Citroën 2CV – a great French icon

Written by on July 1, 2013 in French Icons

Citroen 2CV

I’m not really sure what it is we all love about Citroën 2CVs – those little round roofed cars that are so simple in design but that ooze Gallic charm and a certain “je ne sais quoi”.

Introduced to the French market in 1948 and then to the British in the 1960s, for many in the UK the 2CV was the butt of much humour, “an upturned pram” said some, a “tin snail” said others. Despite the name calling, they became a much loved form of transport and these days are highly sought after. Even James Bond was a fan – using a bright yellow high performance 2CV on a chase through a Spanish olive oarm in “For your Eyes Only”, when in 1981 he evaded the baddies in their Peugeots.

History of the Citroen 2CV
citroen 2 cv

The great French iconic car was originally designed to suit the needs of French farmers. They were not wealthy and disposable income wasn’t an option so economy of scale in production was the order of the day.

2CV actually means “deux chevaux” or rather “deux chevaux-vapeur”- (literally. ‘steam horses’) or “Two tax horsepower”. Aat that time the policy was to tax cars by engine output. Clearly these cars are not loved for their engine power or speed but in their day they were a pioneering breakthrough with a sophisticated suspension system, air cooled engine and detachable bits and pieces from doors to fabric sun roof.

They were conceived in the 1930s by Citroën engineer Pierre-Jules Boulanger and his team to carry two farmers, along with 50kg of potatoes or a small barrel of wine at a maximum speed of 60 km/hr. After years of research and delays during WWII, the car went into production in 1948 after being officially unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. They were sold to farmers across France,  designed to go across bumpy fields and rough roads and, the manufacturers claimed, without breaking the eggs the farmers were carrying!

Citroen 2cvDespite the cheap production costs and the low buyers’ price the little French Citroën 2CV was deceptively advanced and very innovative. It was easy to use, reliable, had low fuel consumption and coped well with rough road conditions and the engine was easy to service and maintain.

It was an immediate success with the French public and it is said that at one point demand outstripped supply to such an extent that there was a five year waiting list.

Citroën also produced a van version, a Fourgonnette, and various adaptations of the 2CV, Dyane, Acadiane, Ami and Merhari, 2CV4, 2CV6 etc.

From that first run in 1948 to the last run in 1990 millions of these “ugly ducks” were sold and they are now a much sought after design classic with 2CV fan clubs all over the world.

See our video of fabulous French vintage cars including many 2CVs as they wend their way through the French countryside of northern France on the “route des vacances“:

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