It’s not easy to follow a legend, especially by trying to repeat the recipe for its success. Keeping it within the automotive realm, just look at the Ford Model A, the Jaguar XJ40 or the Austin Metro: they were not bad cars and sold relatively well, but will forever live in the shadow of their illustrious predecessor. In the Citroën saga, the role of the 2CV’s redheaded (and square-eyed) stepchild was played, for 15 years, by the Dyane.
From Citroën’s perspective, the 2CV’s incredible success was never going to last forever. It was ‘40s technology and styling, so at best, it could reach to about 1970, but surely not beyond that. So Citroën spent a good decade trying to figure out what to do for an encore with their small wonder. In the late ‘50s, they experimented with outlandish egg-shaped designs that went nowhere. Then the Ami 6 joined the range in 1961. With its bigger flat-twin and dollops of luxury, and its extremely bizarre looks notwithstanding, it also sold pretty well for a 2CV derivative. So Citroën looked for a middle way between the 2CV and the Ami. Something that wouldn’t cost too much to develop, either, as money was getting scarce.
It so happened that Citroën had just taken full control of Panhard, which they had started to “collaborate” with in 1955, as the Dyane project started to gel. France’s oldest carmaker had just launched their final model, the 24 coupé, in 1963, leaving Panhard’s design bureau with little to do. The Citroën designers had their hands full at the time with the “F” car (which would be killed in utero a few years later), the DS’s new nose, the Ami 6 wagon and a gazillion other projects. This was compounded by the sudden death of chief designer Flaminio Bertoni in February 1964.
So the Panhard designers, headed by Louis Bionier, were asked to take a crack at it. They went really far out initially, as we can see above, then dialed it back quite dramatically to present Citroën CEO Pierre Bercot with a finalized model by the end of 1964 that looked like a cubic 2CV. Unfortunately, Bercot thought the front end looked a lot like the Renault 4, which he hated with a passion, as he saw this as a blatant case of Renault stealing the 2CV’s better ideas – and eschewing some the Citroën’s biggest flaws.
The ball (the cube?) was now in Robert Opron’s court. He had just been confirmed as Citroën’s new chief designer, so he took the Panhard prototype and gradually reinstated the 2CV’s separate front wings. After all, Bercot’s orders had been clear: keep the design cheap, and keep to the 2CV’s chassis and dimensions. The above design, penned by Jacques Charreton in May 1965, showing something pretty close to the final product, though Opron would rework it a number of times.
The only aspect of the original Panhard design that remained pretty much as is were the concave doors with the prominent beltline, which were intended to provide these panels with a modicum of rigidity. The Dyane was launched at the 1967 Paris Motor Show, overshadowed by the glamorous four-eyed DS that was being premiered a few meters away.
For the first few months of its existence, it only had the old 425cc flat-twin shared with the 2CV, but before MY 1968 was out, the new small Cit had split into the Dyane 4, with a new and improved 435cc engine (that extra 10cc made a world of difference, apparently), and the Dyane 6, with the Ami’s 602cc “big” twin. That is how the car got its real start on the market —and initially, it was a pretty good one. But by 1970, when it got its C-pillar windows, the Dyane’s production numbers already started slipping behind its invulnerable predecessor’s. Or rather, the 2CV recovered from the Dyane’s attack, and both cars were to remain as the flat-twin false twins of the Citroën range for over a decade.
Citroën had fixed a number of the 2CV’s most egregious traits. The Dyane had sliding windows rather than the 2CV’s notoriously pain-inducing folding half-windows. The interior had a dashboard worthy of the name, with air vents and door cards with armrests – sheer luxury! The rear was a hatchback – Citroën had learned something from the Renault 4, it seems. The fabric roof was kept, but it was made flatter than the 2CV’s and it could be opened and closed from within the car.
On the other hand, Citroën had managed to lose one tiny centimeter of elbow room in the operation. Given how limited the acreage was in the 2CV, that was not good news. The extra padding of the seats and the practicality of the rear hatch were doubtless welcome for some, but there was something to be said for the 2CV’s more basic approach. Until 1979, the Dyane 6 had a slightly more powerful flat-twin than its 2CV equivalent, as the 602cc engine necessarily ended up under the older car’s hood in the end, but it was neither lighter nor more aerodynamic, so that counted for naught.
