Citroën 2CV History
The Citroën 2CV was an economy car produced by the French car manufacturer Citroën between 1948 and 1990.It was technologically advanced and innovative, but with uncompromisingly utilitarian unconventional looks, and deceptively simple Bauhaus and Junkers early all metal aircraft inspired bodywork (corrugated for added strength without added weight) that belied the sheer quality of its underlying engineering. It was designed to motorise the large number of small-holder farmers in 1930s France, who were still using horses and carts. It is considered one of Citroën's most iconic cars. In 1953 Autocar in a technical review of the car wrote of "the extraordinary ingenuity of this design, which is undoubtedly the most original since the Model T Ford" It was described by Car Magazine journalist and author L. J. K. Setright as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car".It was designed for low cost, simplicity of use and maintenance, versatility, reliability, low fuel consumption and off-road driving. For this it had a light, easily serviceable engine, extremely soft long travel suspension (with height adjustment by lengthening/shortening of tie rods) high ground clearance, and for oversized loads a car-wide canvas sunroof, which (until 1955) also covered the boot.
During a production run of 42 years between 1948 and 1990, 3,872,583 2CVs were produced, plus 1,246,306 Fourgonnettes (small 2CV delivery vans), as well as spawning mechanically identical vehicles including the Ami: 1,840,396; the Dyane: 1,444,583; the Acadiane: 253,393; and the Mehari: 144,953, a grand total of 8,756,688, of which there are still 3,382 on the road in the UK as of January 2013.
From 1988 onwards, production took place in Portugal (Mangualde) rather than in France. This arrangement lasted for two years until 2CV production halted. Portuguese built cars, especially those from when production was winding down, have a reputation in the UK for being much less well made and more prone to corrosion than those made in France. Paradoxically the Portuguese plant was more up-to-date than the one in Levallois near Paris, and Portuguese 2CV manufacturing was to higher quality standards.
The 2CV belongs to a short list of vehicles introduced in the middle of the 20th century that remained relevant and competitive for many decades, such as the Jeep, Land Rover Series, Fiat 500, Mini and Volkswagen Beetle.
In 1934 family-owned Michelin, as the largest creditor, took over the bankrupt Citroën company. As far back as 1922, when they first conducted market research, they had been interested in expanding the market for economy cars (and tyres) in France, in the same way that the Ford Model T had done in the US. The new president of Citroën, Pierre Michelin, had even gone as far as to build a scale model of what he had in mind at Michelin before the takeover of Citroën.Citroën had stopped producing the economy cars that established the company after the First World War by the mid-1920s, when they moved to using Budd-type pressed steel bodies. Michelin believed that decision was a contributor to the later bankruptcy. The new management ordered a fresh and detailed market research survey that was conducted by Jacques Duclos. At that time, France had a very large rural population which could not yet afford automobiles. The results of the survey were used by Citroën to prepare a design brief for a low-priced, rugged "umbrella on four wheels" that would enable four small farmers / peasants to drive 50 kg (110 lb) of farm goods to market at 50 km/h (31 mph), in clogs and across muddy unpaved roads if necessary. The car would use no more than 3 L of gasoline to travel 100 km (78 mpg). Most famous, was the design brief requirement be able to drive across a ploughed field while carrying eggs, that the envisaged smallholder customer would be taking to market, without breaking them.
In 1936, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, the vice-president of Citroën and chief of the Engineering and Design department, set the brief to his design team at the Bureau d'études. The TPV (Toute Petite Voiture—"Very Small Car") was to be developed at Michelin facilities at Clermont-Ferrand and at Citroën in Paris in strict secrecy, by the design team who had created the Traction Avant. Boulanger hand picked engineers added to the team, and preferred engineers who had qualified through night school courses, over university trained ones.He believed they were better engineers because of greater practical experience. Boulanger was closely involved with all decisions relating to the TPV, he was obsessed with reducing the weight of the TPV to targets that his engineers thought were impossible. He set up a department that had the job of weighing every component and then redesigning it, to lighten it while still doing its job. He later had the roof raised to allow him to drive while wearing a hat.
Boulanger placed engineer André Lefèbvre in charge of the TPV project. Lefèbvre had designed and raced Grand Prix cars, his own speciality was chassis design and he was particularly interested in maintaining contact between tyres and the road surface. In an era of poor damping, beam axles and leaf springs this gave his cars vastly superior grip and handling to most other cars.
The very first prototypes were bare chassis, with rudimentary controls, seating and roof, that required test drivers to wear the leather flying suits that were used in contemporary open biplanes.By the end of 1937 20 TPV experimental prototypes had been built and tested.
At the end of 1937 Pierre Michelin was killed in a car crash. Boulanger became president of Citroën and Lefèbvre, responsible for engineering and design, though he wasn't head of the department, he was more like a minister without portfolio; he didn't have an official title.
