This is the Citroën 2CV, or “deux chevaux” in French. It’s an iconic car, but let’s be honest, it’s not an object of beauty. Or is it? Opinions are starkly divided. The car has legions of fans who adore them in the same way that people adore the Volkswagen Beetle (which is better looking, right?).
The 2CV was created to mobilize France’s rural communities, and in that regard, it was a tremendous success. First launched in 1948, the car remained relatively unchanged for 42 years and in that time over 3.8 million 2CVs were produced, along with over 1.2 million small 2CV-based delivery vans known as Fourgonnettes.
With a 0 to 60 time of 8.6 hours, it’s fair to say that the car was painfully slow. Much of the ‘power’ from the engine was probably swallowed up by the ridiculously soft suspension that fans of the car claimed gave it light off-road capabilities, which presumably meant it could handle gravel driveways admirably.
Unlikely as it might seem, the 2CV stands in the same company as the Aston Martin DB5, and Lotus Esprit, as a ‘Bond car.’ In the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only, British secret service agent, James Bond, played by Roger Moore, swerves his way through a hail of bullets in a yellow 2CV he borrows from a beautiful woman who he later swerves into bed with, of course. However, that product placement failed to increase the cars ‘sex appeal.’ Instead, the 2CV remained popular with, as one Wikipedia editor puts it, “hippies and environmentalists.” (I’m not kidding, that’s really on Wikipedia!)
As the 1990’s approached car safety was becoming an issue the public cared about. On that front, the 2CV performed only marginally better than a unicycle. This would ultimately become one of the deciding factors in ending its production.
In fact, Citroën tried to replace it several times, but none of the cars they designed to fill the economy car market evoked the same fondness as the 2CV. In 1967 the car manufacturer launched the Dyane, a modernised version of the 2CV. It was seen as the ugly sister and was quietly taken out of production a few years before the 2CV itself was retired in 1990.
Seven years later, US car manufacturer Chrysler, unveiled a car at the Frankfurt Motor Show that might have won the hearts of 2CV driving “hippies and environmentalists.” The “Composite Concept Vehicle,” or CCV as it was known, was a recyclable light-weight car made from moulded recycled plastic bottles and glass powder. Like the 2CV it had a retractable canvas roof, sparse interior, and a simple 2 cylinder engine. However, it never went into production due to the fact that Chrysler was bought by German car-maker, Daimler-Benz, who had no interest in producing a low-cost eco-friendly car for anyone.
There are, of course, still many 2CVs on the road, and they’re not all in the hands of tinkering enthusiasts. Plenty of pensioners and vegetarians are still slowly driving their trusty old 2CVs around France and other countries, and with the cars so simple and cheap to repair, it’s fair to suggest that many of them might outlive their owners and remain on the road for a long time to come.