The Citroën 2CV (French: deux chevaux vapeur, literally "two steam horses", from the tax horsepower rating) was an economy car produced by the French automaker Citroën from 1949 to 1990. It is considered one of their most iconic cars. It was described in the book Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car by longtime CAR magazine columnist the late LJK Setright as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car." It was designed for low cost, simplicity, versatility, reliability, and off-road driving. For this it had a light, easily serviceable engine, extremely soft long travel suspension (with adjustable ride height), high clearance, and for oversized loads a car-wide canvas sunroof (which until 1960 also covered the boot). Between 1948 and 1990 3,872,583 2CVs were produced, plus 1,246,306 camionettes (small 2CV trucks), as well as spawning mechanically identical vehicles like the Ami, Dyane, Acadiane, and Mehari.
The 2CV belongs to a very short list of vehicles introduced right after World War II that remained relevant and competitive for many decades — in the case of the 2CV, 42 years.
Pierre-Jules Boulanger's early 1930s design brief—said by some to be astonishingly radical for the time—was for a low-priced, rugged "umbrella on four wheels" that would enable two peasants to drive of farm goods to market at , in clogs and across muddy unpaved roads if necessary. France at that time had a very large rural population, who had not yet adopted the automobile, due to its cost. The car would use no more than 3 litres of gasoline to travel 100 km. Most famously, it would be able to drive across a ploughed field without breaking the eggs it was carrying. Boulanger later also had the roof raised to allow him to drive while wearing a hat.
André Lefèbvre was the engineer in charge of the TPV (Toute Petite Voiture—"Very Small Car") project. By 1939, the TPV was deemed ready and several prototypes had been built. Those prototypes made use of aluminium and magnesium parts and had water-cooled engines. The seats were hammocks suspended from the roof by wires.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Michelin (Citroën's main shareholder) and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations, one was disguised as a pickup, and the others were destroyed, and Boulanger had the next six years to think about more improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs were discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003, five TPVs are known. For long it was believed that the project was so well hidden that all the prototypes had been lost at the end of the war. It seems that none of the hidden TPVs were lost after the War, but in the 1950s an internal memo ordered them to be scrapped. The surviving TPVs were, in fact, hidden from the top management by some workers who were sensitive to their historical value.
After the war, internal reports at Citroën showed that producing the TPV would not be economically viable, given the rising cost of aluminium in the post-war economy. A decision was made to replace most of the aluminium parts with steel parts. Other changes were made, the most notable being an air-cooled engine, new seats and a restyling of the body by the Italian Flaminio Bertoni. It took three years for Citroën to rework the TPV and the car was nicknamed "Toujours Pas Vue" (Still Not Seen) by the press.
Citroën finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon in 1948. The car on display was nearly identical to the 2CV type A that would be sold next year, but lacked an electric starter, the addition of which was decided the day before the opening of the Salon. The car was heavily criticised. In spite of that, it sold well and it had a great impact on the low-income segment of the population in France.
It was laughed at by journalists, probably because Citroën had launched the car without any press advertising. The car was qualified as a "Spartan car" or a "sardine can" by many. Other journalists called it "an umbrella on wheels". Boris Vian described the car tongue-in-cheek as an "aberration roulante" (rolling aberration) charging the slowness of this low-class car for causing Paris' traffic jams. History has confirmed that the car was charming in a lot of people's views, and a revolution in consumer transportation, at least on the French market.
The 2CV was a great commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list. The waiting list was soon increased to five years. At that time a second-hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one because the buyer did not have to wait. Production was increased from four units per day in 1949 to 400 units per day in 1950. A special version of the 2CV was the Sahara for very difficult off-road driving, built from December 1960 to 1971. This had an extra engine mounted in the rear compartment and both front and rear wheel traction. Only 694 Saharas were built. The target market for this car was French oil companies, the military and the police.
In 1960, the 2CV was updated, and looked similar until the end of production. In particular the corrugated Citroën H Van style 'ripple bonnet' of convex swages was replaced with one using larger and fewer concave swages. The 1960s were the heyday of the 2CV, when production finally caught up with demand.
The purchase price of the 2CV was always very low. In Germany in the 1960s for example, it cost about half as much as a Volkswagen Beetle.
In 1970 the flat-2 engine size was increased to 602cc and the car gained rear light units from the Citroën Ami 6, and also a third side window in the rear pillar. All 2CVs from this date can run on unleaded fuel.
The highest annual production was in 1974. Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became more of a youth lifestyle statement than a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroen 'Raid' intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a ruggedising kit to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes. The Paris to Persepolis rallye was the most famous. The Citroen '2CV Cross' circuit / off-road races were very popular in Europe.
