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R&T’S ROAD TEST of the Citroën 2CV in its December 1955 issue began by quoting T.S. Eliot: “Do not ask, ‘What is it?’/ Let us go and make our visit.”
Almost three decades later, the magazine wrote, “After 37 years the Duck still does everything with aplomb, even if the plomb (standard equipment, as always) tends to rattle around a bit.”
This second road test, May 1985, asked, “How many cars have had their power output more than tripled and their top speed nearly doubled, while remaining in continuous production, essentially unchanged in structure and appearance, for 37 years?”
Here are tidbits gleaned from these two road tests, three decades apart.
Longevity Formidable. Automotive designs possessing such extreme longevity are few: The Ford Model T (1908–1927); the Fiat 500 Topolino (1936–1955), the Volkswagen Beetle (1938–2003), and the Citroën 2CV (1948–1990). Wikipedia notes that more than 9 million 2CVs and derivative models were produced.
The Export Version. “The model now available in this country,” R&T noted in 1955, “is the ‘hotted-up’ export version which has 12 instead of 9 bhp, plus fancier trim here and there. The body is made up of simple slab-like panels, which, when damaged, are in most cases cheaper to replace than repair.”
“Erector-set” Simplicity. The car’s four doors and hood use interlocking flanges, not conventional hinges. Thus, they can be lifted off and completely removed in a few seconds.
Its four seats are made of pads supported by rubber thongs in a light framework of tubing. They too “can be lifted out for picnics and such.”
Speedo? Wipers? “The only gauge on the dash,” the magazine noted, “is an ammeter, but a small speedometer is placed by the left windshield post, and its cable also drives the wipers (the faster you go, the faster they wipe).” The magazine didn’t mention it, but Wikipedia says you had speedo or wipers (but not both until 1962 when a single-speed electric wiper motor was added).
Real Innovations. From the earliest 1948 model, 2CVs has radial tires (which had just been commercialized by Michelin). The car’s rack-and-pinion steering was incorporated inside the front suspension cross-tube.
Its headlights had vertical adjustment—by crank; this, to compensate for loading the car’s particularly soft suspension. Suspension geometry also gave an extended wheelbase (by about 2 inches) when loaded.
The cars were renowned for proceeding Pied au Plancer (“foot to the floor”) on rutted, pot-holed French country roads.
A New Meaning of “Modest.” On the other hand, the 1955 2CV had a modest top speed: “… on the Freeway with a tail wind and slight down-grade an honest 60 mph was reached.” And even the 1985 version required 27.3 seconds to reach 60.
Spirited If Modest Cornering. The 1985 report noted, “The suspension (one longitudinal coil spring on each side of the platform, controlling the front and rear wheel in concert) gives the ultralight car amazing footing—no other word for it. But the angle of body lean puts your inner ear and stomach muscles to work in earnest, and the structure transmits a lot of road noise.”
“The 2CV does have grip,” R&T observed, “despite the skinny 125-15 tires, but if you really push it, the understeer kills off much of the speed you’ve generated. The tendency is to take corners flat-out and hang on.” There’s that Pied au Plancer again.
Conclusion, 1955. “In spite of its inability to keep up with U.S. traffic, the Citroën cannot be dismissed as completely impractical in this country. After all, America is not entirely made up of 6-lane highways, and not everyone rates power and speed as all-important. The 2CV will get you where you’re going in due time—and back again—cheaply and comfortably.”
The term “minimalism” didn’t appear until later, but in his 2003 book,Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car, L.J.K. Setright described the 2CV as “the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car.” He also praised its “remorseless rationality.”
The Citroën 2CV is also one of the few cars I know that doesn’t look out of place surrounded by ducks. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022