The prototype for the Citroën’s 2CV dates back to the mid-1930s’ and the design of engineer and then Citroën Vice President, Pierre-Jules Boulanger. The 2CV – or TPV as it was then known – was conceived with the notion of helping French farmers to leave their horses and carts at home.
The Michelin Family acquired Citroën from bankruptcy in 1934 and sought to identify where its market lay. The agricultural client was identified and the design project developed with the aim of limiting the weight of the car and its components to maximise its economy.
The iconic and classic 2CV combines an air-cooled engine with low fuel consumption and some comfort – the design brief required room for four adults to travel across a furrowed field without breaking the dozen eggs it was carrying – it certainly had a spartan sense of reliable utilitarianism.
Its final body styling in 1944 was the work of the great Flaminio Bertoni.
Intended for launch in 1939 but World War II intervened – although the company kept the project secret during the Nazi occupation of France, the Citroën 2CV was finally released at Paris’ Salon Mondial de l’Automobile in 1948 as the 2CV or ‘deux chevaux vapeur’ – or ‘two steam horses’.
The 2CV was built in France – until 1988 – and Portugal up to 1990 and achieved over 5 million sales. Including 2CV variants 8.8 m were produced in the period 1948–1990.
In about 1995, my wife had been complaining about leaving our standard South West London “Nappy Valley” cars – primarily VW’s – on the street and how battered they were becoming because of poor neighbourhood parking and the increasingly tall “sleeping policemen”. With two children – by that point – and in pre-Ocado delivery days, my wife explained that she wanted a shopping trolley with an engine.
A guy in Battersea, Mark Waghorne, had started to renovate 2 CV’s and he found me a 1986 two-coloured “plums and custard” Dolly special edition with right hand-drive. His team spent several weeks rebuilding the car from scratch but when finished it was pristine with stunning paintwork, a new roll back roof, flip-up windows and umbrella gear change – it was a remarkable vehicle and amazingly economical. We loved “Dolly” and our kids sat high in the rear seats due to special harnesses that were fixed to take their car-seats.
Dolly’s 602 cc engine purred around the streets of South London and barrelled over the sleeping policemen. However, some months after our son was born we decided to seek pastures new and headed to Europe leaving Dolly in my Mother’s garage in Surrey. This was not to last long as we decided how cool it would be to have the benefit of Dolly in the southern European sun. So late September I loaded her onto a French car train at Calais for the trip to Toulouse the to continue driving South. She behaved remarkably well clattering along the straight motorways at no more than 100kms per hour.
I am not well known for my mechanical ability but outside Valencia exiting the toll-road I was greeted by the sound of a stuck accelerator. Dolly was screaming so I pulled over to see the problem. Lifting the bonnet I was aware of a collection of pieces of metal that resembled a spring. A remnant of spring hung forlornly from the connecting rod to the accelerator pedal. Armed with my trusty Victorinox SwissChamp (see our earlier review Victorinox SwissChamp) I prized off the remains and refashioned it into three or four coils reattaching the spring and checking it worked. It worked for about the next three years!
I won’t dwell on the sad back story behind the demise of Dolly but suffice it to say that steel and salt air is not a classic conservation combination. I’d love to get another Citroen from the same era but perhaps its time to recognise that the fibre-glassed bodied Mehari version see here our post – Citroën Méhari – of the 2CV may be a better bet.