Archived Pages from 20th Century!!
very economical to run; good ride; generous accommodation; excellent sunshine roof; powerful brakes; cheap to buy
indifferent heating system; poor first-gear synchro; awkward gear-change pattern; underdamped over undulations
Like the legendary Volkswagen Beetle, that other enigma of 20th Century motoring, Citroën's 2CV, was actually conceived before the last war, and in fact 250 were built in readiness for the 1939 Paris show which, of course, was never held. This strange device eventually saw the light of day at the same show in 1948, since when well over 21 million have been made, and found their way to every corner of the world. Last year the French baby celebrated its 25th birthday and Citroën reminded the world of the car's incredible stamina by sending no fewer than 60 to traverse the jungles and deserts of Africa.
The 2CV started life with a horizontally-opposed, air-cooled overhead valve twin-cylinder engine of a mere 375 cc. This ran on a 6.2:1 compression ratio and produced 9 bhp. Since then the engine, if not the car, has grown in stature and the French now hav e a choice of the 2CV4, 435 cc or the 2CV6, 602 cc. Only the latter is to be imported to Britain.
Citroën have been known to refer to the 2CV as "the most economical car in the world." This may or may not be true. Certainly, by our figures, it ranks as one of the most thrifty and has tremendous potential for someone with a suitably light throttle foot. In our hands, where we freely admit it was subjected to a very considerable amount of flat-out driving, it still gave an overall consumption of 36 mpg, identical in fact to the figure obtained from the similarly-engined Dyane. However, in this case, more than most, it is the touring figure that suggests what remarkably frugal returns could be achieved. This computed figure of 50.9 mpg is based on a touring speed of 48.5 mph and includes an allowance for acceleration.
Even if you're not old enough to have driven one of the earlier "British" 2CVs, the influx of "umbrella" change Renaults to this country may well have put you in tune with the 2CV's "in dash" gearchange. The awkwardness of its unorthodox change pattern, with first to the left and back is the major criticism we have of an otherw ise very workable system. Porsche abandoned this configuration for this very reason, and on the RHD 2CV matters are worsened by the left-hand having to turn the lever through apparently nasty angles that would of course pose no problem to somebody sitting in the other seat. First gear synchromesh was also rather weak, so a downward change or, sometimes, engagement at rest was accompanied by a slight grating. The synchro on the other gears was virtually unbeatable.
Despite the very high caster angle, in this case 15 deg, the steering of the 2CV is tolerably light and very precise. Many sports cars manufacturers could learn from the gearing too, which requires a mere 2.5 turns to swing the car from lock to lock. Centering from a 50 ft circle took only 0.9 of a turn most cars need much more. The 2CV wouldn't be a Citroën if it didn't have some quirk to its suspension, and of course it has. Unchanged since the car's introduction, the interconnected springing of the 2CV remains one of its most unusual features. Briefly, the leading front arm and trailing rear arm on each side are connected by tension rods to a pair of centrally-mounted coil springs with the object of reducing pitch oscillations. Damping at the front is by friction units, at the rear by hydraulic ones. There is very little roll stiffness and relatively high angles of roll are adopted almost as soon as you turn the wheel on the entry to a corner. Conventional terms like understeer and oversteer have no place in the 2CV man's vocabulary and to say the car either goes round the corner or it doesn't would probably be more applicable in this case.
It says little for our legislators that one of the good points of the 2CV's design, its inboard front brakes, were the very reason for it not being imported to the UK prior to 1953. Quite apart from the desirable saving in unsprung weight that such a system offers, this particular set-up on the 2CV is very effective. The pedal has outstanding feel and we comfortably recorded in excess of 1g during our emergency stop test. However, the all-drum system did partially succumb to our 20-stop fade test, the required pedal pressure rising by five pounds. The water splash had no effect whatsoever.
You become aware of the 2CV's unique brand of suspension from the time you step through the door and the car leans and bounces in tune with your body movements. Yet once you are on the move, the peculiarities are more apparent to onlookers than passengers, particularly the tendency to bounce - a phenomenon that only becomes objectionable over the worst of undulations. Bumps and potholes as opposed to undulations don't seem to bother the 2CV at all, and it will bound happily over broken or unmade roads at 10 or even 15 mph faster than you would dare drive many a conventional car.
Though the famous 2CV hammocks have long since been replaced by conventionally sprung seats, the flight deck of the baby Citroën is still unusual. The narrowness of the cockpit means that the pimply Ambla trimmed couches virtually meet in the middle, leaving room only for the steel hoop of the static seat belts. The driver sits quite upright, with his hands falling naturally towards the top of the large flattish steering wheel, and his shoulders accurately positioned by the door pillar on one side and his companion on the other. If anything, there is an excess of thigh support and the right leg can suffer after a few miles of forcing the organstyle accelerator pedal into the rubber matted floor. Lateral support is adequate and there is sufficient adjustment to satisfy most drivers. The pedal layout is sensible, and the brake and throttle are ideally positioned for heel and toe changes.
