It’s easy to be disarmed by the Gallic charm, so here’s how to sniff out a stinker...
This year marks 70 years since the arrival of the Tin Snail and 28 years since the final example was built – and interest in Citroën’s brilliant and clever people’s car has never been greater. As with so many everyday classics, values are on the rise, which makes it easier for owners to justify significant spending on their cars to keep them in fine condition. In the past many 2CVS have bitten the dust because of poor build quality combined with low values; nowadays far more cars can be economically revived.
With a better parts supply situation than at any time since that final 2CV was made, ownership is easier than ever. But a lot of 2CVS aren’t as good as you might think, so you need to buy with your eyes open. It’s worth finding a really good one, because few classics offer such joie de vivre. The ingenious design details, unique driving experience and reaction from onlookers mean little compares with owning and driving a 2CV. Much more than just a box of weirdness on wheels, it’s an amazingly practical, wonderfully comfortable car and acts as an invitation to a brilliant social scene. Chuck in ludicrously low running costs and the 2CV is the ideal charismatic classic.
For the latest expert advice we spoke to 2CV gurus Pete Sparrow (sparrowautomotive.co.uk), Ashley Carter (2cvcity.co.uk) and Darren Arthur (the2cvshop.co.uk).
Which one to choose?
In 1948 the 2CV Type A debuts at the Paris Salon; it goes on sale in 1949. The Fourgonette AU van arrives in 1951 and survives until 1978, accounting for a third of 2CV production. 1953 sees right-hand-drive production commence at Citroën’s Slough factory. The AZ debuts in 1954 with 425cc and 12bhp. Only available in grey until final year of production, 1960. In 1958 the twin-engined Sahara appears, of which 694 are made by 1967. In 1960 a five-ribbed bonnet replaces the previous corrugated item; Slough 2CV production ceases. From 1963 front-hinged doors are fitted; 1965 sees a six-window design plus rear hydraulic dampers. From 1970 there’s a choice of 26bhp 435cc or 29bhp 602cc engines; 12-volt electrics replace old 6v system.
‘It’s worth finding a really good one, because few classics offer such joie de vivre’
In 1974 circular headlamps are replaced by rectangular units and the 2CV is back on sale in the UK for the first time since Slough production ceased. The first special-edition 2CV goes on sale in 1976 – the Spot. Hydraulic dampers are now fitted up front. In 1980 another special, the two-tone Charleston, goes on sale. Front disc brakes fitted from 1981. In 1988 the Levallois factory in Paris closes; two years later the Portugal plant shuts and the final 2CV is produced.
Bodywork and structure
The outer panels corrode and get battered, but good-quality front wings, doors and bonnets are cheaply available and usually simple to replace. Look for rust stains in the rear wing seams and 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 rust is visible outside, it’ll be very bad inside; the same goes for the double-skinned rear panel which is very rust-prone.
The box under the rear seat, the boot floor, number plate panel and sills all dissolve. Check the sills from inside; patches in the footwells are okay if done well, but be suspicious because bodges are common. If the floors are rotten, the sills will be too. Floors are easy to replace wholesale, with or without sills, body on or off.
The bulkhead is double-skinned at the bottom, so it rots out of sight. If there are signs of corrosion it’ll be a lot worse than it looks. Right-hand drive cars originally had a battery support, but that was deleted in 1980 so the battery flexes the bulkhead and cracks it. The bonnet hinge on the scuttle also rots, allowing water into the cabin which then rots the floors; the door seal carrier at the base of the doors also rots badly.
The chassis corrodes, whatever care is taken to preserve it; decent pattern replacements start at £650 (cheaper ones are available), while £850 buys one made from the original tooling. 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. Rot usually starts inside, hidden from view. Focus on where the front axle is located; look for corrosion either side of where the suspension bolts 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
‘A 2CV engine will do 300,000 miles if the oil and filter are changed regularly’
bolted directly to them, accident damage is common, so have a good look and feel for rippled metal.
Check all seams closely. If the chassis is badly rotten behind the axle, as it twists the steering gets 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 so check for difficulty in opening the bonnet.
A 2CV engine will run for 300,000 miles if the oil and filter are changed every 3000 miles. Because the engine relies on its oil to keep cool, the oil cooler behind the engine-driven fan must be kept clean; it’s often caked in grime, so the engine runs too hot. If things are really bad, one piston can partially seize, leading to rattling and knocking; a new set of pistons and barrels (£220 plus a day’s labour) is the answer.
Exhaust fumes in the cabin will be down to leaking cylinder heads; there are no gaskets. The only fix is to skim the heads to reseal things. A tired engine will need fresh valve stem seals, the valves will need to be lapped in and new pushrod tube gaskets will be needed, too – it’s a £300 fix.
Expect clattering because the tappets aren’t set very tightly, but don’t confuse this with worn bearings. The main bearings rarely go; piston slap is more likely. A complete engine rebuild costs £1750; a decent used engine costs £500 if you can find one.
Cruise in third gear and listen for howling from the gearbox signifying that the main shaft’s rear bearing has had it. The first sign of gearbox trouble is usually tired third gear synchromesh, which crunches as you change up from second. A rebuilt ’box is £500 plus up to a day’s labour to fit it; add £200 if the clutch and spigot bush are also worn.
Steering, suspension & brakes
Heavy steering might be a twisted chassis or seized kingpins if they haven’t been greased every 1500 miles. Jack up the car and try rocking the front wheels at the top and bottom. There should be a small amount of play but anything really noticeable means they need replacing – a specialist job. It’s £40 and two hours’ labour per side to replace kingpins, but if the suspension arms, track rod ends and steering rack are worn too, expect a £425 bill.
The arm from the front wheel hub to the track rod end (the steering arm pivot lever) has a ball within the track rod end, and the ball wears oval. If the steering wobbles as you drive over a bump, a new pair of steering arm pivot levers are needed at £110.
The inboard front brakes are often neglected, especially if drums are fitted. The disc brakes are easier to work on, but the discs can warp and corrode so feel for pulsing through the pedal when you brake.
The final check is for corroded brake pipes, especially around the rear suspension legs. Be suspicious of pipes that are coated in fresh underseal, and look closely for evidence of fluid leaking out. Discbraked cars use LHM fluid, which is a green mineralbased liquid. If normal brake fluid is put into the system it’ll wreck all the seals, so look in the master cylinder and check the colour. On post-1985 cars, rear suspension arm failures are getting more common because of corrosion; replacements cost £328 apiece.
Trim & electrics All 2CVS have a fabric roof which shrinks and splits. A decent replacement roof is £220; fitting is easy. The seats can be recovered for just £179, using original-style covers. Seat bases, rubber springs and frames are common failures, with seat rebuilds getting expensive. New covers won’t fix the problem.
Electrical problems are rare, but the carbon brushes in the alternator wear. They’re cheap and easy to replace. Most problems are down to water leaking into lamps and rotting the contacts, or poor earths.
Running costs for a 2CV in good condition are ludicrously low, but the Tin Snail is particularly prone to attack from the tin worm. A real rotbox can land you with a large repair bill
Most 2CVS are pottering around on the 602c flat-twin engine. Expect a bit of clatter from the tappets, but watch out for leaks in the gasket-free cylinder heads
Interior is about as basic as they come, with little to wear or break. Collapsed seats are fairly costly to repair, but their covers are cheap Pliant suspension means the 2CV is a lot more comfortable than it might look and much fun can be had with barrelfuls of body roll when cornering