By Marian Dinwiddie
Imagine finding and buying back a special car you had sold 42 years before.
For anyone who reminisces with thoughts about such a vehicle, John Chestnutt, 82, knows what it’s like to once again be driving his long-gone car.
When he was stationed in the Army in France, Chestuntt took note of the Citroen taxicabs there. They reminded him of the 1934 Ford sedan his dad owned when Chestnutt was 11.
The Citroen Traction Avant autos were French-produced cars built between 1934 and 1957. This make of car was the first mass-produced Uni-body and front wheel drive auto in 1934.
During Chestnutt’s next military tour, in Germany, he found an ad for a 1953 Citroen. Price? $50. When his tour was over, he had the Citroen shipped to the United States. Between locations in South Carolina, New York and then New Mexico, he worked on the car. In 1969, he towed it home to Spanaway.
In 1970, Chestnutt sold the Citroen. “It was one of my worst days” he laments. “I had a new location, new job, new home and family.”
After he retired, he would look at pictures of the car and reminisce.
“I often wished I had my beloved Traction back,” he said. “I had my regrets selling it. I even thought if I could locate my car I might be able to buy it back, but due to my age and physical limitations, this seemed a non-reality.”
Then he turned to the Internet. He found the Northwest Citroen Owners Club and placed an ad in their newsletter seeking his Citroen. This paid off seven months later when someone in Port Townsend e-mailed him, describing the Citroen she owned.
E-mails and photos followed. Some things were the same, but previous owners had made small changes. Finally, the current owner asked if there was one thing that only his car would have that would absolutely identify it as his. John recalled welding a brace under the rear bumper for towing the car. The owner said, “Something is there.”
Chestnutt and his daughter made a trip to look at the car. He recognized the brace and sidewall carpeting with pockets his wife had long ago created. Photos before and after also helped prove it was his old car.
Some months later, the owner offered to sell the Citroen to John.
“I decided that even at my age of 81 then, why not buy it? My daughter offered to help with the restoration,” he said.
On July 5, 2012, they retrieved the car. After replacing the wiring, sanding the fenders, hood, trunk and body, a fresh black paint job completed the project.
The odometer today reads over 55,000 kilometers. But as John notes, “That’s not original miles. I’m sure it has turned over more than once by now.”
Exactly one year later, on July 5 this year, the Citroen appeared at a car cruise in Spanaway with John proudly at the wheel. Curious onlookers circled it with questions. “What kind of car is that?” “I have never seen a car like this.”
What was going through John’s mind right then?
“It was the first public outing,” he said. “It was like being a kid again, after working for a year on it. It was an old man’s show-and-tell. I had no idea how car events worked. I am hooked now.”