Everything you need to know about the Citroen 2CV | Top Gear
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Sunday 3rd December
Top Gear series 25

Everything you need to know about the Citroen 2CV

Citroen's little hero is one of the stars of episode four. Your complete guide here

  • What is it?

    A lollopy, characterful, ancient Citroen that has become legend. Produced between 1948 and 1990 (yes, that really is 42 years of production), the 2CV (deux-cheveaux or ‘two horses’) was originally conceived in the late Thirties as a rugged, useful, affordable car. Famously, it was designed with very specific requirements, including being able to carry four people and 50kg of goods at 30mph, across muddy and unpaved roads if necessary. In fact, it was suggested at the prototype stage that the 2CV should be able to carry a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without whipping up an interior omelette, and also manage something like 80mpg while doing so. That’s one hell of a design brief, and yet, after quite a few prototypes, Citroen actually managed it.

    Unveiled at the Paris Salon on 7 October 1948, it also - during the decades of production - evolved a cult following akin to a religion. It might not be particularly luxurious or safe when you compare it to modern vehicles, but there’s a real depth of thought in its pared-back design that means it has charm few cars can match. Character? A 2CV is right up there with an original Mini or Fiat 500.

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  • What engine is in a Citroen 2CV?

    Originally, 2CVs came with an air-cooled, 375cc, two-cylinder engine thumping out a whole 9bhp. But that was enough for a 40mph top speed, proving adequate for the design specification. Later, upgrades to the flat twin provided 14bhp and then a heady 16 in the early 1960s, eventually reaching a peak of 33bhp from a monster 602cc motor in the ‘70s. Suffice to say, the 2CV was never exactly fast. But that kind of misses the point - rowing a 2CV along at maximum velocity requires a very specialised set of skills, ones you only really acquire by driving 2CVs more than is healthy. As a side note, there was also a factory 4x4 variant of the 2CV called the ‘Sahara’ that had not one engine but two. In fact, it had two of everything, from fuel tanks to gearboxes (and a connecting rod between the latter pair).

  • How fast is the Citroen 2CV?

    It’s not. But then it was never designed to be. There’s an old joke - later adapted to whatever car was most rubbish at the time - that it managed zero to 60mph in ‘about a day’. The original would get to its top speed of 40mph in about 42-43 seconds, and the latest and fastest versions only managed to bust the UK legal limit by 1mph even in the early 1980s. There were some who dropped in the flat-four from the larger GS for a double-up on the power though - including James Bond in ‘For Your Eyes Only’, though the ‘007’ special edition came with fake bullet holes instead of the more powerful hardware.

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  • Tell me about the Citroen 2CV's tech

    Weirdly for such a simple car - as is the way with creative design - the 2CV actually has plenty of interesting engineering. The ladder chassis is normal for the era, but the frame is a bit like an old aeroplane, and made of tubing with the thin steel body bolted on top. The suspension is equally simple-but-clever, and linked fore and aft. Essentially it’s self-levelling, and when under load during a corner, the kinematics effectively lengthen the wheelbase on one side of the car. It gets squashed into being able to corner with surprising vigour while being almost ridiculousy soft - and allowing that whole egg transportation issue to be covered. The company also inadvertently created a legend - because of the narrowness of the front tyres and long-travel suspension, it’s pretty much impossible to roll a 2CV. You’ll understeer into everything.. but never roll.

  • How much is the 2CV?

    That would depend on how collectible it is. A late-ish restoration project can be had for a grand or so, but decent, driveable 2CVs are more like six or seven. And once you’re into Sahara territory, several thousand more.

  • Tell me something interesting about the Citroen 2CV

    It seriously annoyed the Nazis. Citroen design chief Pierre-Jules Boulanger was so insistent that the German army didn’t get their hands on his prototypes for military purposes in the last part of the ‘30s that he walled them up into buildings, hid them in haylofts and generally made himself a nuisance. He even played shell games with transport trains when the Nazis tried to steal Citroen’s tooling, sending the relevant transport units in random directions across Europe. In fact, he was so annoying to the Nazis that he was officially labelled an ‘enemy of the Reich’. Pretty cool when you think about it.

    Pictured: 2CV pre-war prototype

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