All hail the immortal tin snail! We’ve covered the 2CV pretty extensively on CC already – I’ve even written one of these up myself. My recent jaunt back to France has yielded a couple of interesting variants. Things are about to get a bit slimy.
I’ll just assume the basics about the Deux Chevaux (that’s how to pronounce “2CV” in French) are known by all – otherwise, please read one of the CC posts linked at the end of this one. Suffice to say that the little Gallic gastropod has attained icon status, as exemplified by a few key numbers: a production span of 40 years, over 5 million made, 602cc at best, current value (in good condition, like the Charleston above): over €10,000, i.e. over twice the price when new.
But cold statistics mean little to explain the 2CV. It’s both extremely rational as an automotive solution, and completely left field as a phenomenon. It was almost born prematurely in late 1939, but the war forced it back in development for an additional decade, so it became a symbol of the post-war boom and finally made the horse cart obsolete in rural France.
By the mid-‘70s, though, the old snail was starting to lose some of its uniqueness. The Renault 4 was a major rival. It aped the 2CV’s best traits – crazy soft suspension, FWD, no frills, four doors – but added a rear hatch, modern styling, a slightly more capable 4-cyl. water-cooled engine and the might of Renault (i.e. the French State) behind it. Peugeot got in on the city car segment in 1972 with the 104 – though it was much more expensive than the 2CV. More ominously, various quirky imports were snapping at the snail’s heels (wherever that may be): the Fiat 500 and 126, the Mini, the Beetle and others were competing for urbanites, while Eastern invaders from beyond the Iron Curtain and Japan were sharpening their knives.
It was so pervasive that even Citroën got in on it. They attempted to upstage their own escargot by launching the Dyane in 1967 – a bizarrely tame rehash of the original, albeit with a shade less elbowroom. They followed it up with the LN in 1976 – a Peugeot 104 hatchback with a flat-twin, something of a bastard child. Not surprisingly, the 2CV survived this friendly fire as well; sales remained healthy, particularly once the Dyane’s 602cc twin was made available on the 2CV, including the van version.
The van was the 2CV range’s Achille’s heel. The Renault 4 van’s superior performance and greater hauling capacity caused the Citroën to lose momentum in that side of the race earlier. In 1970, the 2CV van was given the Dyane’s bigger engine and in 1975 the platform and suspension were beefed up slightly to increase hauling capacity to 400 kilos.
That year also saw a big change in the 2CV’s appearance, as the headlamps went rectangular – a most unfortunate development, in my view, that remained with the car for the remainder of the decade and stuck to the Club trim saloons even beyond that.
The 2CV van, however, never made it past 1977. Citroën switched the front end to the Dyane’s sheetmetal, probably to make up for the saloon’s lackluster sales. The Acadiane, as the van came to be known, outlasted the saloon and was sold, without fanfare, until 1987. The Visa-derived C15 replaced it and gave Citroën the smash hit that had eluded them in light utility vehicles until then.
But here’s the odd thing: despite the passage of time, the noisy yet feeble engine, the complete lack of passive safety and the design’s overall archaic nature, the 2CV made in to 1980, ditched the lymphatic 435cc twin for good and got something of a second (or third or fourth) wind. And that’s where the Charleston came in.
Since the mid-‘70s, Citroën made a bunch of special edition 2CVs, in a bid to shift more colorful snails for the masses. It worked a treat, but in October 1980, they launched the Charleston. They initially made 8000 units, but those literally flew out of the showrooms and some were quickly re-sold, virtually brand new, for prices higher than the MRSP. Citroën did the obvious thing and, by mid-1981, the limited edition Charleston became a full-time regular in the 2CV lineup.
The most notable difference between the initial limited run and later cars like our CC are the headlamps, which were red initially and became fully chromed. Additional two-tone combos were also available, aside from the tried and true red-and-black. The black and yellow only lasted one model year and is now sought after, but the two-tone gray that replaced it was such a hit, even Tintin used it as a moon buggy.
Inside, the Charleston had a bespoke seat material, strangely featuring a pattern shaped like a Renault logo. Other than that, the two-tone paint and the chrome hubcaps (and headlights), it was like any other 2CV. Yet it cost a little bit more than its siblings and brought in a new generation of clients to appreciate the unique delights of gastropodeical transport. An overwhelming majority of the Charleston’s buyers were under 35, which was decidedly not the case for any 2-cyl. Citroën model to date.
