It’s been a number of weeks since Dave Bicker graced PetrolBlog with his thoughts on the Perodua Kelisa. Well now he’s back to reminisce about his old Citroën 2CV. Like the 106 Rallye last week, I’m surprised PetrolBlog has made it this far without a proper mention for the 2CV. There was a brief mention when the Saab 9000 arrived on the PetrolBlog Fleet, but nothing that would constitute a proper blog post.
So it’s over to Dave to set that record straight.
When I was young and living was easy, a friend of mine invited me to have a go in his Citroën 2CV. I distinctly remember the thing lurched as we got in and rocked itself to equilibrium as we settled.
We set off.
I cannot to this day find an adjective that adequately describes the driving experience, everything was a fierce mixture of ‘floaty’ and ‘noisy’, so make up your own word, it’s defeated me.
It was love at first drive.
The unusual gear change pattern had a certain masonic quality to it, but once mastered, it was a delight. The engine was a shy item, hiding below a pair of heat exchangers and metres of cardboard tubing, 602cc of horizontally opposed twin, offering almost 30bhp when encouraged. Apparently these units were designed for all day ‘pied au plancher’ motoring – flat out in each ratio was necessary to achieve any progress whatsoever and the vehicles took such behaviour with a Gallic shrug.
Inside it was a minimalist’s dream – four ridiculously comfortable seats, a speedo, milometer and a fuel gauge. A heater was there in name only. No warning lights for open doors, no alarm when seat belts weren’t instantly clicked home, no ‘see you to your door’ headlamps or theatre dimming in the cabin, not even a cigarette lighter. Maybe it was assumed that Jean Claude or Pierre would have a Disque Bleu lit on the way to the voiture, and light subsequent ones from that. The roof could be rolled back in summer so open air motoring was yours. (Curiously, after circa 35,000 miles mine developed the ‘sunshine floor’ too, a reflection on the integrity of French steel of the period).
On the road these things were so much fun. I often found myself quite unnecessary hurling them into a left hand bend, my right cheek hard against the cool flappy window. They need to be driven with confidence and the knowledge they will not tip over.
Honestly, they won’t.
Changing a wheel is a nightmare, as the tyre holds tenaciously to the ground as the rest of the car is cranked skywards. 2CVs are more worrying to observe going around corners, but if you are inside the vehicle it is no more than a Saturday night thrash on a waltzer. Even the most innocuous B-road is magically transformed. So, in essence – don’t panic. In 145,000 miles of motoring in one of these, on only two occasions did it make me crave Imodium. One occasion involved a fierce crosswind and a humpback bridge. The car was so unnerved it almost went over the bridge wheel by wheel.
So, in truth there is no secret to driving these things other than putting your foot to the floor and being fearless. The Clarksonesque reader may say that they are slow, which indeed they are, no one will have a trouser twitch at a 2CV’s 0–60 figures. But slow does not always equate with boring.
Modern car design has taken out much of the skill of driving – ABS, synchro on every gear, intelligent suspension and banks of CPUs that negate our driving foibles. None of these lie within the fragile bowels of Citroën’s snail. It isn’t boring, simply because the driver is obliged to be aware of what he’s doing to a much greater degree than those in the eurobox.
The Blessed St. James of the May said that a car is at its most interesting and fun when it is at the limits of its performance. This is true, especially so of the 2CV and it’s derivatives. Of course, I may have misheard, as these sensible and accurate words were drowned by a loud gallumphing and a squeaky “You are my favourite Jeremy, I love you”).
So after 145,000 miles of motoring pleasure I gave the car away. In fairness, although the engine, clutch and gearbox were still mint, both the body and chassis had been replaced by earlier metal that didn’t have all the frailty of Dolly’s knickers.
Would I buy another?
I don’t really know. Back in 1986 the world and I were different. The 2CV sold to a demographic that embraced the live yoghurt floor mat and humus air freshener. These days they have been repositioned in the market, no longer the default vehicle for the consciously eccentric vegetarian or the impoverished geography teacher. Now these things tip up on the north Norfolk coast, lounging outside the gastro-yurts that infest this once lovely area. Mellisas and Tobys with American teeth and designer ballbags stand louche against the refurbished paintwork. I’d feel awkward buying a car that’s at home in Burnham Market amid the underused holiday cottages and the media glitterati.
Not only that, but I am less inclined to spin the motor with a starting handle these days, not as indifferent to the sub zero winters as I was. In essence, a miserable old bastard. But….the joys of ownership are still in my mind, still freshly minted.
So, if you have the money, buy one, drive it like you mean it and let it have the patina of bumps, scuffs and dings that these things collect. And don’t just take it to a holiday cottage in the summer. In conclusion, it passes the boutille de vin test every time with panache, aplomb and a Gallic, garlic charm absent from many of today’s French offerings.
Get one….and a box of Imodium.
Words by Dave Bicker.