Citroën 2CV

Citroën 2CV
Manufacturer Citroën
Production 1948–1990[1]
Assembly Levallois-Perret, France,[2]
Forest/Vorst, Belgium
Liège, Belgium
Slough, UK
Jeppener, Argentina (1960–1962),
Buenos Aires, Argentina (1962–1980)
Montevideo, Uruguay (Panel van & pick-up)
Arica, Chile
Mangualde, Portugal (1989–1990),
Vigo, Spain
Koper, Slovenia (former Yugoslavia)
Designer André Lefèbvre
Flaminio Bertoni
Walter Becchia
Marcel Chinon
Body and chassis
Class Economy car
Body style 5-door hatchback
2-door panel van
2-door pick-up
2-door coupé utility
Layout Front engine, front-wheel drive / four-wheel drive
Related Citroën Dyane
Citroën FAF
Citroën Méhari
Citroën Ami
Citroën Bijou
Engine 375 cc (23 CID) H2 air-cooled 9 hp.
425 cc H2 air-cooled 12hp.
435 cc H2 air-cooled 18 hp.
602 cc H2 air-cooled 29 hp. [3]
Transmission 4-speed manual
Wheelbase 2.40 metres (94.5 in)
Length 3.86 metres (152.0 in)
Width 1.48 metres (58.3 in)
Height 1.60 metres (63.0 in)
Curb weight 600 kg (1,300 lb)
Successor Citroën Dyane
Citroën AX (indirectly)

The Citroën 2CV (French: "deux chevaux" i.e. "deux chevaux-vapeur" (lit. "two steam horses", "two tax horsepower") is an air-cooled front-engine, front-wheel-drive economy car introduced at the 1948 Paris Mondial de l'Automobile and manufactured by Citroën for model years 1948–1990.[1]

Conceived by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger[4] to help motorise the large number of farmers still using horses and carts in 1930s France, the 2CV has a combination of innovative engineering and utilitarian, straightforward metal bodywork — initially corrugated for added strength without added weight.[5][6] The 2CV featured low cost; simplicity of overall maintenance; an easily serviced air-cooled engine (originally offering 9 hp); low fuel consumption; and an extremely long-travel suspension[7] offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Often called "an umbrella on wheels",[8][9] the fixed-profile convertible bodywork featured a full-width, canvas, roll-back sunroof, which accommodated oversized loads and until 1955 reached almost to the car's rear bumper.

Manufactured in France between 1948 and 1989 (and in Portugal from 1989 to 1990), over 3.8 million 2CVs were produced, along with over 1.2 million small 2CV-based delivery vans known as Fourgonnettes. Citroën ultimately offered several mechanically identical variants including the Ami (over 1.8 million); the Dyane (over 1.4 million); the Acadiane (over 250,000); and the Mehari (over 140,000). In total, Citroën manufactured almost 7 million 2CV variants.[10]

A 1953 technical review in Autocar described "the extraordinary ingenuity of this design, which is undoubtedly the most original since the Model T Ford".[11] In 2011, The Globe and Mail called it a "car like no other".[12] The motoring writer L. J. K. Setright described the 2CV as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car",[13] and a car of "remorseless rationality".[14]



In 1934, family-owned Michelin, being the largest creditor, took over the bankrupt Citroën company. The new management ordered a new market survey, conducted by Jacques Duclos.[15] France at that time had a large rural population which could not yet afford cars; Citroën used the survey results to prepare a design brief for a low-priced, rugged "umbrella on four wheels" that would enable four people to transport 50 kg (110 lb) of farm goods to market at 50 km/h (30 mph),[16] if necessary across muddy, unpaved roads. In fuel economy, the car would use no more than 3 l/100 km (95 mpg-imp). One design requirement was that the customer be able to drive eggs across a freshly ploughed field without breaking them.[17]

In 1936, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, vice-president of Citroën and chief of engineering and design, sent the brief to his design team at the engineering department. The TPV (Toute Petite Voiture — "Very Small Car") was to be developed in secrecy at Michelin facilities at Clermont-Ferrand and at Citroën in Paris, by the design team who had created the Traction Avant.[18]

Boulanger was closely involved with all decisions relating to the TPV, and was determined to reduce the weight to targets that his engineers thought impossible. He set up a department to weigh every component and then redesign it, to make it lighter while still doing its job.[19]

Three unrestored TPVs

Boulanger placed engineer André Lefèbvre in charge of the TPV project.[20] Lefèbvre had designed and raced Grand Prix cars; his speciality was chassis design and he was particularly interested in maintaining contact between tyres and the road surface.[21]

The first prototypes were bare chassis with rudimentary controls, seating and roof; test drivers wore leather flying suits, of the type used in contemporary open biplanes.[22] By the end of 1937 20 TPV experimental prototypes had been built and tested.[22] The prototypes had only one headlight, all that was required by French law at the time.[18] At the end of 1937 Pierre Michelin was killed in a car crash; Boulanger became president of Citroën.[23]

