Seventy years ago, in the fall of 1948, Citroën unveiled the most iconic small car France had ever seen to a universally frosty and skeptical reception by automotive pundits. The 2CV has had its time in the sun on CC a few times already, but when I chanced upon this one back in the home country recently, I couldn’t just pass it by. And there’s a birthday to celebrate. So let’s see what there might be left to say about this little tin snail.
More than most cars, the 2CV has several potential birth dates. The car was presented to the public in 1948, but not its engine. The first production cars actually made it to the streets in mid-1949 (only about 900 units that year), but the 2CV was much older than that; The project kicked off in 1935, when Michelin bought out Citroën, whose launch of the Traction Avant had been the straw that broke the firm’s financial back. The new boss, Pierre Michelin, followed his family’s dream of a real French people’s car – an idea that was very much in the zeitgeist of the day. The project began with a large survey of potential users, which was as broad as possible. Farmers, women, young people, urban professionals, day-trippers and civil servants were canvassed for their opinions and wishes regarding economy cars. Armed with this data, Michelin and his VP for Citroën, Pierre Boulanger, defined the brief of the TPV (Très Petite Voiture or Very Small Car) as capable of transporting two farmers, 50 kilos of potatoes or a barrel of wine plus a basket of eggs across plowed fields without breaking an egg, with a maximum speed of 60kph and at an average of 3 litres of gasoline per 100km (78 mpg).
Pierre Michelin died in a car crash on the road to Michelin HQ in 1937 and was replaced by Pierre Boulanger as CEO of Citroën. By now, several prototypes were buzzing around Citroën’s secret proving grounds at La Ferté-Vidame. The TPV as it was in 1937-38 was quite different from what the 2CV ended up being. The flat-twin 375cc engine, closely based on BMW motorcycle plants, was water-cooled and mated to a 3-speed gearbox. The suspension was all-torsion bar – but it employed eight bars. Some of the chassis was made of magnesium and the body was made of aluminium alloy; only the wings were made in steel. Only one headlamp was mandated by French legislation, so only one was included – same with the windshield wiper. There was no electric starter: some cars tried a lawn-mower-type string starter, but the final prototypes had a crank handle.
The car was deemed good enough to be launched by mid-1939. It would be the star of the Paris Motor Show in October. Production of about 250 cars was ordered and publicity material was getting designed and printed. Then everything was aborted when France and Britain declared war on Germany in early September. All but a handful of the original 2CVs were destroyed rather than fall into German hands. In 1941, Boulanger ordered an internal audit of the 2CV programme that recommended a number of changes for the car to be viable post-war. The real cost of building the 1939 2CVs had been 40% over its estimation, the audit found. With aluminium and magnesium prices set to stay high after the war, the 2CV would need to be redesigned in steel.
A number of other changes were implemented during the 2CV’s second gestation, from 1942 to 1948. The engineering team persuaded Boulanger to have a fourth gear, so that the little engine could be used with more flexibility. Quirks such as the hammock-style seats, which literally hung from the car’s ceiling, were also ditched in favour of less adventurous solutions. The engine was completely reworked by Walter Becchia, who came from Talbot-Lago. Becchia initiated the change to air-cooling for the little twin, which measured at just 325cc and only provided 9 hp (DIN). The suspension was completely new too, with a very clever system that perfectly filled the brief for not breaking eggs (for more details, I heartily recommend Paul’s CC post). The brake pedal also actuated the rear brakes now, as opposed to the original car’s cable-operated handbrake for the rear. An electric starter also found its way under the hood.
But the most obvious change was the 2CV’s esthetics. The use of extremely thin-gauge steel dictated that large pressings such as the hood would have to be corrugated. Having had zero input (as per Boulanger’s wishes) into the original 2CV, Citroën head designer Flaminio Bertoni was now given a chance to do something about the car’s looks. Initially, the cyclops headlamp was still a feature, though now integrated within the hood / grille. But the blatantly skinflint image, coupled with export concerns, soon mandated two headlamps. But Boulanger wanted the cheapest kind – the old pod style. Bertoni managed to give the little car a more rounded face thanks to puffier front wings and a better-defined grille, as well as skirted rear wings that would become a signature Citroën feature for decades.