That didn’t preclude other limited editions to pop up regularly in an attempt to have enough people shelling out for the old snail despite its age. And it usually worked pretty well, too. They even recreated the Charleston with the Dolly in 1985, which was also gradually integrated into the range.
The Charleston stayed on as the fancy 2CV right until the end of the line – in fact, the very last 2CV made in July 1990 was a two-tone gray car. Just as the retro wave was about to hit the automobile world, the most genuinely retro car went out of production.
It was fitting, therefore, for me to find these two variants a couple weeks ago. A square-eyed ‘70s proletarian still working for a living and a restored retro-themed go-go ‘80s yuppiemobile – the duality of the 2CV personified.
Curbside Classic: 1980 Citroën 2CV 6 Spécial – Sumptuous Septuagenarian, by T87
Curbside Classic: 1948-1990 Citroen 2CV – Ceci N’est Pas Une Voiture….C’est Un Art De Vivre*, by Roger Carr
Curbside Classic: 1969 Citroen 2CV – The Most Original Car Ever, by PN
CC Roadtrip Outtake: 1964 Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette – A French Clover In Ireland, by Jim Klein
CC Capsule: 1983 Citroën 2CV6 Club – Time Goes By Faster Than You Think, by Yohai71
I bought Dyanes, they cost next to nothing, cost less then a similar 2CV when I needed wheels to run around in, but I never liked them. One of my best memories is driving home at 05.00 in the morning hungover from the mardigrass they hold south of the big rivers in Holland (where they are mainly Catholic) 4 guys not in the best of shape, February and it is darn freezing cold.
I’m struggling to keep the thing at 90 km/h fighting against the cold headwind.
All of a sudden a hughe bang, we sit out in the open sky and l see the roof being dragged behind the car.
This was a real old Dyane 4 with no windows in the C pillar and the roof simply locked from the outside in two small braces, corrosion had eaten the braces and could not hold the pressure of the wind.
The upside was that everybody was immediately sober and the incident happened just before entering Moerdijkbrug which is over 1 kilometer long.
One of my friends made the remark this was a beautifu story something to tell our future offspring, we struggeled home one guy bent over me while holding the roof.
I think I later gave the Dyane to a friend once I had replaced the engine in my Innocenti Mini Cooper.
In elementary school we had a teacher Mr Stutzman who had a 2CV. This was in the late fifties and there weren’t many foreign cars around, let alone a Citroen. We called it the Stutzmobile.
Years ago Billy Joel bought a 2CV for his wife, Christie Brinkley. A truly eclectic and enlightened choice. Also very brave. One must have tremendous confidence in one’s appeal as a husband, mate and life companion to bestow such a fine catch with such an offbeat and homely car.
Hmmmm then again, the car outlasted their marriage.
I’m a minimalist, so naturally I really like the 2CV, and could really see having one.
My room mate had one when I was at university. Yellow. It was a fun car to have around. Primitive. Slow. It worked because around the city, few needed to travel faster than 50 kilometre an hour. It was like riding in a big kiddie car. It wasn’t the daily driver, (no one drove daily anywhere – we rode our bikes), so it sat in the parking pad to tinker around in just for fun.
Everything about it is like a toy. It is hard to believe it was every used as a vehicle.
I have a toy version of the Charleston. It was a very popular vehicle, in a similar manner as the Harlequin VW vehicles were popular.
Oh – in German, we called them “Ente” – the German word for “Duck”. Kaefir and Ente. Oddly, I knew guys with Ente and Trabi, but none of them had an Kaefir.
Is not the Van like the one Inspector Clousseau used while in disguise to “fix the telefeune”
I first became aware of 2CVs in 1964 when my family took a trip to Europe to visit my aunt who was with the Canadian Forces in Germany. Because my mother did not like flying, we took a Cunard liner (Carmania) from Montreal to Southampton., spent some time there and then to Netherlands. It was there that I first saw lots of 2CVs. We did have small cars like Minis and Fiats at home, but nothing like this. The photo is of one in Rotterdam. I was amazed that you could produce a useful car that was so minimal.
At the end of our trip we were in Dinard in Brittany. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo, but at a marina I saw some people with a 2CV load a huge outboard motor where the back seat would normally be. It was probably several times the power of the Citroen and caused the rear of the car to sink about 6 inches, but it still drove away.