The extra money demanded by the carmaker for the Dyane was perhaps not as easy to justify once the 2CV also had access to the big twin in the early ‘70s. It’s not like you could hear the radio any better in the Dyane anyway: it was still a cheap car by any standard, just not quite the cheapest.
And in the end, the Dyane just lacked the 2CV’s friendly face. From whatever angle one cares to observe it, the Dyane looks like it was tortured by a sadistic car designer. I’m not calling out Robert Opron or Louis Bionier, for they respectively oversaw the Citroën SM and the Panhard 24 – two masterpieces of automotive design – in the ‘60s. But it seems the brief set out by Citroën for the “super-2CV” did not excite their imaginations quite as much as other tasks did. Opron certainly made no secret about it and told his boss that the Dyane was a complete waste of time, but Bercot thought Citroën could double the amount of 2-cyl. car sales with it.
And initially, the Citroën CEO was almost right: the Dyane did better than the 2CV in 1968 and 1969, leading some to believe the tin snail was on its way out. The Levallois factory churned out as many flat-twins as it was possible to make – some Dyanes even had to be assembled over at the old Panhard factory to keep up with demand. A just return of the older carmaker’s intellectual propriety: Panhard had copyrighted the name “Dyane” as a sort-of-anagram of “Dyna,” a name they used extensively since the prewar days.
But the early flurry of enthusiasm for the Dyane did not manage to kill the 2CV. The noticeable dip in 2CV sales in 1968 (57,000 units) was followed by a remarkable rebound: in 1974, the car hit over 160,000 units, plus 64,000 vans. Coincidentally, this was also the Dyane’s best year, but it managed only 126,000 sales. This is as close as Citroën got to Bercot’s goal of doubling small car production – the 2CV’s best year ever had been 1964 with 232,000 sales; in 1974, Citroën sold 370,000 small flat-twins (including vans, the Mehari and other derivatives), yet the company went bust before the end of the year.
The Dyane 4 was nixed in 1975, leaving its more powerful stablemate to fend for itself, and until 1978, that meant around 100,000 units per annum – good, yet always a smidgen below the 2CV. Then Dyane sales tumbled quickly: 77,000 in 1979; 61,000 in 1980; 39,000 in 1981… The curtain came down after MY 1983 with a total of 1.4 million units made, though the Acadiane (above), launched in 1978 to replace the 2CV van, kept on keeping on until 1987.
Our present example, with its black plastic door handles, revised grille and “Nevada Beige” body, belongs to the sad final years of the Dyane. It was not necessarily a bad idea to update the 2CV and it is understandable that said update had to be done on the cheap. But the Dyane probably stayed too close to its model for its own good. Furthermore, it lacked the 2CV’s round-cheeked charm, trying to pull off a sort of chiseled look that it did not have the frame for. Sorry, Dyane dear, you had your chance, but you just couldn’t cut it.
And with this little slice of Citroën weirdness ends the T87 French month. Back to our regularly-scheduled Japanese oddities from here on out.
A strange interlude, this little dugly f’ling (to Spoonerize the headline).
It comes across as retro before that dismembered word had even been spat out, though there were already Excalibars and such already damaging the eyesight general by ’68 or so. Most interesting to hear Opron thought it was unworthy (not that his opinion as stylist would’ve mattered, no doubt). It isn’t worthy. It’s a double-horse snail without a face – what is the point? Be interesting to know just what the many who bought it thought: probably, mostly, “it’s cheap”, I’d reckon.
Oh well, dear Dyane. We shall never see her like again.
Which, given she looked just like her much older sister with a bad facelift, couldn’t really be considered a loss.
Say, maybe they should have gone all ’60’s VW US, and advertised it as the Citroen Dugly Fling?
So, sort of like Citroen’s version of the Super Beetle? It would be interesting to replay history with this car as a replacement for the 2CV – “You want a 2CV? Sorry, we don’t make that any more, but here is our new Dyane” Which they might have called a 2CVb or something.
Keeping the older, cheaper version often works when the newer, more expensive replacement offers some real improvement and allows the seller to avoid catering to the skinflints purely on price with the new car. But there does not seem to me that there is enough difference between the two to slice the market that thinly and have both be successful.
