The streets are crowded. The cost of gasoline is on the rise. Car shoppers are looking for low cost, small, fuel-efficient modes of transportation.
The current economic climate is simply evidence that the French gave up much too early on the Citroen 2CV
A pair of the quirky machines were parked recently along Northwest Broadway in Portland, Oregon, looking right at home in front the French restaurant of Chez Joly.
Four men crossed the street next to the restaurant. Three of them pulled out cell phones to take photos of the tiny vehicles.
“It happens all the time,” said Christopher Joly, who owns both the restaurant and a light blue 2CV truckette he uses to pick up provisions and deliver food to catering customers.
“You look at them and can’t help but smile.”
Like most cars, they tell a story.
Joly’s light blue van still carries the name of the Paris bakery that used the tiny truck to make deliveries throughout the French capitol.
There was a time France’s city streets and rural roads were filled with the Citroen. There were more than 5-million of them built in a production run that began in 1948 and didn’t end for 43 years.
Bill Lonseth, who knows more about Citroens than perhaps any other person in America, figures there may be under 1,000 of the 2CVs in the country.
They aren’t for everyone, he agrees.
“They are very small, don’t have much power, and on the highway absolutely everything passes you.”
But they were useful.
Designed to be “the car for everybody,” legend has it they were meant to carry four people in relative comfort over France’s roughest post-war roads. Some contend the design criteria included carrying a farmer, a sheep and a basket of eggs over a plowed field, without damaging any of them.
The 600cc engine churned out 33 horsepower, which translated to the same amount as a two-horsepower French steam engine. Thus, is became known as the 2CV for Deux Chevaux or two horsepower. But they were very efficient horses, returning 60 miles per gallon. In the early years, you could get any color as long at it was gray. Seats were designed like canvas deck chairs. The first cars had no electric starter, but they did come with a rope the owner pulled to fire up the engine.
In spite of it being the most basic of cars, the French couldn’t get enough of them. It was a runaway--OK, walkaway--success. Demand so outstripped production that potential buyers put their names on a waiting list, knowing they wouldn’t see a car for two years or more.
Styling is...well, maybe style is not a word to use in describing the 2CV, especially for the truckette, with a cargo cover that looks like it once served as a highway culvert.
Like the air-cooled VW of the same era, the air-cooled 2CV came in host of variations. The most popular was the sedan, but there was also the truck version and even an ultra-rare variation built for the military -called the Sahara -that has an engine in both the front and the rear.
“I know I guy who drove one across the country, with both engines running,” says Lonseth. “It must have been like spending 10 days in a blender.”