Cohort Classic: Citroen Ami 6 – The Greatest Ugly Car Ever?

(first posted 5/10/2017)    These photos, posted on the CC Cohort by nifty43 (nifticus) and taken in Vancouver in March this year, confirm one thing, I suggest, and without much debate. The Citroen Ami 6 was ugly. I suggest it was also a great car, worthy of its place in the CC Roll of Honour, and justifiably covered earlier on CC in some detail. But it will always deserve another outing.

The Ami was intended to partly fill the gap in the Citroen range between the basic, utilitarian 2CV and the large, technically innovative Citroen ID and DS range, two cars which define Citroen to this day. This gap was actually very large – imagine that between a Mini and Austin Westminster, but as Citroen effectively controlled the Panhard range Citroen were really the filing the gap between the 2CV and the Panhard PL17. Panhard were also assembling 2CVs for Citroen, and Citroen, through then parent Michelin, assumed full control of Panhard in 1967. The PL17 had an 848cc air-cooled flat twin, and competed with cars such as SIMCA Aronde and Renault Dauphine.

Citroen has a wonderful history, which includes several fascinating projects and prototypes which never saw the light of day, but in this case went to a familiar source for the raw material – the 2CV. The Ami 6 was the first derivative of the 2CV to come to market. It was known internally as the 3CV, and had to meet some tight constraints from the Citroen board.

These included a large boot, seating for five, no longer than 4m (about 13ft), a saloon not hatchback format, and a strict budget. The solution was to take a 2CV chassis, including its interconnected suspension and flat twin engine format, and fit a new body over it. This was styled, as were the 2CV, DS and H van, by Flamino Bertoni who used some unusual and innovative ideas.

To meet the five passenger requirement, the rear window had a reverse rake, as seen on the 1957 Mercury Montclair and Ford Anglia for example. This effectively raised the height of the trailing edge of the roof, and also allows a longer boot lid. At the front, Bertoni used rectangular headlights, in what was the first use of such lights. The original intention was that these would be blended smoothly in to the front wing and fascia, directly above the bumper, resulting in a much sleeker front appearance. However, not for the first time in such things, the prevailing French regulations required them to be higher. For the French market, they were always fitted with yellow bulbs. Plusher Ami Club models had a four headlamp set up, also seen on the North American market cars. This signals that the feature car is some type of private import

As a direct consequence, the front profile was changed, and the distinctive dip between the headlamps appeared. Between the imposed front and the trailing edge of the roof, the styling was actually relatively tame, and the rear end itself fairly restrained, albeit with the panle gaps giving a fair idea of how the car was assembled. But the front and the roof, and the stance, dictated the look and the reaction, which usually involved an open mouth, perhaps matching the front grille. But what would you have expected from Citroen?

The Ami 6 (French for friend) came to market in late 1960. As well as the looks, many other Citroen features were there – the 2CV’s suspension and umbrella gear lever sprouting from the dash, a single spoke steering and some switchgear from the DS, on a dashboard significantly more conventional than a 2CV.

Power was 20 bhp from 602cc, compared with the contemporary 2CV’s 435cc, and 102kph (about 65 mph) was possible, if the road was long enough. But like many French cars, you didn’t have to slow much for corners, and average speeds could be deceptively high.

An estate version came in 1964, styled by Robert Opron, father of the Citroen SM, GS and CX, and later the Renault 25, 9 and 11/AMC Alliance and Encore. The estate style addressed the roof issue very successfully, even if the front was unchanged. Power was slowly rising, reaching 35 bhp in 1968.

In 1969, Citroen gave us the Ami 8, with more Opron restyling and featuring a hatchback and inboard front disc brakes, in a car that appeared to be a direct rival to the Renault 6.

The estate continued, though this was also now sold as the Ami 8.

There was one last version – the 1973 Ami Super fitted with the 55 bhp 1015cc flat four air cooled engine from the Citroen GS. This created a sort of Q car – according to my friend Tony who has a Super (one of seven left in the UK) as part of a large selection of 2CVs and Amis to choose from, you can still surprise other drivers with it. Few, it seems, expect a 2CV in its best suit to go quite like that.

In all, Citroen built 1.8 million Amis of all types, between 1961 and 1978, a number not to be ignored on its own, and in addition to 6.7 million 2CVs, vans, Dyanes and other derivatives.

When you factor in the 1.8 million examples, the comfort, the economy, the surprising real world performance and the enduring nature of the car’s appeal (you will still many examples in daily service in France), I suggest you could nominate it as a great car.

But still ugly.