Bastille Day celebration in Quarter

La. car club makes debut as part of festivities

This year’s Bastille Day was a dream come true for Heather Marshall: The French national holiday marked the first meeting of CitroëNOLA, a New Orleans car club Marshall started earlier this year to celebrate the iconic Citroën automobile.

“This is our first club meeting,” Marshall said, as a row of the French-made automobiles sat parked along Washington Square Park on Frenchmen Street late Sunday morning.

A Marigny passersby sipped coffee, ate croissants and inquired after such cars as a sleek 1973 SM sports car, a Citroën ambulance from that same era, boxy utility trucks and other models. A less-exotic Saab was also on hand.

Some of the coffee enjoyed by the Citroën fans was provided by Brigade, a craft-coffee company whose Citroën panel truck was parked on the other side of the park on Elysian Fields Boulevard with other Sunday morning food-truck operators.

The displayed automobiles had earlier been featured in a procession by their local owners through the French Quarter and Bywater neighborhoods.

“They are very iconic of French culture,” Marshall said, “known for their art and design.”

Marshall, a Baton Rouge native with family roots in the French Normandy region, said she moved back to Louisiana about six years ago after having lived in Philadelphia and New York.

Her love affair with the French automaker — founded by French industrialist Andre Citroën in the aftermath of WWI — went back at least 20 years, she said.

She attended Citroën club events while living out of state and “became immediately obsessed” with the cars, known for their design, durability and innovations they brought to the auto industry. Those included cars that featured the first anti-lock-brake systems and the single-column steering wheel, Marshall said. She drives a 1986 Citroën CX model, which was the last model that featured the company’s innovative hydropneumatic suspension system, she said.

But Marshall found that upon her return to Louisiana, and despite the state’s — and New Orleans’ — deep French history, no such Citroën clubs existed here. This despite a growing interest in all things French.

“Citroën were never popular in the Southeast,” said Marshall, who works as a TV sound mixer. “Most of them were imported through one place in New Jersey.”

Marshall said she “scoured” the area for Citroën owners until she found “enough car owners to actually form a club.”

There’s about a dozen of them.

“Today is kind of the first meeting,” said Richard Brown, a charter member of CitroëNOLA, who was found seated, eating lunch with friends and family in the back of his recently purchased Citroën HY truck, a 1978 model that was designed in 1947.

Brown said the truck had been owned by a French farmer before making its way to Ohio, and then to craigslist where Brown purchased it for $4,000, just a few weeks ago.

He had to tow it from Ohio, he said, given that the truck’s three-speed engine tops out at 50 mph.

Brown runs a company that provides vintage autos to film and movie shoots. He owned four of the vehicles parked along Frenchmen, including the 1971 DS ambulance, a standout vehicle that was as sleek as it was old-fashioned looking — and appeared as though it could have come straight out of an Ernest Hemingway war novel.

The upstart coffee-delivery company French Truck Coffee was also on hand with its pair of snappy Citroën vehicles, both built in the 1970s.

The yellow-and-blue model on display was once owned by a Bourdeaux plumber, said Max Rowdon, who described French Truck Coffee as “sort of the milkman of coffee wholesalers.”

The trucks are in full commercial use and are used to deliver coffee beans around New Orleans. French Truck Coffee operates a roasting plant at Magazine and Erato streets, Rowdon said, and supplies beans to businesses that include the Hollygrove Market, St. Coffee on scrappy St. Claude Avenue and La Boulangerie on Magazine Street.

And, like a good, old-fashioned milkman, the company will also make home deliveries, Rowdon said.