70 years of the Citroën 2CV
The iconic Citroën 2CV is 70 years old this year. It has been everything from a humble vehicle for the farmyard, to a James Bond getaway car - we look back at its 42-year production run
70 Years of the Citroën 2CV
The UK had the Mini, Italy the Fiat 500, Germany the Volkswagen Beetle. However, France’s car for the masses is just as iconic and, despite a belated start in life due to World War 2, it had a long and distinguished career spanning 42 years.
In 2018 the Citroën 2CV celebrates its 70th anniversary.
The 2CV was the brainchild of Citroën vice president Pierre Boulanger, who wanted the brand to build a car that farmers could afford. In 1930s France many farmers and regular citizens still used horse and cart, so it was a golden opportunity to motorise the population.
A car for the masses
In 1934 Citroën was bust and ended up being taken over by Michelin, which commissioned a survey to find out what rural France needed in a car. A brief was developed from this with the intention of building a low cost car that could transport 50kg of farm produce to market at 30mph. Another remit was that the car should be able to travel across unpaved roads without breaking delicate items such as eggs.
André Lefèbvre, winner of the 1927 Monte Carlo Rally, was put in charge of the project and helped develop a suspension system that was cosseting enough for ploughed fields. By 1937 20 prototypes had been created featuring corrugated bodywork for added strength and a full length fabric top to lower costs.
Ready at last
By 1939 the car was deemed ready, but only after 47 different prototypes had been created. The finished car was front-wheel drive, powered by an easy to repair water-cooled engine, and featured hammock seating that was suspended from the roof by wire. A pilot run of 250 cars were built, all using Michelin’s first commercialised radial tyre.
On 3rd September 1939 France declared war on Germany and the Citroën 2CV’s launch was cancelled. The prototype cars were hidden or destroyed in fear of them falling into Nazi hands. It was believed just two of these cars survived the war until a trio were discovered in a barn in 1995.
After the war Citroën came to the conclusion that the rising price of aluminium meant that the 2CVs body would be too costly to produce, so it was redesigned with more conventional steel panels without corrugation. It also pursued the development of a cheaper air-cooled engine to replace the original two cylinder water-cooled unit.
Other changes included more conventional seats, an innovative four-speed gearbox, and a restyling of the bodywork by Italian Flaminio Bertoni.
Launched at last!
After a war, a redesign, and a change in government, Citroën finally revealed the Citroën 2CV at the Paris Salon on October 7 1948. 9hp was gifted to the car via its 375cc engine which could (eventually) get it to 40mph.
The car's austerity garnered criticism from early motoring journalists, but Citroën soon found itself inundated with orders. In fact, there was a three year waiting list for the car at one point.
The people's choice
The Citroën 2CV’s popularity propelled it through the decades with continued improvements being made with every incarnation. A few oddities appeared including the 1960 2CV 4x4 Sahara that featured two engines.
The energy crisis of the 1970s made this cheap little car even more popular, but its height of fame came when it played a starring role in a James Bond car chase. In 1981 a 2CV6 was driven by Rodger Moore in the film 'For Your Eyes Only', with the stunt car being fitted with a more powerful flat-four engine from a Citroën GS. Citroën cashed-in on this movie moment with a 007 special edition of the car.
Sales were falling as this 1930s designed car aged. In 1988 production ended in France after 40 years. Manufacturing of the 2CV continued in Portugal for another two years until the the car was officially discontinued.
The end of an era
In its 42 year career over 5 million Citroën 2CVs were built. This car had been everything from a farmers workhorse, a van, all-terrain vehicle, family car, and even a club racing car thanks to its cheap nature.
It might not have been the most glamorous of automobiles, but today it is an irreplaceable part of automotive history.
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