Quirky Citroen caught on in Britain
The 2CV was conceived by Citroën’s Vice-President Pierre Boulanger to help motorise the large number of farmers still using horses and carts in 1930’s France
Waiting at traffic lights the other day a rare sight drew up alongside me.
It was a Citroen 2CV, a little French number that Brits fell in love with decades ago.
They were a common sight in the 1980s and even by 1995 there were still more than 20,000 survivors.
But these days they are joining the ranks of endangered species with only 3,000 or so left on the road and a slightly larger number languishing in driveways and sheds on SORN notices.
The 2CV came to a British market that was renowned for its conservatism. But in the 1970s and 1980s many Brits fell head over heels for a quirky little car that was bread and butter motoring in France.
The 2CV was a throwback to post Second World War austerity and first took to the roads in 1948.
But until 1974 it was a rare sight in Britain. Its hammock seats, umbrella handle gear change and roll-back fabric roof really did not line up against the conventional designs of Ford and Vauxhall.
When the 2CVs first started to arrive at British dealers, trendy young drivers loved them. The 2CV’s cult appeal became instantly anchored on British soil and its popularity resulted in various brightly painted special editions.
It was astonishingly basic with the intention of keeping servicing and running costs at rock bottom. Under the bonnet was a tiny but enthusiastic flattwin cylinder air-cooled engine which began life as a meagre 375cc delivering an amazing 56mpg.
In its early form, the 2CV could just about top 43mph but when the engine size was upped to 602bhp its performance improved greatly and it could eventually reach nearly 70mph.
I drove one in the mid1970s and can remember its remarkable mix of qualities.
The hammock seats, although very basic were surprisingly comfortable and the willing engine made it no slouch.
The most surprising quality was the ride. It was very soft with independent suspension all round and one boast was that it was so supple that it could transport a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without breaking one.
But the price of this was alarming body roll which was all right once you got used to it, but was not ideal for those prone to car sickness.
If you wanted to open a door window, they hinged in the middle and clipped at the top. And the 2CV had its own form of air conditioning - a flap under the windscreen that opened to the elements when required.
Headlamps were supported on metal bars, the wheels were plain steel pressings and the door handles looked like something purloined from cheap kitchen furniture. But the fans loved it.
After years of driving Vauxhall Vivas, Ford Escorts and Morris Marinas, this was a true breath of French air which gave a continental flavour to everyday driving.
The end of the road came in 1990 after five million were built.