Citroën 2CV Buying Guide
There’s never been another car quite like the Citroën 2CV. Here's how to bag a solid example of a genuine motoring icon
• Project £500-1000 • Good £3000-5000 • Concours £6000-9500 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
High-performance cars can be tremendous fun to own, but something of a liability. So when you go to the other end of the spectrum you’re either going to either hate what you find or you’re going to find it utterly captivating, and in the case of the Citroen 2CV we strongly suspect it will be the latter.
The thing about the Deux Chevaux, or Tin Snail, is that you have to approach it completely differently from any other classic car. Designed to take economy motoring to the max, this ingeniously designed Citroën is brimming with fabulous details, which is why it’s so unique.
Admittedly the 2CV is no performance classic, but if you want to buy a classic that’s truly in a class of its own, the Tin Snail is more suited to the task than anything else you can buy – at any price.
Your AutoClassics Citroën 2CV Inspection Checklist
A 2CV engine will last for 300,000 miles as long as the oil and filter are changed every 3000 miles. The engine uses its oil for cooling as well as lubrication, which is why the oil cooler must be kept clean. If it’s allowed to get caked in grime the engine will run too hot, eventually leading to a piston partially seizing, so listen out for rattling and knocking.
There are no head gaskets, so the cylinder heads can leak, given away by exhaust fumes entering the cabin once the heater is switched on. The valve stem seals get tired eventually and the engine burns oil; fixing this means fitting new pushrod tube gaskets but it’s not a costly job.
Expect minor oil leaks but anything more significant spells trouble. Even when set up correctly things tend to be clattery, but tired bearings also lead to rattles and knocking, so it’s easy to miss the signs of a really tired engine. The bearings tend to last forever though, as they’re so over-engineered; you’re more likely to encounter piston slap, given away by an obvious knocking from one side of the engine.
The first thing to wear out in a gearbox is third gear synchro, so listen and feel for crunching when changing up from second. Another potential issue, most likely on a 1980s 2CV, is reverse gear unwinding. Reverse and lift off rapidly, or apply the brakes without dipping the clutch, and the torque can cause reverse gear to break its peening and unwind, leaving you with several gears selected at once. To prevent this just take the top off the box (in situ) and peen the gear into place. If it unwinds you might be able to get it back on in situ.
When cruising leave the car in third gear. If the gearbox howls it’s ready for a rebuild because the mainshaft’s rear bearing is on its way out. If the gearchange is uncomfortably stiff the bushes at the base of the gearlever have been greased instead of sprinkled with talcum powder to cut friction.
Suspension and brakes
Heavy steering points to a twisted chassis or seized kingpins; they should be lubricated every 1500 miles. Jack up the car and try rocking the wheel. A small amount of play is okay but anything significant means new kingpins are needed, which is a specialist job.
The steering arm pivot lever that goes from the front wheel hub to the track rod end incorporates a ball in the track rod end; this ball wears oval. Wobbly steering as you drive over a bump means a replacement steering arm pivot lever is needed; only used items are available.
From 1981 there were discs up front but earlier 2CVs got drums all round. Poor access to the inboard front brakes means neglect is likely, and because the handbrake acts on the front wheels it’s worth leaving the car in gear when parking up. Drum handbrakes use the normal shoes and are very powerful if correctly adjusted, but disc handbrakes are notoriously poor. Cars with disc brakes are easier to maintain but can warp and corrode, so feel for juddering through the pedal as you brake.
Disc-braked cars use LHM fluid, a green mineral-based liquid. If normal brake fluid is put into the system it will wreck the seals, so look in the master cylinder and check the colour.
Expect corrosion in the outer panels, though high-quality replacements are available cheaply, and they’re not hard to replace. Look for rust in the seams, especially around the rear wings and all of the windows. The inner wings can rot badly and so can the metal under the back seat, the boot floor and the rear panel.
The sills can rot away and so can the floorpans while the double-skinned bulkhead rots out of sight. A battery support was fitted to the bulkhead of pre-1980 right-hand drive cars. Later cars didn’t get this and the consequent flexing leads to cracks in the bulkhead.
Chassis corrosion is part of 2CV ownership and an array of replacement chassis are available, some galvanised, some painted. Some are better made than others; an OE frame is the strongest. Any corrosion starts inside; where the front axle is located is a weak point so check for rust either side of where the suspension bolts on. Patching isn’t possible here, and it’s the same with the rear chassis legs.
If the chassis has rotted badly behind the axle, the steering gets very heavy as you corner. Rot in front of the axle is harder to detect; the giveaway is usually difficulty when opening the bonnet.
The very simple electrical system is reliable. The alternator brushes wear but replacements are cheap. Any other glitches are likely to be because of poor earths or water getting into lamps and rotting the contacts.
The 2CV’s fabric roof has a tendency to shrink and split. High-quality replacement roofs are available at low prices and fitting is straightforward. The seats will probably be looking tired but those are also easily and cheaply recovered.
• 1948: The 2CV Type A debuts at the Paris Salon, going on sale the following year.
• 1951: The Fourgonette AU van appears and lasts until 1978; it accounts for a third of 2CV production.
• 1953: Assembly of right-hand drive cars begins, at Citroën’s Slough factory.
• 1954: The AZ arrives, with a 425cc 12bhp engine.
• 1958: The twin-engined Sahara debuts; 694 are made up to 1967.
• 1960: A five-ribbed bonnet replaces the previous corrugated item. The Bijou goes on sale in the UK only; just 211 are sold up to 1964. Slough 2CV production stops.
• 1962: A conventional speedo, fuel gauge and electric wipers are now fitted.
• 1963: Forward-hinged front doors are now fitted.
• 1965: A six-window design is adopted and rear hydraulic dampers are now fitted.
• 1970: There’s now a choice of 26bhp 435cc or 29bhp 602cc engines. Six-volt electrics are replaced by a 12-volt system.
• 1974: Circular headlamps are replaced by rectangular units and the 2CV is back on sale in the UK for the first time since Slough production ceased.
• 1976: The first special edition 2CV arrives, the Spot and the front dampers switch to hydraulic.
• 1980: The Charleston special edition appears, later to become a standard production model.
• 1981: Disc brakes are now fitted at the front and round headlamps make a return on the Special and Charleston only. The higher-spec Club retained square lights for a few years in the UK, and till the end of production in other countries.
• 1988: The Levallois (Paris) factory closes.
• 1990: The last 2CV is built in the Mangaulde factory in Portugal.
Not many 2CVs are fitted with a 375cc, 425cc or 435cc engine; the 602cc unit is by far the most common. Although early 2CVs are still very collectible, the demand is generally greater for the later editions as they’re more usable thanks to their disc brakes and larger engine.
As a high-profile classic the 2CV is always soughtafter, which is why bargains are few and far between. The key isn't to source aesthetically pleasing examples, find ones that are mechanically sound but require some polish and TLC – and there are more of these around than you might think.