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Coal-burning 1938 Citroën prime example of fabrication innovation

September 1, 2019

World War II-era car from France on display at Michigan auto show


A 1938 Citroën Berline 11 Gazogene on display at the Concours d’Elegance of America at The Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich. Photos courtesy of Josh Welton


Innovation doesn’t always mean success.


Walking through a recent car show near Detroit, I was knocked out of a trance by an odd-looking French car with giant steel bulges and metal valve knobs that would have looked more in place on an older home’s plumbing system, or even on a locomotive, rather than on an automobile.


It was sitting next to one of Chrysler’s infamous turbine cars, they were both part of an “alternative power” display at the Concours d’Elegance of America at The Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich. The car was a 1938 Citroën Berline 11 Gazogene. The “Traction Avant” had been converted to burning coal for motivation.


As impractical as that sounds, when gasoline is limited because your country is occupied by Nazis, necessity is the mother of invention. This car’s black and yellow and chrome version is a resident of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn.


According to the museum:


“During the German occupation of France in World War II, gasoline was scarce, expensive, and often unavailable. Several companies offered systems for a vehicle to be powered by alternative fuels such as wood, coal, or charcoal. This car has been converted by Fap Elgazo Tarbes to run on coal. Adaptations were necessary to alter the vehicle from gas power to coal burner. The two large cylindrical containers under the front fenders are filled with coal and ignited. In about 30 minutes, enough methane gas would rise out the tops of the containers to feed the special carburetor, making the car run. Using the coal system reduced horsepower by one-third, which reduced the top speed to about 45 mph (depending on how well the coal was burning). Range was about 30 miles before you had to stop and add more coal. Only a few of these conversions survive.”


How rad is that?


It obviously never caught on, but it’s definitely a predecessor to the Mad Max ethos of run on what you can! I always like knowing that one way or another, mankind and its fabricator-protectors will find a way. This wild car from France is surviving proof.







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