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Here's a little history about the H Van,
The Citroën H Vans
After the war, France needed a van to get its goods moving again and Citroën had been preparing for this since 1943 using the lessons drawn from the TUB.
The basic design idea was to provide a "walk through" interior with a low loading floor, easy access from the side through a sliding door and a wide, versatile rear entry. Citroën were already using monocoque construction in the Traction Avant and used this for the Type H, so there is no separate chassis. Many parts were borrowed from the Traction among them the engine, the front hubs and even the doorhandles! In fact, depending on year, parts were used from all the range including 2CV, Ami, and DS. I can assure you, however, that if you need something for an H it will inevitably prove to be unique to it - such is life!
M. Franchiset, who had worked for Citroën since 1922, designed the body. He invented the lightweight corrugated panels and the pinless 'clasp hands' type hinges for the doors and all removable panels (just the same as on the 2CV). It also featured a front sub frame which carries all the mechanical parts, engine, gearbox, transmission,suspension, steering-everything; it is held by just four (big!) bolts. With all the weight saving there is enough power from the 1628cc or 1911cc engine to provide a load capacity between 850 and 1600kg, dependent on model.
Over the years, until production stopped in 1981, there was some detail change. You could get a diesel engine, longer wheelbase, rear overhang or extra height. Standard production included van (fourgon), 'beast carrier' (betaillere) and pick up (plateau). If you wanted something different, several coachbuilders could provide it, e.g.minibuses, fire engines or mobile laboratories. Most impressive were the purpose built promotional advertising vehicles; sadly these, by their very nature, had short lives and few survive.
The H van makes an ideal camper, and that is one reason they are increasingly popular today. With standing height for all but the tallest, enough width to sleep across if you are short (lengthways otherwise), it does away with the pegging down and bending down of camping and that is a bonus as you get older! Plus, of course, whilst it can (and does!) leak, you do have an advantage in the average monsoon! You should know, however, that parts may be quite expensive.
So what is it like to drive? First you climb up into a seat which is higher than any other van. The view is wonderful! You can see over all the fences and hedges and spot all the things you didn't know were there. This has the added advantage of seeing when the cars in front are stopping and will allow you to start slowing in good time, as even with the brakes in good order they are only 'adequate'. The engine starts easily with a short stab at the red button and idles smoothly. First and second gears are soon finished with using the long shift and the motor pulls well from low speed in top. Steering is light and accurate once moving, and the handling is excellent - just watch you don't hurl the crockery off the shelf! Top speed is about 100kph, but motorway cruising is usually in the range 75-95kph.
How I got involved in H Vans
Our H Van Story
written by Martyn Brown
Saturday 15th Sept 2012
I guess my love of the HY van started when I used to holiday in France in the 1980,s when now and again these grey corrugated box vans would appear on the autoroute. I thought then that I’d love to have one of those. It wasn’t until we moved to France in 2007 that the thought of owning an H van came into my thoughts. So after buying and selling a 2cv and having the money we searched the internet and came across an H van for sale in the neighbouring department. So we took a drive out to have a look and see if we could do a deal. This was the very first time I’d ever been inside an H van, the monsieur took me up the road in it and I was hooked. It was up for 2000 euros, we offered 1500 euros and he shook my hand. We had to wait till the following weekend before we could get it back. It had some control technique but we had no insurance I tried to arrange a trailer but couldn’t get one in time, so we thought we’d risk driving it back. When we arrived to pick it up the monsieur explained how to start it. He had the cover over the battery removed and with an iron bar he said when you press the starter give the solenoid a tap. It worked every time. Bit of a pain if you stalled it like I did at some traffic lights, the French don’t like it if you don’t race off as soon as the lights turn green. So after some hooting from the cars behind and me searching for the iron bar we made it back home.
My first job was to get the control technique sorted and to repair the starter solenoid. The only thing I could find wrong was the wipers didn’t work the brakes pulled to the right, the exhaust downpipe was cracked and blowing, and the headlamps were faded. I had an old starter motor from a Dyane so I stripped out the solenoid and used that, so now it starts on the button. The wipers went the same way, as in, using a wiper motor off a Dyane.
The brakes were a different story. I couldn’t get the wheel off because the wheel nut and stud was turning, so I had to cut off the nut. After removing the six screws and the hub nut, I’d made a tool to remove the hub; I could see that one of the brake cylinders was seized, so with some very fine emery and lots of wd40 I managed to clean up the cylinder.