The Super Beetle did offer some big improvements over the trad one though, fixing some of its major shortcomings. And the rear 2/3 was about the same.
Sometimes a manufacturer fails to recognize how one of their products had become an icon. What was needed was to remind buyers, not redesign.
How many times have we seen a Jeep owner, (Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler), think it had to “fix” the CJ5? How long did it take for Jeep decision makers to realize that the CJ5/Wranger was iconic and to be taken as seriously?
What made the 2CV resurge in popularity in 1974 and finally wain at the end of the decade was need. The market needed the 2CV’s iconic toughness, simplicity, charm and ridiculousness. There was never a need for the Dyane.
The 2CV wasnt broken so there wasnt any point in trying to fix it, the 2CV was basic transport refined to the nth degree, since Citroen already had Panhard under its umbrella they should have been stamping those out as a two cylinder different model with 2CV running gear.
You raise an interesting point there, mate. Did Citroen make the best possible use of their Panhard purchase? It seems to me (with no experience of either!) that a Panhard four door sedan or five door hatch would have fitted nicely into the range as a gap-filler until the GS came along, and maybe after. Or Panhard could have remained as an upmarket range extension above the Citroen name, much as Citroen uses the “DS” label nowadays. If they could have afforded it. Which, I gather, they couldn’t.
Or was Panhard technology seen as a dead end? It may have been less agricultural than 2CV technology, but…….
BTW, that Dyane looks to have the CC-hated fixed rear windows – with a single pane of glass in that aperture, I don’t see how they could move up, down or sideways. Unless they pivot somehow.
Had he not left his native France for the USA, I wonder what Raymond Loewy could have done for the Citroen brand.
At the end of 1982, I went to work for Maggie’s Farm.
In the times of Margaret Thatcher, Britain had, for us froggies, the best ratio weirdness / closeness. Everything was different, loo disinfectant smell, food colour, food taste, and great pub-rock scene.
There was a lot of unemployment then too, but I got a job in the hotel and catering industry. I had no previous experience of it but, as I could qualify as a member of one the Olive-Oil-Belt Countries, I was supposed to know everything about restaurant service, complete with funny accent and bad manners.
I came over with a ‘nice’ Saab 99, but soon the conjunction of a very low income and ‘A Series of Unfortunates (mechanical) Events’ put an end to this ownership.
Some time later, after cuts in the bus tickets and pub budgets, I had enough to buy another car.
In the 80′ there was nothing very exciting left around: the ‘great’ british cars had rusted away (could not find a Rover P4 or a Landcrab — fortunately – ).
The cars within money reach were not terribly exciting.
For perhaps once in my lifetime, I took the right car decision, and bought a locally unknow and unloved automobile: a second(?)-hand Dyane 4 at the Citroën garage in Plympton, down the road. I knew what I was going to get, the 2cv had been a very popular car with my friends at the university, along with the Renault 4 (but not the VW, too expensive, too thirsty and no fun at all, comparatively…).
And it was great:
The road capabilities were more than enough for the B-roads and the Dartmoor lanes; on the A35 dual-carriage road you had to follow quietly in the lorries slipstreams, when you could find one with a clean enough exhaust;
The canvas roof (opening from the inside, yes, but just for the 1st half, otherwise, you had to climb down, roll it and strap it) was OK with the rapidly changing weather of the place (just remember to stop the car before attempting to close the roof, saw those parachutes used to break down the speed of fighter jets on landings?)
The dashboard was minimalistic, so driving with the heater on all around was a good way to know what was going on in the engine bay; and knowing where the warm air was coming from, it was better also to keep the window opened (CO2 was not a great concern at the time, but carbon monoxide…)
As for the rust, there were some spots, yeah, but the body (I did not dare to check too closely underneath) had kept its form far better than the aboriginal vehicles, specially that the roads were salted 12 months a year, so to speak, as we were so close to the sea (but yet, in Britain no place is very far, any idea why the cars were not designed for that?);
In 86, after a ‘brilliant’ career in the hotel, I found a great job at the group head-office near Paris. I packed up all my belongings in the Dyane, took the ferry (Newhaven?) and went back to a place that was not home any more.
I kept the car a few months. But it now had the wheel on the inappropriate side, the one which is great for parallel parking or for driving a Talbot, a Delahaye, a Salmson, but not for a power-challenged tin box.
