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Citroën 2CV

Snail's Pace Published: 3rd May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 2CV6
  • Worst model: Late Portugese cars
  • Budget buy: Post-1981 cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): Yes
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: No problem
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Style remained virtually unchanged throughout its lifespan Style remained virtually unchanged throughout its lifespan
Stark but functional cabin doesn't wear well but is easy to fi x. New sunroofs cost, around £125 Stark but functional cabin doesn't wear well but is easy to fi x. New sunroofs cost, around £125
Engines are super simple but need proper servicing to keep sweet. Engines are super simple but need proper servicing to keep sweet.
Rust is sworn enemy of all 2CVs. Serious on chassis, not panels and many cars will have been ‘re-chassised Rust is sworn enemy of all 2CVs. Serious on chassis, not panels and many cars will have been ‘re-chassised
Chromework is minimal - fl ap down front window design can be a painful if you knock them open Chromework is minimal - fl ap down front window design can be a painful if you knock them open
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Proving that you don’t have to go fast to have fun, Citroen’s 2CV must be one of the slowest classics around. And that’s still its key attraction!

Pros & Cons

Cheap, practical, simple, classless image
Slow, spartan and crude nature
£800 - £3000

If you’re on a budget and need to carry some eggs over a ploughed fi eld, there’s only one car you should be looking at; the Citroën 2CV - because that was the basic design premise. Any car that stays in production for nearly half a century has to be pretty iconic and the 2CV (or Tin Snail as it became known) is up there with the best of them. From its introduction in 1949 to its demise in 1990, the 2CV stayed faithful to its brief; to provide affordable transport and ease of maintenance. Now 60 years on and nearly two decades after its demise, this Citroen continues to offer the same qualities as when it was new, but it’s even more affordable and just as right for the 21 century - but with a whole lot
of frugal fun into the bargain.

History

It’s now six decades since the 2CV (Deux Chevaux) made its debut, with the Type A making its fi rst appearance at the 1948 Paris Salon; it went on sale the following year although was fi rst designed back in the 1930s. By 1951 there was a van option; the Fourgonette AU, which lasted until 1978 and accounted for a third of 2CV production. In 1953, assembly of right-hand drive cars began, at Citroën’s Slough factory; the following year saw the arrival of the AZ, with a 425cc engine and 12bhp. A real oddity arrived in 1958, in the form of the twin-engined Sahara; 694 were made by 1967, when production ended. Slough 2CV production stopped in 1960; the same year that a fi ve-ribbed bonnet replaced the previous corrugated item and the same year the Bijou went on sale. This was a 2CV rebodied in glassfi bre, built for the UK market only. Just 211 were sold by the time production ended in 1964. The Ami made its debut in 1961; this wasa saloon based on 2CV mechanicals.  From the following year there was a conventional speedo and fuel gauge while electric wipers were now fi tted. Front-hinged doors arrived in 1963 while from 1965 there was a six-window design plus hydraulic dampers at the rear. In 1967 the Dyane joined the range, with a 425cc engine and larger body, plus faired-in headlamps. The following year saw the arrival of the Moke-style Mehari, which lasted until 1987; it was usually sold with two-wheel drive but fourwheel drive was offered from 1979. The true powerhouses arrived in 1970, with a choice of 26bhp 435cc or 29bhp 602cc engines; this was also the point when 12-volt electrics replaced the six-volt system.

From 1974, rectangular headlamps replaced the circular units and the 2CV was back on sale in the UK for the fi rst time since Slough production ceased. The fi rst special edition 2CV went on sale in 1976; the Special. At the same point, the front dampers became hydraulic units. By 1980 there was another special edition, the Charleston, which later became a standard production model. Development slowed after 1981, which is when disc brakes were fi tted at the front, while round headlamps made a return on the Special and Charleston only. The higher-spec Club retained square lights for a few years in the UK, and until the end of production in other countries. The end was in sight in 1988, which is when the Levallois factory in Paris closed and the Bamboo limited edition was offered; two years later the Mangaulde plant in Portugal also closed, which is when the final 2CV was produced.

