A curious mixture of romantic visionary and practical businessman, André Citroën knew a promising invention when he saw one. French-born Adolphe Kégresse had developed an idea at the behest of his erstwhile employer, Czar Nicholas II, who had wanted a means of adapting his cars to drive across deep snow. Rather than use the heavy steel hinged plates of a conventional crawler tractor, Kégresse devised a lightweight system that employed rubber bands running around bogies driven from the rear axle. Patents were filed in Russia and France, and by the time the Great War broke out, the "Système Kégresse" had been perfected. Returning to France after the Revolution, Kégresse was introduced to André Citroën, who immediately recognized the potential of his invention and purchased the sole rights, setting up Société Citroën-Kégresse-Hinstin to develop and manufacture it. One of the Kégresse system's major advantages was the fact that it did not require a vehicle of great power, and initial tests were conducted using an adapted B2 model of 10CV. These autochenilles (auto caterpillars) were an immediate success, finding employment throughout Europe in farming, forestry, and a variety of military applications. This swift acceptance was due in no small part to the various publicity stunts dreamt up to demonstrate their remarkable off-road capabilities, one of which involved a Citroën Kégresse towing a 3.5-ton maison roulante (mobile home) up a 348-foot-high sand dune. Of greater significance though was the crossing of the Sahara Desert during the winter of 1922-23 by an expedition of five Citroën Kégresse B2s, thus establishing the viability of an overland route for motor transport from Algeria to French Equatorial Africa. The five little cars completed the 3,000-mile journey from Touggourt to Timbuktu in an astonishing 21 days, a mere fraction of the time taken by a camel train. This Citroën Kégresse "Forestiere" Autochenille was acquired by the Adrien Meagh Collection around 50 years ago. The vehicle was restored by Lecoq in the early 1980s and has been on display in the Museum since its opening in 1984. Offered complete with front skis, it is in running condition, having been restarted for the sale.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:5,795 (all series and types)
Original List Price:$6,995 (1923)
Chassis Number Location:Plate affixed to right side of firewall
Engine Number Location:Plate affixed to right side of firewall
Club Info:Military Vehicle Preservation Assn. PO Box 520378 Independence, MO 64052
Alternatives:1940 White M2 half-track, 1937 Bombardier B7 snowmobile, 1944 Studebaker Weasel
Investment Grade:D

This 1930 Citroën Kégresse “Forestiere” Autochenille sold for $46,575, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’s Les Grandes Marques à Monaco sale on May 18, 2009.

While Citroën established a reputation for innovation with the launch of the hydraulic-assisted spaceship DS in 1955, the company led the world with another groundbreaking technology more than 30 years earlier with the Kégresse half-track. In fact, this revolutionary drive design, used on passenger car chassis, light commercials, (very slow) armored cars, and even a tractor, was arguably more important, as it was adopted under license by manufacturers around the world, while we’re still waiting for the global hydraulic revolution to start. The genius of Adolphe Kégresse even extended to the development of the dual-clutch transmission in 1939, 40 or so years before Porsche.

This half-track system was the international standard

The Citroën-Kégresse half-track system was the international standard, with Alfa Romeo using a license to build a vehicle on the Tipo RM chassis, one of which Bonhams offered for sale in their Gstaad sale of December 2007 (and for which $261k was amazingly refused-SCM# 48111). The U.S. Army purchased several and later licensed the design for the WWII M2 and M3 half-tracks.

Of course, the income from the patent licenses didn’t keep Citroën from bankruptcy in 1934, and Michelin, the new owner, wasn’t particularly interested in off-road vehicles, so development languished-probably to the detriment of the French Army a few years later.

The benefits of the Kégresse system in saving a vast amount of weight over conventional metal-tracked designs cannot be overstated. The ability of a 20-hp vehicle, carrying passengers and/or cargo, to traverse deep sand, snow, or steep embankments with ease was miraculous. As mentioned in the catalog, Citroën and its agents loved to stage dramatic demonstrations of the prowess of the vehicles, such as this account posted on the Dutch citroen.pagina.nl web site, from the October 1, 1923, issue of the Australian Motorist.

“Mr. Curtis, of Preston Motors, is said to be kegressing very satisfactorily. we followed behind to watch the machine’s behavior on an ordinary road; it glided along comfortably at about 20 mph. Suddenly Mr. Curtis changed his route by climbing up an embankment about 4ft. high and almost vertical… After clambering up the bank by digging our boots into it, we saw the Citroen doing 20 mph over undulating ground. en route it climbed over a pine log, the butt being about two feet thick, then it climbed down the bank like a possum and proceeded along the road again.”

Equally at home in wet stuff

The ultimate trip was, of course, the great Sahara crossing, which established the Autochenille’s reputation internationally. An example can be seen making a brief appearance in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” parked in its natural desert habitat. Although best known as sand transport, it was also equally at home in the wet stuff, and could be fitted with skis, as is the case on this example. The restoration was done by Lecoq; for one used to seeing gleaming Delahayes, Hispano-Suizas, and Bugattis from this leading French shop, it’s arresting to see this flat olive drab.

But it’s a tribute to Lecoq’s zeal for accuracy, as it appears to have been done to a correct military standard-at what cost can only be imagined. With the passage of almost 30 years since the restoration work, a few years of use, and a long static display since 1984, it now has the look of a genuine army surplus item.

While it was reported that the Citroën was “restarted” for the sale, clearly a mechanical rebuild will be necessary prior to attempting a crossing of the Sahara or a trip down the side of a mountain for a cup of après-ski chocolat chaud. As the ultimate accessory for a ski-in chalet or North African vacation villa, this Kégresse would be hard to beat. Or, as a part of a serious collection of military vehicles or technological marvels, it would be equally well placed, given the historic importance of the drive layout. In either case, the price paid for this example has to be counted a bargain.

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