The 2CV really was an instant hit, though its father Pierre Boulanger barely saw it: in late 1950, he had a fatal car crash on the same road as his predecessor did. It took Citroën years to get through the backlog of orders – the waiting list stretched to five years in the early ‘50s. Every year, from 1949 to 1961, production increased.
Citroën introduced a 2CV van version, which soon accounted for a quarter of 2CV sales. A slightly more elaborate sister car, the Dyane, was launched in 1967 to try and push the 2CV out to pasture. But by 1970, the old car was back at the top of the sales chart. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Citroën produced over 200,000 small twin-cylinder cars and vans per year – not counting the Ami 6 / 8 and Méhari.
By 1980, the 2CV was in its fourth decade – a long time for any car. And sales began to wane slowly, as export markets also dried up or even banned the 2CV. The saloon’s sales went below six figures, hovered for a couple of years, then settled around 55,000 units from 1983 to 1986 and gradually plunged below the 10,000 mark for the car’s last model year, 1990.
So let’s take a look at the one I found in a bit more detail. It wears a lovely “jade green” (as per Citroën’s terminology) that was only available from 1979 to 1983. This is a terrific colour, which would not look amiss on a late ‘50s car. Orange or pea green 2CVs are also very nice, but this one looks older than it actually is because of its pastel hue.
The 2CV 6 Spécial was the one above the base model in the ‘70s. The “6” meant the engine was the Ami 6 / 8 twin, which was a blistering 602cc and 29 hp (DIN). The “Spécial” meant that it had the most basic finish. The 2CV Spécial (without the “6”) was the base model until 1979, with the smaller 435cc engine. The pointlessness of having to make three different flat-twins (435, 602 and 652cc) at the same time dawned on Citroën and by 1980, the 602cc twin was the only engine available on the 2CV. More “luxurious” versions included the Club and the limited edition Charleston with two-tone paintwork and more chrome.
The real difference with the more elaborate trim levels is the Spécial’s interior, which used a tiny little speedo that hadn’t changed since 1963 and a cheaper two-spoke steering wheel. The right-hand stalk turns on the lights, just like its ancestors did in every Traction Avant since 1934. The 2CV Club has a bigger horizontal dial from the Ami series and plusher upholstery. I concur with the original buyer on his choice – why spend money on fancy gadgets when you’re buying the simplest and cheapest car around?
Aesthetically, the 2CV had changed a bit from its original presentation by the ‘70s. In 1954, government-mandated turn signals and rear lights were incorporated; rear bootlids started to appear in the late ‘50s. The first big change was the new hood and grille, introduced in 1961 by Bertoni. The corrugated hood, with its retro louvres, was given the boot except for the low-production 4×4 Sahara model, with its famous rear-mounted second flat-twin.
The Belgian 2CVs introduced a nicely shaped C-pillar quaterlight on their deluxe model, which was soon optional on French-built cars as well. The front doors switched to non-suicide / front-hinged configuration in 1965; five years later, the Ami 6 Club’s trapezoidal taillights were grafted on the 2CV, necessitating a minor butt-lift. Also in 1970, all 2CVs finally got 12-volt electrics, front wing-mounted turn signals and seat belts.
In 1974, most 2CVs got square headlamps, but by 1980, round headlamps were back on all models except the Club, which hung on to them for a few more years. I have yet to find a conclusive reason behind this short-lived and aesthetically-dubious change. Did Citroën do this under duress from threatened government legislation? Was it due to the supplier? Was it an ill-thought-out idea from a distressed company? It did not harm sales, that’s for sure. But bringing the range back to round headlamps coincided with a change in Citroën’s perception of its aging entry-level model.
For in 1980, the Charleston appeared. It was a lovely limited edition two-tone car that year and the 8,000 units were eagerly snapped up in no time. The car’s incredible success led it to become a trim level within the 2CV range, a sort of posh version for the ‘80s. But it traded on its age, not on youthful appeal. From 1980 onward, the 2CV became a retro car and was marketed as such in France. Instantly, it became more of an old person’s car than anything else, associated with elderly farmers and nuns. That was certainly the case in my youth – the 2CV in France in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s was far more geriatric than in its other big export market, Germany. The only noteworthy technical modification in the ‘80s was the introduction of front disc brakes in 1981.