By 1939 the TPV was deemed ready, after 47 technically different and incrementally improved experimental prototypes had been built and tested.[24] These prototypes used aluminium and magnesium parts and had water-cooled flat twin engines with front-wheel drive. The seats were hammocks hung from the roof by wires. The suspension system, designed by Alphonse Forceau, used front leading arms and rear trailing arms, connected to eight torsion bars beneath the rear seat: a bar for the front axle, one for the rear axle, an intermediate bar for each side, and an overload bar for each side. The front axle was connected to its torsion bars by cable. The overload bar came into play when the car had three people on board, two in the front and one in the rear, to support the extra load of a fourth passenger and fifty kilograms of luggage.[5]

In mid-1939 a pilot run of 250 cars was produced and on 28 August 1939 the car received approval for the French market.[24][25] Brochures were printed and preparations made to present the car, renamed the Citroën 2CV, at the forthcoming Paris Motor Show in October 1939.[25]

World War II

On 3 September 1939, France declared war on Germany following that country's invasion of Poland. An atmosphere of impending disaster led to the cancellation of the 1939 motor show less than a month before it was scheduled to open.[25] The launch of the 2CV was abandoned.

During the German occupation of France in World War II Boulanger personally refused to collaborate with German authorities to the point where the Gestapo listed him as an "enemy of the Reich",[26] under constant threat of arrest and deportation to Germany.

Michelin (Citroën's main shareholder) and Citroën managers decided to hide the TPV project from the Nazis, fearing some military application as in the case of the future Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured during the war as the military Kübelwagen. Several TPVs were buried at secret locations; one was disguised as a pickup, the others were destroyed, and Boulanger spent the next six years thinking about further improvements. Until 1994, when three TPVs were discovered in a barn, it was believed that only two prototypes had survived. As of 2003 there were five known TPVs.

By 1941, after an increase in aluminium prices of forty percent, an internal report at Citroën showed that producing the TPV post-war would not be economically viable, given the projected further increasing cost of aluminium. Boulanger decided to redesign the car to use mostly steel with flat panels, instead of aluminium.[27] The Nazis had attempted to loot Citroën's press tools; this was frustrated after Boulanger got the French Resistance to re-label the rail cars containing them in the Paris marshalling yard. They ended up all over Europe, and Citroën was by no means sure they would all be returned after the war.[18] In early 1944 Boulanger made the decision to abandon the water-cooled two-cylinder engine developed for the car and installed in the 1939 versions. Walter Becchia was now briefed to design an air-cooled unit, still of two cylinders, and still of 375 cc.[25] Becchia was also supposed to design a three-speed gearbox, but managed to design a four-speed for the same space at little extra cost.[28] At this time small French cars like the Renault Juvaquatre and Peugeot 202 usually featured three-speed transmissions, as did Citroën's own mid-size Traction Avant - but the 1936 Italian Fiat 500 "Topolino" "people's car" did have a four-speed gearbox. Becchia persuaded Boulanger that the fourth gear was an overdrive.[28] The increased number of gear ratios also helped to pull the extra weight of changing from light alloys to steel for the body and chassis. Other changes included seats with tubular steel frames with rubber band springing[29] and a restyling of the body by the Italian Flaminio Bertoni. Also, in 1944 the first studies of the Citroën hydro-pneumatic suspension were conducted using the TPV/2CV.[30]

The development and production of what was to become the 2CV was also delayed by the incoming 1944 Socialist French government, after the liberation by the Allies from the Germans. The five-year "Plan Pons" to rationalise car production and husband scarce resources, named after economist and former French motor industry executive Paul-Marie Pons, only allowed Citroën the upper middle range of the car market, with the Traction Avant. The French government allocated the economy car market, US Marshall Plan aid, US production equipment and supplies of steel, to newly nationalised Renault to produce their Renault 4CV.[31] The "Plan Pons" came to an end in 1949.[32] Postwar French roads were very different from pre-war ones. Horse-drawn vehicles had re-appeared in large numbers.[33] The few internal combustion-engined vehicles present often ran on town gas stored in gasbags on roofs or wood/charcoal gas from gasifiers on trailers.[33] Only one hundred thousand of the two million pre-war cars were still on the road.[33] The time was known as "Les années grises" or "the grey years" in France.[34]

Water-cooled engine from the TPV
Restored Citroën TPV with a single headlight


Citroën unveiled the car at the Paris Salon on 7 October 1948. The car on display was nearly identical to the 2CV type A that would be sold the next year, but it lacked an electric starter, the addition of which was decided the day before the opening of the Salon, replacing the pull cord starter.[19] The canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The Type A had one stop light, and was only available in grey. The fuel level was checked with a dip stick/measuring rod, and the speedometer was attached to the windscreen pillar. The only other instrument was an ammeter.[35][36]

