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Citroen tourer

At a glance

  • First car to travel around Australia
  • Conservation treatment
  • Nevill and Ron Westwood
  • On show in the Museum's Hall

French car makes Australian motoring history

In 1925 this small Citroen made history by being the first car to travel around Australia.

Now a part of the National Museum of Australia's collection, the car received specialist attention from conservators and remains in full working order.

Yellow Citroen car with black hood
The National Museum's fully-conserved 1923 5CV Citroen. Photo: George Serras.

Amazing journey

Front view of yellow and black Citroen car.
The Citroen 5CV was mostly produced in bright yellow, earning it the nickname the 'little lemon'. Photo: George Serras.

Today, a trip around Australia is considered a major undertaking. In 1925 it was considered amazing and the Citroen's feat was one of a series of long distance car trips which made news headlines.

The Citroen's owner and driver was Nevill Westwood, a 22-year-old Seventh Day Adventist missionary. Nevill bought the car secondhand in Perth. It had already travelled 48,000 kilometres.

Nevill left Perth with Greg L Davies in the Citroen on 4 August 1925. Their adventures included passing the burnt wreckage of a car abandoned by adventurer Francis Birtles on an earlier trip to the Northern Territory.

Along the way punctured tyres were filled with grass and cowhide and the car was carried across the Fitzroy River by local Aboriginal people.

Davies quit the car at Albury on the New South Wales and Victoria border. Westwood went on to Melbourne and Adelaide. He returned to Perth, escorted by a welcoming convoy of motorists on 30 December 1925.

Caring for the car

Ian Stewart guides engine and transmission, held by a hoist, on to car chassis.
Conservation's Ian Stewart helps to guide the engine and transmission into position on the treated chassis.

At the journey's end Nevill put the Citroen into storage while he continued travelling on church business. His brother sold the car in 1926 but when Nevill returned he bought the car back, recognising its significance to Australian motoring history.

The Citroen remained with Nevill until his death in 1969, after which the car passed to his son Ron.

The Citroen's adventures and the passing of time took its toll on the car. In 1975 Ron began a year-long restoration project. He collected spare parts and commissioned work by a West Australian firm. The car's chassis and body were largely retained, with some repair to the rear panels, doors and hood. The engine block was discarded and the engine rebuilt, with some original parts re-used and the original radiator maintained.

A new home

Rusting car frame and engine.
Extensive chloride corrosion on the Citroen's chassis before treatment.

Ron hoped to re-run his father's trip in 2000 for the 75th anniversary, but this did not eventuate. In 2000, the car underwent a second modest reconditioning.

The National Museum acquired the Citroen from Ron Westwood in 2005.

Museum conservators have worked to retain its form and function, including the 1975 restoration work which is now part of its history.

The Citroen's chassis and body work suffered extensive chloride corrosion after 1975, requiring treatment and partial restoration.

Complete overhaul

Conservator Ainslie Greiner looks under the Citroen's engine cover.
Conservator Ainslie Greiner inspects the Citroen's overhauled engine. Photo: George Serras.

Over a year, the National Museum's conservators and expert contractors completely disassembled all components of the body, chassis, engine and transmission.

Conservation treatment has generally involved removal of chloride corrosion, and the chemical stabilisation of the chassis and body components.

The chassis was repainted, while the body retains the form of the 1970s restoration period.

The engine and transmission were also meticulously treated and reconditioned to functional condition.

The 5CV or 'little lemon'

Rear view of Citroen car, showing conservators leaning into front, on either side.
Conservators work on the Citroen's engine. Photo: George Serras.

The 5CV marked the start of popular motoring in Europe. Cheap to run and simple to handle, it was a huge success.

Andre Citroen studied the production techniques of Henry Ford after World War One and was intent on developing a cheap and reliable car.

Introduced at the 1921 Paris Motor Show, it was produced for four years, first in a two-seater open tourer version, mostly painted bright yellow.

It was known as the 'petit citron', which translates to 'little lemon'.

It was also produced as a convertible and a three-seater open tourer, the favoured 'clover-leaf' model of 1924. The first Citroen was imported to Australia in 1919-20.