The 2CV went through the ‘80s with a succession of sales-boosting limited editions, such 1981’s For Your Eyes Only-themed yellow “007” complete with bullet-hole stickers, 1983’s marine-themed “France 3” seen above or the Bundesrepublik’s own “I fly Bleifrei”, announcing the car’s conversion to lead-free gasoline in 1985. But sales shrank pretty much every year regardless.
Besides, Citroën had long wanted to get rid of the Levallois plant that manufactured the 2CV. One of the first assets to be partially sold or redeveloped when Peugeot bought Citroën in 1975 was Citroën’s original Quai de Javel factory, on the left bank of the Seine. By the ‘80s, Citroën’s second-oldest factory, in the Parisian suburb of Levallois, was beyond ancient. There was zero automation in how a 2CV was put together. The factory had been making Citroëns since 1925, having been built originally by Clément-Bayard a couple of decades earlier.
There were still enough buyers to keep the 2CV in the dealerships though, so when Levallois finally closed for good in 1988, the 2CV’s labour-demanding production switched to Portugal. In 1986, Citroën launched the all-new AX supermini (originally planned as a Talbot) to replace the entire flat-twin range soon. The conjunction of the AX and the loss of domestic production meant the 2CV was done for, including its famous air-cooled flat-twin, which would no longer be made after the car’s final production day – 27 July 1990. Export sales had dwindled to nothing by then anyway, though that had not always been the case.
The 2CV was a hit on many export markets in Europe, South America and Asia, though it was less fond of hot climates than it might have been. The car’s relatively low power, weight and FWD were not assets in some markets (North America and Africa). Other markets simply needed time to adopt the little car on its own terms. British-built 2CVs from Citroën’s Slough factory so completely bombed in the British market that it was dropped from the line-up by about 1962. Though the Ami 6 and the Dyane did sell in the UK, the 2CV did not cross the Channel again until 1974, where it finally met its public – 20 years late.
What made the 2CV such a compelling proposition? Cheap to buy and run, better on rough roads and snow than many a heavy 4×4, four doors and four seats, deceptively roomy inside and it’s a convertible. The downsides were a very loud and rather feeble engine, terrible heating and insulation, heavy steering and (especially later models) rust. The amazingly soft suspension can cause the occupants of the car to feel as if it’s about to roll over in fast or tight turns. Fun if you’re expecting it, but always slightly unnerving.
The best stuff is in the details though, such as this door knob (handle?). The 2CV’s minimalist design owed a lot to engineer André Lefebvre, who also masterminded the Traction Avant and the DS. Lefebvre came to Citroën from Voisin, an erstwhile aircraft pioneer turned automaker after the First World War. Gabriel Voisin had taught Lefebvre about the beauty of clean, aircraft-influenced designs and weight-saving solutions that were the hallmark of Voisin’s exclusive line of cars. In no Citroën is the Voisin DNA more visible than in the 2CV. The 1939 version was especially and uncompromisingly Voisin-like, with its alloy body and crude geometric styling. Once tempered by Bertoni’s unerring eye, the Citroën DNA became more visible, but traces of the original are still there – in this knob and in many other places, such as the flip-up front windows or the shape of the cabin.
One endearing quality of this car that is not at all easy to write about is the sound. If you grew up in Western Europe anytime from the ‘50s to the ‘90s or even 2000s, you know the sound of the Citroën flat-twin and you can pick it out, just like picking out the VW flat-4 becomes second nature. That flat-twin has a very distinctive voice. It is unusually high-pitched and whiny at idle, but when you put your right foot in, the whine turns into an angry growl. The sound is even louder if you’re in the car. And unless you’re in really flat areas, the only way to drive a 2CV is with a heavy right foot, getting everything you can from 435 or 602cc.
And that flat-twin noise was so widespread also because Citroën had used it in so many cars. The bizarre Ami 6 (1961-69) and slightly less-bizarre Ami 8 (1969-79), the Dyane / Acadyane (1967-87), the Méhari and its derivatives (1968-87) the Peugeot-based LN / LNA (1976-86), the Visa (1978-88) and the Romanian-built (and Opron-designed) Oltcit / Axel (1984-90).
