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

Classics Monthly - - Buyer’s Checklist - WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY GER­ARD HUGHES

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.

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