In 1949 the first delivered 2CV type A was 375 cc, 9 hp, with a 65 km/h (40 mph) top speed, only one tail light and windscreen wiper with speed shaft drive; the wiper speed was dependent on the driving speed. The car was heavily criticised by the motoring press and became the butt of French comedians for a short while.[11] One American motoring journalist quipped, "Does it come with a can opener?"[37] The British Autocar correspondent wrote that the 2CV "is the work of a designer who has kissed the lash of austerity with almost masochistic fervour".[38]

First generation "Ripple Bonnet" Citroën 2CV built from 1949 to 1960
Early AZU Fourgonnette rear

Despite critics, Citroën was flooded with customer orders at the show.[20] The car had a great impact on the lives of the low-income segment of the population in France.[39] The 2CV was a commercial success: within months of it going on sale, there was a three-year waiting list, which soon increased to five years. At the time a second-hand 2CV was more expensive than a new one because the buyer did not have to wait.[11] Production was increased from 876 units in 1949 to 6,196 units in 1950.

Grudging respect began to emanate from the international press: towards the end of 1951 the opinion appeared in Germany's recently launched Auto, Motor und Sport magazine that, despite its "ugliness and primitiveness" ("Häßlichkeit und Primitivität"), the 2CV was a "highly interesting" ("hochinteressantes") car.[40]

In 1950, Pierre-Jules Boulanger was killed in a car crash on the main road from Clermont-Ferrand (the home of Michelin) to Paris.[41]

In 1951 the 2CV received an ignition lock and a lockable driver's door. Production reached 100 cars a week.[42] By the end of 1951 production totalled 16,288.[43] Citroën introduced the 2CV Fourgonnette van. The "Weekend" version of the van had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle on the weekend as well as for business in the week.

By 1952, production had reached more than 21,000 with export markets earning foreign currency taking precedence.[42] Boulanger's policy, which continued after his death, was: "Priority is given to those who have to travel by car because of their work, and for whom ordinary cars are too expensive to buy."[42] Cars were sold preferentially to country vets, doctors, midwives, priests and small farmers.[42] In 1954 the speedometer got a light for night driving. In 1955 the 2CV side repeaters were added above and behind the rear doors. It was now also available with 425 cc (AZ), 12.5 hp and a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). In 1957 a heating and ventilation system was installed. The colour of the steering wheel changed from black to grey. The mirrors and the rear window were enlarged. The bonnet was decorated with a longitudinal strip of aluminium (AZL). In September 1957, the model AZLP (P for porte de malle, "boot lid"), appeared with a boot lid panel; previously the soft top had to be opened at the bottom to get to the boot. In 1958 a Belgian Citroën plant produced a higher quality version of the car (AZL3). It had a third side window, not available in the normal version, and improved details.

A 1970s Citroën 2CV with rectangular headlights
A 1970s Citroën 2CV Club / 1980s Charleston front interior
A 1980s 2CV6 Spécial

In 1960 the production of the 375 cc engine ended. The corrugated metal bonnet was replaced by a 5-rib glossy cover.

The 2 CV 4 × 4 2CV Sahara appeared in December 1960. This had an additional engine-transmission unit in the rear, mounted the other way around and driving the rear wheels. For the second engine there was a separate push-button starter and choke. With a gear stick between the front seats, both transmissions were operated simultaneously. For the two engines, there were separate petrol tanks under the front seats. The filler neck sat in the front doors. Both engines (and hence axles) could be operated independently. The spare wheel was mounted on the bonnet. 693 were produced until 1968 and one more in 1971. Many were used by the Swiss Post as a delivery vehicle. Today they are highly collectable.

From the mid-1950s economy car competition had increased — internationally in the form of the 1957 Fiat 500 and 1955 Fiat 600, and 1959 Austin Mini. By 1952, Germany produced a price-competitive car - the Messerschmitt KR175, followed in 1955 by the Isetta - these were microcars, not complete four-door cars like the 2CV.[20] On the French home market, from 1961, the small Simca 1000 using licensed Fiat technology, and the larger Renault 4 hatchback had become available. The R4 was the biggest threat to the 2CV, eventually outselling it.[44]


In 1960 the corrugated Citroën H Van style "ripple bonnet" of convex swages was replaced (except for the Sahara), with one using six larger concave swages and looked similar until the end of production. The 2CV had suicide doors in front from 1948 to 1964, replaced with front hinged doors from 1965 to 1990.[45]

In 1961 Citroën launched a new model based on the 2CV chassis, with a 4-door sedan body, and a reverse rake rear window: the Citroën Ami. In 1962 the engine power was increased to 14 hp and top speed to 85 km/h (53 mph). A sun roof was installed. In 1963 the engine power was increased to 16 hp. An electric wiper motor replaced the drive on the speedo. The ammeter was replaced by a charging indicator light. The speedometer was moved from the window frame into the dash. Instead of a dip stick/measuring rod, a fuel gauge was introduced.