The LNA, Axel and Visa got the most advanced version of the twin, a 652cc providing a dizzying 36 hp (DIN), but could also be equipped with 4-cyl. engines. In 40 years of production, the flat-twin’s capacity almost doubled, as did the car’s top speed, and its power output was quadrupled. The total number of flat-twin Citroëns is not easy to compute. If one could conservatively guess, at least 9 million cars – including about 4 million 2CV saloons – were made with some form of this noisy little motor in France, Portugal, Belgium, Iran, Britain, Vietnam, Senegal and other places.
The only folks who really took to the 2CV other than Europeans were the South Americans. Citroën had an assembly line at Arica, in northern Chile, where local content laws and other concerns transformed the 2CV into the Citroneta, which was built there throughout the ‘60s in several variants. Chilean production continued in the ‘70s, but with a much less modified version of the 2CV.
There was also an assembly line set up in Argentina. In 1980, Citroën officially pulled out of the country for various reasons, but 2CV production continued under the locally-owned IES brand, using modified Citroën-sourced CKD kits and the moniker “3CV America” well into the late ‘80s. The alternate universe down in that continent is a treasure-chest of oddities, though home-grown oddities certainly also existed.
The 2CV was decidedly not built for was speed and luxury. Yet this obvious fact did not deter some to go to pretty extreme lengths to try to remedy this situation, greatly aided in this venture by the wonders of fiberglass. In the ‘50s, a Monsieur Dagonet took on the challenge and produced a few strange and interesting lightweight variants of the 2CV. Some of them kept the four doors, others were sold as coupés, but all were chopped down and their engine heavily breathed upon. One could get a racing roadster from Monsieur de Pontac (no “i”), who produced a few of these bizarre cars, including one with flower print bodywork. Fiberglass specialists UMAP also produced a nice-looking coupé for a bit, as did Citroën UK, who introduced the British-market-only Bijou in 1959 in a desperate attempt to increase 2CV sales.
A few coachbuilders did try to work on the little Citroën, but weight was always a problem – especially in the ‘50s with the smaller engines. Perhaps the prettiest of the lot was this coupé by Allemano, commissioned by Citroën Belgium in late 1955 to see if a small production run could be made. It could not, but this is where the British branch took the idea (though not the styling) for their failed Bijou. Trying to turn the 2CV into a sports car or a fashionable one was not a straightforward task, and none of these attempts made any impact. But the weirdest outgrowth of the 2CV tree later sprouted, far away in the East…
The Romanian Oltcit started life as a Citroën design bureau exercise (Projet Y) in 1968 aimed at replacing the 2CV. It was to use the underpinnings of the Fiat 127, as the Italians were closely involved with Citroën at the time. It was ready for production (with Citroën underpinnings) by 1974, now codenamed VD (voiture diminuée), when the Peugeot takeover put the project on hold. Citroën themselves started to redevelop the VD as the Visa, with Peugeot underpinnings. The old Citroën-based VD was dusted up in 1976 when the French signed a contract with the Romanian government to build a factory there for a new car, the Oltcit. Renault had successfully co-created Dacia this way a few years earlier, so Peugeot were tempted to do the same. The VD prototype was already there, production-ready. Only the engine would change: the new 652cc plant, created in 1978 for the Visa, would be used along with the 1.1 and 1.3 litre GS flat-4. Bogged down by red tape, the factory was only finished by 1981. Production was very slow to get off the ground after that.
Citroën (i.e. Peugeot) owned 36% of the Oltcit factory and part of the deal was that they would import half of the Romanian production and sell it on the Western European market as the Citroën Axel – a new car, albeit with 10-year-old styling, appalling build quality and only available as a two-door hatchback. Imports started sluggishly in mid-1984, but Citroën spent so much fixing up the cars sent from Romania that they were sold at a loss. The Axel was a parasite: its base model was the cheapest car on the French market – below even the 2CV, which probably ate into 2CV sales. It later became evident that the Romanians (including Dacia) were making cheap black-market copies of French parts and installing those in cars meant for the domestic or COMECON market. Citroën parts were used in Axel versions, which Oltcit sold back to Citroën at an agreed price. This was the last straw for the French, who pulled out of the whole thing in 1988, though Axels were still sold until 1990. Oltcit became Oltena and nixed the 2-cyl. version in 1990 as well, though the flat-4 cars were made until 1996, when Oltena became a Daewoo factory. The Axel is mercifully rare nowadays. Unlike the 2CV.
