Braking the Citroen Light 15 - Faine 466

By: Jon Faine

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Faine's lovely Light 15 would sometimes test the patience of a saint

My efforts to get the 1949 Light 15 Citroen back on the road are yet to bear fruit. Fruit rots - just like old cars. Citroen is French for lemon, but there are no lemon jokes in this world that have not already been used for my favourite French marque.

This fabulous car has been sitting idle for far too long. Last month’s magazine explained how I attacked the non-operative brakes from exactly the wrong end. Since the brake fluid reservoir on the bulkhead had rusted out and both front brake hoses had leaked from ancient corrosion, and there was brake fluid seeping onto the front driver’s side hub, I instead attacked the rear lights. This is the sort of logic that makes some of us like Citroens. Everything is contrary.


Avoidance of a problem often works – it is amazing how often things fix themselves when you leave them alone. My approach has been applied to everything from home maintenance (why repaint the windows – you can see out of them anyway) parenting (teenagers do become decent humans if you wait long enough) and my health (if you don’t go to the doctor, you don’t get sick). You would think I might have learned something over the decades.

This revolutionary Citroen (they all were until it was taken over by bean-counters instead of engineers and designers) features front-wheel drive and a ‘monocoque’ hull, a novelty back when nearly all cars were made with a rigid chassis and a separate body bolted on top. These were novel features for a mass-production car back when it was unveiled to an astonished public back in the 1930s.

The Traction Avant brakes are simple enough affairs. The greatest trap is dealing with the front drums, that sit on a taper that is the extension of the front-wheel drive shafts.


Removing the drums from the front stub axle must be done with a special wheel puller. Countless cars have been ruined by the unaware or foolish trying to remove the drums with normal tripod pullers, or heat, or hammers or any other device – invariably resulting in cracked, distorted and ruined brake drums. These days they can be replaced – for $1000 each plus freight from Europe!

When I acquired my car from Bernie Hadaway’s widow Clare (Bernie owned it from 1951 until he died in 2015) it came with his homemade collection of special tools, including the vital hub puller. His professional engineering skills had been put to good use and the puller is a perfect replica of, and just as good as, a factory approved workshop tool.

First step – jack up the car and place it on secure wheel stands. Remove cobwebs and the spiders that made them.


Second step – offer the car club guru and dead set legend Peter Boyle a cup of tea and a milk crate to sit on to provide a running commentary on world affairs, fishing, dogs, crap plastic modern cars, neighbours, the perils of cheap tools, lame jokes and occasionally some technical advice. Peter has been helping Citroen Classic Owners Club (CCOCA) members keep their cars on the road for as long as I can remember and I joined when I had my first L15 when I was at university in 1975.

Third step – remove the road wheels, and then the large split pin that secures the stub axle lock nut. The nuts work in opposite directions to each other – the driver’s side [which in Europe was the passenger’s side] has a reverse thread, which catches many unaware. Once the hub is chocked against movement – a length of stout steel drilled to accept a wheel stud and then jammed into the floor will do it – the rest requires just grunting.

There is a great mystery to using the hub puller. Attaching it to the flange on the drum is simple enough – the collar secures the two halves – but then getting the threaded drive to move proved impossible. Peter instructed me in the art of tensioning the puller on the hub and then whacking the end of the puller bolt with a solid mallet – "not a love tap, hit the bloody thing" – and after a few whacks the drum started to release. Making sure the woodruff key does not come out of its slot, and cleaning any escaping grease off the taper is straightforward – the stub axle has to be clean, dry and smooth.


After a bit of a gentle wire brush clean-up, the wheel cylinders provided a pleasant surprise – they were clean, dry and had been re-conditioned not long ago. A rare win in this slow campaign to de-rot the brakes on my lovely Citroen.

Both front brake hoses, in typical French fashion, seem to have grown a white mould, not unlike a good Brie. Replacing them was filthy work, but once done and fresh copper washers installed, it looks ready to go. The master cylinder is not weeping and was working perfectly before the reservoir leaked, so I am leaving it alone. It seems almost impossible to excavate from its almost inaccessible spot deep down beside the motor, so fingers crossed.

Next step – fill the new brake fluid bottle, bleed the brakes and make sure that now there are no leaks. My Pilote wheels (see last month) are off being painted, and with the new wheels, tyres and working brakes, the Light 15 will soon terrorise the neighbourhood again.


From Unique Cars #466, May 2022


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