the doors was dented in, although there was a replacement door in the back seat, and the front bumper was different from the rear bumper,” Didier recalls. “Rust in the doors was the only real issue withthe car. For some reason, the bottom of the door never had drains, so moisture would get in and rot out the door. I had a body man cut out and replace those sections in the doors, and the car was repainted in traditional black with yellow wheels.”

The fun of driving amodern-handling, vintage-appearing car meant that the 15-Six got a lot of usethrough the 1970s and 1980s, and it acted as the limousine for Didier’s son’swedding in 1988. But age and wear were catching up with the car at that point,and although Didier’s father bought him the components he’d need to rebuild thebrakes and shocks, he didn’t have the time or mechanical inclination to pursuea restoration.

And in the garage it sat until the Rocherolles prepared to move from Wilton, Connecticut, to Old Lyme in 2004. It was then that an old acquaintance became a new friend. “Dave Hackett had a Peugeot dealership in Westport, and through the years, I bought three cars from him. When we were getting ready to move up here, I went on the internet to search for a restorer. David Hackett’s name came up in Old Saybrook, so I called him up to ask if he was the same Dave; he said yes. I asked if he’d restore my Citroen, and he agreed. I got him the car a week before we moved out of Wilton.”

“Didier hadn’t driven the car in about 12 years, so everything had to be done over,” David recalls. His plan of attack for the 15-Six was unique: “I take everything apart and evaluate each part. I see what I’ll need, and will start ordering parts right away so that I’m not waiting for them to arrive when I need them. I’ve learned that the way to get (subcontracted work) done quicker is to get a basic price quote from the suppliers and to put a check in the box with the core parts, so when they receive it, my name goes to the top of their list.”

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-SixCitroen designed the Traction Avants as unit-body cars with separate front sub-frames that carry the engine and transaxle. The straight-six required much attention; “The engine was seized, and we had to drop the pistons out of it. It was bored and sleeved by Greg Hunt at Kiwi Engineering here in Old Saybrook,” David explains. He sourced Stellite valves, and Greg machined Stellite seats for the heads, allowing this 1950 car to run on unleaded fuel.

Finding proper pistons, rings, timing chains and other mechanical components was an easy job for Didier, who eagerly began parts-hunting and obtained all the necessary components for the engine, fuel and water pumps online from Jose Franssen in Belgium. Didier also found Brad Nauss, a well-known parts dealer in Pennsylvania, to be a great resource. “The first thing he was able to get me was a complete manual for the 1950 15CV,” he explains. “In there are all of the pictures with all of the part numbers used that year. Jose Franssen’s parts catalogue uses the original part numbers, so I was able to look up what I needed, then go online and there it was! It was fun; Dave would say, ‘I’m going to work on this, and these are the parts I’ll need,’ and I would get them for him.”

The car’s three-speed manual gearbox was toast, as Dave learned: “We drained the transmission fluid, and it had been sitting so long that the lower half of the gears was rusted because the transaxle was full of water. Condensation found its way in, and the oil in the gearbox floated up, so the tops of the gears were fine. Through a friend of mine, I found a used transmission in upstate New York, so we took two gearboxes and made one.”

The complex front-wheel-drive system had to be completely rebuilt with new axles, driveshaft components and bearings, and modern Koni Classics tube shocks replaced the worn originals. The four-wheel drum brakes were rebuilt with wheel cylinders that had been sleevedwith brass by White Post Restorations.

As previously noted, the Citroen’s body was basically rust-free after its 1970s door repairs, although baking soda media blasting by Bloomfield, Connecticut’s Aqua Blast revealed hidden damage that would have to be tended to by body and paint specialist Chuck Bowen of Westbrook. “The rear left fender looked like a sieve,” Didier recalls. “There were all these pinholes in it, it was really bad. Dave said that he’d never be able to restore it so this wouldn’t show. Luckily, he found an exact replacement, so that this is the only part of the car that is not original to it.”

Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010 issue, coverWhen it came time for Chuck to paint the car, Didier had something special in mind. “Between 1938 and 1951 or ’52, (Traction Avants) were all black with yellow wheels. Why did I choose ‘noir’ and ‘rouge Bordeaux?’ In 1934, when they first came out with this body style, one of the choices was black and maroon, and that was the year I was born.”

IMAGE AT RIGHT: A photo of the cover of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010 issue.

The electrical system in the 15-Six was tired, so David commissioned a replacement; “Rhode Island Wiring Service actually happened to have a schematic for this particular car, so they made me a complete new harness. I’d recently finished doing an 11, but they didn’t have anything on that car, so I had to get one from Europe; it doesn’t have the original connections, so that was a nightmare to wire a car with components that don’t belong to it. This was simple.”

The original seats and their upholstery were in surprisingly good shape, so Didier chose to leave them alone. The interior panels and headliner, which had become a haven for mice, were not so lucky, so he ordered new factory-style replacement materials to replace them. David’s preferred upholsterer in Bradford (editor’s note: we presume that was supposed to read “Branford”), Connecticut, created new door panels using the originals as patterns, and did the same with the seats and headliner.“

There isn’t much chrome on thecar—mainly the bumpers, grille and door handles, which were restored by QualKrom in Erie, Pennsylvania. The upper door and lower rear fender trims arealuminum; I used (000) steel wool on them, and they cleaned up nicely,” hesaid. Didier purchased new chrome bumpers from overseas, and they took longerto arrive than expected. “They came in slowly, probably by boat, and drove Davecrazy with the wait. They were delivered through the Post Office. You canimagine the size of the box that held two bumpers—it looked like a casket. Theyasked me, “Do you have a body in there?”

Didier enjoyed the experience ofworking through his car’s restoration with David. “He would call me and tell me what stage he was at,” he recalls. “I live about five miles from him, so I wentover there often. When I say that you’ve got to have deep pockets to do a restoration like this, you really do. Doing it right was a question of getting the parts, and a question of the money. At times, I’d have to say, ‘I can’t do this right now,’ but that was okay because he was working on other cars at the same time.”Now that the 15-Six is finished, he’s enjoying it again. “I drive it a lot; if I have to go to the fish market, I’ll take the old car. I don’t want it sitting in the garage. I recently won Best of Show at a local car show, which was really fun. I have a grand-daughter who is engaged, perhaps it will be called to official duty again!”

Hope you enjoyed reading that as much as we did. I know I'll appreciate this car that much more the next time I see it at a local CT Shoreline-area antique auto show!

More Pictures of Didier Rocherolle's 1950 Citroen 15-Six...also, images to illustrate how the aricle was laid-out in the magazine...

IMAGES BELOW: Didier's '50 Citroen as it appeared at the 2008 Westbrook Labor Day Weekend Car Show.

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-Six

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-Six

IMAGE BELOW: Group photo (with the 15-Six as a backdrop), left to right: Didier, and Jane & Dave Hackett, from the 2008 Westbrook Labor Day Weekend Car Show.

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-Six

IMAGE BELOW: Didier chatting with Mrs. Webmaster, at the 2009 Westbrook Labor Day Weekend Car Show, where he was displaying his 1950 Citroen.

Didier Rocherolle 1950 Citroen 15-Six

FINAL SET OF IMAGES BELOW - Photos of open pages from the September 2010 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, in which the article about the restoration of Didier's 1950 Citroen are presented. The great detail into which this article went, including extensive photo-documentation, is certainly evident! First, pages 68 & 69:

Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010

IMAGE BELOW - HSEC, September 2010, pages 70 & 71:

IMAGES BELOW - HSEC, September 2010, pages 72 & 73:

Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, September 2010


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