The pantheon of small cars has many divinities. The Fiat 500, the Beetle, the Trabant, the Mini and the Renault 4 are up there, along with the 2CV. Only the Beetle beats it in terms of lifespan. This year, as it officially turns 70, it remains the only ‘30s-designed car – along with the Beetle (happy 80th, BTW) and the Morgan – that we still see, in some parts of the world, on a daily basis. The remaining stock is now usually well-cared for and increasing in value, so the 2CV will be with us – in some European countries, anyway – for some time yet.
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 For Sale: 1961 Citroen 2CV Sahara 4×4 – Includes An Operable Second 12 HP Engine And Transmission In The Trunk, by PN
Curbside Classic: Citroen 2CV Hoffman Cabriolet – The Ultimate Chick Magnet?, by PN
CC Capsule: 1983 Citroën 2CV6 Club – Time Goes By Faster Than You Think, by Yohai71
CC Roadtrip Outtake: 1964 Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette – A French Clover In Ireland, by Jim Klein
Cohort Sighting: Oltcit Club; Or If That’s Too Exotic For You, How About Citroen Axel?, by PN
Wonderful homage to a wonderful car!
That Allemano coupe is beautiful. I’m sure the sleek aerodynamics helped get a couple more kilometers of top speed out of 602cc. Makes me wonder if a Judson-type supercharger would help.
Fun Fact – the Citroen in American Graffiti (“where were you in ’62”) was a ’67 model. I’m sure, just like I can with the Type 1 VW, only 2CV aficionados would be able to discern the difference.
The Beach Boys song “All Summer Long” was used in American Graffiti(where were you in 62?) It wasn’t released until 1964.
That’s an example of cinematic Anachronism. Another is use of more modern slang or idioms.
It’s been worse in the past, such as paintings of Biblical characters wearing Medieval garb.
Great article. Told me more about the 2CV then I ever knew. Now as far as the actual car? It’s so damn ugly, it’s cute! Be a very unique ride. Roger Moore (Bond James Bond!) may he RIP. was asked in an interview early last year, what was his favorite Bond movie car. Surprisingly he said it was the Yellow 2CV! He said, and I am paraphrasing here, something to the effect that it was tough as nails, and fun to toss around.
Now the AMI 6 is the weirdest looking car ever built, IMHO. Always to me looked like a car that went under an underpass that was a few inches lower than the car. and everything got pushed back.
That Bond car had a GS flat-4, which must’ve helped it trying to stay ahead of the 504s that chased it. I understand they wanted to use a Mini Cooper initially, chased by big BMWs. But Remi Julienne, the famous stunt driver, had worked on The Italian Job and knew Minis would be dreadful (even dangerous) bouncing down a mountain. The 2CV was apparently his pick, and the BMWs were switched to Pugs to add verisimilitude.
Can’t get enough of that chase scene.
I saw this new at about 11, and thought “Gimme a break!” Now, I love it. Also, having once owned a 504 since that time, I know that a 2CV would be about all it could ever chase down – but only with the twin still installed. (Lovely car, the Pug, but never in a hurry).
What is it about 504’s and sliding on their roofs? I’m sure there’s an Inspector Clouseau scene where he (rather amusingly) goes a long way upside down in one, isn’t there?
I have no doubt that had the US been in the conditions that Europe endured after the war, we would have seen the successful reintroduction of an updated Model T.
It really is amazing that these lasted as long as they did, especially given their modest power. It is fascinating to look at a late one, with the mishmash of ancient parts next to modern parts.
If anyone could shed a lot of additional light on the 2CV, it would be you. The most interesting part for me was the Voisin connection. I either forgot that or never knew it, but that really does explain the early design of the 2CV, and the legacy of that carried forward. Thanks for that, as well as a lot of other tidbits.
In my CC, I called the 2CV “The Most Original Car Ever”. That’s a pretty bold statement to make, and I know there were more out-there designs too, but when it comes to a mass-production car, I still think it deserves the title.