Driving

This is where it’s much more fun than you might fi rst think. There’s not power on offer to put it mildly but you don’t need much to have fun. Even though progress is - ahem - relaxed, it’s easy to maintain momentum as you whizz round the bends - even if the body roll somewhat alarming for onlookers who will assume that the car is about to become inverted. The hilarious cornering antics are courtesy of the ultra-soft suspension, which also gives the Citroen its fabulous ride. To go with that superb ride is an amount of grip you wouldn’t have thought possible from such narrow tyres - some mountain bikes have wider tyres than the Citroen! The gearchange (all cars were manual) is via a lever that sprouts from underneath the dash, and although the change pattern isn’t immediately obvious, you soon get used to it. Also, thanks to the car’s amazing feather weight (it tips the scales at just half a ton), the brakes don’t have to work hard - as a result, there’s plenty of bite and they’re brilliantly effective. Not so clever are the windows, which bring pain if you don’t handle them right like Arkwright’s cash till but you get used to them. Remove rear seats and you have a brilliantly versatile holdall and the 2CV makes a great eco-friendly classic daily driver while the ‘real ‘ collectable is wrapped up in the garage, Economy is a strong point - naturally! These cars are renowned for their frugal nature and 40s+ mpg is a given. In fact, in the wake of the 1970s fuel crisis Classic Cars (then Thoroughbred & Classic Cars) ran a brand new 2CV to conserve fuel and reckoned that this £3000 eco car would pay for itself in petrol alone after 40,000 miles compared to the Aston its user normally ran! Thirty years on it still holds true.

Improvements

The most useful upgrade you can make is a 123 electronic ignition system, for £125 (from http://www.123ignition.nl). With so little power available even when running properly, you need to make sure the ignition system is running optimally all the time. Halogen headlights are also worthwhile; you’ll need a special ring to take the modern bulb, but you can convert for around £30. An electric heater for £90 stops you getting hypothermia in winter, while a stainless steel exhaust is £425 and a heated rear window is £125. Another mod that’s worthwhile is a hatchback conversion; this is an original Citroen offering that can be tracked down for around £30 on a used basis. It connects the boot lid and window to each other, with the latter hinging at the top to become a tailgate. When closed nobody can tell the difference, but it increases the car’s practicality no end. Engines can be perked up and have even been turbocharged but to us it largely negates the point of the whole car, which is economy fi rst and last.

Prices

Ripple bonnet 2CVs are worth more than the later models, with top examples commanding £5000. Tatty roadworthy cars fetch £1500 but these are rare. Basket case later vehicles can be free, with the best ones worth £3000. A decent roadworthy later 2CV will get £1500.