I remained interested in 2CVs and in 1992 I bought a 1983 version, very similar to this, except for the colour and the upholstery. I still have it, and it is my daily driver in the summer. With the 602 it can keep up with traffic, except on the expressways. Very few repairs, except for a new frame 3 years ago and repairing some rust in the floor. Now that I am retired, I had the time to do the frame myself, and it was straightforward and very satisfying.
I like the 2 CV as a unique solution to basic transportation. I am less enamored of its later life as a lifestyle accessory, I also like the old Citroen ad that claimed the 2CV had central locking because the driver could easily reach all four door locks.
While I would like something 2CV for fun, a GSA or CX is much further up the wish list.
A couple of 2CV memories:
My high-school English teacher in mid-1970s Montreal drove an old 2CV – French cars were always more common in Quebec than in the rest of the continent. She replaced it with a Renault 5L (the base model, with a push-pull dashboard gearshift like the 2CV).
When I moved to the UK around 1990, I borrowed a co-worker’s 2CV Club to take my driving test in London. It groaned slightly as I went over bumps, and she had left random items in the back which rattled and caused the driving examiner to look back nervously, but I enjoyed it and I passed the test.
I remember that driving a 2CV was definitely a matter of conserving momentum. You could corner surprisingly quickly, albeit at extreme roll angles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5x9zCO6jsI
Four years ago, I wrote the comment about my father’s 1986 Citroën 2CV Charleston in same colour and trim as the featured car. Initially, my mum wanted this type of car after my parents repatriated to Germany in 1992 so my father bought one for her. The car proved to be very reliable and always got us everywhere regardless.
In 2004, the 2CV was involved in a chain collision so my father spent lot of time and energy repairing the collision damage. He replaced the entire floorpan and did lot of welding and painting to make the car roadworthy again.
After my father passed away in 2016, he didn’t leave a will or testament, dictating what to do with his estate. My brother and I decided to keep the 2CV, even paying for annual registration, insurance, and garage space. We had planned to touch up the car, giving it much needed polish and minor cosmetic repair. Nothing too expensive than €200 to do the job.
Unfortunately, my mum sold the car for less than the actual value of €8,000 without our knowledge or any communication with us. She cited the advice from the owner of repair centre that the car wasn’t worth much in this “deplorable” condition. He had arranged the sale to a couple who wanted 2CV so badly and for so cheap. We called it “widow’s discount special” and were very angry about the whole macabre.
The same owner later persuaded my mum to give away our 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL for free. He pointed out so many “mechanical issues” that it wasn’t worth fixing despite the car being in excellent condition. A few years later in 2019, we spotted our car in the classified ad for €6,400. From what we could discern, it didn’t cost much more than €500 to get the car roadworthy again. Unfortunatley, our car quickly disappeared from the radar after we made the legal complaint against the seller who claimed he was handling the consignment and had no liability. We have no idea to this day where our car is.
She claimed that my father gave her both cars as birthday presents despite the titles being in his name, meaning she had “rights” to dispose the cars however she wanted. Accord to the German estate laws, my brother and I were entitled half of estate (meaning we own 50% of each car) and could approve or decline any sales. The legal battle is still going on to this day against the owner. She has profoundly regretted the whole matter because she was listening to the others than to us. It has strained the mother-son relationship badly ever since.
It wasn’t matter of financial investment or money for us. It was matter of sentimental value for me and my brother. It was matter of people taking advantages of widows for financial gains.
The moral of story: if you really love your cars and want them in the “safe hands” after you pass away, please make it very clear in the will and testament what to do with those cars. Thanks.
I’m so sorry to hear that.
Lovely memories of the 2CV. I had a slow 2CV4 as my first car. Lots of fun with it for the year I had it. I would not mind owning one again.
I have a friend with 6 of these, in various forms and states of worthiness and completion.
It’s that sort of car.
I’ve had a 66 2-CV for 37 years. Bought in Belgium, shipped to Baltimore & driven home to Gurner, IL. Never any problems. People look at it more than my 56 Porsche Speedster. It’s also much more comfortable.
Have been looking for a Traction Avant (Citroen). Incredible engineering, designed & built from 1934 to 1957. Great engineering.