By 1939 the TPV was deemed ready, after 47 technically different and progressively improved experimental prototypes had been built and rigorously tested. Those prototypes made use of aluminium and magnesium parts and had water-cooled flat twin engines with front-wheel drive. The seats were hammocks hung from the roof by wires. The suspension system used front leading arms and rear trailing arms, connected to eight torsion bars mounted beneath the rear seat: a bar for the front axle, one for the rear axle, an intermediate bar for each side, and an overload bar for each side. The front axle was connected to its torsion bars by cable. The overload bar only came into play when the car had three people on board, two in the front and one in the rear, to take account of the extra load of the fourth passenger and fifty kilograms of luggage. It was designed by Alphonse Forceau. This suspension system did not make it into the delayed and redesigned production car.
During the summer of 1939 a pilot run of 250 cars was produced and on 28 August 1939 the car finally received French market homologation. Brochures were printed and preparations were made to present the car, now branded as the Citroën 2CV rather than as the Citroën TPV, at the forthcoming Paris Motor Show in October 1939. However, in September 1939 the government declared war on Germany, following that country's invasion of Poland. It would be another eight months before the Germans invaded France, but an atmosphere of impending disaster appeared much sooner and with less than a month's notice the 1939 motor show was cancelled, and the launch of the 2CV was abandoned.
During the German occupation of France in World War II Boulanger refused to collaborate personally with German authorities and organized and encouraged sabotage against production for the German war effort, to the point where the Gestapo listed him as an important "enemy of the Reich". Boulanger was under constant threat of arrest and deportation to Germany. Michelin, which was Citroën's main shareholder, and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations; one was disguised as a pickup, the others were destroyed, and Boulanger had the next six years to think about further improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs were discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003, five TPVs are known. For a long time, it was believed that the project was so well hidden that all the prototypes had been lost at the end of the war. It seems that none of the hidden TPVs were lost after the war, but in the 1950s an internal memo ordered them to be scrapped. The surviving TPVs were, in fact, hidden from the top management by some workers who were sensitive to their historical value.
By 1941, after an increase in aluminium prices of forty percent, an internal report at Citroën showed that producing the TPV post-war would not be economically viable, given the projected further increasing cost of aluminium Boulanger decided to redesign the car to use mostly steel with flat panels, instead of aluminium. The French motor industry before the war believed that aluminium would become cheaper, and become the standard material for car manufacture.The Nazis had attempted to loot Citroën's press tools; this was frustrated, after Boulanger got the French Resistance to re-label the rail cars containing them in the Paris marshalling yard. They ended up all over Europe, and Citroën was by no means sure they would all be returned after the war. After the liberation, Citroën, along with all the other major French car makers, evaluated and were offered the rights to the air-cooled AFG (Aluminium Français Grégoire) prototype, by Jean-Albert Grégoire, who was unaware of the secret TPV project. It emerged in 1946 as the aluminium Panhard Dyna X. In the Spring of 1944 Boulanger made the decision to abandon the water-cooled two-cylinder engine that had been developed for the car and installed in the 1939 versions. Walter Becchia was now briefed to design an air-cooled unit, still of two cylinders, and still of 375cc. Walter Becchia was also supposed to design a three-speed gearbox, but managed to design a four-speed for the same space at little extra cost. At this time French small cars like the Renault Juvaquatre and Peugeot 202 almost invariably featured three-speed transmissions. Even Citroën's own mid-size Traction Avant only had a three-speed gearbox. But the 1936 Italian Fiat 500 "Topolino" 'peoples car' did have a four speed gearbox. Boulanger was displeased when he found out that his instructions had not been followed. Becchia persuaded him that the 4th gear was actually an overdrive, this is why on the early cars the gear change was marked "S" for "surmultiplié" The increased number of gear ratios also helped with the performance penalty caused by the extra weight of switching from light alloys to steel for the body and chassis. Other changes included seats with tubular steel frames with rubber band springing,and a restyling of the body by the Italian Flaminio Bertoni. Also, in 1944 the first studies of the Citroën hydro-pneumatic suspension were conducted using the TPV/2CV.
It took three years from 1945 for Citroën to rework the TPV into what was its third incarnation, resulting in the car being nicknamed the "Toujours Pas Vue" (Still Not Seen) by the press. The development and production, of what was to become the 2CV was also delayed by the incoming 1944 Socialist French government, after the liberation by the Allies from the Germans. The five-year 'Plan Pons' to rationalise car production and husband scarce resources, named after socialist economist Paul-Marie Pons, only allowed Citroën the middle range of the car market, with the Traction Avant. The French government allocated the economy car market, US Marshall Plan aid, US production equipment and supplies of steel, to newly nationalised Renault to produce their Renault 4CV. The 'Plan Pons' came to an end in 1949. Postwar French roads were very different from pre-war ones. Horse-drawn vehicles had re-appeared in large numbers. The few internal combustion engined vehicles present, often ran on town gas stored in gasbags on roofs or wood/charcoal gas from gasifiers on trailers. Only one hundred thousand of the two million pre-war cars were still on the road. These were known as 'Les années grises' or 'the grey years' in France.
