Building your own bodywork - Citroen Boat-Tail - Faine 378

By: Jon Faine, Photography by: Jon Faine

Presented by

citroen boat tail 4 citroen boat tail 4

It is going to take forever, I know. And forever is a long time

From Unique Cars #378, July 2015

I am trying to build a wood-framed steel-panelled boat-tail body for a 1923 Citroen. I have the chassis, all mechanical parts and some photos from the internet. The exact model is called a ‘B2 Caddy’ and Dr Google will quickly reveal a quite fetching factory photo of a couple of damsels tootling along glamorously in what I am trying to build.

Surprising I know, but it turns out that this coach building business is a whole lot trickier than it looks. Who would have thought the product of decades of skills and learning cannot be replicated by a total novice overnight?

Citroen -boat -tail -1

A set of drawings would be handy. Even a scale photo. Or some basic dimensions other than knowing the size of the steel disc wheels and the height of the radiator that I have sitting on the trestle legs in the shed.

The exact taper of the boat-tail is a complete mystery. The swage line that so elegantly swoops the length of the hull drops at some point to meet the point of the tail, but I do not know where. Guess work is involved in assessing the width of the top deck and the vertical curvature of the sides down to the chassis rails. And needless to say it is not uniform but blends in as it flows.

Great inspiration was provided by a fellow club member who has recently re-bodied his B2 four door sedan. "Back when they made them," counselled Craig "they were all different anyway. It was Jean-Claude on Monday and Pascal on Tuesday and Phillipe did it his way on Wednesday – so just as long as it looks right it is right." So much for wise words of comfort.

Citroen -boat -tail -3

So I jump right in. I have started with some old timber salvaged from the neighbour’s renovation skip, sacrificial free timber that I can ruin without a guilty conscience. I bought a secondhand bandsaw, cut away at everything except my thumbs and came up with something that took months and looked faintly tub-like. Clad in heavy paper as a mock-up to show how close to the photos svelte lines I had got, instead I wept upon realisation that I had all the proportions wrong and my frame resembled a WW1 tank not a sleek French sports car.

When my mentor and teacher Brian stopped laughing enough to give some advice, I was told to make a buck – with a ‘b’ – and get the proportions right using cheap and easy to work MDF instead of hardwood. So with a new jigsaw and fresh blades I started version two from scratch.

Another three months passed and as my contribution to the Comedy Festival took shape, my mentor dropped by for another giggle. I got a standing ovation and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he explained it was supposed to be symmetrical. Apparently cars do not work like crabs. So I threw it away and started the third version.

Citroen -boat -tail -2

This time after exhaustive international searches – the internet – we have found a factory publicity shot that gives us a square-on view. My guru has taught me how we can use graph paper with those school days square grids and tracing paper, all overlaid on the exploded drawing to establish the sizes we do know – the wheels and radiator – to scale up and then calculate the sizes we do not know – the curve of the guards and tub height and length.

So that is the side view. But now to try to figure out the sections!

Then the fun part begins. Once I can finish the MDF buck, I can go back to the bandsaw and start carving out the bones of the frame to the correct measurements. Then we can start the metalwork, which should get me to next Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. Friday some paint, the weekend for trim and electrics and everything ought be fine for a spin by the following weekend. More likely I am aiming to have it running for the Citroen B2 Caddy 100 year birthday in 2023.

Who said this was hard?


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