Overtaking, always an exciting event, became like Russian Roulette, even when you could get a lookout on the passenger seat yelling her “Yes”, “Perhaps”, “Why not”, “Nooooo”, or the puzzling “I don’t see anything”.
So, in the end, the Dyane got scraped…
And I took a second helping.
Some years latter, looking for a fun and economical car, I bought another Dyane.
From an old guy, who was selling is father’s car. It had a very low mileage, and a trailer hook, I imagine for the garden tools…
It had the bigger engine, but honestly, I can’t remember feeling any difference from my memories of the smaller one. I just know it was a bit better than the competitive 2cvs and other Dyanes in the long climb-challenges of the A4 or A31 autoroutes.
This one had the wheel on the ‘right’ side for the traffic it had to fight. Road performance, provided you did not meet any steep hill, was still OKish in the late 80s, as many cars on the roads still had the grace and dexterity of pigs on skates.
It was quite demanding to drive, I’m not talking about the noise, the draughts, the cold, no, you had to be very very attentive for any declivity, any slipstream, anything that would oblige you, or allow you, to switch from 3rd to 4th gear or the contrary…
In 1990, I took it to Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland as a way to celebrate the Velvet Revolution. I had planned to reach the Baltic Sea, but there were shortages of petrol in Poland, at the time (well, long queues of cars waiting to fill up can happen anywhere anytime it seems…). So I stayed in the Tatras (the mountain range) and came back to Czechoslovakia, Germany etc.
There again, the car was very much adapted to the local road conditions: potholes, unadvertised trenches, unexplainable poodles, slow lorries, but could not do anything against the overtaking chauffeur-driven Tatra 613s!
Is this the car the local Five-Year Plans should have ordered?
The Dyane had some downsides too.
It had the look and feel of a potential missing link between car and skateboard.
The coil was located so that if there was a drop of rain in the trajectory of the car, it caught it. Starting the car was somewhat difficult, and I did not dare to ask too much to the 6v battery so, many times, I had to crank-start the engine, still something possible to do. And I always had the crank under the seat, but not for self-defence.
After a couple of years, I was a bit worried that my driving, trying to keep up with the traffic, was becoming a bit dangerous, so I went to the local Citroën garage, and replaced it with a second-hand CX GTI (story told somewhere at CC), and suddenly, my driving became far more relaxed and safe.
But I think it was a better car than the 2cv.
Only the looks perhaps … and I’m not sure.
The 2cv could be found in the backgrounds of painting by Peter Paul Rubens. The guys in charge of the Dyane project must have spent some Sunday afternoons at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris looking at paintings by Georges Braque or Juan Gris, as I did at the time.
Dyane or 2cv, in the end it would have not changed anything, the range would have been stopped in any case, and Citroën died as an intellectual powerhouse when they did not even try to replace them …
all my apologies for the upside down picture. It started correctly from here,and when I click on it, it comes normally.
I’ll attach a couple of other ones, in a Central Europe environment of the time, including one where Ugly Duck made the delight of kids, at the limit (at the time, border now) between Czechia and Slovakia (location from memory, in any case from Tatra-land or Skoda-land).
Perhaps they are now regular visitors of this site?
as for the picture, they will start upside up, but what will become of them I do not know…
and a last one, gloomy enough for an adaptation of a John Le Carré novel.
Greatly enjoyed all that, Mr Frog, real snapshots in time. Thankyou.
Merci beaucoup pour ce(s) commentaire(s) et illustrations, F52!
My favourite nugget: the look and feel of a potential missing link between car and skateboard
It’s funny because it’s true.
And imagining your Dyane getting passed by a T613 in 1990 Czechoslovakia is the cherry on top.
I would also like to associate myself with those remarks, and contribute this picture of an unexplainable poodle.
Thank you, Messrs. Tree, Petite Grenouille and Untamed. You made my day.
I’ve given it a day’s time, and I still react as follows:
Dyane 6 : 2CV :: Thing : Beetle
Thanks Professor for a great explanation of the Dyane and the 2CV from a French perspective.
More is not always better, and there are many examples of manufacturers giving us more, but actually it seems now like they gave us less. VW Type 3? Ford Escort Mk 4? Morris 2200 (vs 1800S)?