The most fun and recognizable car in the Citroën family is the 2CV. Whereas the SM is the most advanced engineered car, the 2CV is the exact opposite. A two-cylinder air-cooled engine, with the most basic of amenities. Need fresh air? Why bother with complicated ductwork under the dash? Just open the flap under the windshield, you get all the air you want! There’s even a screen to keep the bugs out! Can’t start it because you left the lights on? No problem! Use the handcrank which doubles as the tire wrench! Want to go on a picnic? Leave the lawn chairs at home, and use the 2CV’s seats! Windshield washer pump? Naaah… use the plunger mounted on the dash! An expensive automatic convertible top? No way! Just roll the roof back! Got two heavy passengers in the rear, and the headlights shine too high? Turn the adjusting knob under the dash! Roll down windows? Just flip them open. Dontcha know all that fancy stuff costs money!!

During the 50’s and early 60’s, while Europe was still recovering from a world war, the 2CV was a perfect solution, as there wasn’t much money available. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the 2CV was the choice of hippies, students and lower-income families. The Arab oil embargo in 1973 brought new life to the 2CV, and sales sharply increased. By the end of the 70’s, and early 80’s, sales were slowing down. Citroën decided it was time to do some marketing. For the first time ever, “designer” 2CV’s hit the market. This was a novelty. Various models made the showrooms, with two-tone paint schemes, logos, striping, and cartoons. My car is a Charleston, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the roaring 20’s. Other models hitting the streets were: Spot, Transat (or France 3, Beachcomber), Perrier, Dolly, Sausse Ente (with duck cartoon on the side) along with the one colour cars called the Spéciale and Club. I may have missed some, my apologies if I did. The marketing paid off. The 2CV survived until 1990, when production finally ceased.

This car was designed for the poor French farmer, so he could take his eggs to market, across a ploughed field, without breaking a single egg!
Introduced at the Paris Salon Auto show in 1949, it was met with hoots of derision. However, all critics were soon silenced by the incredible versatility this 2CV offered. This thing could go anywhere! The French Foreign Legion wanted a 4WD version. No problem! Citroën put another engine in the rear and called it the “Sahara”. Presto! 4WD. The 2CV sure earned a lot of nicknames around the world. The Dutch called it an ugly duckling (lelijke eend) the Germans called it Sausse Ente, the english called it a dersh. Most people in Canada or the US upon seeing it for the first time usually say “Huh??? What on Earth is that?”

Two cylinders, 425cc or the more common 602cc, 28 hp, 4 speed standard. The stick shift comes out of the dash, and has been nicknamed the umbrella or trombone. Early models had one gauge, the speedometer, which also ran the windshield wipers. (Citroën figured you could hand crank the wipers while waiting for the traffic light to change, after all, it gave one something to do)
A dipstick was used on the early models to see how much fuel you had.

Newer models saw a few luxuries. Fuel gauge, idiot lights, voltmeter, a wiper motor, different paint schemes, reclining driver’s seat, and, for the very rich 2CV owner, a piece of wire bent and hinged to open the window part way instead of all the way. (Those without this option just bent the mirror back.) It must have added at least $3.00 to the price of the car! They came new without radios or tape decks. Citroën figured you’d be so pleased driving one you’d be happily singing away thus eliminating the need of radios.

The 2CV started out with a 375cc engine. Though woefully underpowered, it still managed a record no one ever beat. In 1954, the 2CV went to the top of Mt. Chacaltaya, Tierra del Fuego. An altitude of 16,600ft. Nothing burns in this rarified atmosphere. No carbureted vehicle has ever matched or beaten this record!

From the start, Citroën fell behind on orders for the 2CV. People were waiting too long to get their 2CV’s. The factory started to think of ways to increase production. Consulting engineers were brought in to suggest ideas to increase output.
There was a bottleneck on the assembly line. The ribbed hoods had the sides attached. There was no way of stacking them. The assembly line constantly slowed as these hoods (or bonnets) were brought to the line (There was no way of setting them on the floor without potential damage). This caused a design change in 1960. The hoods were reduced to 5 ribs, and the side triangular pieces were now separate. Now these could be stacked along the line, drastically improving production.

The car pictured above is my 1983 2CV Charleston, with a 602cc engine, 4-speed standard, inboard front disc brakes and rear drums. My 2CV came from Holland in May of 2002.

The car was designed to have as little un-sprung weight as possible. Using an interconnected suspension system, this car will not roll over in a steep turn. In Europe, there were contests, where dealerships would invite the public to try and “roll” one. Whoever did, would get one for free. No one could.

Driving the 2CV is a blast! People smile as you drive by (or are they laughing at me?) It is very economical, getting about 17-21 km’s to a litre of gas. Repairs are simple. Parts are plentiful.
I’m tall (6′ 3″) and yet I fit in comfortably, even with my hat. Top speed in my 2CV is 120 km/h, with a gentle breeze from behind.

The heating system of the 2CV basically captures the heat from the exhaust manifold and is driven into the passenger compartment by the front engine fan. It works, unless it’s very, very cold. There are aftermarket fans that can be purchased to drive more heat into the cabin.

The 2CV is perhaps the most common of Citroën vehicles in Canada. Most have been imported privately.

-Hans Asselbergs