Artikel uit Old cars news & marketplace (USA) van Februari 1993

 

citroen 2cv

 

The life and death of the Tin Snail

A closer look at the 2CV's cult status

By Dave Selby

The Citroen 2CV may not be too familiar a sight on the roads of North America but there's no doubt that in the 41-year life of the "Tin Snail,' it was a world car on par with the Volkswagen Beetle and the Model T Ford.

I remember the 2CV mostly for its impending death, a story I broke in Europe in late 1989. The life of the Deux Chevaux (meaning "two horses" in French) finally ebbed away just after the middle of 1990. There was no glee for me in being right as I'd learned how remarkable the little machine was.

This fanciful little French car had notched 7.5 million sales in all it’s derivative forms, trouncing the Morris Minor and Mini - the "people's cars" on of my native Britain.

Although the 2CV went on sale in September 1949, it’s story began before World War Il.

In 1935, Citroen managing director Pierre-Joules Boulanger summoned the head of his design office, Andre Lefebvre, creator of the innovative Traction Avant. He told Lefebvre about his plans to design an affordable utility car intended primarily for the French farmer: "Design me a car to carry two people and 50 kilos of potatoes at 60 kmh, using no more than three litres of fuel per 100 km," he instructed. "It must be capable of running on the worst roads, or being driven by a debutante and must be totally comfortable."

By May 1939 ‘Project Toute Petite Voiture' had yielded 250 prototypes. But with the onset of war all but one - or some say two - were destroyed. That experiment, had it seen production, would have had a water-cooled engine; just one headlight sited on the driver's side; one manually operated windscreen wiper; and no indicators, dampers, or starter motor - instead a starter handle remained permanently fixed in place on the front of the car.

The car that appeared in 1948 was substantially different. Boulanger hadn't been happy with the suspension; he wanted his car "to be able to cross a field carrying a basket of eggs without breaking any." Also it needed to be lighter and the water-cooled engine was replaced with an air-cooled 375-cc twin, which later in its production life was increased to a still diminutive 600 cc.

The press was not enamored at the car's launch, one wag of a hack comparing the car to a tin can and asking if the can opener was included. But this did nothing to dampen enthusiasm when the 2CV became available in 1949.

The rest, as they say, is history.with over 30 versions of the Tin Snail being produced in the intervening years, all essentially the same truly unique car and excellent for everything they lacked. Nineteen sixty six was an all - time record year with 168,384 produced, but by then the 2CV was becoming increasingly expensive to produce as it was labor-intensive and difficult to adapt to more modern mass-production techniques. Its engine, for example, was still assembled by one man sitting at a bench - a practice that remained until the end of production. In 1988 production ceased in France, where break-even output was 250 cars a day, and moved to Portugal, where production of 80 cars a day could reportedly provide a profit.

When the end came just after the middle of 1990, a basic 2CV cost £4,552 on the road in Britain, but in many ways the writing had been on the wall since the 1960s. Citroen had introduced the Ami and Dyane then, and although Citroen always strenuously denied it, these were intended as replacements for the 2CV. In any event, the new cars created their own markets rather than weening the public away from the 2CV.

The 2CV became a cult car in the 1970's, a fashion icon bought by those who eschewed fashion. It was almost an anti-car, its temporary bolted-together look and roll-back fabric top appealing to those who scorned conspicuous material consumption. Contemporary Citroen ads in Europe lampooned the performance fixation of more conventional car ads. Where others claimed zero-to-60 mph times that were faster than a sneeze, the 2CV ads simply proclaimed: "0-to-60 mph - YES."

It was classless, too, yet chic, and even did duty as a James- Bond car in one of the Roger Moore movies. In Britain, 2CV circuit racing provides one of the cheapest and most enjoyable forms of motorsport, with the Tin Snails leaning at unreal angles as they screech around circuits on their narrow tires. The highlight of the thriving 2CV racing calendar is the annual 24-Hour Race, a sort of low-speed Le Mans.

In short, the car conceived as a "settee under en umbrella" is one special machine, as French as berets end garlic hut still a worthy world car.

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