In 1981, a bright yellow 2CV was driven by James Bond in the film For Your Eyes Only, including an elaborate set piece car chase through a Spanish olive farm. Bond used the unique abilities of the modestly powered 2CV to escape his pursuers in Peugeot 504 sedans. The car in the film was fitted with the flat-4 engine from a Citroën GS for slightly more power. Citroen launched a special edition 2CV "007" to coincide with the 2CV product placement in the film, it was fitted with the standard flat-2 engine, painted in yellow with '007' on the front doors and fake bullet hole stickers. This car was also popular in miniature, from Corgi Toys.
The special edition models that started with the 1976 SPOT model, continued in the 1980s with the (007, Beachcomber, Bamboo), some of which became full models - (the Dolly and the Art-Deco style Charleston) all made a virtue of the individual anachronistic styling. The changes between the special editions and the basic 'Spécial' model was only a different speedometer, paint, seat fabric, internal door handles, and interior light. Many of the 'special edition' interior trim items were carryovers from the 1970s 'Club' models. Citroen probably gained former VW customers as the only other 'retro alternative' economy car style of vehicle, the Volkswagen Beetle was withdrawn from the European market in 1978.
Some of the early models were built at Citroën's plant in Slough, England in the 1950s, but the 2CV sold poorly in Great Britain in part due to its excessive cost because of import duties on components. Sales of Slough-produced 2CVs ended in 1960. In 1959 trying to boost sales, Citroën introduced a glass-fibre coupé version called the Bijou that was briefly produced at Slough. Styling of this little car was by Peter Kirwan-Taylor who was better known for his work with Colin Chapman of Lotus cars, but it proved to be too heavy for the diminutive 425cc engine to endow it with adequate performance. It served to use up remaining 2CV parts at Slough in the early 1960s. In 1975 the 2CV was re-introduced to the British market (produced in France), in the wake of the oil crisis. This was without the crippling import duties of the 1950s, because the UK had joined the EEC. In the 1980s the best foreign markets for the 2CV were the UK and Germany.
A rare Jeep-esque derivative, called the Yagán, after an Aborigine tribe, was made in Chile between 1972 and 1973. After the Chilean coup of 1973, there were 200 Yagáns left that were used by the Army to patrol the streets and the Peruvian border, with 106 mm cannons.
A similar car was sold in some west African countries as the Citroën "Baby-brousse". In Iran, the Citroën 2CV was called the Jian. The cars were originally manufactured in Iran in a joint venture between Citroën and Iran National up until the 1979 Revolution, when Iran National was nationalised, which continued producing the Jian without the involvement of Citroën.
Only a few thousand 2CVs were sold in North America when they were new: as in England their pricing was excessive relative to competitors. Unlike larger Citroëns, there are no legal issues with owning a 2CV however - the car is effectively a restored pre-1968 vehicle. It was one of these vehicles that became the focus of a recent news story, when musician Billy Joel had an accident in his 2CV in 2004, on Long Island, New York Joel gave another 2CV to his bride Christie Brinkley as a present.
The 2CV was built in Chile and Argentina to address this issue for South America. The Chilean version mounted a 602 cc. engine with an output of 33 HP, and was nominated AX-330 being built between 1970 and 1978, period where it saw some changes like different bumpers, hard roof instead soft one and late units were fitted with fronts disc brakes and square headlights. A derivation called the "3CV" was built in Argentina with various modifications such as a hatchback. It's worthwhile to note that "For your eyes only" James Bond 1981 movie, peaked the sales of the car in Chile where it was specially imported from Spain to meet demand (mostly yellows), since it was already phased out in the Chilean assembly line.
An attempt was made by Citroen in 1985 to produce the 2CV in India through Escorts Group (producers of the Rajdoot motorcycles) for rural market as well as spare parts (to take advantage of India's cheaper labour costs) for export to other 2CV market coutries, but this failed to get approval from the Indian government which worried about the 2CV competing with Maruti Udyog (in which the government had some stake) models.
The level of technology in the 1948 2CV was remarkable for a car of any price in that era, let alone one of the cheapest cars on the planet. While colours and detail specifications were modified in the ensuing 42 years, the biggest mechanical change was the addition of front disc brakes in 1981 (from the discontinued Citroën Dyane), for the 1982 model year.
