COAL: #1 Citroen 2CV – A Perfect Student’s Car

 Note the canvas top rolled all the way rearwards. A much valued quality of the 2CV


My first real car! I briefly owned a car just before this one but I never got that on the road.

This 2CV I actually repaired, drove and used for a period of time. It left a big impression on me. It is such a weird device, not to be compared to any other car. A form of transport, almost not a car but some kind between a motor cycle and a proper car. I will always love 2CVs.

In the early and mid eighties I was working Saturdays at a Volvo specialist. To get parts, or food or deliver something I would use the company’s old 2CV van. I greatly enjoyed driving that and asked Tom if I could buy the van from him but no, it was still too useful for the company. But Tom could see my affection to the 2CV and one day he informed me he knew of a 2CV for sale cheap. Say no more!

This 11 year old, light blue with a dark grey canvas roof, Citroen 2CV4 was bought for DFL 50,- (around $20). Scrap money because that was where the car would go to if I did not take it. It was so cheap because it had been stolen and recovered. The keys were missing as were its front drum brakes. Very strange! Note its registration was four numbers followed by “SM” as its last digits – I was the owner of a Citroën SM!

Looking back now I cannot remember ever having a look at its chassis or floor. We did not have a yearly inspection so the car could well be pretty rotten. Good thing I did not knew it then.


On the drive of my parents house in front of the metal garage. The house was bought new in 1960 without garage. A few years later a metal garage was raised on a concrete floor. As kids we used the garage to throw in the fireworks (and closing the door) as igniting in this big metal shell made the fireworks sound much louder. Happy memories


The first task at hand was to call in the help of my friend Frank, who owned a Mini at the  time. We towed the “lelijke eend” (“ugly duck”) as it is called in the Netherlands to the Volvo specialist. Second hand brake drums were found at a scrap yard. A simple switch was mounted to the underside of the small dashboard out of sight to switch on the ignition – these 2CVs had a separate starter switch. I never bothered to repair the door and trunk locks.

The front door windows were in two halves. The lower half could be flipped open, its lower rear edge would meet a catch on the top right of the door. This should hold the window up. You had to be careful with this because in my car this catch did not always do that. I have had two or three occasions where, my arm leaning out of the window, the lower half would fall unexpected down on my arm.

As a poor students car, the 2CV could not be bettered. It was frugal on fuel, cheap on tax because it was so light, cheap to insure because its new price was low, parts were cheap and readily available from scrapyards. I loved visiting scrapyards where you could see cars from an earlier era. Those days, forty years ago, scrapyards were big fields with cars scattered around, often dumped on top of another, and you could go there and remove a part yourself. Not very safe but that was part of the fun.



The 2CV is a slow car. Its top speed was around 100 km/h (60 mph). Mine was the slow 2CV4 version, there also was a 2CV6 which had a little more power. But it did not matter to me. My little brother also loved the car. With the top all rolled back, he would stand up on the rear bench holding the horizontal roof bar while I drove with (relatively) great speed.

Driving a 2CV is a unique, hilarious experience. In order to go with the (traffic) flow, you always have to go as fast as possible. Gear change is by moving and twisting a handle which comes out of the dashboard horizontally. Brakes are quite good. It has excellent simple and very soft seats. Bad roads do not exist because the soft suspension eats away every bump. Even on those skinny Michelins, roadholding is very good but there is MUCH leaning in the corners.

About that leaning… Ten years earlier, on Saturday mornings my father often helped out his brother who owned a liquor store in our town. My father would deliver boxes of wine, cases of beer and soft drinks to farms, cafes and hotels in the surrounding area, using the red 2CV van my uncle had. Whenever possible (meaning always) my older brother and myself would come along, sitting in the rear on top of the metal rear wheel arches between the various cases. We screamed to my father to go faster, faster round the corners! The car would roll a lot and the crates of beer, and boxes of wine would slide across the floor. In the back of the van we would scream with joy and try not to fall to the floor. Excellent memories. A little dangerous maybe.


Saw this 1977 van on the street only last week. For some years the 2CV were fitted with rectangular lamps. What were they thinking, more modern?


When I moved from my parents home to a student flat, the 2CV proved to be useful transport. There is a lot of space once the rear bench is removed (which is easily done). I lived with two other students, one owned a light vomit colored Citroen Dyane which basically is a 2CV but with a slightly different body. He had owned the Dyane for some time, it was a bit rough round the edges. There was no way we could afford to have cars serviced so everything was done by ourselves. Each summer on a hot day, he would do something special. He put on overalls and safety glasses and smeared and injected old engine oil which he had saved onto the underside, floors and chassis of his Dyane. Then let it soak in for a day. Some (OK – a lot) of the oil eventually dripped onto the parking space so he was careful to pick a place in a corner of the parking area at our flat. When the Dyane was removed, it left a much darker parking space.


A similar Dyane to the one my flat mate owned. Except the one he had was an uglier color. Flickr picture (Evert)


One day, my car would not go over 50 km/h and acceleration, which was always slow but now impossibly so. Something was wrong but what? My brother suggested one cylinder did not work, which was 50% of the engine, of course the top speed would be halved as well. A nice thought but probably too simplistic! Whatever, I could not find the cause and even Frank, my Mini friend who was much better at car mechanics did not know. But he knew someone who had a good spare engine for only DFL 50,- (which was the exact amount I paid for the car 8 months earlier). The good thing is that the engine of a 2CV is really lightweight, two air cooled cylinders in an aluminium block. We picked up the engine (using the Volvo specialist 2CV van) and at the garage it was just a long days work to replace the engine. It was a good switch because the car seemed much faster now. I always suspected I got an engine from a 2CV6.


A refurbished engine. It can be picked up by one person easily.


One day in the autumn, the weather was quite bad, rain, wind, the small wipers could barely cope, I drove at full speed (of course) on the motorway (meaning behind the trucks) when I had a frightening experience. Without any warning suddenly the canvas roof flew open and flapped vigourously behind the car. I immediately knew what happened. There always had been a small tear at the front of the canvas roof but it was not big enough to leak too much into the car so I had ignored it. A gust of wind must have caught the tear and the roof was ripped off in a second.

After tucking in the roof behind the rear bench I got home, soaking wet. My flat mates did not stop laughing. Luckily the damage was not expensive. Scanning the scrapyards the next Saturday I found an intact, cheap replacement roof from a damaged car.

I only owned the 2CV for a year or so until my other car was ready for the road. It may have been only a short period but the 2CV is one car I will never forget. I could not afford to have two taxed and insured cars so the 2CV was sold for DFL 450,-. I had bought it for 50 so made a 900% profit. Must be a record!


No room for my fathers Mitsubishi Galant on his drive. The 2CV gives away the primary space to its replacement.


Regrettably I never really came across a good cheap 2CV again. They are quite flimsy cars and once the chassis starts to rust it rapidly becomes dangerous. A new law in the Netherlands introduced two years later diminished most of the 2CVs. The law insisted that all cars should have a yearly inspection which proved to be the death for old rusty cars.

There always have been good 2CVs on the market but too expensive to buy as a fun car. Now while the majority has gone, survivors do exist and you still see them on the roads here (over 30 years after the last one was built). They are even more expensive now but a good thing is that most have had their chassis replaced by a galvanised chassis.

Top Tip. Whenever you are in the Netherlands, book time to rent a 2CV for a day. There are a few companies who do this. Driving a 2CV is a must have done experience for every car enthusiast.

More reading about the Citroen 2CV (click on the author):

Paul Niedermeyer –

Roger Carr –

Tatra87 –