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The 2CV is probably the best known and most instantly recognisable Citroen of all time. It sold by the million during its 40+ years of production, yet many people still think of it as a bit of a joke, typically driven by teachers and hippies.
In fact the 2CV, for all the jokes, was utterly revolutionary and fully deserves its status as one of the most important motoring icons of all time. It's not a question of "You either love the 2CV or you hate it", but "You either love the 2CV or you don't understand it" - it really is as simple as that!
So where did it all begin?
Pre war France was, well probably a lot more "French" than it is today! It was also full of farmers - do some things never change? Joking apart, large rural areas of France were still relying almost exclusively on horses and carts for transport, with the motor car out of reach of all but a very small number of people.
Citroen's Pierre-Jules Boulanger was very aware of the fact that the typical French farmer could not afford a car, and relied on his horse and cart for a range of duties - from getting his produce to market, to going to Church on Sunday. So Boulanger issued instructions - "design me a car to carry two people and fifty kilos of potatoes at 60km/h, using no more than three litres of fuel every 100km. It must be easy to maintain and capable of running on the worst of roads, able to drive over a ploughed field carrying a basket of eggs without breaking a single one, and must be totally comfortable. It’s price must be less than a third of the 11cv Traction Avant”. It also needed to accommodate its driver whilst wearing a hat!
So, the "TPV" (Toute Petite Voiture - "Very Small Car") project was born but kept "top secret". Much time was spent on development. Early prototypes made "heavy use" of "lightweight alloys" to keep weight down and therefore minimise fuel consumption. The chassis was magnesium and initially a water cooled engine was used. The seats were hammocks suspended from the roof by wires. The suspension system was unique, with a horizontal layout an linking front and rear.
By 1939 approximately 250 prototypes had been produced and the car was being readied for production. Then a little man with a big ego and no care for anyone else put an end to it all. Hitler thought it might be a good idea to take over the world and kill millions in the process. The TPV was far too secret to allow this little German to get his hands on it, so most prototypes were dismantled and a handful hidden away in barns. Some of these were not re-discovered until the 1990's!
After the liberation of France the TPV project was re-started, but the war had changed things, not least the price and availability of materials. The original prototypes would be too expensive to put into production.
The car was therefore redesigned with price dictating use of steel panels and chassis. The engine was completely redesigned by Becchia - reportedly taking him only six days to design a 375cc air cooled flat twin engine, perfect in every way! The body was redesigned by none other than the famous Italian designer Bertoni (although the original prototype could still not be mistaken for anything other than a 2CV).
On the 7th of October 1948 the 2CV was unveiled to the public with over 1,300,000 visitors seeing the new 2CV at the 35th Paris motor show. Initial press reports ridiculed the new vehicle, but a six-year waiting list quickly developed, with doctors’, teachers’ and farmers’ orders given priority, and confirmed orders started to sell at a premium. The first cars were delivered to customers in 1949.
To read a brief history of the 2CV production run 1949 - 1990, click HERE.