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The Citroën 2CV (French: deux chevaux vapeur, literally "two steam horses", from the tax horsepower rating) was an economy car produced by the French automaker Citroen from 1949 to 1990. It is considered one of their most iconic cars. It was described in the book Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car by long time CAR magazine columnist the late LJK Setright as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car." It was designed for low cost, simplicity, versatility, reliability, and off-road driving. For this it had a light, easily serviceable engine, extremely soft long travel suspension (with adjustable ride height), high clearance, and for oversized loads a car-wide canvas sunroof (which until 1960 also covered the boot). Between 1948 and 1990 3,872,583 2CVs were produced, plus 1,246,306 camionettes (small 2CV trucks), as well as spawning mechanically identical vehicles like the Ami, Dyane, Acadiane, and Mehari.

From 1988 onwards production took place in Portugal rather than in France. This arrangement lasted for two years until 2CV production halted.

History

The 2CV belongs to a very short list of vehicles introduced right after World War II that remained relevant and competitive for many decades — in the case of the 2CV, 42 years.

Pierre-Jules Boulanger's early 1930s design brief—said by some to be astonishingly radical for the time—was for a low-priced, rugged "umbrella on four wheels" that would enable two peasants to drive 100 kg (220 lb) of farm goods to market at 60 km/h (37 mph), in clogs and across muddy unpaved roads if necessary. France at that time had a very large rural population, who had not yet adopted the automobile, due to its cost. The car would use no more than 3 litres of gasoline to travel 100 km. Most famously, it would be able to drive across a ploughed field without breaking the eggs it was carrying. Boulanger later also had the roof raised to allow him to drive while wearing a hat.

 

Andre Lefebvre was the engineer in charge of the TPV (Toute Petite Voiture—"Very Small Car") project. By 1939, the TPV was deemed ready and several prototypes had been built. Those prototypes made use of aluminium and magnesium parts and had water-cooled engines. The seats were hammocks suspended from the roof by wires.

During the German occupation of France during World War II, Michelin (Citroën's main shareholder) and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations, one was disguised as a pickup, and the others were destroyed, and Boulanger had the next six years to think about more improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs were discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003, five TPVs are known. For long it was believed that the project was so well hidden that all the prototypes had been lost at the end of the war. It seems that none of the hidden TPVs were lost after the War, but in the 1950s an internal memo ordered them to be scrapped. The surviving TPVs were, in fact, hidden from the top management by some workers who were sensitive to their historical value.

 

 

After the war, internal reports at Citroën showed that producing the TPV would not be economically viable, given the rising cost of aluminium in the post-war economy. A decision was made to replace most of the aluminium parts with steel parts. Other changes were made, the most notable being an air-cooled engine, new seats and a restyling of the body by the Italian Flaminio Bertoni. It took three years for Citroën to rework the TPV and the car was nicknamed "Toujours Pas Vue" (Still Not Seen) by the press.

Citroën finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon in 1948. The car on display was nearly identical to the 2CV type A that would be sold next year, but lacked an electric starter, the addition of which was decided the day before the opening of the Salon. The car was heavily criticised. In spite of that, it sold well and it had a great impact on the low-income segment of the population in France.

It was laughed at by journalists, probably because Citroën had launched the car without any press advertising. The car was qualified as a "Spartan car" or a "sardine can" by many. Other journalists called it "an umbrella on wheels". Boris Vain descri

 bed the car tongue-in-cheek as an "aberration roulante" (rolling aberration) charging the slowness of this low-class car for causing Paris' traffic jams. History has confirmed that the car was charming in a lot of people's views, and a revolution in consumer transportation, at least on the French market.

The 2CV was a great commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list. The waiting list was soon increased to five years. At that time a second-hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one because the buyer did not have to wait. Production was increased from four units per day in 1949 to 400 units per day in 1950. A special version of the 2CV was the Sahara for very difficult off-road driving, built from December 1960 to 1971. This had an extra engine mounted in the rear compartment and both front and rear wheel traction. Only 694 Saharas were built. The target market for this car was French oil companies, the military and the police.

 

In 1960, the 2CV was updated, and looked similar until the end of production. In particular the corrugated Citroen H Van style 'ripple bonnet' of convex swages was replaced with one using larger and fewer concave swages. The 1960s were the heyday of the 2CV, when production finally caught up with demand.

In 1967 Citroën built a new car based on the 2CV, the Citroen Dyane, in response to the direct competition by the Renault 4. At the same time, Citroën developed the Mehari off-roader.

The purchase price of the 2CV was always very low. In Germany in the 1960s for example, it cost about half as much as a Volkswagen Beetle.

In 1970 the flat-2 engine size was increased to 602cc and the car gained rear light units from the Citroen Ami 6, and also a third side window in the rear pillar. All 2CVs from this date can run on unleaded fuel.The highest annual production was in 1974. Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became more of a youth lifestyle statement than a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroen 'Raid' intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a ruggedising kit to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes. The Paris to Persepolis rallye was the most famous. The Citroen '2CV Cross' circuit / off-road races were very popular in Europe.

 

 

In 1981, a bright yellow 2CV was driven by James Bond in the film For your eyes only, including an elaborate set piece car chase through a Spanish olive farm. Bond used the unique abilities of the modestly powered 2CV to escape his pursuers in Peugeot 504 sedans. The car in the film was fitted with the flat-4 engine from a Citroen GS for slightly more power. Citroen launched a special edition 2CV "007" to coincide with the 2CV product placement in the film, it was fitted with the standard flat-2 engine, painted in yellow with '007' on the front doors and fake bullet hole stickers. This car was also popular in miniature, from Corgi Toys.

The special edition models that started with the 1976 SPOT model, continued in the 1980s with the (007, Beachcomber, Bamboo), some of which became full models - (the Dolly and the Art-Deco style Charleston) all made a virtue of the individual anachronistic styling. The changes between the special editions and the basic 'Spécial' model was only a different speedometer, paint, seat fabric, internal door handles, and interior light. Many of the 'special edition' interior trim items were carryovers from the 1970s 'Club' models. Citroen probably gained former VW customers as the only other 'retro alternative' economy car style of vehicle, the Volkswagen Beetle was withdrawn from the European market in 1978.