Director of publicity Claude Puech came up with humorous and inventive marketing campaigns.[46] Robert Delpire of the Delpire Agency was responsible for the brochures.[46] Ad copy came from Jacques Wolgensinger Director of PR at Citroën.[46] Wolgensinger was responsible for the youth orientated "Raids", 2CV Cross, rallies, the use of "Tin-Tin", and the slogan "More than just a car — a way of life".[46] A range of colours was introduced, starting with Glacier Blue in 1959, then yellow in 1960. In the 1960s 2CV production caught up with demand.[36] In 1966 the 2CV got a third side window. From September 1966 a Belgian-produced variant was sold in Germany with the 602 cc engine and 21 hp Ami6, the 3 CV (AZAM6). This version was only sold until 1968 in some export markets.

In 1967 Citroën launched a new model based on the 2CV chassis, with an updated but still utilitarian body, with a hatchback (a hatchback kit was available from Citroën dealers for the 2CV, and aftermarket kits are available) that boosted practicality: the Citroën Dyane. The exterior is more modern and distinguished by the recessed lights in the fenders and bodywork. Between 1967 and 1983 about 1.4 million were built. This was in response to competition by the Renault 4. The Dyane was originally planned as an upmarket version of the 2CV and was supposed to supersede it, but ultimately the 2CV outlived the Dyane by seven years. Citroën also developed the Méhari off-roader.

From 1961, the car was offered, at extra cost, with the flat-2 engine size increased to 602 cc (36.7 cu in), although for many years the smaller 425 cc (25.9 cu in) engine continued to be available in France and export markets where engine size determined car tax levels. This was replaced by an updated 435 cc (26.5 cu in) engine in 1968.


In 1970 the car gained rear light units from the Citroën Ami 6, and also standardised a third side window in the rear pillar on 2CV6 (602 cc) models. From 1970, only two series were produced: the 2CV 4 (AZKB) with 435 cc and the 2CV 6 (Azka) with 602 cc displacement. All 2CVs from this date can run on unleaded fuel. 1970s cars featured rectangular headlights, except the Spécial model. In 1971 the front bench seat was replaced with two individual seats. In 1972 2CVs were fitted with standard three-point seat belts. In 1973 new seat covers, a padded single-spoke steering wheel and ashtrays were introduced.

The highest annual production was in 1974. Sales of the 2CV were reinvigorated by the 1974 oil crisis. The 2CV after this time became as much a youth lifestyle statement as a basic functional form of transport. This renewed popularity was encouraged by the Citroën "Raid" intercontinental endurance rallies of the 1970s where customers could participate by buying a new 2CV, fitted with a "P.O." kit (Pays d'Outre-mer — overseas countries),[47] to cope with thousands of miles of very poor or off-road routes.

The Paris to Persepolis rally was the most famous.[36] The Citroën "2CV Cross" circuit/off-road races were very popular in Europe.

Because of new emission standards, in 1975 power was reduced from 28 hp to 25 hp. The round headlights were replaced by square ones, adjustable in height. A new plastic grille was fitted.

In July 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced with the 435 cc engine. Between 1975 and 1990 under the name of AZKB "2CV Spécial" a drastically reduced trim basic version was sold, at first only in yellow. The small, square speedometer (which dates back to the Traction Avant), and the narrow rear bumper was installed. Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. It also had the earlier round headlights.[50] From the 1978 Paris Motor Show the Spécial regained third side windows, and was available in red and white; beginning in mid-1979 the 602 cc engine was installed.[50] In June 1981 the Spécial E arrived; this model had a standard centrifugal clutch and particularly low urban fuel consumption.[51]

2CV 007 (as used in For Your Eyes Only)

In 1981 a yellow 2CV6 was driven by James Bond (Roger Moore) in the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only. The car in the film was fitted with the flat-4 engine from a Citroën GS which more than doubled the power. In one scene the ultra light 2CV tips over and is quickly righted by hand.[52] Citroën launched a special edition 2CV "007" to coincide with the film; it was fitted with the standard engine and painted yellow with "007" on the front doors and fake bullet hole stickers.

In 1982 all 2CV models got inboard front disc brakes.[53]

In 1988, production ended in France after 40 years but continued at the Mangualde plant in Portugal. This lasted until 1990, when production of the 2CV ended. The 2CV outlasted the Visa, another of the cars which might have been expected to replace it, and was produced for four years after the start of Citroën AX production.

