Citroën 2CV

It’s easy to be dis­armed by the Gal­lic charm, so here’s how to sniff out a stinker...

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words Richard dredge Pho­tog­ra­phy John col­ley

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.

Engine

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.

Trans­mis­sion

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

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