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"Rayons" - the organization of the spare parts service

Since before the war, the Citroën spare part service was divided in sections - named "Rayons", meaning "departments" of the stock. This system was phased out around 1970, and in itself, it has no practical relevance today, but we give it a little attention here anyway, because it helps shed some light on how later (still relevant) groupings of the spare parts came to be, and it helps us get a picture of how different the world was before computers and plastic wrapping.

If you were to order a spare part from the Citroën central spare parts service in Paris, it was not enough to know the spare part number. You also needed to know to which"rayon" - department of the service - you should address your order.

This classification was visible in the spare parts catalogues as each of the four main rayons (I, II, III, IV) had their separate sections in the catalogues with pages in four separate colours (yellow, white, green and pink). In each of these sections, all the parts generally belonged to the corresponding rayon, if nothing else was noted. Beyond these four main rayons, there were two more: rayon VI and "large parts".

If a particular part belonged to another rayon than the section, in which it appeared in the catalogue, this was marked by a parenthesis with an R. followed by the number of that rayon, for instance (R. VI). If and when a part belonged to the "large parts" rayon is difficult to see in the catalogues, but I presume a trained spare parts assistant at any Citroën dealership know this by intuition.

If you have an original catalogue in your hand, the colours of the four sections are usually faded beyond recognition, and in the various copies and scanning most of us have access to, there is no trace of them whatsoever. Therefore, we have to look in the table of contents at the start of the catalogue, find out where the sections start and end.

Everyone ordering spare parts were required to fill out and send separate lists for each rayon. Pre-printed forms had even been distributed for this purpose. It seems a bit troublesome, but this gave Citroën the possibility to divide the spare parts service in different departments (maybe even different buildings) that could be specialized in, for instance, large and heavy items (that needed hoists and trollies) or perhaps parts that needed cleanliness, like interior trim. Before the age of plastic wrapping, parts like seat covers and fabric lining in pale colours, could not be handled by people with dirty fingers.

Today, it may appear strange, that Citroën in this way involved the clients in how the stock was organized internally. We would otherwise expect that you could submit oue collected list with all your orders to Citroën, which would then take care of the internal workflow behind the scenes. Before the advent of computers, however, this would require someone in Citroën to copy the orders - by hand or by typewriter - with all the errors that this extra step could introduce. Apparently, it was deemed better by Citroën to delegate this responsibility to the clients, where there were normally, after all, dedicated people doing the ordering of spare parts.

All of this has probably only had any relevance for those ordering spare parts with "the factory" - meaning dealerships in France and the importers in all countries. In Denmark, dealers sent collected orders on single sheets of paper to the Danish importer (the daughter-company Citroën Danmark) with no division into rayons. This can be seen from the pre-printed order form shown here below. From its typeface and logo, we can clearly see that it is from the era when the rayon system was still in use in France. Dilligent clerks at the Danish importer must then have copied these orders to the different new rayon-specific order sheets.

Another example of an even more simple order form from the Danish Citroën importer - possibly mostly for noting down fast telephone orders - which also has no place to write anything abount rayons. The date of this form is, however, more uncertain.

In catalogues where the majority of the parts belong to the "general" number series 1-900.000 (like for instance TA no. 420 from 1959, T23 no. 419 from 1961 and T45/T55 no. 433 from 1962) you find the spare parts divided into rayons I, II, III, IV, VI and "large parts":

RayonTypes of parts
I (Yellow pages) Motor, gear box,transmission, clutch, hand brake
II (White pages) Front axle, rear axle, drive shafts, steering, brakes, pedals
III (Green pages) Fuel system, cooling system, exhaust, motor mounting, electrical system, tooling, general standard parts
IV (Pink pages) Body parts, glazing, seats, interior trim
VI Sealing, bearings
Large parts Large assembled parts, body parts, cylinders, wings

From 1948, the "general" numbers 1-900.000 was supplemented by the model-specific numbers series A, AU, H, HG, etc. This was probably meant to be a simplification - also because these new series was "only" divided into tre categories: Rayon VI, "large parts" and "all other parts".