I couldn’t help but think of the Tesla Model 3 when I read about the huge demand and orders for the 2CV when it was first shown, and the challenges Citroen had in gearing up for mass production. A number of parallels there.
Unless one has put their hands (or fingers) against a 2CV and rocked it back and forth or up and down, they will not be able to appreciate just what an incredibly soft suspension this car has. Every auto enthusiast needs to do that at least once to appreciate the wide range of possibilities in suspension systems.
The first time my older brother showed me that on a 2CV on the streets of Innsbruck, I was dumbfounded. As a six year old, I could get that car swaying and bobbing very substantially. I sure couldn’t do that to any other car. And we did that regularly when we went by it. The two of us would really get it going. Good thing the owner never saw us.
Thank you, Paul.
You assertion that the 2CV is “The most original car ever” is one I fully subscribe to. Up in that Pantheon, you’d probably also find the DS, the Tatra 77, the Rumpler, the Airflow, the Mini, maybe the Tucker… There aren’t many groundbreaking cars, but the 2CV is one. Perhaps the one.
The Voisin connection is incredibly clear with the 2CV and the TUB / Type H. Both Engineering Dept. projects with very little styling input, so designed pretty much directly by Lefebvre who, let’s not forget, trained as an aircraft engineer, working with Voisin as they transitioned from planes to cars.
Lefebvre left Voisin in 1930, when Gabriel Voisin lost control of his company. He worked at Renault for three years and then jumped ships to Citroen, who put him in charge of the Traction Avant project.
In the interim, Gabriel Voisin regained control and launched a radical new car, the C25 Aerodyne, in 1934. Though Lefebvre wasn’t involved in this one, it’s impossible to think that he designed the 1939 2CV without a big nod to his old master’s latest oeuvre.
I lived in Paris the year I was 12. I vividly remember bouncing Deux Chevaux! One time my brother and I were walking to the metro to go to school. A guy in a 2cv was trying to get his into a really tight parking spot. He put the front of the car in the spot, got out, and started bouncing the back end until he was able to lift it right into the spot.
A real treat to read all this today, with the fine pictures as a bonus.
Sincere question: my wife would *love* one of these as an around-town toy after retirement, though the stick is the problem–she’s a confirmed automatic-only person. Sacrilegious though it may be, can someone suggest any sort of “transplant” that could be done into a 2CV that could be reliable and not otherwise mess with driving dynamics?
My first thought was “no”. But undoubtedly there are ways to make it happen. My first thought is to look into the power trains used in things like certain ATVs and other off-road small vehicles, since they quite often have some sort of automatic transmission. But I don’t know specifically which ones.
But it just occurred to me that if she is only going to putt around town with it (realistically it’s not a modern highway car for most folks), then an EV conversion might be the best way to go.
Here’s one, in the UK, but I’m sure you can find others that have done it or offer either the kit or do the conversion. http://www.everything-ev.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=384
That’s the route I would first consider, for a number of reasons. And it looks like quite a few others have gone that route.
Paul & 993cc, nothing may ever come of this—I’ll certainly alert you if it does!—but I’m grateful for your wisdom and willingness to share. CC is the best!
There was a version of the 2CV (the 2CV Special “e”) that was equipped with a centrifugal clutch, sometimes called the “trafficclutch” and also a larger flywheel and a carb that would close its throttle more slowly, I think. This allowed starting and stopping without the driver needing to use the clutch, although it still required the driver to depress the clutch to change gears.
If your wife could adapt to this mode of driving, the parts to retrofit it to a standard 2CV may be still available.
These people might know:
If she’s into it for the cute factor but can’t handle the technical aspect of it, I would abstain from that thought if I was you. The 2CV is very much an acquired taste with an intrinsic wholesale experience. Nohody ever buys a Citroen without accepting the quirky downsides of it, and those who doesn’t will get disappointed. Citroën ownership is very much a curse from the Godess spell, and owners accept their fate without question because they just can’t bear live without it. If you’re not living under the spell there are plenty of other cars with a heavy cute factor.
I concur with Ingvar about the quirkiness of driving and maintaining 2CV. Despite its simplicity and fun factor, 2CV is difficult and exhausting to operate if you are so accustomed to the modern comfort and technology.
