Affordable cars were needed in the immediate post-war period. Resources were tight and customers’ budgets were even tighter, so André Citroën saw the perfect opportunity for the small car he had been developing before the outbreak of the Second World War. So, the 2CV was born.
With prototypes hidden from the Nazis in barns and factories, much of the work was already complete for the 2CV’s development. The difficulties faced by France in the war’s aftermath meant that it took until 1948 for the first cars to appear in their basic, no-frills form.
Famously, part of Citroën’s brief for the 2CV was for it to carry a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without breaking any. It also had to fit in a driver wearing a hat, largely because Citroën himself wore one, and it also had to have space to carry animals to market.
All of this required ingenious solutions and Citroen was just the company to come up with them. Interconnected suspension with lots of wheel travel solved the problem of traversing rough ground smoothly, while the simple body allowed plenty of interior space. A soft-top roof saved on materials, offered fresh air driving and limitless headroom.
Power initially came from a tiny 375cc twin-cylinder engine that could just about chug up to 50mph. This later increased to 425cc and then 602cc with a giddy 26bhp maximum power, which was just enough to tip the later 2CV6 over the UK’s national speed limit.
Performance, however, was not what the 2CV was about. It was all about utilitarian motoring at a low price. By the 1970s, the 2CV was also the darling of anyone and everyone claiming green credentials. Where the VW Beetle was the car of choice for the Beat Generation in the USA, the 2CV gained its own “ban the bomb” credibility in Europe.
Latterly, the 2CV enjoyed a renaissance as a fun, quirky and cheap runaround that saw production last until 1990. From 1986, production shifted to Portugal from France and quality took a dip, so these later cars are even more prone to rust.
The good news is that everything is available to keep a 2CV on the road today. There are plenty of specialists to look after them and the engines are extremely rugged, so using one daily is no problem.
Even in today’s hurly-burly traffic the 2CV stands out for its supremely comfortable ride, though you will have to accept sloth-like pace. On the upside are a spacious cabin and that folding roof for sunshine motoring that turns a car born from austerity into a chirpily appealing classic.
The car in facts
Dates manufactured: 1948-1990
Popular colours: Red, white, yellow
Approx cost at time: £565 (1948)
Approx value now: £10,000
Number on UK roads (2015): 6,225
Related cars: Ami, Bijou, Dyane
Rival models: Mini, Renault 4, VW Beetle