The result of this, however, was greater complexity. In order to repair a 2CV Van, for instance, you might need parts from the series A, AZ, AU, AZU and from the general series 1-900.000, and therefore you could theoretically need 3 lists for numbers with A, 3 lists for number with AU etc. Furthermore, you might up to 6 lists for the general series - Totally as much as 18 different lists. A large garage with a number of cars in repair could have to prepare and send close to 50 lists on the same day. If must have been a thick envelope with the lists sent every day by the evening post.

Around 1965, this system was simplified by abolishing rayons I-IV. This meant that the general series 1-900.000 became divided into only two categories: rayon VI respectively all other parts. The model specific spare parts series should still be divided into 3 categories.

At this point in time, you should think that simplification was the order of the day, but then in 1967, a new rayon X suddenly emerges. It was both relevant for the model specific series as well as the general. The purpose of this innovation is not clear to me, as rayon X appears to comprise the same sort of parts as rayon VI, like washers, seals and that sort of thing.

The years around 1970 brought many changes about in rapid succession, and already in 1969 the classification into rayons disappeared completely, and you might think that the era was over when the internal organization of the spare parts service was still visible to the customers. But then again, this was not going to remain the case.

During 1969, the last numbers in the general series 1-900.000 are phased out or converted, and all spare parts numbers at this point in time begins with letters. Already around 1970/71, the first new purely numerical spare parts numbers begin to show up - this time with the series 5 000 000. Right at the beginning they are just references like all other spare parts numbers, but there is no doubt that the error rate i the orders was higher for these numbers than for the spare parts in the series beginning with letters. In these previous series, there is a degree of meaning and sense built into the number, as explained in the article about the evolution of the spare parts numbers, and furthermore the new numbers were allocated almost completely sequentially, meaning that any typo would result in another exsiting number, that would be delivered in stead of the one you needed.

The solution to this problem comes already during 1971 where these new spare parts numbers are equipped with a prefix consisting of a group number plus a vehicle group code and as a suffix, the check letter.

This can be seen, for instance, in the Ami8 catalogue no. 597 from 12/70, where some of the head lights have these numbers ,
which in a later edition (no. 631 from 01/73) have been "dressed up" with group, vehicle code and check letter:

These group numbers are clearly reflecting some kind of classification of the stock (instead of reflecting which area of the car, the part belongs to), as can be seen here:

Spare parts groups 1971-74Types of spare parts in the group
0General small items (nuts, bolts etc)
1Most things, smaller model-specific parts
2Larger model-specific parts: motor parts, electrical parts etc
3Carpets, textile roof
4Air intake, exhaust and fuel system
5Pipes and hoses
6Seats and interior
7Chassis, body, wings, doors and bonnet
8Motor and gearbox complete and large parts thereof
9Larger assembled units (some motor parts, dynamos, hydraulics regulators, relay box)

It is not clear (to me) whether it was necessary at that time to use the whole reference, for instance 2M 5 402 933 H, when ordering, or if it was sufficient with the original number 5 402 933.

Even this classification was replaced already after a year or so, by the spare part groups that have been in use ever since, with the 8 groups. Two groups were added and the groups were altered a bit in the 90'es, but by and large this is the classification we have had up to the present. This classification is based on where the parts belong on the vehicles, and since this was a whole new principle, you might think that this had nothing to do the the organization of the stock.

Nevertheless, this again did actually have something to do with the organization of the stock - at least when this new classification started. Evidence of this can be found in the first catalogues having this classification (D model catalogue no. 611 from 01/72 and the H catalogue no. 615, also from 1972). Here, you find different telephone extension numbers for each spare parts group, which leads one to believe that each group has had its own separate desk.

These telephone extension numbers disappeared again from the catalogues during 1973, but the classification stayed in use ever since, even though the stock and spare parts service undoubtedly has been re-organized many times during the years. But since then, this has been invisible to the customers.