When my brother visited us two years ago, he drove our 2CV for the first time ever. While he’s very much technically and mechanically inclined, I spent a lot of time pointing at what he needed to do as he drove. I explained carefully how to work with manual choke and do the cold start properly. I monitored his shifting very carefully because of ‘muscle memory’: people are accustomed to shifting into first which is a reverse gear in 2CV.
After fifteen minutes of driving, my brother came away physically and mentally exhausted and wondered how could anyone want to drive 2CV. No wonder so many 2CV for daily drive have largely disappeared from the road in Germany (partly due to increasingly strict emission regulations and time-consuming process of obtaining the classical car numberplates).
To be completely realistic a neo-FIAT 500 Cabriolet with an A/T would be a much better choice for a fun, quirky around town car – or, maybe, an Autostick air-cooled VW Beetle convertible if you have a good vintage VW mechanic available. Quirky cars are all well and good – until it leaves you stranded in traffic!
Hence the selling point of the Nissan Figaro in the ’90s!
It was only when I watched Edd China renovating a 2CV for Wheeler Dealers that I realised just how weird that suspension really is. Friction dampers on the leading and trailing arm pivots and inertia dampers (?) on the hubs.
Great story. I remember reading an article in CAR magazine in 1978 comparing the 2CV to the Mini, speculating which car would remain in production the longest. CAR said that the Mini would die before the 2CV. As it turned out, the Citroen would die first by ten years.
The 2CV had the longest production run though. Beats the Mini by one year.
2CV: 1948 – 1990
Mini: 1959 – 2000
Great writeup! Never had one, always wanted one. There’s a guy in SE Portland that has a fleet of Citroen’s parked by his house. I’ll take a pic next time I’m in that part of town.
I took a mate with last week when I bought another Citroen he had to drive my Xsara the 300kms home, he owns a Xantia and got talking with the President of the NZ Citroen club at the used cardealership we went to this president actually builds new 2CVs out of brand new parts imported from Belgium an interesting car buying trip to say the least and I’m going to find this 2CV building facility some time and get some pics, cool little cars and I do see some locally.
This is the best description of the Deux Chevaux that I have ever seen.
Just great. And interesting to see the impact of Voisin on the training of André Lefebvre prior to his designing the Traction Avant.
By the way TPV stands for Toute Petite Voiture which means something like completely small car, rather than Tres Petite Voiture which is closer to very small car.
Great read for a Saturday evening. Thanks
Interpretations är always fun. I’d say there are more connotations into the expression. Toute petite, the very smallest, or absolutely smallest. Like, the (absolutely) smallest car. Expanded into the thought (how can we make) the (absolutely) smallest car (within practical parameters). Like, it isn’t a micro bubble car, it is a full grown car, but the very smallest of real cars.
Have to concur with Monsieur Sheil, what a great overview. Those special bodies are something new (yet again, T87), except the Bijou which the British car mags would feature quite regularly. As with the (gorgeous) Allemano, the Bijou’s body was heavier than that of the donor.
Curiously, these are all over Melbourne. I walk past a twinset parked in the street (and accompanied by two Picassos) – a Charleston (which I never liked) and an orange example. There was a Dolly parked just up the road from these, a yellow Fourgonette doing delivery duties round town and even a standard body in a similar hue to yours with ‘Courier’ written on the doors that I captured in the CBD. What I’ve never seen is a yellow one with bullethole stickers, although I did have that in both Corgi scales when I was collecting Bond stuff. Gone now.
Superb selection of pics, my fave is the Bertoni image with all the styling models lined up on the shelf. To have one of those…
Otherwise, Mehari for me. Cheers T87.
Agree about the Charleston, the commonest I see about. There’s an affectation about it which annoys. The 2CV is functionality embodied, not self-conscious “quirkiness.” Muddy grey or scratched n’ dented or industrial object orange or yellow please.
One more special body for Monsieur Don?
Penned by Charbonneaux, made by Antem in 1955 or 56. The Allemano is prettier, but not by too much.
Wow. You sent me scurrying down the google hole and I found one with a slightly nicer face or maybe its just the lack of bumper…
Yep, different colour, w/o the bumpers and someone did a Photoshop job on the grille to anonymize it (for a quiz, no doubt), but it’s the same car.