What To Look For

  • You can buy a new galvanised chassis for around £400, which is just as well because the originals rot no matter how much care is taken to preserve them. By now most 1980s cars will have had a new chassis fi tted; pre-1980 vehicles generally last longer.
  • The factory chassis is essentially one big box section (aftermarket ones tend to be two C-section side rails with removable top and bottom plates), and rot often starts on the inside. The area where the front axle is located is the most important place to check; look for evidence of corrosion about 8 inches either side of where the suspension is bolted on. This is where all the chassis’ strengthening is - patches won’t do the job. It’s the same for the rear chassis legs; they can’t be patched and because the bumper is bolted directly to them, accident damage is common, so look and feel for rippled metal.
  • Check the seams closely and the rest of the metal. If the chassis is badly rotten behind the axle, as it twists the steering gets very heavy and it’ll be hard straightening the car out when exiting a corner. If it’s rotted in front of the axle, it’s harder to detect – the headlights rising as you apply power is the fi rst sign, as is diffi culty in opening the bonnet.
  • The bodyshell rusts badly; fi rst port of call is the top of the rear wings, which rot along the seam; look for rust stains here. Look under the rear side window, and feel the metal on the top edge of the inner wing, especially between the second and third bolts. By the time it’s visible outside, it’s very bad inside.
  • Check the seatbelt mount at the lower front of the inner wing - it’s a rare car that hasn’t been welded here. The box under the rear seat, the boot fl oor and number plate panel can often rust, too. Virtually every part of the shell is available, however.
  • The sills rust readily, so press hard along their length; any crackling sounds or discernible give means they’re ready for replacement. Then look at the sills from inside; patches in the footwells is okay, but anything further back is bad news. The fl oors are easy enough to replace whole, with or without sills, body on or off. Most fl oors will either have been patched at the front or replaced by now – a recent chassis with poor floors is a sign of a rushed chassis change.
  • Spotting rot in the bonnet is easy, but it’s in the engine bay that you need to look the most closely. The bulkhead is double-skinned at the bottom, so look underneath and from inside; this can rot without it being too obvious.
  • RHD cars originally had a battery support, but that was deleted in 1980, so the battery fl exes the bulkhead and cracks it.
  • Have a good look around the windscreen surround, which rots badly and tends to be bodged with fi ller as it’s a diffi cult area to repair properly. As with the sills, press hard on the metal, listening for cracking or looking for fl exing. The bonnet hinge on the scuttle also rots. Both the screen surround and the hinge will allow water in with the obvious effect on the fl oors. You can get a rough idea of the screen surround just by looking at how well the rubber sits - same for the rear body side windows.
  • The 2CV’s engine relies on its oil to keep cool. The oil cooler that’s positioned behind the engine-driven fan has to be kept clean, but its location ensures it gets fi lthy - guaranteeing it’ll run hot. In a bad case, one piston can partially seize, leading to strange rattles and knocks – a new set of pistons and barrels (£150 plus a couple of hours’ labour) is the answer. If the car’s got electronic ignition, it’s more likely that the cooler’s been neglected, as there’s much less need for the fan to come off. The oil should have been changed every 3000 miles and the fi lter every 6,000 miles. Citroën later changed the schedule to 6000, but with no changes to the engine. If this is adhered to the unit will cover 200,000 miles with ease, even if it’s not whisper quiet!
  • On the test drive make sure the cylinder heads aren’t leaking; there are no head gaskets and the heads have to be lapped in to seal them. If this needs doing it’ll cost you around £150 to have the pair done. The test is to make sure there are no exhaust fumes entering the cabin with the windows and roof shut, and the heater switched on.
  • A small amount of oil weeping is okay, but if there are large pools of lubricant beneath the car it’s bad news. It’s usual for the engine to sound clattery, as the tappets aren‘t set tightly - but don’t confuse this with rattles or knocking from worn out bearings, although the main bearings are huge for the power output and rarely go. More likely is piston slap - which will be an obvious knocking coming from one side of the engine or the other.
  • The transmission has an easy time, but it doesn’t last forever. The fi rst thing to give trouble is normally third gear synchromesh, which will crunch as you change up from second gear – especially if you’re really revving the engine as you do so. A rebuilt ‘box is £250 plus half a day labour for a straight swap.
  • Once the car is up to cruising speed, leave it in third gear and listen for howling from the gearbox. If it’s making a racket the gearbox will need to be rebuilt because the mainshaft’s rear bearing has had it.
  • The driveshafts and clutch don’t usually give any trouble, as long as the latter has beenadjusted to give 20mm of free play at the pedal. Depending on which way the adjustment’s out, it’ll either not release properly, or slip.
  • If the gearchange is uncomfortably stiff, it’s probably because the bushes at the base of the gearlever have been greased; but the bushes should be sprinkled with talcum powder to reduce friction. Slop and excess movement can be due to the bushes on the link between the two levers - it’s easy to fi x and cheap at less than a tenner.
  • Heavy steering can be down to a twisted chassis or seized kingpins if they haven’t been greased every 1500 miles. To check them, jack up the car and try rocking the wheel at the top and bottom. There should be a small amount of play, but anything signifi cant means they need replacing, which is best left to a specialist. Budget on £15 and two hours’ labour per side.
  • There’s an arm from the front wheel hub to the track rod end. This arm has a ball which sits within the track rod end, and the ball wears oval. If the steering wobbles as you drive over a bump, a new arm is needed at £80 per side.
  • Post-1981 2CVs have front disc brakes, and like the earlier all-drum models, the are mounted inboard. Cars with drums at the front often have a braking system in poor condition, as it’s such a pain getting to the brakes to maintain them. Things are made worse by the handbrake acting on the front wheels, Drum handbrakes use the normal shoes, so are very powerful if adjusted up; disc handbrakes are rubbish at the best of times.

Three Of A Kind

Fiat 500
Fiat 500
Like the 2CV, the 500 is hardly over-endowed with power, but it offers just as much charm if not as much practicality. They’re getting pricey too thanks to the recent 500 revival – especially if you want an early (suicidedoor) edition. Don’t ignore more sporting Abarths or more familysized 600.
Renault 4
Renault 4
Renault’s answer to the 2CV was the hatchback R4. It was similar to the Citroen in many ways, not least its on road antics but the R4 scored with a more spacious and civilised interior, better performance. Car remained in production into the 1980s plus a more refi ned and updated R6 surfaced in 1970.
Mini
Mini
Britain’sanswer to the economy car was the Mini of which little more needs to be said. Availability is excellent, with great parts supply and they’re easy to restore, maintain or upgrade. Like the Beetle, there’s a great social side too, and value of you don’t go the usual Cooper route. Travellers are fi ne run-arounds.

Verdict

They may be noisy, slow and alarming to watch when they turn a corner, but the 2CV is capable of providing far more fun than you’d ever believe. Even better, you can run one for barely any more than it would cost to maintain a decent pushbike. Mid-to-late 80s cars are even more rot-prone than the earlier models, but if you track a good one down you’ll have more smiles per pound spent than you ever thought possible. As a sensible but fun-packed second car or daily driver they make enormous sense and remain as trendy as ever.



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