It’s the crudest, ugliest, thriftiest, four-wheeled production car in the world, as French as champagne and as popular too. You need a sense of humour to drive it and if the humour is latent it will drag it out of you in the first few miles. It is the Citroën 2CV6, the latest version of the remarkable Deux Cheveux, an anachronism in the world of motoring, the Gallic “peasant” car which has become a European cult..
Citroën considered the 2CV too crude and unsophisticated for the British market, which didn’t stop several firrns doing a roaring trade in imported, secondhand, left-hand-drive examples. When we were all hit by the soaring cost of motoring last year Citroën decided that perhaps the British might at last forget their inhibitions; after all, the rest of the EEC was saturated with these little corrugated hen coops so why shouldn’t Britain be too. How right they were. Sales have taken off like those of Eiffel Tower postcards, this new-found market straddling the spectrum of impecunious to chic well-to-do.
As a concession to British palates “our” version is fitted with the 602 .c.c. derivative of the long-running, air-cooled flat-twin in place of the more common 435 cc. unit of the 2CV4. The engine is already familiar to this market in the Dyane 6, the somewhat smoother-bodied, better-equipped, up-market and more expensive extension of the Deux Cheveux theme. This “big” engine ,74 mm. bore. 70 mm. stroke) has power indeed, offering 4.5 b.h.p. more than the small one, a total of no less than 28.5 h.h.p. would you believe? Oh, and no less than 30.5* lb. ft. torque. Remarkably, maximum power needs the encouragement of no less than 6,750 r.p.m., yet maximum torque occurs at 3,500 r.p.m.
Bright colours, a startling green on the test car, and rectangular headlamps have rejuvenated this amazing machine. Gone are most of the strength-giving corrugations, apart from a few flutes in the bonnet, but prop yourself on the bonnet compartment sides and you’ll soon realise that the Deux Cheveux is still made of practically the same stuff Heinz put their soup in. Since I tested the car the price has risen to £1,069, £115 cheaper than an 850 c.c. Mini. For a 602 c.c. car (and the capacity alone makes it sound like a cyclecar rather than a “proper” saloon) it sounds a great deal to pay, even in this day and age. Don’t believe it! Apart from its unique charm and personality, this little beast is supremely practical and brilliantly contrived. For a start it has four doors. They may be narrow, but they make this car feel always “usable”. Perhaps its biggest attraction is that it is a convertible too: the vinyl roof can be rolled back half-way to the “sedanca de ville” position or right back to the top of the rear window. The world’s cheapest convertible Citroën claim.
So it’s a four-door saloon and its a convertible, what else could you wish for? An estate car perhaps? I.ift out the bench rear seat (use it for picnicking along with the detachable front seats too, if you like) and you’ve got an estate car. And not just an estate; a convertible estate car, big enough to swallow, laid flat, four new Mk. I Jaguar doors I had to collect from Oldham and Crowther in Peterborough. Perhaps a pick-up type vehicle might he called for. Then you can remove the boot lid and somewhere I remember reading (though I can’t find it now, so perhaps that was in France) that there’s a special carrying tray to fit in the rear. Really, the versatility is incredible.
The driving of Deux Cheveux is just as much an acquired taste as its looks. The driving position, with its big, near-horizontal single-spoke wheel, is lorry-like—or perhaps combine-harvester like, if the threshing from under the bonnet is taken into account. The seats are properly upholstered in place of the hammock type of earlier Deux Cheveux and soft and comfortable to sit in. If you’re not going to sit in them for any length of time, that is, for the back-rests are too upright. The flat-twin needs plenty of choke before it will chug into life from cold and warms up less quickly than you’d expect of an air-cooled engine. Once the umbrella-type handbrake has been released, awkwardly placed under the facia (where the ratchet managed to sever the feed to the test car’s radio), the next problem is mastery of the push-pull gear-lever. Positions are illogical, but once they’ve been learned it’s a simple, efficient system. First is engaged by twisting the knob of the horizontal lever 1tothe left and pulling backwards. Reverse is directly opposite. Shove the lever out of first into neutral, let it centralise itself, push forward and second should engage. Pulling directly backwards from second engages third, while fourth needs a right twist and a shove forward. Synchromesh, on the top three gears only, is crunchy, the ratios wide and the transmission of this front-wheel-drive bolide extremely noisy.
There’s only one position for that big steel pedal on the right: flat on the floor! The Deux Cheveux doesn’t really have abundant power and performance, but so long as that right foot is pressed hard and that gear-lever push-pulled vigorously it will keep up with most traffic and delight the driver with the looks of disbelief from users of faster cars. Maximum speeds in the gears are shown on the speedometer as 19 m.p.h. 38 m.p.h. and 56 m.p.h., though the flat-twin can be taken well beyond those figures to advantage. On motorways its level-road maximum coincides with the legal limit (what a farce!). Downhill gradients can stretch this to nearly 80 m.p.h., but, conversely, uphill bits will drag it down to 55-60 m.p.h. All these figures are “flat-out” ones, for, as no tourist in France can fail to appreciate, these Citroën engines are virtually unburstable,. designed, and protected by high-gearing, to run indefinitely at maximum speed.
The Deux Cheveux is unparalleled in the world of economy cars for roadholding and ride. This supple interconnected independent suspension gives exceptionally long wheel travel which simply soaks up ruts, potholes, mountains and deserts. Except for the pothole hidden in a puddle which burst one of the tubeless Michelin X tyres and bent one of the 15 in. steel rims on the test car . . In true French style the door handles try to meet the road surface on every corner, though the occupants soon become used to this roll. The way this car grips the road is unbelievable; it really is quite impossible to break it away, which accounts for being able to drive it flat out all the time! Within its performance capabilities it will run rings round practically anything on corners. The drum brakes, inboard at the front, are equally effective. Handling is a different matter and again an acquired taste. It understeers a great deal and the steering is both heavy and low geared, on the move and when parking.
Of course the real reason for the 2CV6’s existence on the British market is economy. I drove the test car virtually flat out for several hundred miles, yet the 91 octane fuel was consumed at only a gallon every 44 miles. In less heavy hands 2CVs are reputed to do well into the upper 50s per gallon, but hardly with the same fun. The tank holds only 4.4 gallons, which is hardly sufficient in spite of the consumption. No oil was used. These machines seem to exist in France without servicing, have tyres which outlast the cars and engines with impressive longevity. They must be the cheapest four-wheeled car in the world to run.
There are all sorts of little features which add to the attraction of this lovable little car: Headlights which can he adjusted by a knob in the cockpit; door handles which spin round impotently when they’re locked, to prevent forcing; a full-length opening ventilator across the front of the cockpit; side windows which open like wings along a horizontal hinge in the middle, and are closed by letting them fall against the catches. Visibility is poor through the shallow screen and the wipers slow, but the heater is powerful and a “stick-on” heated rear screen is fitted to British market cars.
It is difficult to pin down exactly the features which make the 2CV6 such an attractive little car when in reality it is just a very noisy tin box. It’s a complete melange of peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, combined into a remarkable and unique personality. “More than a car. A whole life-style”, proclaims Citroën’s 2CV6 brochure. How right they are!—C.R.