Like most teenagers, I wanted a motorbike. After my father had a discussion with Housemaster Christopherson, I was promised one if my School Certificate results were good enough for university entrance. I surprised both of them; and 10 years later I got my motorbike. This was replaced by a 1932 Morris and 1927 Austin 7 (see ATIB notes in Luptonian Summer 1953 pg 4). My parents were under the false impression was spending too much time underneath old cars and not enough studying. This time, I was promised a car if I got my degree. Once again I surprised everyone.
Why Citroën? As the magistrate said to the delinquent youth, “I blame the parents”. My father had a new Citroën light 15, so I bought an Old Light 15 Roadster, which served as our honeymoon car. We had some small problems, but managed a tour of Europe which included a visit to the Belgian Grand Prix and a drive round the Nürburgring circuit. On a visit to the Citroën dealer in Leeds I was able to drive the new 2CV. I was so impressed that I bought the identical car nine years later for £85.00 and joined the Citroën Car Club to find out from the other enthusiasts what I had got into. The car needed a certain amount of work, but kept going and took 2 adults and 2 small girls to a number of local places of interest. Before the end of the year, the Club Chairman, recognising a fellow enthusiast, asked me to join the committee.
In 1974 we heard that there would be an international meeting of Citroën cars in Austria so the Club Chairman and I went to investigate. There were cars from as far away as Denmark and even a small group of prewar Citroëns who had managed to get permission to leave Czechoslovakia for 24 hours. During the meeting a few of us thought that an international organisation should be established later that year. I was able to organise a meeting at Citroën HQ in Paris. A French reporter was surprised to find this meeting was organised by an Englishman and not attended by any French Citroën owners.
The next international rally was in France, although not before I had to make a visit to Paris to inform the the officials of the two French clubs that it was up to them to decide which club was in charge of arrangements, not me. This meeting was attended by members of the Citroën family who asked to meet the Englishman who had started the international liaison. I would have worn a tie if I had been warned in advance.
For the next few years I was able to keep the international connections as I was the international liaison officer for the Citroën Car Club. We had international meetings in the Netherlands, England, Germany, Denmark, France and Belgium. This was before the days of the World Wide Web and email and involved a large number of letters, envelopes and stamps.
At the meeting at the Belgian rally, there was silence when the subject of the next venue came up for discussion until our friend from the USA said that they could organise it if there were no other offers. As Chairman of the meeting I proposed that in the absence of any alternative the next rally in 2002 would be in the USA. The French, who had not been listening to the discussion in English were furious and several others told me that it was the end of international rallies. How wrong they were. It was business as usual.
A ship was chartered to transport members’ cars and cars from the Citroën Conservatoire from Le Havre to New York. Citroën Press and PR department gave us full support, and we welcomed Henri-Jacques Citroën, the grandson of Andre Citroën the founder of the company who has taken an interest and been welcomed at many meetings since. The 12th ICCCR in 2002 was a success. A new CEO arrived at Citroën and they set up a department for tradition and heritage and two years later the Amicale Citroën Internationale was recognised by Citroën as the official and only link with the clubs around the world.
There were a number of meetings to bring the new organisation in a format to comply with French regulations. I was asked about the existing format and I had to answer that in England, “if 3 or 4 of us have the same interest, we can start a club, and so long as we don’t break the law, we carry on.” Our first statutes under French law ran to more than 30 pages. I did make two inserts in the regulations: all proceedings and meetings to be in English and we were completely independent from the Citroën business.
Back in Europe, the 2004 rally was in Switzerland and with a new committee, I was at last allowed to retire from the organisation. To get me off the committee, I elected as an honorary member. In 2008, the Rally was in Italy and in 2012, the 15th, in Harrogate was voted to be the best ever. Having missed the first one, it appears as if I am the only person who has attended 14 out of 15.
It was an interesting life. I made friends all over the world and enjoyed two celebrations in Paris driving down the Champs Elysee with 5000 Citroën 2CVs in 1998 and 5000 DSs in 2005. In 1999 I organised a tour of Britain for the 50th Anniversary of the Citroën Car Club and the highlight of the week was a visit to Sedbergh School.
The International organisation which started in 1974 with a discussion in a field in Austria now has 71000 members in 1000 clubs in 48 Countries.
C D Conway