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.