Portuguese-built cars, especially those from when production was winding down, have a reputation in the UK for being much less well made and more prone to corrosion than those made in France.[54][55][56] According to Citroën, the Portuguese plant was more up-to-date than the one in Levallois near Paris, and Portuguese 2CV manufacturing was to higher quality standards.[57]

As of October 2016, 3,025 remained in service in the UK.[58]

Special edition saloon models

The special edition models began with the 1976 SPOT model and continued in the with the 1980 Charleston, inspired by Art-Deco two colour styles 1920s Citroën model colour schemes. In 1981 the 007 arrived. In 1983 the 2CV Beachcomber arrived in the United Kingdom; it was known as "France 3" in France or "Transat" in other continental European markets — Citroën sponsored the French America's Cup yacht entry of that year. In 1985 the two-coloured Dolly appeared, using the "Spécial" model's basic trim rather than the slightly better-appointed "Club" as was the case with the other special editions. In 1986 there was the Cocorico. This means "cock-a-doodle-doo" and tied in with France's entry in the 1986 World Cup. "Le Coq Gaulois" or Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France. In 1987 came the Bamboo, followed by the 1988 Perrier in association with the mineral water company.

The Charleston, having been presented in October 1980 as a one-season "special edition" was incorporated into the regular range in July 1981 in response to its "extraordinary success".[53] By changing the carburetor to achieve 29 hp a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) was achieved. Other changes were a new rear-view mirror and inboard disc brakes at the front wheels.[53] In the 1980s there was a range of four full models:

In Germany and Switzerland a special edition called, "I Fly Bleifrei" — "I Fly Lead Free" was launched in 1986, that could use unleaded, instead of then normal leaded petrol and super unleaded. It was introduced mainly because of stricter emissions standards. In 1987 it was replaced by the "Sausss-duck" special edition.

Export markets

1970s Argentinian 3CV hatchback
1961 13hp "Citroneta" pickup truck (Chile)
IES 3CV in Tandil Argentina

The 2CV was originally sold in France and some European markets, and went on to enjoy strong sales in Asia, South America, and Africa. During the post-war years Citroën was very focused on the home market, which had some unusual quirks, like puissance fiscale. The management of Michelin was supportive of Citroën up to a point, and with a suspension designed to use Michelin's new radial tyres the Citroën cars clearly demonstrated their superiority over their competitors' tyres. But they were not prepared to initiate the investment needed for the 2CV (or the Citroën DS for that matter) to truly compete on the global stage. Citroën was always under-capitalised until the 1970s Peugeot takeover. The 2CV sold 8,830,679[59] vehicles; the Volkswagen Beetle, which was available worldwide, sold 21 million units.

Some of the early models were built at Citroën's plant in Slough, England from 1953. Until then British Construction and Use Regulations made cars with inboard front brakes such as the 2CV illegal. Producing the car in Britain allowed Citroën to circumvent trade barriers and to sell cars in the British Empire and Commonwealth. It achieved some success in these markets, to the extent that all Slough-built 2CVs were fitted with improved air cleaners and other modifications to suit the rough conditions found in Australia and Africa, where the 2CV's durability and good ride quality over rough roads attracted buyers. The 2CV sold poorly in Great Britain in part due to its excessive cost because of import duties on components.

In 1959, the British Royal Navy ordered 65 2CV pick-ups from the Slough plant, following sea tests aboard HMS Bulwark in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean during 1957–58, with the Westland Whirlwind helicopters of 845 squadron RNAS. The pick-ups also served aboard HMS Albion. They were to serve as motor transport with the 42nd Commando regiment of the Royal Marines, which required robust and reliable vehicles to cope with jungle tracks, that were light enough to be taken ashore by helicopter from the aircraft carriers.[60][61]

In 1959 Ciitroën introduced a glass-fibre coupé version called the Bijou that was briefly produced at Slough. Styling of this car was by Peter Kirwan-Taylor (better known for his work with Colin Chapman of Lotus cars on the 1950s Lotus Elite), but it proved to be too heavy for the 425 cc (25.9 cu in) engine to give it adequate performance. It served to use up remaining 2CV parts at Slough in the early 1960s. Sales of Slough-produced 2CVs ended in 1960. In 1975, the 2CV was re-introduced to the British market in the wake of the oil crisis. These were produced in France but avoided the crippling import duties of the 1950s, because the UK was by then a member of the EEC. In the 1980s the best foreign markets for the 2CV were the UK and Germany.[36]

Only a few thousand 2CVs were sold in North America when they were new. The original model that produced 9 hp (6.7 kW) and had a top speed of 64 km/h (40 mph) was unsuited to the expanding post-war US freeway network, and was never widely accepted in North America. Even the fastest of the later models struggled to 115 km/h (71 mph).[62]

A rare Jeep-like derivative, called the Yagán[63] after an Aborigine tribe, was made in Chile between 1972 and 1973. After the Chilean coup of 1973, there were 200 Yagáns left that were used by the Army to patrol the streets and the Peruvian border, with 106 mm (4.2 in) cannons.