The 1948 2CV featured:
The suspension of the 2CV was almost comically soft—a person could easily rock the car side to side dramatically (back and forth was quite a bit more resistant). The leading arm / trailing arm swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system together with inboard front brakes had a much smaller unsprung weight than existing coil spring or leaf designs. The interconnection transmitted some of the force deflecting a front wheel up over a bump, to push the rear wheel down on the same side. When the rear wheel met that bump a moment later, it did the same in reverse, keeping the car level front to rear. This made the suspension more responsive, enabling the 2CV to indeed be driven at speed over a ploughed field. Since the rear brakes were outboard, extra tuned mass dampers and later shock absorbers were fitted to the rear wheels to dampen wheel bounce. Later models had tuned mass dampers at the front with telescopic dampers / shock absorbers front and rear. The 2CV suspension was assessed by Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton in the mid-1950s, (according to an interview by Moulton with CAR magazine in the late 1990s), which then inspired them to design the Hydrolastic suspension system for the Mini and Austin 1100, to try to keep the benefits of the 2CV system but with added roll stiffness.
It was powered by a flat-twin air-cooled engine designed by Walter Becchia, with a nod to the classic "boxer" BMW motorcycle engine (it is reported that Becchia dismantled the engine of the BMW motorcycle of Flaminio Bertoni before designing the 2CV engine).
The car had a 4-speed manual transmission, an advanced feature on an inexpensive car at the time. Boulanger had originally insisted on no more than three gears, because he believed that with four ratios the car would be perceived as complex to drive by customers. Thus, the fourth gear was marketed as an overdrive, this is why on the early cars the "4" was replaced by "S" for surmultipliée. The gear shifter came horizontally out of the dashboard with the handle curved upwards. It had a strange shift pattern: the first was back on the left, the second and third were inline, and the fourth (or the S) could be engaged only by turning the lever to the right from the third.
In keeping with the ultra-utilitarian (and rural) design brief, the canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The Type A had one stop light, and was available only in grey. The windscreen wipers were powered by a purely mechanical system: a cable connected to the transmission; to reduce cost, this cable also powered the speedometer. The wipers' speed was therefore variable with car speed. When the car was waiting at a crossroad, the wipers were not powered; thus, a handle under the speedometer allowed them to be operated by hand. From the 1960s this was replaced with an electric motor.
The reliability of the car was increased by the fact that, being air-cooled, it had no coolant, radiator, water pump or thermostat. It had no distributor either because both spark plugs were fired at the same time, on every 360 degree rotation. Except for the brakes there were no hydraulic parts on original models as the shock absorbers were replaced by tuned mass dampers and friction dampers.
The car featured an air-cooled, flat-twin, four-stroke, 375 cc engine, with the notoriously underpowered earliest model developing only 9 bhp DIN (6.5 kW). A 425 cc engine was introduced in 1955, followed by a 602 cc (giving 28 bhp (20.5 kW) at 7000 rpm) in 1968. With the 602 cc engine the tax classification of the car changed so that it became in fact a 3CV, but the commercial name remained unchanged. A 435 cc engine was introduced at the same time in replacement of the 425 cc, the 435 cc engine car was christened 2CV 4 while the 602 cc took the name 2CV 6 (although a variant did take the name 3CV in Argentina). The 602 cc engine evolved to the M28 33 bhp (24 kW) in 1970; this was the most powerful engine fitted to the 2CV. A new 602 cc giving only 29 bhp (21.5 kW) at a slower 5750 rpm was introduced in 1979. Despite being less powerful, this engine was more efficient, allowing lower fuel consumption and better top speed, at the price of decreased acceleration. All 2CVs with the M28 engine can run on unleaded petrol, but attention is needed to ensure that valve clearances are maintained.
The 2CV also pioneered the use of the now common wasted spark Ignition System, also known as the DIS (Distributorless Ignition System) ignition using a double ended coil fired on each revolution, (on the exhaust and compression stroke), by just a contact breaker.
The engine's design concentrated on the reduction of moving parts. The cooling fan and dynamo were built integrally with the one-piece crankshaft, removing the need for drive belts. Instead of using the usual two-piece crank bearings, one-piece items were pressed onto the crankshaft with a hydraulic press once the crankshaft had been submerged in liquid nitrogen to cause it to contract (thus providing enough clearance to press the bearings on). Similarly, the contact breaker was driven directly off the end of the camshaft, meaning that the ignition timing remained accurate for years.
These design features made the 2CV engine highly reliable (test engines were run at full speed for 1000 hours at a time- equivalent to driving 50,000 miles (80,500 km) at full throttle). They also meant that the engine was very much 'sealed for life' - the main bearings, for example, could not be replaced individually- the entire crankshaft had to be replaced. However, the engine is very under-stressed and long-lived, so this is not a major issue. Until the 1960s it was common for other car manufacturers engines (British Fords especially), to need full strip downs and rebuilds at as little as 50,000 mile intervals - unrebuilt 2CV engines are still running that are passing 250,000 miles.
When asked about the 2CVs performance and acceleration, many owners said it went "from 0-60 in one day". Others jokingly said they "had to make an appointment to merge onto an interstate highway system".
