Why I've fallen for this classic 2CV


Some of you might remember that last year I finally satiated my curious craving for a very slow, two cylinder, air-cooled car with suicide doors. Or at least I thought I had. Life with my Fiat 500D has been pretty wonderful since, so good in fact I forgot entirely it wasn’t actually the car I’d set out to buy at all.

The car I really wanted – indeed had always wanted – was a 1950s Citroen 2CV. They are to more recent 2CVs as a 1965 2-litre short wheelbase 911 to a brand new 991: conceptually related for sure but in reality completely different cars. But I couldn’t find one.

To give you an idea of how scarce these early ‘AZ’ models are, as I write there are 77 Deux Chevaux – upturned corrugated prams on wheels according to Jasper Carrott – advertised on Car & Classic of which just three are AZs. Of these one requires total restoration and another was actually sold months ago to my chum, neighbour and fellow motoring hack Chris Harris. Which leaves a grand total of one usable car. Which is one more than there usually is. Of over 3000 2CVs registered for use on UK roads right now, just 31 were built before 1960.

Indeed it was only when Chris bought his that my by now entirely academic interest in the breed resulted in one more casual browse. And the car you’re looking at now is what I found looking back at me from my computer screen in irresistible satin blue.

Infuriatingly, after years of futile searching had led me into the arms of another, here was the perfect car. Utterly original save its fabric roof, upholstery and galvanised chassis, it had been lovingly brought back to life for a television programme. Everything was correct from the six-volt electrics under the bonnet to the chromed trims on the wings revealing it to be an AZL model. Better, its 425cc engine had been entirely rebuilt, as had its unique suspension system with interconnected front to rear springing. It even had what I believe to be an optional centrifugal clutch that allows you to start the car in gear and come to rest all without using the clutch. And the body, with its rippled bonnet and slatted side vents, yellow headlights and gorgeous grille simply screamed at me to buy it.

So conveniently forgetting I had neither the space nor the change, I arranged to go and see it, convincing myself my purpose was merely to prove that the Fiat was the far better choice.

I bought it as soon as I saw it, though I naturally didn’t mention this to the vendor until the usual financial table tennis had taken place. If you believe genius lies in simplicity this is one of the cleverest cars ever created. Instrumentation consists of an ammeter and a speedometer whose drive also powers the windscreen wipers, so the faster you go, the more you can see. Both front and rear seats are located by hooks so can be removed in seconds to turn your 2CV into a van, provide seating for an impromptu picnic or the world’s most effective security device. I can roll the entire roof back in less than 20 secs – about the time you’ll need in a new 911 Cabriolet and if you’re a little cold, you can open small port holes in the front bulkhead to let the engine heat permeate the cabin.

It is breathtaking slow, even by the standards of someone well used to an old Fiat 500, and not least because I’m still running it in. It is the only car I’ve owned whose performance is materially affected by fuel load measured, incidentally, by a dipstick in the tank. I can manage the hill to my house in second gear only if alone. A friend of a friend who lived at the end of an even steeper lane could only manages the final few yards home in reverse – apparently the lowest ratio in the gearbox.

It’s an easy fix: you can install a more modern 602cc engine complete with gearbox, driveshafts and 12-volt electrics in such a way that the car could be returned to original form in a day. And in a way I am very tempted: the rise in power from 12 to 29bhp would give all day cruising at 60mph and because the modification is so easily reversed, I think it would easily pay for itself should I ever sell it.

But something in me is resisting and it’s not the money because, even by my standards, it’s not an expensive thing to do. There’s part of me that wants to experience the car only and entirely as its makers intended and even if that means having to pull over once in a while to let a queue of traffic past, that is perhaps a price worth paying. I’ll get it run in, live with it for the summer and switch motors over the winter if that’s the way I go.

In the meantime what I thought would be the biggest problem of owning the 2CV has vanished before my eyes. No one needs two air-cooled, two cylinder, suicide door sub 20bhp cars in their shed and my greatest fear was that every time I drove one, I’d feel guilty about not driving the other.

Quite unexpectedly, into this breach has leapt Mrs Frankel whose studied indifference to every old car I’ve owned to date went out the window the day the Fiat arrived. Conversations I thought would never take place under my own roof – comparing double declutching technique for instance – have now been heard. In short, I can’t get her out of it. Which suits me just fine. The 2CV is mine, and contrary to those unkind enough to suggest that it was an entirely simulated transaction for the presumed mutual benefit of both me and the television programme, mine it is going to stay.


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