After the World War II, Citroen needed to urgently produce a cheap and practical car for the people of France, one that would be easy to manufacture, able to carry 4 people with luggage and have sturdy suspension able to handle what were then rough country roads.
The result was the 2CV. Launched in 1948, the 2CV incorporated a tiny 2-cylinder engine in a VW Beetle-like design. Despite being cheap and modest, it had fully independent suspension interconnected by horizontal coil springs, so that when front wheels meet a ridge the rear wheels would also be raised.
This layout proved to be ideal for the rough country roads. From 1948 to 1990, nearly 4 million 2CVs rolled out of the Citroen factory, placing on the top of Citroen's own all-time best selling chart.
Globally, its 42 year life span places it in the top 5 of vehicle production numbers.
Citroen's Ugly Duckling - the 2CV6
It was crudest, ugliest, thriftiest, four-wheeled production car in the world, as French as champagne and as popular too. You needed a sense of humour to drive it and if the humour was latent it would drag it out of you in the first few miles. It was the Citroen 2CV6, the updated version of the remarkable Deux Cheveux, an anachronism in the world of motoring, the Gallic "peasant" car which had become a European cult, and remains so to this day.
Citroen considered the 2CV too crude and unsophisticated for overseas markets, which didn't stop several British companies from doing a roaring trade in imported, secondhand, left-hand-drive examples.
But with the rising cost of petrol, even way back then, it was not long before the 2CV6 was being prepared for export far and wide. These cars were fitted with the 602 c.c. derivative of the long-running, air-cooled fiat-twin in place of the more common 435 c.c. unit of the 2CV 4.
The engine was already familiar to those that had driven the Dyane 6, the somewhat smoother-bodied, better-equipped, up-market and more expensive extension of the Deux Cheveux theme. This "big" engine (74 mm. bore, 70 mm. stroke) had power indeed, offering 4½ b.h.p. more than the small one, a total of 28½ b.h.p., and 30.5" lb. f.t. torque.
Remarkably, maximum power needed the encouragement of no less than 6,750 r.p.m., yet maximum torque occured at 3,500 r.p.m. Bright colors and rectangular headlamps rejuvennated this amazing machine. Gone were most of the strength-giving corrugations, apart from a few flutel) in the bonnet, but prop yourself on the bonnet compatment sides and you would soon realise that the Deux Cheveux was still made of practically the same stuff Heinz put their soup in.
At release the 2CV6 was only marginally cheaper than the 850 c.c. Mini, arguably its nearest competitor. For a 602 c.c. car (and the capacity alone made it sound like a cycle-car rather than a "proper" sedan) it could be argued that this did not represent great value. But there was quite a bit you did get for your money that was not immediately apparent.
The Worlds Cheapest Convertible
Ask any previous or current owner and they will tell you the 2CV had a unique charm and personality, the little beast being supremely practical and brilliantly contrived. For a start it had four doors. They may be narrow, but they made the car feel always "usable". Perhaps its biggest attraction was that it was a convertible too: the vinyl roof could be rolled back half-way to the "sedanca de ville" position or right back to the top of the rear window. This led Citroen to claim it as being the world's cheapest convertible
So it was a four-door sedan and
a convertible - but there was yet another party trick up its sleeve. Lift out the bench rear seat (use it for picnicing along with the detachable front seats too) and you've got an estate/station wagon - with a healthy apetite for luggage. Simply put, the versatility was incredible.
Driving the Deux Cheveux was just as much an acquired taste as its looked. The driving position, with its big, near-horizontal single-spoke wheel, was bus-like, or perhaps combine-harvester like, if the threshing from under the bonnet was taken into account. The seats were properly uphelstered in place of the hammock type of earlier Deux Cheveux and soft and comfortable to sit in. If you were not going to sit in them for any length of time, that is, as the back-rests were too upright.
The fiat-twin needed plenty of choke before it will chug into life from cold and warmed up less quickly than you'd expect of an air-cooled engine. Once the umbrella-type handbrake had been released, awkwardly placed under the facia, the next problem was mastery of the push-pull gear-lever. The positions were illogical, but once they had been learned it became a simple, efficient system. First was engaged by twisting the knob of the horizontal lever to the left and pulling backwards. Reverse was directly opposite, shove the lever out of first into neutral, let it centralise itself, push forward and second should engage. Pulling directly backwards from second engaged third, while fourth needed a right twist and a shove forward. Synchromesh, on the top three gears only, was crunchy, the ratios wide and the transmission of the front-wheel-drive bolide
The Citroen 2CV was not only the cheapest convertible then on the market, it was arguably the cheapest car in the world to run...
Designed And Protected By High-Gearing To Run Indefinitely At Maximum Speed
There was only one position for the big steel pedal on the right: flat on the floor! The Deux Cheveux didn't really have abundant power and performance, but so long as that right foot remained pressed hard and the gear-lever push-pulled vigorously it would keep up with most traffic and delight the driver with the looks of disbelief from users of faster cars.
Maximum speeds in the gears were 19 m.p.h., 38 m.p.h. and 56 m.p.h., though the flat-twin could be taken well beyond those figures to advantage. Downhill gradients could stretch this to nearly 80 m.p.h., but, conversely, uphill roads would drag it down to 55-60 m.p.h. All these figures are "flat-out" ones, for, as no tourist in France can fail to appreciate, the Citroen engines were virtually unburstable, designed and protected by high-gearing to run indefinitely at maximum speed.
The Deux Cheveux was unparalleled in the world of economy cars for roadholding and ride. The supple interconnected independent suspension gave exceptionally long wheel travel which simply soaked up rough roads and pot holes.
The 15 in. steel rims were shod with excellent tubeless Michelin X tires, and in true French style the door handles tried to meet the road surface on every corner, though the occupants soon become used to this roll. The way the 2CV gripped the road was unbelievable; which translated into making the car a huge amount of fun.
Within its performance capabilities the 2CV would run rings around practically anything on corners. The drum brakes, inboard at the front, were equally effectlive. Road-holding was a different matter and again an acquired taste. It understeered a great deal and the steering was both heavy and low geared, on the move and when parking.
Of course one of the best attributes of the 2CV was the fuel economy, where many owners reported bettering 50 miles per gallon. The tank held only 44 gallons, which meant that even though the 2CV was economical, you would remain a regular visitor to the local service station.
The Cheapest Car In The World To Run
In France the 2CV's existed without servicing, had tires which outlast the cars and engines with impressive longevity. They were close to being the cheapest four-wheeled car in the world to run.
There were all sorts of features which added to the attraction of the little car: Headlights which could be adjusted by a knob in the cockpit; door handles which spun round impotently when they're locked to prevent forcing; a full-length opening ventilator across the front of the cockpit; side windows which opened like wings along a horiizontal hinge in the middle, and were closed by letting them fall against the catches. Visibility may have been poor through the shallow screen, and the wipers were slow, but the heater was powerful and a "stick-on" heated rear screen fitted to some export cars worked very well.
More Than A Car. A Whole Life-Style
It is difficult to pin down exactly the features which made the 2CV6 such an attractive little car when, in reality, it was just a very noisy tin box. It was a complete melange of peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, combined into a remarkable and unique personality. "More man a car. A whole life-style
", proclaimed Citroen's 2CV6 brochure. How right they were.