The last evolution of the 2CV engine was the Citroën Visa flat-2, a 652 cc featuring an electronic ignition. Citroën never sold this engine in the 2CV, however some enthusiasts have converted their 2CVs to 652 engines.
The 2CV has also been used for travel around the world. In 1958–1959 two young Frenchmen, Jean-Claude Baudot and Jacques Séguéla started at the Paris Motor Show on October 9 1958, headed south and crossed the Mediterranean by boat from Port Vendres to Algeria; traversed the African continent and crossed the South Atlantic from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro; cris-crossed South America and the United States and boated from San Francisco to Yokohama. They returned to Paris on November 11 1959. During the 13 months, they drove 100 000 kilometres, and consumed 5 000 litres of petrol and 36 tires.
Citroen promoted 2CV events called 'Raids' in the 1970s and main dealers would supply a ruggedising kit. Paris to Persepolis in Iran was best known.
Outside France, the 2CV's most common nickname today is "The Duck", which seemed to be endorsed by Citroën which released a stuffed toy animal in the 1980s representing a duck with Citroën on its side and 2CV under its right foot.
The 2CV was produced for 42 years, the model finally succumbing to customer demands for speed and safety, areas in which this ancient design had fallen significantly behind modern cars. Its advanced engineering was ignored by the public, being clothed in an ultra basic anachronistic body. It was the butt of many a joke - by Jasper Carrot especially. It was not helped by Citroen failing to promote it and by falling quality standards. The car was viewed as an embarrassment by Citroën, and they tried to kill the model for several years before the end came.
Citroën had attempted to replace the ultra-utilitarian 2CV several times (with the Dyane, Visa, and the AX), however its comically antiquated appearance became an advantage to the car and it became a niche product which sold because it was different from anything else on sale. Because of its down-to-earth economy car style, it became popular with people who wanted to distance themselves from mainstream consumerism - 'hippies' and also with environmentalists.
While not a replacement for the 2CV, a conventional urban runabout, that was unremarkable apart from its exceptional lightness, the AX supermini seemed to address the automaker's requirements at the entry level in the 1990s.
In 1988, production ceased in France but was continued in Portugal. The last 2CV, grey with chassis number VF7AZKA00LA376002, rolled off the Portuguese production line on July 27, 1990. In all, a total of 3,872,583 2CV sedans were produced. Including the commercial versions of the 2CV, Dyane, Méhari, FAF, & Ami variants, the 2CV's underpinnings spawned over nine million cars.
The 2CV was outlived by contemporaries such as the Mini (went out of production in 2000), VW Beetle (2003), Renault 4 (1994), VW Type 2 (still in production) and Hindustan Ambassador (still in production).
The Chrysler CCV developed in the mid 1990's, (CCV stands for Composite Concept Vehicle) is a concept car developed to illustrate new means of construction suitable to developing nations. The car is a tall, fairly roomy 4 door sedan, of modest dimensions. The designers at Chrysler note they were inspired to create a modernised Citroën 2CV.
The company Sorevie of Lodève was building 2CVs until 2002. The cars were built from scratch using mostly new parts. But since the 2CV no longer complied with safety regulations, the cars were sold as second-hand cars using chassis and engine numbers from old 2CVs.
The 2CV-Méhari Club Cassis also reconditions the 2CV and the Citroën Méhari. Recently they entered a 2CV prototype in the Paris-Dakar Rally; this was a four-wheel drive, twin engine car (like the 2CV Sahara) powered by two 602 cc engines, the traditional one in the front and an engine in the rear boot space.
Auto Express reported in a May 2007 news item that a 2CV concept similar in appearance to the 2005 Evoque would make an appearance in 2009, with Citroën likely to position its modern interpretation of the car against premium rivals such as the MINI.
Styling of the Citroën C3 Pluriel was reminiscent of the 2CV design.
It was originally intended for use by the French colonies in Northern Africa. As well as a decreased chance of being stranded, it provided four-wheel drive traction with continuous force to some wheels while others were slipping because the engine transmissions were uncoupled. Therefore it became popular with off-road enthusiasts.
Between 1958 and 1971 Citroën built 694 Saharas, but only 27 are known to exist today. The top speed was 65 km/h (40 mph) on one engine, but this increased to 105 km/h (65 mph) with both engines running.
The Méhari was also built as a 4x4, but with only one engine.
Various 4x4 conversions were built by independent constructors, such as Marc Voisin, near Grenoble, some from a Méhari 4x4 chassis and a 2CV body.
Although the terminology is sometimes confused, 2CV 4x4 generally refers to these models, whereas 2CV Sahara refers to the two-engined Citroën vehicle.