The irrepressible Citroen 2CV

Paul Lines By Paul Lines, 27th Feb 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Transport>Cars

An overview of a unique French car that gathered a cult following - the 2CV

Introduction and overview

The Citroen 2cv first appeared as a prototype in 1939, but due partly to the Second World War and problems with the design and materials used, it did not enter into production and sale until 1938. With some, modifications, most of which were cosmetic, the 2cv lasted for 42 years until the final one of the 3,872,583 2cv's rolled off the production line in 1990.

Two steam horses was a very appropriate name to give to the more popularly known Citroen 2 CV. The 2cv did sound and perform remarkably like two horses that had become steamed up over something and you could never be sure which one was going to win. Furthermore, Citroen's designer must have had quite a sense of humour when it came to naming the particular models within this range. Typical of this humorous trait was the 2cv Charleston. An apt name for a car those who travelled in It would say as, at any speed faster than a horse and cart (here come those horses again), their faces use to go grey with terror as the car danced around threatening to throw them out of the doors that were rattling like a big band.

There were four basic objectives for the 2cv, which was originally designed by Pierre-Jules Boulanger, was threefold

1. To become a car that peasants could afford (which obviously makes me a peasant). At half the price of a VW Beetle, it achieved this status.

2. To be able to travel across farmland, including ploughed fields, as French farmers of the time wanted the shortest distance to market and were not enamoured with roads. (I can also confirm it was capable of performing this 4x4 act as I did it once - by accident of course).

3. That it should be able to travel 100 kms (63 miles) on 3 litres of gas about 2 thirds of a gallon, which it achieved.

4. That it could traverse the ploughed fields without breaking a tray of eggs held by the farmer's wife. (Never tried that, but I can confirm that it did not perform well with an open can of coke cola, as my friend found out at the cost of an expensive suit when I made my cross country journey).

The driving experience

Everything about the Citroen 2cv was unique and in many ways fun, if not a little bit hair-raising. T front doors opened the wrong way round. In addition, they also opened so wide that they would rest flat against the back door. As there was no room in the front door panels for the windows to slide down, Citroen introduced a system where the bottom half of the front windows flapped up outwards and clipped into the top of the door. This was a novelty unless the wind blew and, if you happened to be close to the gap where the window fitted, a bloodied nose would result from the window deciding, quite independently, to shut. The gearstick was unusual as it was like a pole that extended out from the dashboard (if you can call the sparsely populated space at the front of the car that). Every change of gear felt as if the engine was about to fall out.

However, despite all its faults, although people like me preferred to call them eccentricities, the 2cv quickly found market popularity. In the late 1950's and early 1960's it became the car for hippies to be seen in, and it was not unusual to find a 2cv bouncing along the road looking more like a mobile advert for "flower power" than a car, as making your own radical brand statement became a popular event with this strange little car.

With its rollback convertible roof, the 2cv became the butt of media and other automobile manufacturers’ jokes. One journalist nicknamed it the "umbrella" car because of the roof. In truth this was not an accurate description, because the roof fittings were not totally secure and it could whip open every time a thunderstorm was about to start.

Later developments

In the 1950s and 1960s, Citroen developed new vehicle models based upon the 2cv. One of the most popular, particular in France, was the 2cv van, many of which still grace the French roads (or should that be fields?) today. Another innovative design was the 2cv Sahara. This version had two engines, one at the back as well as the front, each with its own gas tank. You could use either engine independently or, if you wanted to increase your top speed by just of 50% (from 40 to 60 mph) just run both engines at the same time.

Although as stated earlier, cosmetic changes were made, the 2cv retained its unique shape and style until the end. Whilst it became an embarrassment to the company, as it became the butt of more jokes than the three-wheeler Reliant Robin, it served the company well in terms of sales and revenue and was a uniquely cheap car to produce.

Closing thoughts

The 2cv was an enjoyable experience because a) you always were noticed when driving one, b) pedestrians moved out of your way because braking was a mite flexible and c) everyone thought you were mad to own one, which of course we were.


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Other automobile articles
The origins of the automobile: Steam Cars
Classic car history: The Pontiac Firebird
Automobile History: Ten cars in history that failed to excite
Classie cars: Knowing the basics


Automobile, Citroen 1Cv, Classic Cars, French, Motor, Motoring, Transport

Meet the author

author avatar Paul Lines
Having spent a large part of my working life as a business consultant, I am now a full time freelance writer offering content for on-line and print publishers, as well as focusing on creative writing

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author avatar Denise O
28th Feb 2011 (#)

Loved your conclusion. What a cool car I have to admit. Nice read.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar Paul Lines
28th Feb 2011 (#)

I loved the experience Denise

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author avatar saurik
20th Jun 2011 (#)

My father owned Citroen Dyane 6.
The best and funniest thing about old citroen old cars is the suspension system.

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author avatar Paul Lines
21st Jun 2011 (#)

I agree Saurik, but that was what added to the experience

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author avatar Crap article
24th Nov 2011 (#)

A few corrections. The car derives its name because Citroen fitted in a class of cars that cost less in taxes, technically it has more than 2hp, more like 12 i believe. Second, the windows don't "decide independently" to close and break your nose, they are fastened on the metallic frame when open, and they're fastened on the metallic frame when closed. Not much room for windows to make independent decisions there. Oh, and also the roof is fastened to the metallic frame of the car, and after 23 years of life, the roof of my 2CV revisited many, many thunderstorms. Maybe you described your car in this article, because I'm pretty sure my engine sounds good when I change gears in my 2CV charleston. Please consider changing your writing style.

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