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Citroen H Van

A design transformed by time

The H Van is unique as a vehicle design born of near pure rationality that has over time migrated to one almost wholly symbolic in meaning.

In its day, this Citroen was unique as a van in embracing front wheel drive - it shared the powertrain and suspension from the front of its sibling, the Traction Avant. This meant that the H Van did not have to accommodate the high load-bay floor that other vans needed to clear the drive-shaft running to rear wheels, and so was lower whilst having more depth inside. Independent rear suspension helped it to have a short rear-overhang, and the corrugated steel used instead of flat panels to make it stronger for less weight, gave it its signature design language (that the contemporary 2CV shared on its hood and 2CV van shared in its rear section also). 

A commercial vehicle of near ubiquity in France throughout fifties, sixties and seventies, and not a rare sight there today, the H Van is one of the most distinctive mass produced vehicle designs ever (is there one more distinctive?). Its cabin linearly tapers forwards in plan from where it joins the cargo space, its snout chamfering further as it steps out ahead of the straight edges extending down from its A-pillars. Near vertical straight sides capped by a gentle domed roof stop abruptly as they abut a straight vertical rear. And being a low to the ground block-of-a-vehicle —and with its shed-like corrugated surfaces — the H Van was always more moving building than automotive form. 

But, now this symbol of the French tradesman has been co-opted by the British bourgeois.

At middle-class peopled intersections in every city, in many towns and beauty spots, there are H Vans standing as small kiosks dispensing coffee and food. They stand as no old Transit can, as no modern van can, and as no building can either.  

An icon of mid-twentieth century French commercial vehicle design is now a symbol of early 21st century British street food architecture. Time has transformed vehicle design.