Citroen First To Cross The Sahara By Car In the 1920’s-Croisere Noire

by Wes Kibble on January 15, 2012

Photo via L’Auto-Satisfaction
After the first world war, there was a number of new technology available. Although cars had been converted to half tracks in Russia for a number of years, Citroen perfected the conversion and started marketing them heavily. In 1924, Andre Citroen authorized a team of Citroen half tracks to cross Africa. Not only would this team be the first to cross Africa via automobile, but they would be the first to cross the dreaded Sahara desert via auto.

The expedition, which was 28,000kms long, was called the Croisiere Noire, or Black Cruise. The intent of the expedition was to spread the word about how tough the Citroen cars were around the world. To lead the safari, Citroen picked his best executive manager, Georges-Marie Haardt. His grand daughter describes him as a very stylish and disciplined man. Every man in the expedition would follow his example and was forced to shave and dress well, no matter what lay ahead.

Of course, crossing Africa would not come without problems. There was mechanical breakdowns, particularly tracks and chains. The tracks were metal and rubber. The rubber wore off quickly in the rough terrain and sand. However, the mechanics did what they had to in order to survive. If you cannot repair your vehicle in the Sahara, you are as good as dead.

The natives were another concern, as they were unpredictable. Some were helpful and happy to see the explorers. Others wanted to fight. Many of the natives remembered the bloodshed of colonialism.

At one point, the Governor of what is now Kenya forced 40,000 natives to build a 400 mile road through the jungle to the Capital Stanleyville. This immense task only took 45 days! On June 14, 1925, the party reached the Indian Ocean. Some went directly to the Island of Madagascar via ferry while others went south to South Africa and took a boat back to the island. On June 22,1925 they all celebrated reaching their final destination of the Capital of Madagascar.

A year later, the video of the expedition was released to the public, which turned out in droves. Everyone was enthralled by not only the movie, but also the displays of African art, animals and other artifacts.

The success of the Croisere Noire fuels Citroen’s interest in cross country expeditions. Even with signs of the recession coming in the not to distant future, he starts preparing for a venture across Asia. This expedition will be one of our next articles!

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