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CATEGORIES (articles) > Donor vehicle information > Citroen > History and life of the 2CV

History and life of the 2CV

The 2CV (deux chevaux - French, literally "two horses", from the tax horsepower rating) was a popular French car made by Citroën. 3,872,583 2CV sedan, 1,246,306 utility models and even more derivatives were produced from 1948 to 1990.


Pierre Boulanger's early 1930s design brief - said by some to be astonishingly radical for the time - was for a low-priced, rugged 'umbrella on four wheels' that would enable two peasants to drive 100 kg of farm goods to market at 60 km/h, in clogs and across muddy unpaved roads if necessary. It would use no more than 3 litres of gasoline to travel 100 km. Most famously, it would be able to drive across a ploughed field without breaking the eggs it was carrying. Boulanger later also had the roof raised to allow him to drive while wearing a hat.

André Lefebvre was the engineer in charge of the TPV project. By 1939 the TPV (Toute Petite Voiture - "Very Small Car") was deemed ready and several prototypes had been built. Those prototypes made heavy use of aluminium parts and had water-cooled engine. The seats were hammocks suspended from the roof by wires.

During the German occupation of France during World War II, Michelin (Citroën's main shareholder) and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations, one was disguised as a pickup, and the others were destroyed, and Boulanger had the next six years to think about more improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs where discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003, five TPVs are known. For long it was believed that the project was so well hidden that the all the prototypes were lost at the end of the War. (In fact it seems that none of the hidden TPVs was lost after the War, but in the 1950s an internal memo ordered them to be scrapped. The surviving TPVs were, in fact, hidden from the top management by some workers who were sensitive to their historical value.)

After the War, internal reports at Citroën showed that producing the TPV would not be economically viable, given the rising cost of aluminium in the post-war economy. A decision was made to replace most of the aluminium parts with steel parts. Other changes were made, the most notable being an air-cooled engine, new seats and a restyling of the body by Flaminio Bertoni. It took three years for Citroën to rework the TPV and the car was nicknamed "Toujours Pas Vue" (Still Not Seen) by the press.

Citroën finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon in 1948. It was laughed at by the journalists, probably because Citroën had launched the car without any press advertising. Boris Vian described the car as an "aberration roulante" (rolling aberration) and the car was qualified as a "Spartan car" by many. History has confirmed that the car was charming in a lot of people's views, and a revolution in consumer transportation, at least on the French market.

A late 2CV with square optics
1978 Citroën 2CV AK400 van

The 2CV was a great commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list. Production was increased from four units per day in 1949 to 400 units per day in 1950. Some of the early models were built at Citroën's plant in Slough, England. A coupé version was even produced briefly, called the Bijou.

1960 Citroën Bijou

It was mainly sold in France and some European markets. The conservative management of Michelin was focusing on ROI and would never make the production and marketing required to develop export sales on a world scale. Consequently, it suffered a similar fate to the Morris Minor, and a very different one to the Volkswagen Beetle, which was sold worldwide.


The body was constructed of a dual H-frame chassis, an airplane-style tube framework, and a very thin steel shell. It was powered by a flat-twin air-cooled engine designed by Walter Becchia, with a nod to the classic 'boxer' BMW motorcycle engine (It's reported that Becchia dismantled the engine of the BMW motorcycle of one of his friend before designing the 2CV engine). (The flat-2 engine and thin steel body make a peculiar noise that can't be compared to anything, except perhaps a Piper J-3 at startup.) Front wheel drive made the car easy and safe to drive. Large hydraulic inboard brakes ensured that brake failure on one side left steering and braking largely unaffected. The swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system together with inboard front brakes had a much smaller unsprung weight than existing coil spring or leaf designs. This made the suspension more responsive, enabling the 2CV to indeed be driven at speed over a ploughed field. The canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The car had one rear light and one stop lamp, and was available only in grey. The windshield wipers were powered by a purely mechanical system: a cable connected to the gearbox; to reduce cost this cable powered also the speedometer. The wipers' speed was therefore variable with car speed. When the car was waiting at a crossroad, the wiper were not powered, thus it was also possible to power them by hand.

The car had a 4 speed gearbox, an advanced feature on an inexpensive car at the time. Boulanger had originally insisted on no more than 3 gears, because he believed that with four ratios the car would be perceived as complex to drive by customers. Thus, the 4th gear was marketed as an overdrive, this is why on the early cars the "4" was replaced by "S" for surmultipliée. The gear shifter came horizontally out of the dashboard with the handle curved upwards. It had a strange shift pattern. The first was back on the left, the second and third were inline and the fourth (or the S) could be engaged only by turning the lever to the right from the third.

The reliability of the car was increased by the fact that, being air-cooled, it had no coolant, radiator, water pump or thermostat. It had no distributor either because both spark plugs were fired at the same time, on every two strokes. Except the brakes they were no hydraulic parts on original models as the shock absorbers were based on an inertial system.