Yep, made me look again and you’re right about the photoshop. I think the colourway works better though, that upper half flows well into the greenhouse with the same toning. Prefer this one to the Michelotti TBH.
Hmmm… I’m assuming the Allemano was a Michelotti but can’t confirm.
Checkitout – another Charbonneaux 2CV
Plus an early Bijou. Never knew about the pursed lips version…
These need a specific driving style. Basically, you flog the living crap out of the engine in every gear. Treat it like you hate it. Firstly, because there is so little power that you have to thrash it to make any progress, and secondly, because they were designed that way. You won’t break it, they thrive on this treatment. You won’t get enough oil around the engine by driving it gently.
Although they lean dramatically in corners, they rarely if ever actually break away. This is a good thing, because the other requirement of driving a 2cv is never to slow down for corners. It’s taken so long to build speed up, the last thing you want to do is slow down and have to do it all over again. 2cvs really are like nothing else on the road.
Thankyou, T87, great stuff. That side-on sketch (by Bertoni?) is wonderful. I had no idea of the Voison connection either. Now, ofcourse, it seems obvious.
Excellent post. These are in pretty much every way the complete opposite of what I look for in a car, and yet for a long time I have found them fascinating and delightful.
I’m quite certain I don’t want to own one, but would love the chance to try one out someday.
Everything you want to know about the 2CV is right here, no need to look any further. Very well done, monsieur!
In the seventies and eighties my whole country was littered with 2CVs. The Citroën 2CV and the HY-van, those became the typical “love and peace” rides. Certainly not the VW Beetle or the T1/T2 buses.
Always a pleasure to see them at the classic car shows these days. Plenty of them are also still used by rental companies, for group-fun trips.
One theory about the rectangular headlamps…
During the late 1960s and entire 1970s, it became more common to have rectangular headlamps as they ‘convey’ the luxury and sophistication. One example is Mercedes-Benz W123 (albeit two years later) having two set of headlamps as to differentiate between four and six cylinder models.
Detailled explanation is given here: https://citroenvie.com/2cv-headlights-to-be-round-or-square-that-is-the-question/
Reverting back to round headlamps with inefficient P45T bulbs might be due to cost factor. The old design had simpler lens with thicker diffusing flutes (vertical optical bars) and no slanted flutes for directing more light upward to the right. Simpler design meant ‘looser’ or lower manufacturing tolerance.
Realistically, they were one of the worst headlamps we had experienced. We didn’t drive 2CV at night for that reason until we found the custom H4 bulbs with larger P45T, instead of smaller P43T, base. Not cheap but welcoming improvement.
P45T headlamp bulb for 2CV
Superb article! Thanks again Tatra87.
The Voisin connection was somehting I completely ignored. Is it possible that the line of development created by Lefevbre concluded in the design of the Bi-scooter?
OTOH I have some magazines with pictures from the IES factory. If it is of any interest I will post them in this website.
I drove one for the first (and only) time around five years ago. I don’t remember anything fatiguing about it.
Kudos to the writer of this amazing history of the 2cv, and to CC for running it.
Excellent post . Being owner of Citroën this comprehensive article fulfilled all my curiosity . Only Curbsideclassic can bring such a brilliant investigation about the rich history of 2 cylinders Citroengines . Here i just want to set an unknown fact for those of you who are skilled for statistics :
since the updodate’s logics choice for a 2CV is the ultra modern Citroën C 3 ,
how is it possible when you see a Citroën C3 down the corner then among every ten Citroëns = 7 are owned by females and just 3 from the ten are owned by males. Here in Argentina + Chile + Uruguay there’s some myth that Citroën is the favorit brand of car for the independent women’s lot . Me don’t know how it works for European sales markets . But in Argentina at least , when it comes for purchasing a mint new car at the official dealer saloon , amazingly 40% of independent women chose a little Citroën as their first owned car . The remaining 60% of women share their decision buying from assorted 20 other car brands . So just for studying it or for curiosity , Citroën has a terrific loyal female clientele . Guess many reasons should be in to give such a vote for a single vehicle mark , no matter if women drove 2cv or modern C3 . Seems that Citroën always got this strong slice for the feminine club .