A similar car was sold in some west African countries as the Citroën "Baby-brousse".[64]

In Iran, the Citroën 2CV was called the Jian.[65] The cars were originally manufactured in Iran in a joint venture between Citroën and Iran National up until the 1979 Revolution, when Iran National was nationalised, which continued producing the Jian without the involvement of Citroën.[66]

The 2CV was built in Chile and Argentina for South America. The 1953 Citroneta model of the 2CV made in Chile and Argentina used a type AZ chassis with 425 cc engine developing 12 bhp (8.9 kW). Both chassis and engine were made in France while the "three box" bodywork (in both 2- and 4-door versions) was designed and produced in Chile. It was the first economy car on the market in Chile. The 1970s Chilean version mounted a 602 cc engine with an output of 33 hp (25 kW), and was designated as the AX-330. It was built between 1970 and 1978, during which it saw changes like different bumpers, a hard roof, front disc brakes, and square headlights.[67] A derivation called the "3CV" was built in Argentina with various modifications such as a hatchback. Citroën had produced more than 200,000 cars in Argentina by 1977; production ended in 1979. A 2CV with a heavily modified front end called the 3CV IES America was produced well into the 1980s, by an Argentinian company that bought the rights and factory from Citroën.[68][69]


All 2CVs have flap-up windows: roll up windows were considered too heavy and expensive in 1948, and the design did not allow any update.

The level of technology in the 1948 2CV was remarkable for the era. While colours and detail specifications were modified in the ensuing 42 years, the biggest mechanical change was the addition of front disc brakes[53] (by then already fitted for several years in the mechanically similar Citroën Dyane 6), in October 1981 (for the 1982 model year). The reliability of the car was enhanced by the minimalist simplification of the designers, being air-cooled (with an oil cooler), it had no coolant, radiator, water pump or thermostat. It had no distributor either, just a contact breaker system. Except for the brakes, there were no hydraulic parts on original models; damping was by tuned mass dampers and friction dampers.

The 1948 car featured radial tyres, which had just been commercialised;[70] front-wheel drive; rack and pinion steering mounted inside the front suspension cross-tube, away from a frontal impact; rear fender skirts (the suspension design allowed wheel changes without removing the skirts); bolt-on detachable front and rear wings; detachable doors, bonnet (and boot lid after 1960), by "slide out" P-profile sheet metal hinges; flap-up windows, as roll up windows were considered too heavy and expensive.;[71] and detachable full length fabric sunroof and boot lid, for almost pickup-like load-carrying versatility. Ventilation in addition to the sunroof and front flap windows was provided by an opening flap under the windscreen. The car had load adjustable headlights and a heater (heaters were standardised on British economy cars in the 1960s).


The body was constructed of a dual H-frame platform chassis and aircraft-style tube framework, and a very thin steel shell that was bolted to the chassis.[72][73] Because the original design brief called for a low speed car, little or no attention was paid to aerodynamics; the body had a drag coefficient of Cd=0.51, high by today's standards but typical for the era.

The 2CV used the fixed-profile convertible, where the doors and upper side elements of its bodywork remain fixed, while its fabric soft top can be opened. This reduces weight and lowers the centre of gravity, and allows the carrying of long or irregularly shaped items, but the key reason was that fabric was cheaper than steel which was in short supply and expensive after the war. The fixed-profile concept was quite popular in this period.


The suspension of the 2CV was very soft; a person could easily rock the car side to side dramatically. The swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system with inboard front brakes had a much smaller unsprung mass than existing coil spring or leaf spring designs. The design was modified by Marcel Chinon.[28]

The system comprises two suspension cylinders mounted horizontally on each side of the platform chassis. Inside the cylinders are two springs, one for each wheel, mounted at each end of the cylinder. The springs are connected to the front leading swinging arm and rear trailing swinging arm, that act like bellcranks by pull rods (tie rods). These are connected to spring seating cups in the middle of the cylinder, each spring being compressed independently, against the ends of the cylinder.[28][74][75][76][77] Each cylinder is mounted using an additional set of springs, originally made from steel, called "volute" springs, on later models made from rubber. These allow the front and rear suspension to interconnect.[78] When the front wheel is deflected up over a bump, the front pull rod compresses the front spring inside the cylinder, against the front of the cylinder. This also compresses the front "volute" spring pulling the whole cylinder forwards. That action pulls the rear wheel down on the same side via the rear spring assembly and pull rod. When the rear wheel meets that bump a moment later, it does the same in reverse, keeping the car level front to rear. When both springs are compressed on one side when travelling around a bend, or front and rear wheels hit bumps simultaneously, the equal and opposite forces applied to the front and rear spring assemblies reduce the interconnection.[5] It reduces pitching, which is a particular problem of soft car suspension.[5]

The swinging arms are mounted with large bearings to "cross tubes" that run side to side across the chassis; combined with the effects of all-independent soft springing and excellent damping, keeps the road wheels in contact with the road surface and parallel to each other across the axles at high angles of body roll. A larger than conventional steering castor angle, ensures that the front wheels are closer to vertical than the rears, when cornering hard with a lot of body roll. The soft springing, long suspension travel and the use of leading and trailing arms means that as the body rolls during cornering the wheelbase on the inside of the corner increases while the wheelbase on the outside of the corner decreases. As the corning forces put more of the car's weight on the inside pair of wheels the wheelbase extends in proportion, keeping the car's weight balance and centre of grip constant. promoting excellent road holding. The other key factor in the quality of its road holding is the very low and forward centre of gravity, provided by the position of the engine and transmission.[79]

