Going into the back catalogue has been a popular, sometimes successful, sometimes less so, practice for the industry for twenty or more years. The Mini, Beetle, Ford Thunderbird, Jaguar S Type, Chrysler 300, Fiat 500 and Rolls-Royce Phantom are all examples of it, to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps three of these ideas have really flown, the others less so. But what about a brand with a history for innovation and modernity? Could Citroen pull it off? With a new technology to suit?
The original Citroen Mehari can be seen a cross between a 2CV or Dyane and a beach buggy, with a slightly more utilitarian and practical twist. A pickup with no doors and folding roof, rather than a pure beach play thing.
The original 1968 car was a plastic body placed on a Citroen Dyane chassis, and powered by the familiar 602cc flat twin engine. The one piece plastic body served in pickup or four seat open passenger form with flexible side screens and roof. The screen was flat, the interior simple to say the least and the summer time appeal of it on the south coast of France obvious. They are still around now, 32 years after production ended, being used as they were intended. If I lived in Provence or Languedoc….
Now cast your mind back to, say, 2015. Citroen was in a bit of a rut, product wise. Cars like the C1, the second generation C3 and C5, and the almost invisible C4 were not making any waves. Peugeot had ambitions for the DS range, to the extent that it would become a separate free stranding brand (not Citroen DS, but DS). Citroen knew better and more distinctive, character full hardware was coming, but something to help draw attention to such actions would be useful, and while we’re doing that, let’s have electric. Renault have the Zoe…
Hence, the E-Mehari. But where did it come from? From a logistics company, of course. Spend a little time in European logistics and you’ll soon meet the name Bolloré. This is a business with interests on logistics, worldwide, but also in communications, energy and electricity storage systems, including batteries. And the best way to promote your capability at that? A battery powered car.
The result was the Bolloré Blue Summer. It was built on a sturdy steel chassis with a thermoplastic body and flexible side curtains and roof. Power came from a 30 KWh lithium battery. Performance was around 70 mph, with a range of 120 miles in city use, and recharging was 13hours from a domestic supply. Don’t worry about the open road performance – the experience was not really ideal – more than its share of roll and pitch from the high mounted body on the steel frame. Off-road, there was some potential capability and for its intended use as beach resort runabout it would be fine. Many were sold to such resorts and hotels for guest use and hire.
Inside the experience was not great – no airbags, a kit car like creak and squeak environment and a distinctly non-mainstream experience, but not necessarily in a good way. The roof took two people ten minutes to fix, and internal humidity was quick to rise.
Bolloré contracted Citroen as the manufacturer, at the plant in Rennes in Brittany. And, then, seemingly the penny dropped.
Tidy up the kit car like styling to blend with the current and incoming Citroen themes, add a fixed roof, put some chevrons on it and sell it through French Citroen dealers, using the Mehari badge, updated for 2016. The E-Mehari was born.
It was never going to be a big seller, and it has now gone from the catalogue, as has the Blue Summer. So, to see one in a French town, away from the coast, was surprise.
Novelties don’t have to be successful to be fun or appealing, within necessary contexts, and I can see the appeal of this in the right environment. Around vineyards, by the coast or in the Camargue perhaps, in the summer, no rain….exactly the circumstances for which a Citroen Mehari is still ideal.
This one is for sale in Cassis. See you there (next) summer?