The car featured an air cooled horizontally opposed twin cylinder four stroke 375 cc engine, with the notoriously underpowered earliest model developing only 9 bhp (7 kW). A 425 cc engine was introduced in 1955, followed by a 602 cc (giving 28 bhp (21 kW) at 7000 rpm) in 1968. With the 602 cc engine the tax classification of the car changed so that it became in fact a 3CV, but the commercial name remained unchanged. A 435 cc engine was introduced at the same time in replacement of the 425 cc, the 435 cc engine car was christened 2CV 4 while the 602 cc took the name 2CV 6. The 602 cc engine evolved to 33 bhp (25 kW) in 1970; this was the most powerful engine fitted to the 2CV. A new 602 cc giving only 29 bhp (22 kW) at a slower 5750 rpm was introduced in 1979. Despite being less powerful, this engine was more efficient, allowing lower fuel consumption and better top speed. The last evolution of the 2CV engine was the Citroën Visa flat-2, a 652 cc featuring an electronic ignition. Citroën never sold this engine on the 2CV, however some enthusiasts converted they 2CV to 652 engines.

2CV in movies

The 2CV made several appearances in Louis de Funès' movies. In the opening scene of Le Corniaud a 2CV driven by Bourvil is totally destroyed in a collision with a Rolls-Royce driven by Louis de Funès.

In Blake Edwards' Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) Inspector Clouseau has a 2CV which he refers to as "The Silver Hornet".

In the 1979 Japanese animated movie The Castle of Cagliostro, a 2CV is shown during in the film's first chase scene. It is driven by Clarisse, the movie's heroine, who is being pursued by goons working for an evil count intent on marrying her. The Citroën 2CV also happened to be the first car owned by the film's director, famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. That same year the 2CV makes also a short appearance in Apocalypse Now. During the famous scene of the attack by the Air Cavalry to the strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries a 2CV is rocketed while crossing a bridge.

In 1981, a 2CV fitted with the Flat-4 engine from a Citroën GS starred in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. Citroën issued a special series of "2CV James Bond" models fitted with the standard flat-2 engine, painted in yellow with 007 on the front doors and fake bullet holes.


Popular French nicknames were "Deuche" and "Dedeuche". They also called it "an umbrella on wheels." The Dutch were the first to call it "de lelijke eend", the ugly duck, while the also Dutch speaking Flemish called it "de geit", the goat. In Germany it is called "die lahme Ente", the lame duck. An English nickname is the Tin Snail. As an interesting aside, a Micro Machines video game offered a vehicle called the "Super Snail", which resembled the 2CV.

The end of the 2CV

The 2CV was produced for 42 years, the model finally succumbing to customer demands for speed, comfort and safety, all areas (apart from ride comfort) in which it had fallen significantly behind more modern cars. Style alone no longer justified its retention in the Citroën range. In 1988 production ceased in France but was continued in Portugal. The last 2CV, gray with chassis number VF7AZKA00KA376002, rolled off the Portuguese production line on July 27, 1990. The 2CV has earned a unique place in motoring history as one of the most radical production car designs ever.


The company Sorevie of Lodève is building 2CV today. The cars are built from scratch using mostly new parts. But as a 2CV doesn't comply with modern regulations for new cars the cars are sold as second-hand cars using chassis and engine number from an old 2CV. The 2CV-Mehari Club Cassis is also known to recondition 2CVs. Recently they entered a 2CV prototype in the Paris-Dakar Rally, this was a twin engine car (like the 2CV Sahara) powered by two 602 cc engines.



A (1948-?)
AZKA (2CV6, ?-1990)


AZU, AZU 250, AZU 350
AK 400, AKS 400
AYCD (Acadiane)

Four wheel drive

One novel model was the 2CV Sahara, a four wheel drive car, equipped with two engines (12 hp each). One was mounted in the front driving the front wheels and one in the back driving the rear wheels. A single gear shifter, clutch pedal, and gas pedal were connected to both engines.

It was originally intended for use by the French colonies in Northern Africa. As well as a decreased chance of being stranded, it provided four wheel drive traction with continuous force to some wheels while others were slipping because the engine transmissions were uncoupled. Therefore it became popular with off-road enthusiasts.

Between 1958 and 1971 Citroen built 694 Saharas, but only 27 are known to exist today. The top speed was 65 km/h (40 mph) on one engine, but this increased to 105 km/h (65 mph) with both engines running.

Another 4x4 model (with only one engine) was built by independent constructors from a Mehari 4x4 chassis and a 2CV body. Although the terminology is sometimes confused, 2CV 4x4 generally refers to these models, whereas 2CV Sahara refers to the two-engined Citroën vehicle.

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