The suspension also automatically accommodates differing payloads in the car- with four people and cargo on board the wheelbase increases by around 4 cm (2 in) as the suspension deflects, and the castor angle of the front wheels increases by as much as 8 degrees thus ensuring that ride quality, handling and road holding are almost unaffected by the additional weight.[80] On early cars friction dampers (like a dry version of a multi-plate clutch design) were fitted at the mountings of the front and rear swinging arms to the cross-tubes. Because the rear brakes were outboard, they had extra tuned mass dampers to damp wheel bounce from the extra unsprung mass. Later models had tuned mass dampers ("batteurs") at the front (because the leading arm had more inertia and "bump/thump" than the trailing arm), with hydraulic telescopic dampers / shock absorbers front and rear. The uprated hydraulic damping obviated the need for the rear inertia dampers.[81] It was designed to be a comfortable ride by matching the frequencies encountered in human bipedal motion.[7]

This suspension design ensured the road wheels followed ground contours underneath them closely, while insulating the vehicle from shocks, enabling the 2CV to be driven over a ploughed field without breaking any eggs, as its design brief required. More importantly it could comfortably and safely drive at reasonable speed, along the ill-maintained and war-damaged post-war French Routes Nationales. It was commonly driven "Pied au Plancher" — "foot to the floor" by their peasant owners.[5][82]

Front-wheel drive and gearbox

Citroën had developed expertise with front-wheel drive due to the pioneering Traction Avant, which was the first mass-produced steel monocoque front-wheel-drive car in the world. The 2CV was originally equipped with a sliding splined joint, and twin Hookes type universal joints on its driveshafts; later models used constant velocity joints and a sliding splined joint.

The gearbox was a four-speed manual transmission, an advanced feature on an inexpensive car at the time. The gear stick 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. Reverse was opposite first. The idea was to put the most used gears opposite each other — for parking, first and reverse; for normal driving, second and third. This layout was adopted from the H-van's three-speed gearbox.


The windscreen wipers were powered by a purely mechanical system: a cable connected to the transmission; to reduce cost, this cable also powered the speedometer. The wipers' speed was therefore dependent on car speed. When the car was waiting at a crossroad, the wipers were not powered; thus, a handle under the speedometer allowed them to be operated by hand. From 1962, the wipers were powered by a single-speed electric motor. The car came with only a speedometer and an ammeter.[3]

The 2CV design predates the invention of disc brake, so 1948–1981 cars have drum brakes on all four wheels. In October 1981, front disc brakes were fitted.[53] Disc brake cars use green LHM fluid – a mineral oil – which is not compatible with standard glycol brake fluid.[83]


2CV6 engine compartment, post-1981 (with inboard disc brakes)
2CV ignition system diagram
Movement of flat-twin engine pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft
2CV flat-twin engine halved with piston removed — showing connecting rod, crankshaft, crankcase, camshaft, spring-loaded split timing gear and engine oil pickup

The engine was designed by Walter Becchia and Lucien Gerard,[5] with a nod to the classic BMW boxer motorcycle engine. It was an air-cooled, flat-twin, four-stroke, 375 cc engine with pushrod operated overhead valves and a hemispherical combustion chamber. The earliest model developed 9 PS (6.6 kW) DIN (6.5 kW). A 425 cc engine was introduced in 1955, followed in 1968 by a 602 cc one giving 28 bhp (21 kW) at 7000 rpm. With the 602 cc engine, the tax classification of the car changed so that it became a 3CV, but the name remained unchanged. A 435 cc engine was introduced at the same time to replace the 425 cc; the 435 cc engine car was named 2CV 4 while the 602 cc took the name 2CV 6 (a variant in Argentina took the name 3CV). The 602 cc engine evolved to the M28 33 bhp (25 kW) in 1970; this was the most powerful engine fitted to the 2CV. A new 602 cc giving 29 bhp (22 kW) at a slower 5,750 rpm was introduced in 1979. This engine was less powerful, and more efficient, allowing lower fuel consumption and better top speed, but decreased acceleration. All 2CVs with the M28 engine can run on unleaded petrol.

The 2CV used the wasted spark ignition system for simplicity and reliability and had only speed-controlled ignition timing, no vacuum advance taking account of engine load.[84]

Unlike other air-cooled cars (such as the Volkswagen Beetle and the Fiat 500) the 2CV's engine had no thermostat valve in its oil system. The engine needed more time for oil to reach normal operating temperature in cold weather. All the oil passed through an oil cooler behind the fan and received the full cooling effect regardless of the ambient temperature. This removes the risk of overheating from a jammed thermostat that can afflict water- and air-cooled engines and the engine can withstand many hours of running under heavy load at high engine speeds even in hot weather. To prevent the engine running cool in cold weather (and to improve the output of the cabin heater) all 2CVs were supplied with a grille blind (canvas on early cars and a clip-on plastic item called a "muff" in the owner's handbook, on later ones) which blocked around half the aperture to reduce the flow of air to the engine.

