I can honestly say that I am not one of those who wishes I was living in the past. Contrary to some of my fellow enthusiasts, I don’t even believe that everything was better in the old days. But I am a nostalgic, just not of the sentimental type.
Maybe that explains why I’m more into time travel, and if it were actually possible, I would book a weekly excursion back in time with all-inclusive and my polaroid camera. Destination Paris would obviously be a given! It is after all my absolute favourite city, and I believe a visit to fifties Paris is one of my very biggest dreams. There are several reasons for this, but one particular reason is to experience in the flesh the fabulous tourist busses which transported visitors through and around the romantic city during the mid-fifties.
It was while randomly trawling the wide internet that I came across a forum for scale models. I’ll confess that besides time travel, I’m also quite interested in models – and not just the curvaceous ones of flesh and blood either. This is where I came across pictures of one of these buses. One of the forum members was clearly more than moderately obsessed with scale model busses. Judging by the vast size of his collection, it’s probably fair to assume that he no longer has a wife – or any other sort of rational and normalising factors in his life. His most prized possession in that vast collection was a model of a Citroën Currus Cityrama from 1955, and I can assure you that this peculiar vehicle immediately sparked my craving for time travel.
The bus seems to be widely acknowledged as a Citroën. Needless to say, with my profound weakness for all things Citroën, there are few things I would rather do than add the stylish Cityrama bus to the overwhelming bouquet of ingenious creations my favourite French marque has gifted us. Yet, it just doesn’t feel quite right. With their U55 commercial truck, Citroën did of course manufacture the base construction of the bus. But while it was a perfectly good and popular truck in its time, it was hardly anything really special.
It was the company Currus – a French coachbuilder – who were responsible for everything that made the bus so eccentric. They had been given the project by the Parisian tourist company Cityrama, and were to deliver a small number of busses to them. Currus removed practically everything from Citroën’s rather ordinary truck; keeping only the chassis and driveline. They then proceeded to build the strikingly modern bus from aluminium and Plexiglas. As can be seen from the pictures, the result was a sensational piece of French transport history. In all fairness, the Americans had built similar buses already, so they probably ought to be credited for the general design tendency, but us Francophile couldn’t care less. Back then, the design was so extraordinary that the buses proved to become real crowd-pullers. So much so, that for a while they actually outdid the tourist attractions which they were merely meant to transport tourists between. They also appeared in several movies from the period, such as “Zazie dans le Métro” by the masterly French film director, screenwriter and producer, Louis Malle.
A few different variants of the Cityrama bus were produced, but they all shared a colossal glass area – or rather Plexiglasarea, as the transparent plastic was the only material which allowed for the many curves in the design. As airconditioning was certainly not yet the norm during the fifties, the Cityrama busses instead made due with large openings in the roof which could be retracted or otherwise opened to let in fresh air. Something the passengers would have undoubtedly valued, for not only can Paris get pretty warm during the summer months, but heavy indoor smoking of Gauloises was a given as well.
Frankly, there are multiple glorious details which embellish the Cityrama busses – such as the top-mounted windshield wipers and obviously that huge red rail across the back of the bus. But there is one detail which stands out more than any other: The vast, pointy thingamajig placed above the windscreen. There’s a lightning painted onto it, but really, the mind boggles as to what it was intended for?