Quirky French 2CV car still enjoys cult status after 70 years

By DPA | 11 July 2018


PARIS: The Citroen 2CV was not designed to become one of the world's most famous cars - it had greatness thrust upon it.

Conceived as a rugged replacement for the rural horse-drawn cart, this humble, utilitarian car was only supposed to carry two peasants, a sack of potatoes and a cask of wine or beer.

Instead the oddball canvas-roofed vehicle caught on quickly in both town and country areas and soon became a cult symbol of thrift and later anti-establishment sentiment. A 2CV even starred in a James Bond film.

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Mechanical simplicity and ease of maintenance were key attractions along with that roof which could be pulled back on sunny days for the genuine cabriolet feeling.

By the time the 2CV was dropped from the range in 1990 after a 42-year production run, around 5.1 million of the car had been built, including the boxy van versions which were a common sight in France.

At one point demand so outstripped supply that there was a five year waiting list.

Citroen unveiled the car at the Paris Salon in October 1948 and never looked back. The original rippled bonnet and sides later gave way to a smoother look but the car remained more or less the same as prototypes shown before World War II.

The 2CV was an automotive milestone just like the Volkswagen Beetle and the chubby Fiat 500. Although it was unfortunately prone to rusting, surviving examples now change hand for substantial sums of money providing they are original and well looked-after.

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So what is the 2CV like to drive? Well, forget modern comforts like power-assisted steering, electric windows and air-conditioning.

This car is a no-frills totem of French practicality with nothing but the basic equipment needed to tackle the worst of rutted roads. It was also cheap to buy.

Of all the cars turned out in France, the 2CV stands the most for the Gallic way of life, says Stephan Joest of the Amicale Citroen Internationale (ACI), an umbrella association for Citroen clubs around the world.

The doors are far too small for grown-ups and the softly-sprung seats remind driver and passengers of a Hollywood swing.

The dashboard is about the size of a plastic lunch box and the puny 600cc engine splutters into life before settling into a characteristic whine.

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Acceleration to a heady top speed of 116kph was leisurely, prompting some critics to quip that progress should be measured in days rather than seconds.

Changing gear meant grappling with a rod topped by what looks like a black billiard ball. The shift protrudes from the dashboard.

Countless colour variations were produced down the years, including the handsome Charleston version. It featured an eye-catching burgundy and black paint job with styling touches that harked back to the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Cared-for 2CVs have risen in value enormously in recent years and buyers should expect to pay between US$12,000 to US$18,000 (up to RM73,000) for a good example.

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