But there's more to the appeal of promotional vehicles of yesterday. They were awesome and bonkers not only because they stepped outside the lines of what was then considered the norm to attract attention but because, in so doing, they paved the way for innovation. Sometimes, you have to destroy something to create. Far from going for pure shock value just to catch the eye, these vehicles dared to stand out by improving on what was already available or, in some rare cases, creating a new product altogether.
The Cityrama Curus bus didn't lead to the creation of a new product because it was not a viable proposition in the long run, but it did stand out for being different and innovative. Widely referred to online as the most bonkers bus in the world, the Cityrama, or the Cityrama Currus Citroen 55 bus by its full name, was introduced in the 1950s in Paris and, despite its many shortcomings, lingered around for three decades before fading away into obscurity.
Jean-Louis Dubreuil, the founder of Cityrama, personally went to see Albert Lemaitre, the technical director of established specialist shop Currus. Dubreuil was very specific in his request: he wanted a bus that featured as much glass as possible for maximum visibility, had a double-decker configuration, and resembled no other bus around.
Lemaitre decided to use the chassis of the Citroen C55 truck, which had been introduced just years earlier and was offered with a choice of gas or diesel engine (a 4.6-liter gasoline straight six developing 73 hp, or a 5.2-liter diesel six with 86 hp), and three wheelbases.
To further add to the futuristic design, Currus painted a bright red detail on the bottom part of the bus, which wrapped up in a sort of wing at the rear that's often compared to a handle of some sort. Over the cab is the most pointed – and most pointless – fin that sticks out. The design seems random for the combination of dissociated elements, but it worked in real life. It certainly met the Dubreuil's demands because it was unlike anything else on the Parisian tourist circuit.
More than just looks, the bus delivered innovation. With seating for 50 passengers in a 30+20 configuration across the two decks, it came with headphones integrated into the headrest, offering audio guides in 7 or 8 different languages. Buttons on the armrest allowed tourists to choose their preferred language as they enjoyed the sights and the complimentary refreshments in their reclining seats.
Popularity aside, the Cityrama bus was far from perfect. As you probably anticipated, this much glazing turned the space into a greenhouse on wheels for both tourists and the engine. The first units featured a single grille on the front, but within a couple of years, it became clear that an upgrade was needed to better cool the engine. A second grille was added, and then a third, and then a fourth, which was actually an oil cooler, taking the design from futuristic into silly territory.
When one of these buses burned down to a crisp on a Parisian street due to overheating, Cityrama had had enough. Four years after the big debut of the bus, Cityrama was phasing it out, adding new iterations to the fleet that resembled traditional sightseeing buses. Still, the original buses remained in operation alongside the new ones for nearly three decades, when they simply vanished.
The last Cityrama bus is property of the Association Normande d'Anciens Utilitaires (ANAU) and is currently under restoration at Normandy Classics. As the video below shows, the initial estimate for the restoration was of four years, so assuming everything goes to plan, the Cityrama Currus bus will be seen again in 2026. This time, in a condition that will bring back those glorious '50s memories – but not the heavy smoking.