7 January 2018

More than an old car #49: Citroen 2CV

Based on my observations so far, old French cars don't seem to be very popular here for some reason. Are they supposedly less reliable than their German/British counterparts? This 1981 Citroen 2CV Charleston begs to differ--for a car with a 40-year lifespan, it is surprisingly as sturdy as most classics today!

Citroen was established in 1919 by the French industrialist Andre-Gustave Citroen. Mr Citroen made the decision to enter the automotive industry after making armaments during World War 1. He was an innovative marketer, by using the Eiffel Tower as the world's largest advertising sign. It was owned by Michelin [of tyres and Michelin Star fame] until 1974, where it remains under the ownership of the Groupe PSA conglomerate until today. The chevron logo that you see today was inspired by a chevron-shaped gear used in milling, which Mr Citroen saw on a trip to Lodz, Poland.

The 2CV [French for "deux-cheaveux vapeur" or "two steam horses" in English] was conceived as a solution to help motorise the farmers who were still using horses in the 1930s. The criteria at that time included being able to transport 50 kg of goods at a speed of 50 km/h, and to be able to transport eggs across a field without breaking them. Prototypes known as the TPV [Toute Petite Voutre/Very Small Car] appeared back in 1937 after being developed in secrecy. Due to the war, the release of the 2CV was delayed until 1948.

The design of the car changed throughout the years, such as the canvas roof and the rear quarter window. When it was first unveiled, it was ridiculed by many and it became fodder for comedians. Appearance was not a factor and thus it earned the nickname of "tin snail", among others. However, many people loved it and opinions started to change. The main attraction was its unique suspension system, which allowed the car to go over almost all kinds of terrain and ensured the weight remained balanced. Furthermore, it was highly affordable: the price was US$650 in 1948, about half that of a VW Beetle.

The Charleston was a special edition model which was only available in 3 colour schemes, including this Delage red and black combination. Its 602 cc flat-twin engine, which was more common in motorcycles, was highly reliable and enabled the car to reach a top speed of 115 km/h. Its acceleration however was a glacial 35 seconds [0-100km/h]--I believe many of us could easily outrun one! The Charleston was 3.83 m long and weighed 560 kg. With reference to its light weight, its body was a thin sheet of metal and fabric was used to cover the top. This was ingenious as it allowed the car to carry long items, and also a solution to the lack of steel after the war.

Production ended in 1990 with 3,867,932 sedan versions made. I have seen 2 other units here, although there may be more. This specimen still sports an original number plate and looks pretty well-maintained. A 2CV was featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only and taxi drivers in Madagascar are still using them on the roads! Given how celebrated the 2CV is worldwide, I am surprised that there are so few of them here compared to the Beetle! It seems that there is some sort of hidden prejudice against French cars? You could recognise it immediately by its humpback profile, do look out for this timeless French icon!

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