Here we go again with the plastic Cit. We’ve seen the Citroën Méhari on CC a few times – I’ve committed a full-length post on the subject myself, but that was a while back. But that was a pretty ripe series 1 car, whereas what we have here is a pristine series 2, which I caught in its natural Western European habitat last month. So I think it’s worth a second look.
Said natural habitat was an Alpine town in Haute-Savoie, not too far from the Swiss border. We think of these as beach cars, but they are also pretty good climbers, if you’re not in a hurry. Not a great winter weather car, of course, but then neither are most 2-cyl. Citroëns, with their fabric roofs and minimal heating. That said, due to their lightness and front-drive, 2CVs and their numerous variants are able to rival many 4x4s in snowy conditions.
But the summer is when these cars really come into their own – the Méhari in particular. Mr Justy Baum, whose musings, opinions and aphorisms are always (sometimes?) a source of mirth for CC readers and contributors, recently compared the Citroën Méhari to a small swimming pool on wheels. (Author’s note: at this point, I might signal for the benefit of those of a dour disposition, impervious to irony, allergic to allegory and/or otherwise zygomatically challenged, that most of the rest of this post is not to be taken absolutely literally. In other words: I’m mostly kidding from here on.)
Here are Justy’s own words on the matter: “It’s got to be just cool to buzz about in an unfenced fiberglass swimming-pool, even if that’s only when it’s hot and not raining, and especially because of this: as motorized pool molds go, it’s also got to be near the top five for sheer style.” I must confess that the idea made me chuckle (Mr Baum’s intent, no doubt), but is as always the case with the best bons mots, there was a kernel of genius in the delirium. Move over, bathtub Nash! Head to port, Amphicar! The Schwimmtroën Méhari is taking the road.
If any car were to be made as a functional self-propelled pool, the Méhari would probably be the best starting point. I remember they did something on Top Gear that was slightly in that ball park: they filled three British Leyland cars up with water and drove them to see which one fared best, i.e. which would leak the least water (the winner was the Princess saloon, if memory serves). But that was done in England and in closed cars. Not exactly what we’re discussing here, then.
Having water just about waist-deep inside a Méhari would be pretty nice, given decent weather conditions. The seats in this particular example would probably not enjoy being immersed for very long – something would need to be done about that. And obviously, despite their high sills, the doors would need to be welded shut. But other than that, I’m not foreseeing too many problems.
Well, perhaps the electrics would require a bit of sorting out – just a modicum of extra protection, to avoid shorting the car (or its occupants). But the rest of the Méhari’s controls lend themselves pretty well to the exercise: the handbrake and gear lever are mounted on the dash. There are a few holes to be plugged if we wanted to fill the car; it was designed to be washable with a water jet, so there are bound to be drains to deal with somewhere. Nothing a few strategically-placed corks can’t address, surely (as the bishop said to the actress).
Of course, one of the issues we are going to run into with this liquid-cooled passenger compartment is going to be centrifugal in nature. The suspension of the Méhari is notoriously soft and can roll a lot when taking turns. So it’ll be interesting to see how much water escapes by sloshing over the edge in tight bends. Like an infinity pool, but without the infinity bit.
(Switching back to something a bit more fact-based now, if only for a couple paragraphs…) The series 2, launched in 1978, is characterized by its revamped grille, which could now be used to access the distributor cap more easily (to do this, series 1 cars required the whole front end to be unscrewed from the structure), as well as front disc brakes. Inside, the 2CV-sourced instrument binnacle was ditched in favour of a more modern-looking set-up hewn from the best-forgotten Citroën LN.
Also in 1979, albeit near the end of the model year, the 4×4 version was launched. Unlike the 2CV Sahara of the early ‘60s, which had an unusual “twin-twin” set-up (i.e. two 2-cyl. engines, one for each axle), the Méhari 4×4 used the regular front-mounted 602cc 29hp engine also found in our feature car, but added a transfer case, a transmission and a rear differential, among many other differences, to turn the peaceful plastic pool into an all-conquering all-terrain Tupperwarrior. The French army did buy a few, but the model failed to catch on.
Perhaps because by this point in time, the Méhari (and the whole Citroën air-cooled twin range) started to feel past its prime. The Méhari’s best year had been 1974. The model plateaued at about 9000 units per year for the rest of the ‘70s, but production numbers really nosedived after 1980. To be fair, the same thing happened to the Renault Rodéo and the Mini Moke. Pool-shaped cars were on the way out. Still, because the Méhari was based on the 2CV van chassis and bits of the Dyane, it lasted as long as said van, i.e. all the way to 1987.
