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60 Years of the 2CV

2013 is the 65th anniversary of one of motoring’s most enduring cars, the Citroen 2CV.  

Looking like a giant silver egg on a trolley with four wheels and an ugly bumper, the French still managed successfully to design and build cars that only the French would love and the rest of the world will hate in equal measure. The 2CV, the French version of The People’s car’ concept, something that the everyday man could use and crucially afford to buy and run. For such an ugly and downright simplistic vehicle the Citroen 2CV  has been more places and done much more than any other make of car. Indeed one 2CV made it across Chile’s Atacama Desert, its gearbox lubricated with mashed bananas after the gear oil leaked out!

Although the car first appeared on the roads 65 years ago and was in production as recently as 1990, the idea for the car goes back a further 15 years. Pierre Boulanger, the then chief executive of the Citroen motor company, had the original idea for the 2CV to be an Umbrella on wheels’. He specified a four-wheel car able to carry two French peasants in working apparel together with 50 kilos (one-hundred-weight) of potatoes at a maximum speed of 60 kilometres per hour or 37 miles per hour, quite an achievement with just a 9 horsepower power plant under the hood!

Furthermore, he said the car should be able to drive easily over the worst roads and farm tracks. Boulanger’s immortal words were that if a box of eggs were placed in the car and it was driven over a ploughed field, not a single egg should be broken due to its independent suspension and front wheel drive.

To make the car affordable, it was extremely basic in design incorporating flat pressed panels. For the carriage of extra large loads, a roll back canvas roof and canvas chairs that could be removed from the car and used as garden furniture. One of the jokes about the car was that its list of luxury items was not very extensive, actually just the one item padded cushions on the chairs.

But, when it was launched at the 1948 Paris Salon, it drew a huge response from the war weary French nation. World War Two, however, meant that initial supplies of the car were rationed to farmers and doctors everyone else put their names onto a three- year long waiting list.

The world saw what the French motor industry could do when the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only’ catapulted an example onto the world stage. Citroen decided to use the promotion to their advantage and even released some examples of the “2CV James Bond” painted yellow with “007” written on the doors. Furthermore some wag in the office thought it might be good to produce some fake bullet holes in the panels!

Often the butt of comedian’s jokes, the 2CV has however proved to be very popular and this popularity has carried the Ugly Duckling’ or Tin Snail’ through the last 60 years, the car having sold more than 6.77 million worldwide.