Citroën finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon on October 7, 1948. The car on display was nearly identical to the 2CV type A that would be sold the next year, but it lacked an electric starter, the addition of which was decided the day before the opening of the Salon, after female company secretaries had trouble using the pull cord starter. Walter Becchia had designed in a space for a starter motor to be mounted, even though Boulanger had forbidden them from fitting an electric starter. In keeping with the ultra-utilitarian (and rural) design brief, the canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The Type A had one stop light, and like the black Ford Model T was available only in one colour, grey. The fuel level was checked with a dip stick/measuring rod. The car was heavily criticised by the motoring press and became the butt of French comedians for a short while.One American motoring journalist quipped, "Does it come with a can opener?" The British Autocar correspondent wrote that the 2CV "is the work of a designer who has kissed the lash of austerity with almost masochistic fervour". Nevertheless, Citroën was flooded with orders at the show, and the car had a great impact on the lives of the low-income segment of the population in France.
The 2CV was a great commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list, which soon increased to five years. At that time a second-hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one because the buyer did not have to wait. Production was increased from 876 units in 1949 to 6,196 units in 1950. Grudging respect began to emanate from the international press: towards the end of 1951
In 1951 production reached over 100 cars a week.By the end of 1951 production totalled 16,288. Citroën introduced the 2CV Fourgonnette van. It pioneered the use of a large box rear section, as later used by the Morris Minor, Renault 4, Citroën Acadiane and Citroën C15 vans and copied in the 1990s by Vauxhall/Opel and Ford. The "Weekend" version of the van had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle at the weekend as well as for business in the week. This was the fore-runner of the Citroën Berlingo and Renault Kangoo people carriers introduced in the 1990s. A pick-up truck version was used by the British Royal Navy for pioneering Royal Marine helicopter carrier amphibious operations aboard HMS Bulwark and Albion in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
A special version of the 2CV was the Sahara, for difficult off-road driving. Built from December 1960 to 1971, The Sahara had an extra engine mounted in the rear compartment and both front and rear-wheel drive. Only 694 Saharas were built. The target markets for these cars were French oil companies, the military, and the police.
From the mid-1950s economy car competition had increased—internationally in the form of the 1957 Fiat 500 and 1955 Fiat 600, and 1959 Austin Mini. On the French home market there was a new small Simca 1000 using licensed Fiat technology, and the new front wheel drive and suspiciously Citroënesque Renault 4, that appeared to have been designed to a very similar, but more modern brief as the 2CV. It marked the beginning of Renault 1960s switch to front engine front wheel drive FF layout, from the rear engine rear wheel drive RR layout. It was the biggest threat to the 2CV, eventually outselling it.
In 1960 the 2CV was updated. In particular the corrugated Citroën H Van style "ripple bonnet" of convex swages was replaced (except for the Sahara), with one using six larger concave swages and looked similar until the end of production. Prior to this demand so outstripped supply that Citroën did not need to spend money on marketing, apart from a few dealer leaflets, at all. A new marketing effort was set up to seriously market the 2CV.The 1960s were the heyday of the 2CV, when production finally caught up with demand. In 1964 the fuel original dip stick/measuring rod, was replaced with a fuel gauge.
In 1967 Citroën launched a new model based on the 2CV chassis, with an updated but still utilitarian body, with a hatchback (a hatchback kit was available from citroen for the 2cv, and aftermarket kits are available) that boosted practicality: the Citroën Dyane. This was in response to the direct competition by the Renault 4, that had used so many stolen design ideas from the 2CV and Traction Avant that Citroën contemplated legal action at the time of its launch. (Similarly, Volkswagen had had to pay legal damages over the Beetle in the 1960s.) At the same time, Citroën developed the Méhari off-roader.
The purchase price of the 2CV was always very low. In Germany in the 1960s, for example, it cost about half as much as a Volkswagen Beetle.
From 1961, the car was offered, at extra cost, with the flat-2 engine size increased to 602 cc (36.7 cu in), although for many years the smaller 425 cc (25.9 cu in) engine continued to be available in France and certain export markets where engine size was critical in determining car tax levels. In 1970 the car gained rear light units from the Citroën Ami 6, and also standardised a third side window in the rear pillar on 2CV6 (602 cc) models. All 2CVs from this date can run on unleaded fuel. 1970s cars featured rectangular headlights.
The highest annual production was in 1974. Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became as much a youth lifestyle statement as a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroën "Raid" intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a ruggedising 'P.O.' kit (which stands for Pays d'Outre-mer - overseas countries),to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes.
In September 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced. In order to keep the price as low as possible, Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. For the first few years of production, the Spécial was only available in yellow.
The 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only Citroën 2CV
In 1981 a bright yellow 2CV was driven by James Bond in the film For Your Eyes Only, including an elaborate set piece car chase through a Spanish olive farm, in which Bond uses the unique abilities of the modestly powered 2CV to escape his pursuers in Peugeot 504 sedans. The car in the film was fitted with the flat-4 engine from a Citroën GS for slightly more power.Citroën launched a special edition 2CV "007" to coincide with the 2CV product placement in the film, it was fitted with the standard flat-2 engine, painted in yellow with "007" on the front doors and fake bullet hole stickers. This car was also popular in miniature, from Corgi Toys.
- The 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only caused a surge in sales of the car in Chile where it was specially imported from Spain to meet demand (mostly in yellow), since it had already been phased out on the Chilean assembly line.
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