The Citroen Double Chevron badge is much more than one of the most famous brand marks in the world, it is constant reminder to every other car maker that their products rely on a Citroen invention: The Helical Gear, which is used in every vehicle on the road. Before the helical gear, gearboxes were noisy with constant whining, gears were difficult to engage and, once engaged, they provided a far from reliable transfer of power. Andre Citroen changed all of that. His family company Engrenages Citroen, invented, licensed and produced the first helical gears and their distinctive herringbone teeth provided the company with its first and enduring badge, one that has just been given a facelift for the new Citroen C5 and Citroen C4.
"Brands are becoming more and more important in a market where consumers have more choice," says Vincent Besson, head of Products and Markets at Citroen. "It's crucial for vehicles to have a signature showing they belong to a particular brand. As far as Citroen is concerned, the shape of our cars and their overall balance are the best signatures. A true Citroen should be recognisable 200 metres away. So it's also important that the signature be much more visible both at the front and the rear of the vehicle."
So is this the new Citroen image that will spread across all models? The new Citroen model, the Citroen C1 would seem to indicate not, as its use of the Chevrons is similar to that on the Citroen C3 Pluriel.
"At Citroen, we try to avoid gratuitous styling details; that is, things that are not related to a function," explains Vincent Besson. "Unlike other vehicle manufacturers, whose policy is to use their symbol in an identical way from one model to the next, we prefer to modify the chevrons so that they enhance the balance and harmony of the overall front-end styling. There are winged chevrons on the C4, C5 and C6, but that doesn't mean you'll see them on all future Citroen models. It might not be as easy and as appropriate to add chevrons like these to a later model.
The use of the Chevrons, therefore, represents another common theme in the history of Citroen: Technical innovation. They are the way they are on the C4 and C5 as a technical solution, as well as for styling harmony.
"We had to raise the bonnet cut-off lines to make repairing the cars more practical, so that made things easier," says Vincent Besson. "Another factor was the need to have a substantially larger air-intake than usual. As a result, we had no other choice but to place the chevrons on the bonnet cut-off line. If we put them on the bonnet, they would be too high; putting them the air intake would have required making them very small and enlarging the intake area to the detriment of the cars' front-end styling. The idea with the winged chevrons is to make a virtue of necessity by highlighting these somewhat unusual constraints with two chrome strips."
But back to the history of the famous Double Chevron.
Citroen has stamped its vehicles with the double chevron badge since its beginnings, in 1919. This emblem has transformed many times over the years, tending recently to become larger and more stylised - a bold statement, like the vehicles themselves.
Before World War Two, the badge was displayed ostentatiously on the grille, like a medal of honour. This was particularly true with the Traction Avant, Citroen's revolutionary front-wheel-drive car, which sported the double chevron grandly on its imposing radiator grille.
It is true that the car's designer, Flaminio Bertoni, had created a conveniently spacious surface on which to show off the trademark, and he delighted in doing so on model after model. Even after the giant radiator grilles disappeared, the celebrated Bertoni still wanted to make the Citroen emblem larger. His 1948 mock-up of the Hippopotame (the forerunner of the Citroen DS), for example, featured a big double chevron out front.
Bertoni's urge to adorn his cars with large double chevrons never weakened, as witnessed by one of his sketches for the DS, which flaunts an enormous chevron on the bonnet above the grille. It seems that while he considered the double chevron to be a distinctive emblem that met certain technical requirements, he also saw it as a symbol with emotional impact.
An unmistakable sign Chevrons of ample proportions were still a feature on 2CVs in the early 1960s, but the time had come, it seems, to slim them down. Studies for cars conducted in the mid-60s by Jacques Charreton at the Citroen Design Centre show the Dyane with enormous chevrons, but that idea never got off the drawing board. It was around that time that the spotlight on the emblem shifted from Citroen's vehicles to its advertising. Two examples were the famous "En Avant Citroen" poster created by Raymond Savignac, in 1982, and the film "Les Chevrons Sauvages", which appeared on screens in 1985.
When the Citroen XM was launched in 1989, the emblem on the car had never been more discreet.
It was not until the 1990s that the double chevron was again cast in a prominent role on Citroen vehicles. The emblem started to get bigger, a trend confirmed when the Xsara Picasso was rolled out at the Paris Motor Show in 1998 with the double chevron proudly and prominently displayed once again.
That same year, the C3 Lumiere concept car showed off a handsome double chevron. Giving the chevrons prominence "clearly identifies Citroen", while translating an ultimate desire to "enhance the driver's status by highlighting his belonging to the world of Citroen", says Charles Aouad, a badge design specialist in the Innovation and Quality division at Citroen.
When Aouad joined the styling team in early 2001, the metamorphosis of the chevrons was already under way. His brief was to refine the lines and to come up with changes that respected Citroen's tremendous identity capital. The two arrowheads set one above the other - descendents of those first famous gears - form a symbol that the designer now knows from every angle.
A master stroke: the winged chevrons "Contrary to what you might think, the chevrons are complex," says Charles Aouad. "When you place them side by side, you realise how different they are. They are designed on a case-by-case basis but the aim is for them to be read identically from one vehicle to another. This is achieved by giving thought to the chevron design very early in the design process when a new programme goes into development."
The best example of their integration with the design are the so-called winged chevrons, which appeared first on the new look C5 and then on the Citroen C4 Hatchback and Coupe.
This spectacular change began in 1999 with the C6 Lignage concept car designed by Marc Pinson which included a fascinating little detail: an electronic system inclined the chevrons according to the car's speed, providing this show car with probably the world's first speed sensitive badge!
"This exploratory vehicle was the first to reflect the research focused on the chevrons," notes Mr Aouad. "The idea was taken one stage further in 2002 on the C-Airdream and then on the C-Airlounge, a concept car unveiled in 2003 whose V-shaped bonnet embodies the Citroen spirit."
A multi-faceted future That brings us to the sculpted and extremely elegant front end of the C4 Hatchback and Coupé as well as the C5. The eye is immediately drawn by the angled chrome strips of the double chevron badge. Bringing off this exercise in style no doubt involved a few minor technical challenges.
"We have to use bars that are at least 22 mm high," explains Charles Aouad. "Also, the top strips and chevron are attached to the sheet metal bonnet, while the bottom bars and chevron are on the bumper. Temperatures vary a great deal depending on the location, so the bars dilate differently. That means they must be attached in different ways."
Can we expect to see the winged double chevron becoming standard on all Citroen models? Charles Aouad suggests the answer is no.
"We want the double chevron to remain a living symbol, so we have decided not to use it any one systematic way."
He clearly has not finished exploring the possibilities of the Double Chevron.