I welded the stud on the inside of the drum and refitted the hub. Adjusted the brakes and tried them out, still pulled a bit but not as much. I removed the exhaust down pipe and had that brazed. I decided to take her to our local Control technique garage and see if the van would pass, I thought well if it doesn’t then at least I know what would need to be done. It was one of these roll on roll off garages where you queued up behind the car in front and your mechanic came along and moved you through each section. The lights were checked and the interior, the mechanic couldn’t find the chassis number so I jumped out the booth to show him where it was. Next it was time for the brake test. I was sweating a bit about this one. The engine was ticking over quite a while then decided to stop. It didn’t matter what we did she would not start again. By this time the queue behind was getting quite restless. So a decision was made to push her out and let her cool down a bit. After about 20mins she started again, the mechanic came and finished off the test. He couldn’t get the van on his lift so he decided to have a look underneath on a creeper board. She failed on the emissions so I guess the problem was she was very rich. He didn’t say anything about the brakes so I guess they passed. When we finally got her back I checked her out and found that the timing was miles out, so after making a locking pin to lock the flywheel at the correct place, I set the point’s gap and adjusted the distributor, after that she ran like a dream. After another trip down to the test garage she passed. I think the mechanic was more interested in telling me about the time that he had one. I wasn’t complaining. We decided that now the van was up and running we’d love to go away for a weekend down the road to the Ardeche at Vallon Pont d’arc, so it was time to sort out the interior, we bought some sticky floor tiles and covered the floor in them, I thought about making a table and some seating that could be converted into a bed but after some thought we ended up buying two blow up air beds and to sleep on the floor. After a test camp in the back garden and a go with the coffee pot we thought we had it all sorted.
So we loaded up and set off to the Ardeche.
After a few hours driving in 30+ degrees heat we finally made it to Pont d’arc the van loved every minute of it and didn’t miss a beat. We realized that in the middle of August the whole of France and other countries had descended to the Ardeche too, so finding a place to camp proved to be a bit difficult. We stopped off at the river with the famous rock arch then set off to find a quiet little camp site. After about the 5th stop we found a nice camp site on the way to Montelimar. So decided to camp there and unload the van, Caroline cooked us some nice salmon with salad, baguette and a bottle of Cotes de Rhone. We didn’t realize what a stir the van was making in the camp site and soon had visitors who loved the van and wanted to take photos made us feel quite proud to own her. After a restless sleep and an early morning breakfast we decided to have a drive off to Montelimar and buy some nougat before we set off back home.
As the summer ended and the nights became cold the H van came in handy collecting wood for the fire, she sat outside all winter with one of the heaviest winters on record.
Another year came and through that year we took the van to various meetings.
The H Van also came in handy to cut the hedge
It was at the end of 2010 that after a return trip back from England we made the decision to move back to England. We had to work out how to get the H van the 2cv back to England. So we plumped for the idea of loading the H van up with stuff that we didn’t need but wanted to keep and drive them both from Lyon to Northamptonshire. We decided to buy a Sat. Nav. so we could take the non motorway road back because I thought it would be safer. For a while everything went fine until we got stuck in the morning traffic in Lyon. After Lyon we turned off the auto route and started our trek up to Paris up a B road. We stopped of for coffee and carried on with the journey. A detour upset the Sat Nav and it decided to take us on a different route, as the road got smaller and smaller it turned into a dirt track we realized we were a bit lost and thought at this rate we wouldn’t make Paris. After 4 hours of driving we checked the map to find we’d only moved about 2 inches up the map. So we decided the best thing would be to get back on the autoroute. Everything went fine then until we came to the out skirts of Paris, the Sat Nav took us round the ring road of Paris which was fine until we hit a big traffic jam, for some reason the Sat Nav took us off the ring road and then sent us through the center of Paris into a bigger jam. We must have sat there for 2 hours. Not much fun when you’re bursting for a wee and that empty coke bottle looked very inviting. Luckily the traffic moved on and we managed to find the auto route out of Paris and straight into the first service station. Driving up the auto route was fine but as it turned dark I realized with Caroline following me in the 2cv I couldn’t make out in my mirrors whether she was behind me or not, a bit of panic set in thinking if the 2cv breaks down I wouldn’t know. So I pulled in the next stop and decided that that would be enough for today. The Sat Nav did come in handy as we put in “ find the nearest formula one hotel” and it found one just down the road.
After a well earned rest we set off again early in the morning to make the ferry at Calais
Later that day we arrived at my sister’s house and to start a new life again back in England After a few months of sorting the house out in England and having to import the van, the first meeting we attended with the H Van was the registers meeting.
Since we’ve been back I’ve decided to get her ready for the coming winter and resprayed her in the closest colour to the original.
As of today she’s looking quite good, we have some future plans which I’ll keep you posted.