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Has there ever been a more fun way to tell the world you’re skint than with this Citroen?
2CV could pay for itself in fuel savings alone back in 1975!
It’s fair to say that, despite all the praise heaped upon the quirky litle Citroen 2CV, us reserved Brits never really got the point of it all, did we? The motoring press, in particular, raved over the ‘tin snail’s’ eccentricity but, there again, the said hacks always had other ‘normal’ cars to fall back on if the novelty wore off, unlike the average motorist whose car was a ‘like it or lump it’ daily driver that had to serve many roles. The Deux Chevaux remains a Marmite car – you either love or hate it and there’s no grey area. And, while it became the symbol of many causes over the decades, not least the Greenpeace groupies, the 2CV was designed simply as a cheap and effective conveyance to get from A-B, at the lowest cost and fuss. One motoring hack certainly recognised this often ignored fact. Back in the mid 1970s, a certain Michael Bowler of Classic Cars used a brand new 2CV as a ‘modern’ instead of his usual Aston DB4 for transport (they were cheap thened) and calculated that, in fuel alone, the £1000 Citroen would pay for itself in 40,000miles!
There’s no doubt that the car’s odd, pre-war looks put off many conservative UK buyers, who shuddered at what the neighbours would say. However, under that silly skin lurked a superbly practical, if horrendously austere, family car that would have suited them pretty well. The car was a semi-hatchback (sort of), and the next-to-nothing interior could be stripped out to provide almost van-like carrying qualities. Plus, when the sun came out, you simply peeled back the (standard) fabric sunroof and had a cheap cabrio. Arguably the closest Brit car to the 2CV is the Morris Minor (see our buying guide in this issue). Like the Citroen, the Moggie started life as lowcost transport for families, but became part of the family and was given its own pet name; you don’t do that with a Cortina or BMW. Launched before the war, the 2CV really only came to prominence in the UK at the height of the fuel crisis, in 1974, after a 15-year absence (a pre-72 car won’t conform to our regs, due to the seatbelt mountings, incidentally). Since the car offered up to 50mpg, plus the ability to cruise at our legal limit, albeit noisily fl at-out, the usually conservative British buyer started to see the 2CV in a new light, especially when it was a lot roomier, and more comfortable, than an Imp or Mini, both of which also were dearer to buy.Unlike the Mini, the 2CV never had the benefi t of A-list celebs boosting its appeal and street
cred – the Citroen had to rely on the paying public. What the less snobbish discovered was a superbly practical and adaptable car that became trendy, in an anti-establishment way. The press also did its best to transform the Citroen into a bit of an enthusiasts’ delight. With just 30bhp from an-air cooled, twin piston 602cc engine, and a 0-60mph time of 32.7 seconds, according to Autocar, it was certainly no tarmacteaser. However, the snail ably compensated with uncannily good handling and roadholding, meaning that, if you or your passengers didn’t mind the severe roll angles, giant killing average journey times could be achieved. Of course, owning a 2CV set you apart from the herd. The 2CV was anti-establishment, but with a friendly face; it shouted lifestyle long before the soft-roader brigade came along (something the long-travel, cleverly interconnected, softlysuspended 2CV could cope with surprisingly well, by the way).
If the starkness and the ugliness of the 2CV didn’t click with buyers, then there were always the more upmarket, if hardly prettier, Ami and Dyane offshoots – same car but with bigger and more acceptable looks and an even perkier engine. But, with the Dyane dying out in 1983, the 2CV outlasted both of them (rather like the original Mini did with the Metro, which was supposed to replace it, yet ceased production before the little brick did). However, by the late 1980s, Citroen was marginalising the car and transferred production from the famous Levallois factory in a Paris suburb (where the car was produced for almost 40 years), to Portugal for its final days. Some say that quality improved as the Portuguese factory was more modern! Thi s was af ter the company broadened the car’sappeal with posher editions such as Special, Charleston and Dolly.
Cheap to maintain
It is fair to say that to most households who grew up with a Deux Chevaux used it more as a family hack or a second car, for which the cars were superbly suited. The 2CV’s low cost, low maintenance nature made it ideal, although actual DIY work was not Escort-easy – as anybody who has worked on the inboard drum brakes of pre ‘82 cars will testify plus you couldn’t safely pop down to your local motor parts shop on a Saturday and know that it would have the spare parts you wanted, which is where the Blue Oval always scored. Also, 2CVs could rust with the best of them. However, when running right, the Citroen was a dependable member of the family and, with a wheelbase the same as an Escort, roomy enough for the entire tribe.Of course, the Deux Chevaux’s raison d’etre was high-jacked by many factions over the decades, not least the lentil soup, veggie, eco warrior brigade who regarded it as ‘their’ car. In truth, the Citroen was a car for all reasons, for those who had an open mind, and that was sadly all too few of them in the UK.
Few magazines were as positive and appreciative about the Deux Chevaux as Car, which, despite similar prices, would always rate it above the likes of an FSO or Lada. The magazine summed up the 2CV’s minimalist nature, saying, “The 2CV is the only car we can think of that, by giving you less, makes you feel that you’re getting more.” Today, the 2CV has long passed over from contemporary to classic with ease and, like our Minor, has become one of the most useable and sensible daily drivers of them all, not least because of a great club and specialist back up. These independents can repair or even rebuild you a 2CV to your own desire and budget. Citroen, which has recently launched the innovative DS range of models, to compete with the new MINI, says it ‘doesn’t do retro’. And yet, with motoring costs soaring to silly levels, something like the comical 2CV woulddo many sensibly-minded folk just fi ne – even us conservative Brits, with our net curtain-twitching Joneses living next door!
When The Car Was The Star
Leaving asides the regular Deux Chevaux appearances in the Gendarme comedies and the GS-powered example in For Your Eyes Only, we also have the Dyane 6 driven by Reg Varney (!) in the 1972 comedy Go For A Take, the early 2CV in the 1967 Children’s Film Foundation epic Ghost of A Chance and Simone Signoret’s van in Les Diaboliques. The prize for the most sinister ever appearance of a Citroen 2CV has to be in the 1959 horror fi lm Les Yeux Sans Visage – Eyes Without A Face – whilst the award for the least ever sinister cinematic appearance of a Dyane is in Dracula AD1972…