Thursday September 8, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts.
The recent August bank holiday put me in mind of a car-related film that was forever being screened during the 1970s and 1980s, one that was so bad that it must have been aired to drive the young viewers back to school. Go for Take was made in 1972 and starred an array of depressed-looking British character actors but it did boast, as a sole redeeming feature, a chase involving a Reg Varney and a Citroen Dyane.
Apart from appearing in dire comedy films the Dyane gave many drivers their first taste of Citroen flat twin motoring, as for many years, it was a more familiar sight on the UK roads than the 2CV. Between 1960 and 1973 the Deux Chevaux was not officially available in Britain and the Ami 6 was obtainable only ‘by special order’. When the Dyane was introduced in 1967 it instantly appealed to those customers who appreciated front wheel drive and wanted an alternative to the Renault 4. In the words of James Walshe, Citroen aficionado extraordinary and the assistant editor of Practical Classics magazine, ‘Improved aerodynamics meant performance was improved and you could now cruise comfortably at seventy without the doors being sucked outwards’.
And it was also tremendous fun, with its full-length sunroof and handling that gave the impression that the door handles were scraping the tarmac when a driver negotiated a roundabout. Luxuries were few and far between – an ashtray, sun visors and a heater were about your lot – but the Dyane was comfortable and the rear bench could be completely removed; ideal for picnics or garden fetes. There was also a fifth door, and as James puts it, ‘Although in my view the greatest single piece of automotive engineering in history, the 2CV lacked only two fundamental things: The ability to cruise at a speed appropriate to motorway travel and a truly flexible interior’.
In actual fact, the engine of EKE 956 K, our own Dyane, made banshee like wailings whenever it took to the M27 but it never failed to arrive at Southampton or Portsmouth on time. Even by 1970s standards, certain aspects of the Citroen were archaic, such as the separate starter button, the fixed panes on the rear doors and the starting handle bracket, but we soon learned to cope with its idiosyncrasies. Winter travel meant blanking off the radiator grille, donning a parka with a mock fur hood and occasionally driving with the front half of the roof open in order to aid the demister – character building for driver and passengers alike.
The Dyane ceased production in 1983 having never quite captured the public imagination in the fashion of the 2CV. Whether you regard it as a refinement of the Deux Chevaux formula or even a better car than its parent model, it is a Citroen that deserves far more publicity. As Mr Walshe puts it, ‘To my mind, the Dyane is the most sensible vehicle in automotive history’ – and possibly the only reason for sitting through one of the most gloom-inducing ‘comedy’ films ever to be made in the UK.