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

Lennox Herald - - DRIVETIME - Ian John­son

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.

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