Citroen's Museum - Le Conservatoire
Late in 2001, Citroen opened the 'Conservatoire' - a museum of Citroen heritage, containing over 300 cars and an immeasurable amount of historical documentation and archival material.
History surrounded by activity
The Conservatoire is housed in a 6,500 square metre specially built warehouse at the Aulnay factory in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris in the direction of Charles de Gaulle airport.
Of that space, the vast majority - 5,000 sq.m is used for vehicle storage, 500 sq.m for archive (giving 1,400m of shelf space, and storage for many other items), and 1,000 sq.m of workshop space to maintain the stored vehicle. The location itself is historic - it was originally opened as a Citroen factory (called 'Epinettes' in 1924) as a stamping plant for metalwork. The first whole car (a DS) rolled off the Aulnay line in the early 70s, and it has been the production site for many of Citroen's cars through to today's C2 and C3 - the six millionth car from Aulnay was a C3 built in 2003.
Chevrons as far as the eye can see
With 300 cars stored in just 5,000 sq.m, this is not a plush visitor experience. In fact, there's really just one small snag with the Conservatoire.
It's not open to the public.
Citroen maintain that there are no plans to open it. If you calculate the space, there's only 16 sq.m per car - and with a DS measuring just under 2m wide by 5m long, that's 10 sq.m just for the car itself. Take out the space needed to move cars out of their parked positions, and you can see that it's more like your local shopping centre car park than a visitor centre. Some shopping centre.
At a time when Mercedes-Benz are misappropriating somebody else's family heirlooms with a 150 acre 'Heritage Centre' (mega-showroom) at Brooklands, and Jaguar are turning the historic Brown's Lane plant into a 'Heritage Centre', it does seem rather a shame that a marque with as glorious a past as Citroen can't shout more about it.
However, some of the cars will see daylight. As well as one or two cars (on a rotating basis) forming a centrepiece at Citroen's C42 Champs Elysee site, cars occasionally escape on loan to exhibitions and events. Here in the UK, we've seen several on show at London's Design Museum at an exhibition highlighting the work of Traction, 2cv and DS stylist Flaminio Bertoni.
300 Citroens sounds as if there'll be a lot of near duplication - but while it's impossible to have just one DS representing the whole life of that seminal car, it's certainly not the case that there's rows of C3s. A very large proportion of the contents are unique - prototypes, competition cars, show specials, and everything. One per cent of the contents would render a display at any large Citroen event lost under devoted fans. Of the rest, many have been retained by Citroen across the years, while some cars have been re-purchased from private collections. Only the very best of the best, however.
The Citroen Car Club have had several opportunities to offer members a chance to visit the Conservatoire, and will hopefully do so again in the future. If and when this chance does become available, it will be for a limited number of visitors on a fixed date, and will be publicised in the Citroenian.