Tuesday November 6, 2018
The design brief was ‘A car capable of driving across a ploughed field with a sheep in the back and a pile of eggs on the front seat’. In 1953 Autocar described it as ‘the work of a designer who has kissed the lash of austerity with an almost masochistic fervour’, but L J K Setright regarded Citroën’s creation as ‘the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car’. The 2CV was unveiled at the 1948 Paris Motor Show -
– with production ceasing as recently as 1990. Here we pay tribute to the entire Deux Chevaux family:
Sahara 1958 - 1966
Two starter buttons. Two chokes. Two petrol tanks situated under the front seats. Two transmissions (albeit with one with a single clutch and a single transmission). And, best of all, two 425cc engines. What is there not to like?
The standard operating procedure was to use the front motor in normal driving conditions and fire up the rear unit when off-road and, as Autocar noted in 1958, the Sahara would provide ‘increased mobility to oil prospectors, archaeologists, explorers and the like. It really works- and it’s fun!’
Bijou 1959- 1964
Between 1926 and 1965 Citroën operated an assembly plant in Slough to circumvent Britain’s heavy import duties and in 1954 the 2CV was made in Berkshire. ‘Takes these lanes better than any car I know - the suspension is simply superb. Four of us went for a most comfortable run yesterday and averaged 60 miles to the gallon’ read the sales copy, but it was just too radical for your average pipe-smoking motorist.
The Bijou was a bold attempt to re-invent the Deux Chevaux formula for UK motorists as a stylish two-door saloon with GRP bodywork created by Peter Kirwan-Taylor of Lotus Elite fame and a DS steering wheel. Unfortunately, £674 was very expensive for a small car and by late 1961 motorists who wanted an upmarket FWD four-seater were offered the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf, leaving ‘the baby gem of the year’ to be filed under “Brave Experiments”.
Ami 1961 - 1978
The original Ami 6 was launched in April 1961 as Citroën’s rival to the Renault Dauphine and, by the end of the year, the Simca 1000. Furthermore, that Flaminio Bertoni-designed bodywork ensured that the ‘The world’s most comfortable medium-sized car’ would not ever be mistaken for another vehicle. Sales in the UK were limited, due to a high price (£823 was very expensive for a 602cc saloon in 1962) and, possibly, its appearance, even if the owner could boast of driving the first car equipped with rectangular headlamps. By contrast, the Ami was to become France’s most popular car and indeed who could fail to be impressed by this wonderfully 1960s PR film -
Dyane 1967- 1983
This is not just one of the finest ever Citroens but one of the best lightweight cars of its era. The Dyane offered all the charm and verve of the 2CV plus new five-door coachwork. Most Britons opted for the 602cc “6”. My only negative memory of my family’s ’72 model is that it could be extremely cold in winter as the heater lacked a fan but in summer any Dyane comes into its own.
Méhari 1968- 1988
Or a vehicle that some of us (myself at any rate) will forever associate with Mallorca of the early 1980s, with bright orange Citroën utilities darting amongst SEAT 127s and Renault 7s of Palma. The floorplan was from the Dyane 6 combined with new ABS bodywork -
The engineering was more straightforward than the Sahara – i.e. there was only one motor – although a 4x4 version was offered in 1979. Sadly, the Méhari was never officially sold in the UK.
LN/LNA 1976- 1986
The LN/LNA are oft-overlooked members of the Flat Twin family, and on its launch several Citroën devotees regarded it as a three-door Peugeot 104 that was powered by the 602cc engine and sported Chevron badging. The first LNs were reserved for the domestic market but in 1978 British motorists were offered the slightly more powerful LNA. Do any survive?
Visa 1978 - 1988
As we said earlier this year, the Visa was a remarkable small hatchback not least because it could be ordered in both transverse and “north-south” engine layouts. The former was the “Visa Club”, powered by a 652cc version that venerable Flat Twin and all early models featured that distinctive “beer can” (Citroën understandably preferred to refer to it as a “satellite") pod on the steering column.
As for many of my own favourite memories of the 2CV, one is of the 1967 commercial -
Another is from the 1964 French comedy, Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez –
And a third relates to a certain 007 film –