Thursday, April 1, 2010
Back in the early part of the 20th century, Cambodia was a French protectorate, which in reality meant a colony. As could be imagined, most cars were imported from France, Citroens being the most common. Very few of these remain, the climate is not kind to body-work or steel, and unless kept in a good shelter and maintained machines decay very fast. One friend of mine owned a late 1930s Citroen, which was lovely to be driven around in. It had an engine from a modern Toyota, and odd-looking chrome hubcaps, but otherwise was an original colonial-era ride.
In the late days of the French era, a couple of assembly plants were set up in Cambodia, one at the new Sihanoukville port, and another on street 80 near the Phnom Penh Port. The Sihanoukville one assembled a box-van variant of the well-known 2CV model. The 2CV’s name came from French, the Deux Chevalle, or two horse power, and was a very low-powered but affordable little workhorse, born from the austerity of the post WWII years. As you can see from the pictures, it had a pick-up back with a canvas covering. The Citroen showroom which is shown in one picture was on Norodom Boulevard.
After independence, there were some notable achievements in creating industry in Cambodia. The SONATRAC (Societe National Des Tracteurs) plant in Sihanoukville fabricated and manufactured trucks, tractors, motorcycles and also motors for other industrial uses. Later, after the refusal of U.S. aid, a local style jeep was also manufactured. I have only seen pictures of these, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any surviving models.
The first picture is of a Citroen at Angkor Wat in 1910, and the next shows the Postal Car that ran the route between Phnom Penh and Saigon in the late 1920s, the picture looks like it was taken in Saigon. The next three are of the assembly plant and publicity shots of the Cambodian 2CV variant in the 1950s. The seventh picture is a Citroen sign on a wall above the old plant on street 80. Second last is the Citroen showroom on Norodom Boulevard, and the last is of a burnt out Simca in the early 1970s war.