Nowadays, the Méhari is as popular as ever. An outgrowth of the Marseille-based owner’s club even manufactures new plastic body panels now, as well as other bits and pieces necessary for the restoration of your old Méhari, or even the transformation of a 2CV van into one. Given that millions of Citroën flat-twins were made during four decades, the supply of engines and other chassis bits is not a concern for the foreseeable future.
So, what do we reckon about Justy’s notion of a Citrosplash Méta-hari? J’accuzzi the distinguished Mr Baum of putting this seductive yet impossible notion into our CCollective imagination, thereby creating a new aquamobilistic niche that will always remain a pipe dream. Justy, mate, sorry but it just won’t hold water!
But as dry goods, this little thing would be a fantastic way to putter about in the summertime. Sunbathing is this car’s natural function, even as one is melodically lulled by the flat-twin’s distinctive high-pitched buzz and gently rocked by the marshmallow-soft suspension. Keep it a beach car, or pool the other one.
Curbside Classic: 1974 Citroën Méhari – Plastic Frenchtastic, by T87
CC Outtake: Greetings From Venice – Citroën Méhari, by PN
Let’s Celebrate The Citroën Méhari’s 45th Birthday With Some Vintage Publicity Shots, by PN
Cohort Outtake: Citroën Méhari – Minimalist Motoring, Or The Anti-1959 Cadillac, by PN
I would love one of these, but as there are only two in New Zealand (as I understand), I think it would take a level of commitment that I just don’t have. Even 2CVs are rare and pretty much unaffordable here, although I see that they’re pretty pricey elsewhere in the world as well.
Colin Furze did a fairly comprehensive guide to turning your car into a hot tub https://youtu.be/p3TPPGb1X8A
I live in Virginia Beach. The north end of the beach has some very high real estate values and many luxurious homes. Not all of them can be oceanfront though, so there needs to be a way for neighbors to get beach access without making the general public feel at all welcome. To that purpose, public parking is non existent. Meanwhile, the beach access cuts between the oceanfront houses are broad and beautiful, featuring neatly mowed grass. They’re also covered most summer days with uniformly angle-parked two-row golf karts. I wonder if I could get away with parking a Mehari among the LSVs? I actually think the Mehari looks even friendlier with the giant sealed beam headlights of the US version.
Here in Uruguay, Meharis were pretty popular (sold from ’71 to ’81, from ’79 on with the “Ranger” option of a fiberglass roof, all based on the original series). They were used on the beaches, of course, and for rural, bad roads. But as one of the least expensive vehicles available, it was commonly purchased just as a car, and it was probably just as if not more common than the 2CV. All the maladies described were present in our version, and I don’t think it would be wise to drive one today without a 360 degree vision camera…..those left are used for “des loisirs” as the Auto Catalogue said, i.e., for fun. There are a couple shops that exclusively fix these contraptions, and they furnish every fiberglass piece needed to make one almost from scratch. When new, or almost new, it was a common occurrance that due to the bad storage methods and lack of paint the tube chassis would break at the front and the little 2 CV based fiberglass cars (Mehari and Ami) would be left snout and traction wheels up in the street.
My mother and her husband had a Series 1 Mehari as their everyday ride when they lived in rural Alaska, commuting distance to Anchorage. Turns out it was perfect for traversing the semi-solid weedy mess of off-road areas around there, and very handy in winter as well … since they were always bundled up in parkas anyway. Their other vehicle was a huge RV; the Mehari was meant to be towed behind that on long trips, but as back-up cameras had not been developed yet that proved unworkable. So when they’d decided to come South the Mehari was sold off. They did have many stories of cross-country jaunts through the muskeg swamps, usually with plenty of beer on board. Too bad I’d left Alaska years before …
There’s probably something to be said for not getting too warm during extreme cold conditions when you’re wearing enough gear to be out removing snow. Did anyone make a hard top for the Mehari?
I just want to comment on the wonderful word “Tupperwarrior” 🙂
Like a Corvette but without the style or fuel comsumption
I am quite taken literally.
Btw, having owned several French cars in winter, I can assure all here present that they all did indeed hold water (except within the confines of the cooling systems), but it is true too that I have never seen a Mehari in the plastic to properly judge its effectiveness in this most French of fields.
In barely-related trivia, it’s not well-known that Matra made a one-off of these in 1980, presumably for a show, tizzied-up with exotic floormats and stuff and bit tastelessly titled after the famous exotic WW1 dancer and spy (presumably as some play on words). It supposedly still exists here in Melbourne, of all places, owned by that slightly-crazy high-society milliner Harold, but I’ve personally never spied Harry the mad hatter’s matted Matra-made Mata Hari Mehari.