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The Citroën HY Van

Few vehicles can match the production lifespan or the enduring popularity of the Citroën HY Van. This long success and continuing interest owes much to the HY’s personality but also to a package of design and technology which still works simply and beautifully.

Introduced in 1947, it played an important role in the rebuilding of France following the Second World War. Between then and 1981 almost half a million were produced, mainly in French and Belgian factories. Originally called the Type H, its distinctive design remained essentially unchanged through a succession of new model developments. The name HY was used from 1958 onwards and now tends to be applied loosely to all ‘H’ vans.

Perhaps the two most obvious elements of its unique character are its ‘face’ – which earned it the affectionate name ‘Nez de Cochon’ (‘Pig Nose’) in France – and its corrugated bodywork. The corrugation, inspired by German Junkers aircraft, is a perfect example of the HY’s simple practicality. Its ribbed structure gave extra strength without adding weight and could be produced using the most basic and inexpensive press tools.

The panels were also removable, which is one of the ingenious simplifications which made the HY so easy to construct, maintain and repair. Another was the arrangement of engine, gearbox, transmission and suspension, which were held onto the subframe by just four large bolts. Having loosened the relevant bolts, the whole engine and gearbox, together with the radiator and exhaust, could be removed through the front of the van.

Along with this cost-effective simplicity came innovations which put the HY well ahead of its time technologically. For instance, it was one of the first mass-produced vans to have a monocoque construction, combining the body and chassis into an integrated unit. Other advances included front wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, torsion bar suspension and a handbrake applied to the front wheels.

When it came to carrying loads, the HY was way in front of its competitors in terms of both weight and volume. With a very low but strong floor, a high roof and convenient loading access via the three-piece rear door, or the innovation of a sliding side door, it was also much more user-friendly.

In addition to producing standard van and pick-up versions, Citroën sent stripped-down vehicles to coachbuilders who came up with endless ways of adapting the versatile design to different purposes. These have included cattle trucks, ambulances, fire engines, minibuses, campers, promotional vehicles and mobile laboratories, to name but a few.

The HY’s mechanical parts were originally based largely on those of the Citroën Traction range of cars. Inevitably there were many upgrades over the years, including a succession of improved engines.

The various ‘facelifts’ were relatively superficial and did not detract too much from the classic style of the vans. Notable modifications, which give clues to an HY’s age, include the one-piece windscreen which replaced the split screen in 1964, the shorter chevrons on the radiator grille, added the same year, and the change from semi-circular to rectangular rear wings in 1969. The unusual rear-hinged cab doors persisted right to the very end, except in the Dutch market which insisted on a change to conventional hinges in 1968.