Thursday May 31, 2018
There is one very important aspect of the Citroen Mehari – i.e. it is not a car for a poor climate and indeed it was never officially marketed in the UK. It belongs under the Mediterranean sun and indeed I first encountered it in Santa Ponsa some 36 years ago. At that time, holidaymakers might rent a SEAT 127 or Panda Samba light utility but it was the Mehari that drew my attention as its appeal was best described as ‘jolly utilitarianism’. It was clearly a member of the Citroën Flat Twin family but it had an appeal all of its own, not least because every other example in Mallorca seemed to be finished in bright orange.
The Mehari made its bow on 16th May 1968 and, in a charming example of how vehicle selling has radically changed over the past 50 years, Citroën arranged 20 dummies around their launch car, all costumed in outfits that were intended to reflect the Mehari’s use by firefighting departments, farmers and explorers etc. It would indeed be used by the French military and Gendarmerie for many years but it was apparent from the outset that the new Citroën would almost instantly appeal to the leisure market -
The key to the future success of the Mehari was its lightweight coachwork, as created by Roland de la Poype. In the 1960s his company Société d'Exploitation et d'Application des brevets (SEAB) was a Citroën supplier and the first prototype was a 2CV AK 350 van that was literally stripped of its bodywork. De la Poype created an ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic body for the new vehicle with the horizontal ribs to increase the body’s rigidity. Power was from the famous 602cc engine, and the brakes, transmission, suspension and steering were shared with the 2CV and Dyane.
One early export market was the USA, where weekend hippie motorists were informed that the Mehari’s bodywork ‘eliminates all problems of corrosion, resists scratches and dents and keeps colors groovy’. Thus reassured of the abiding grooviness of the coachwork (an issue of abiding importance in the late 1960s), the customer also noted that there was space enough for a surf board in the luggage bay, that the side doors were removable and that the windscreen could be folded flat. The top speed was around the 70 mph mark and the Citroën that ‘goes anywhere…just for the fun of it’ was initially available in red, beige or green.
In the event the Mehari was not offered for long in the States – it is yet another car that is really difficult to imagine on the freeway – but in its homeland the two-seater version was hugely popular with farmers. In 1979 Citroën offered a 4x4 version, as immediately recognisable by its bonnet mounted spare wheel and elaborate bumpers while in 1983 there came a version that captured that “Club Tropicana” spirt. The Mehari Azure was finished in white with a vibrantly blue hood and radiator grille and striped upolstery - in short it was a Piña Colada on wheels.
1988 saw the demise of the Mehari, a Citroën that so many of us will forever associate with sun, sea, surf and being scowled at by the Guardia Civil. This 1975 commercial encapsulates its lasting appeal (although please try to ignore the horrendous funk soundtrack) -