The Citroën history is full of crazy stories and the M35 wrote a special one. It works like this: Those responsible shifted the testing of the new drive concept with Wankel engine into the hands of the customers. They had to qualify to participate and of course they had to pay. They probably even liked doing it. Because they were traveling in a very exclusive vehicle that was only available for testing the rotary piston engine. Today that sounds absurd and is hard to imagine. But by the late 1960s, Wankel fever was rampant. Anyone who wanted to be innovative relied on Felix Wankel's invention.
Citroën in the Wankel engine fever
Citroën, at that time still independent and not under the Peugeot umbrella, even went so far as to set up the company together with NSU comotor to found. The brands wanted to produce Wankel engines on a large scale in a joint factory, but this never happened. Technical problems, lack of financial resources and the energy crisis (!) in the early 1970s forced the project to fail.
But before that, Citroën launched the M1969 in 35 as an official test vehicle. Based on the AMI 8, the French built a new vehicle. Which in itself was a crazy and expensive idea. There should be 500 M35 prototypes. For this purpose, the AMI 8 floor assembly was newly clad, which body specialist Heuliez took over.
A 2CV derivative with a rotary piston engine
Since customers were previously mostly mobile with a DS in the upper class, Citroën had to offer approximately comparable technology and design. A depleted version of the hydropneumatics, leather armchairs, a redesigned steering wheel and visual improvements should ensure an appealing atmosphere in the M35.
Nevertheless, the M35 remained a 2CV derivative, albeit with a rotary piston engine under the hood. Also the only 2CV descendant that ever got hydropneumatics.
Frequent Citroën customers in France were allowed to apply for one of the vehicles. At least 30.000 kilometers annual mileage were the basic requirement. If the application found favor, then 14.000 francs had to be paid, which roughly corresponded to the price of a new D Spécial at the time.
There was then a newly clad small car. Or the vision of the future. Depending on your point of view.
After all, the brand with the double angle sold something like an all-round carefree package with the Citroën M35. If there was a breakdown, the manufacturer provided a replacement car free of charge. He also paid for the repair and service costs. In principle, only the petrol, from which the Wankel engine drank a lot, tires and brakes had to be paid for.
The M35 was built at the factory in Rennes-La Janais, where today the C5 Aircross running off the belts, mounted. Most of it had to be done by hand, the costs were high and the brand was losing money with every car. In addition, the first vehicles already provided enough data that Citroën pragmatically went from serial number 175 to number 376, and by the spring of 1971 only 267 M35 prototypes had been built.
Citroën collects the M35 Wankel prototypes
Then the test series ended and Citroën bought back some of the vehicles. The majority of the test customers should have responded to this. Anyone who wanted to keep their M35 Wankel could do so. However, he had to release the manufacturer in writing from warranty claims and the supply of spare parts.
The history of the M35 did not end there. Because what was actually intended for the scrap press was put away. A number of Citroën Wankel prototypes are said to have been parked on the in-house test track well into the 1980s. Gradually they were sold, flowed back into the car trade and were thus preserved for posterity.
The M35 is still moving on
Today there is an exemplary active scene around the Citroën M35 Wankel prototypes. There is an M35 Sign up, when a prototype is for sale it is reported and parts are remanufactured by dealers. It was once the case that only French drivers could enjoy the very special 2CV derivatives, but the M35 has now spread throughout Europe.
Prototype 401 is currently for sale. In a very original condition, it is picked up by SAS ACL in Chagny Classic Traders offered. At that time, all vehicles had the number on the fender and the reference to a prototype. Citroën proudly looked into the Wankel future, everyone should know.
Prototype 401 is yet another one of those vehicles that it is hoped will be carefully restored so that automotive history is not erased.
The rotary piston engine in the M35 is easy to drive today, the diseases of the past have been cured. The type of drive itself is not dead either. Operated with hydrogen, the Wankel Supertec calculates opportunities for the future.
Featuring visuals from SAS ACL