CHECKLIST DEUX CHEVAUX
The key to buying a usable classic is being armed with all the known marque specific problems and the first car to go under our spotlight is the evergreen Citroën 2CV
The Citroën 2CV was once seen as an ideal starter classic or ultra cheap run-around, but it’s no longer the preserve of students and eco warriors. Tracing its roots back as far as the late ‘Thirties, the Citroën was conceived as affordable, basic transport for French farmers. The mythical brief was that the car had to be robust enough to carry 200 pounds of produce while have suspension supple enough that would allow a basket of eggs to be carried on the back seat while driving over a ploughed field without breaking a single one.
Much of the engineering employed in the 2CV is unconventional to our modern eyes. Powered by an air-cooled flat twin which ranged from miniscule (earliest cars boasted 375cc and just 9hp) through to adequate (the last had 602cc and 33hp) driving through the front wheels. The gearlever protrudes through the bulkhead like an umbrella handle due to the in-line gearbox. Front brakes are in-board – discs on later cars – and suspension is courtesy of two longitudinal coil springs which run either side of the car.
The long travel suspension not only affords that incredibly compliant ride, it can lead to some incredible body lean angles in cornering. If you’re considering a 2CV, the good news is that parts supply is brilliant. You can buy practically anything you need to restore and maintain one off the shelf – from a galvanised chassis to original spec tyres. But still try and buy the very best your budget can run to. If the car you’re viewing has been restored, ask to see records and receipts of work done. And due to the unconventional nature of the Citroën, if you’re not sure, get the car checked over by a marque expert before handing over any cash.
The 2CV still offers fantastic value for money. Combine its great personality and unique driving experience with enthusiastic owners and clubs, few other classics could offer such a great smile per mile ratio. BODYWORK The 2CVís biggest issue is rust, and they can rot almost anywhere. Key to the 2CV’s success is its lightweight, which is in part down to the thin steel used in its construction. The prime rust location is within the simple chassis. In extreme cases, and in particular on versions built in the ‘Eighties, corrosion can be so severe that it can collapse just in front of the rear suspension. Many cars will have had their chassis replaced by now – a galvanised replacement is a big plus point on any prospective purchase.
Once you’ve satisfied yourself on the condition of the chassis, you will need to check the floors, sills, rear seatbelt mountings and bonnet hinge panel. And then check everywhere else. ENGINE It may be small and simple, but the 2CVís air-cooled engine is very robust. The key to a healthy long life is regular maintenance – check that the 3000-mile oil and filter change intervals have been observed. Early cars don’t use a conventional oil filter, and for these, services should be carried out every 1500 miles. Poor maintenance can lead to the oil cooler becoming sludged up or even blocked, with disastrous consequences. Clean, or better still, replace.
For an engine that relies on its oil for both lubrication and cooling, any leaks should be carefully investigated. Listen carefully for any knocks or rattles. Tappets can be noisy, as they tend to be loosely set, but be wary of piston slap. Big end bearings rarely give any trouble.
Poor starting is usually down to tired ignition components. You’ll need to change contact points, condenser, spark plugs and plug leads. Coils can be troublesome, but without stating the obvious, if it runs, it’s okay. The 2CV doesn’t have a distributor; it has a points box and relies on a lost spark system. This is housed fairly deep in the engine behind the cooling fan and is time consuming to get to. An aftermarket electronic ignition set-up can means less maintenance and greater reliability. Oil in the points box indicates a blocked breather system – replacing the oil filler neck is usually the answer to this. GEARBOX With so little power to cope with, the gearbox gets a reasonably easy time but it doesn’t mean it lasts forever. First to fail is third gear synchromesh, crunching as you change up the ‘box. Check for failed mainshaft bearings by getting the car up speed and leaving it in third. If it whines and howls, a rebuild will be needed.
The clutch tends be fairly hardwearing, but as the 2CV driving style requires lots of revs and a little clutch slip, they do wear out. SUSPENSION The 2CV’s driving style belies its pre-war origins and unlike a lot of its later contemporaries, it still requires attention with a grease gun on a regular basis. The kingpins, suspension and driveshaft joints require greasing every 1000 miles and wear will be greatly accelerated if this is neglected.
To check the kingpins, jack up the car and rock the front wheel top to bottom. A small amount of play is acceptable, but anything more, budget for replacement. BRAKES Post 1981 cars had disc brakes at the front, and although these are more efficient and easier to work on than the earlier drums, they are still by no means easy to access. Removing the front drums on earlier cars is considered by many owners to be one of the worst jobs that you’ll have to do. Poor braking can usually be put down to old or second-rate components being used. On versions fitted with disc brakes, the front callipers need to be centred correctly for best efficiency. The handbrake operates on the front, but has it’s own pads. Adjustment is via cams.
WHEELS & TYRES The 2CV is fitted with the tall and skinny 125-15 Michelin X Tyre. These are still widely available through specialist suppliers like Vintage Tyres and Longstone at very reasonable prices. ELECTRICS There are few luxuries to worry about in the 2CV but you should check that the few electrical items fitted work well. The needle on the dash mounted ammeter should sit in the middle. Failure to do this can either point to worn dynamo brushes or the dynamo regulator has failed. This is located on the battery and can easily be replaced with a new electronic one, which are considerably cheaper than the old electro magnetic type.
Failure to switch from low to high beam indicates a failed lighting switch, and the wipers should be quiet and move quite quickly. Sluggish operation is usually down to worn wiper spindles, which can also allow water to find its way into the interior. TRIM Even on the more luxurious later cars, interior trim is sparse. No matter how tired the trim has become, nothing is irretrievable if you have the budget. Seat trim kits, new hoods, floor coverings, door cards and all handles and pulls are available. If the car you’re viewing needs work in this area, price up the parts carefully and budget for this against the asking price. VERDICT Nothing compares to the 2CV, which means the car’s a unique prospect from both an engineering and ownership point of view. The mechanical side of this little Citroën may be a little unconventional, but all parts are available and every job on the car could be tackled by a competent home mechanic. And if you get stuck, there’s plenty of advice and help to be had from both enthusiastic fellow owners and marque specialists.
The Citroën may not hide its utilitarian roots, but where it may be sparse, it more than makes up for it in plenty of other areas. It’s a full four-seater with a roll back roof for open-air motoring. Due to that long travel suspension, there is plenty of body roll, but the ride is smooth and most owners don’t flinch at the idea of covering great distances in their 2CV.
And the tiny air-cooled motor may need a few extra revs from a standstill, but once underway, the car will more than keep up with modern traffic. There are still very presentable 2CVs on offer for reasonable sums, but that can’t last forever. If you’re in the market for a practical classic with bags of character and more than a hint of Gallic charm, we say go for it.
All the body panels bolt on to a sub structure, making a 2CV an easy car to repair.
It may look complex, but the 2CV’s power unit is reasonably easy to work on. Skinny tyre keep this little Citroën going in snowy conditions when many moderns give up.
Various styles of seats have been fitted to the 2CV over the years. Rust around the front bulk head is a common problem and can be difficult to totally eradicate.