One of many advantages to 2CV motoring is the view afforded by the high mounted seats, for suddenly you are looking down on scenery that would normally be at eye-level, and people in other cars appear to be slouching. Despite this, accurate positioning of the car's long lean frame is not that easy. For a start, the high waistline and shallow screen make at awkward to peer towards the front corners, which curve sharply out of sight anyway, the dumpy bolt-on wings being way below the normal sight-line. The high-set rear window and steeply raked boot also preclude a view of the tail, though this poses few problems. Lateral vision is quite adequate despite the chunky pillars either side of the rear-most side windows.
A straight-forward, moulded plastic binnacle contains all the information one really needs for a 2CV, though in common with nearly all other French creations the car lacks a temperature gauge. A large speedometer is calibrated in 10 mph intervals up to 80 mph - a figure it will happily register on a slight incline. Below are a matching battery condition meter and fuel gauge. Unlike the speedometer, the fuel gauge on our test car was grossly inaccurate and never recorded much more than three-quarters of a tank even when the petrol was brimming over. In the center of the cluster, under the optimistic odometer, lies the gear pattern - a reminder that first is not where you would like it to be, but to the left and down. French students will recognise the AR symbol as short for arriere, meaning backwards.
As is usual with air-cooled engined cars, heated air is passed through an exhaust heat-exchanger by the engine cooling fan. It can take some time for the heated air to permeate the interior if you run from cold straight into dense, slow moving traffic. The problem is confounded by the rather ill-fitting doors which are all too ready to allow cold air in. However, once a reasonable pace has been attained seems quite capable of combating the draughts and keeping even the rear seat passengers comfortable. The controls, though scattered, couldn't be simpler. A slide lever under the lip of the facia controls the flow of incoming air and a push/pull one under the parcel shelf distributes it to the screen or floor as desired.
Our method of grading allows the 2CV's ventilation system only one star, though to be fair the Citroën's simple flap system does work remarkably well. Another knurled knob, like that used to adjust the headlights, raises and lowers the scuttle-mounted flap as desired. Though hardly as efficient or adaptable as an eye-ball vent it is a welcome alternative on a car where everything is designed to keep production costs down. All 2CVs come with a plastic grille muff, which the handbook recommends should be installed as soon as temperatures drop below the 50 deg mark. It should be removed again in a climate of 59 deg or above.
Mounted right in the nose of the engine compartment and under a felt covered bonnet, the little flat-twin sings away happily to itself without ever really becoming obtrusive. Even at peak revs it remains smooth and unflustered and totally free of vibration. Not so the gearbox, however, which makes more than its fair share of rattles and whines. It literally groans in first gear and whines in the other ratios all of which are indirect. Wind noise is remarkably subdued up to around the 65 mph mark whereupon the tops of the doors start to move out and the decibels rise markedly. Road roar is well suppressed and even dramatic changes in surface make little difference to the sound from below. Some bumps however, do crash through. It's hard to determine what should be included as standard on a car of under £900. Few people would live without a heater and such items as seat belts and windscreen washers are now compulsory, so they don't come under that heading. Either way we doubt if any prospective 2CV owner will be disappointed with what he finds. To start with there is that magnificent roll back roof, the envy of all other drivers. Then there are the adjustable head lamps, the door mirror, the passenger sun-visor and vanity mirror, hazard warning lights, front overriders and rubber inserts for the bumpers, not to mention the facility of being able to remove the rear seat at the flick of a lever should you need more carrying space.
As its name implies, the 2CV was designed to work for its living, and the interior decor has been chosen accordingly. No money has been wasted in pretty trimming, but nor is the car excessively utilitarian. Sensible plastic mouldings cover the top of the facia and doors. In the case of the latter, they include a built-in hand hold for closing the door with. The lower sections of the doors are covered in leather-cloth similar in colour to the pimply variety found on the seating. The corners of the roof and rear wheel-arches are trimmed with simple felt and the floor with rubber mat. Items such as the exposed pressed steel door hinges and the catches that jut threateningly into the door opening, spell cheapness or practicality, depending on which way you care to look at it. What did impress was the total absence of corrosion, and nowhere on the exterior could we find an unplated bolt or washer. Even the paint finish was well up to par.
As the mechanics of the current 2CV are all common to the better known (in the UK) Dyane, Citroën franchises are well versed in their service and repair. The free service occurs at 600 miles and can be carried out by any authorised dealer you choose. From then on the car will require lubrication at 3000 mile intervals and a full service after every 6000. The bonnet release is sited under the front bumper and apart from being stiff to open, the clasp needs physically aiming at the inside of the bonnet lid before it is lowered again, otherwise it simply fouls the underside of the lid and a stalemate develops. The spare wheel, jack and, a rare bird these days, a starting handle, and even a wooden wheel chock are all housed in the relatively cavernous boot. Most underbonnet items are readily accessible, including the washer bottle, hydraulic fluid reservoir, battery, dipstick, and carburettor. As always, the exterior panels are bolted rather than welded together, making for swift, cheap, accident repair.