The engine's design concentrated on the reduction of moving parts. The cooling fan and dynamo were built integrally with the one-piece crankshaft, removing the need for drive belts. The use of gaskets, seen as another potential weak point for failure and leaks, was also kept to a minimum. The cylinder heads are mated to the cylinder barrels by lapped joints with extremely fine tolerances, as are the two halves of the crankcase and other surface-to-surface joints.

As well as the close tolerances between parts, the engine's lack of gaskets was made possible by a unique crankcase ventilation system. On any 2-cylinder boxer engine such as the 2CV's, the volume of the crankcase reduces by the cubic capacity of the engine when the pistons move together. This, combined with the inevitable small amount of "leakage" of combustion gases past the pistons leads to a positive pressure in the crankcase which must be removed in the interests of engine efficiency and to prevent oil and gas leaks. The 2CV's engine has a combined engine "breather" and oil filler assembly which contains a series of rubber reed valves. These allow positive pressure to escape the crankcase (to the engine air intake to be recirculated) but close when the pressure in the crankcase drops as the pistons move apart. Because gases are expelled but not admitted this creates a slight vacuum in the crankcase so that any weak joint or failed seal causes air to be sucked in rather than allowing oil to leak out.

These design features made the 2CV engine highly reliable; test engines were run at full speed for 1000 hours at a time, equivalent to driving 80,000 km (50,000 mi) at full throttle. They also meant that the engine was "sealed for life" — for example, replacing the big-end bearings required specialised equipment to dismantle and reassemble the built-up crankshaft, and as this was often not available the entire crankshaft had to be replaced. The engine is very under-stressed and long-lived, so this is not a major issue.

If the starter motor or battery failed, the 2CV had the option of hand-cranking, the jack handle serving as starting handle through dogs on the front of the crankshaft at the centre of the fan. This feature, once universal on cars and still common in 1948 when the 2CV was introduced, was kept until the end of production in 1990.


In relation to the 2CV's performance and acceleration, it was joked that it went "from 0–60 km/h in one day".[17] The original 1948 model that produced 9 hp[85] had a 0–40 time of 42.4 seconds and a top speed of 64 km/h (40 mph), far below the speeds necessary for North American highways or the German Autobahns of the day. The top speed increased with engine size to 80 km/h (50 mph) in 1955, 84 km/h (52 mph) in 1962, 100 km/h (62 mph) in 1970, and 115 km/h (71 mph) in 1981.[62]

The last evolution of the 2CV engine was the Citroën Visa flat-2, a 652 cc featuring electronic ignition. Citroën never sold this engine in the 2CV, but some enthusiasts have converted their 2CVs to 652 engines,[86] or even transplanted Citroën GS or GSA flat-four engines and gearboxes.[87]

In the mid-1980s Car magazine editor Steve Cropley ran and reported on a turbocharged 602 cc 2CV that was developed by engineer Richard Wilsher.[36][88]

End of production

The 2CV was produced for 42 years, the model finally succumbing to customer demands for speed, in which this ancient design had fallen significantly behind modern cars, and safety. Although the front of the chassis was designed to fold up, to form a crumple zone according to a 1984 Citroën brochure, in common with other small cars of its era its crashworthiness was very poor by modern standards. (The drive for improved safety in Europe happened from the 1990s onwards, and accelerated with the 1997 advent of Euro NCAP.) Its advanced underlying engineering was ignored or misunderstood by the public, being clothed in an anachronistic body. It was the butt of many a joke, especially by Jasper Carrott in the UK. [89]

Citroën had attempted to replace the ultra-utilitarian 2CV several times (with the Dyane, Visa, and the AX). Its comically antiquated appearance became an advantage to the car, and it became a niche product which sold because it was different from anything else on sale. Because of its down-to-earth economy car style, it became popular with people who wanted to distance themselves from mainstream consumerism — "hippies" — and also with environmentalists.

Although not a replacement for the 2CV, the AX supermini, a conventional urban runabout, unremarkable apart from its exceptional lightness, seemed to address the car makers' requirements at the entry level in the early 1990s. Officially, the last 2CV, a Charleston, which was reserved for Mangualde's plant manager, rolled off the Portuguese production line on 27 July 1990, although five additional 2CV Spécials were produced afterwards.

In all a total of 3,867,932 2CVs were produced. Including the commercial versions of the 2CV, Dyane, Méhari, FAF, and Ami variants, the 2CV's underpinnings spawned 8,830,679 vehicles.[10]

The 2CV was outlived by contemporaries such as the Mini (out of production in 2000), Volkswagen Beetle (2003), Renault 4 (1992), Volkswagen Type 2 (2013) and Hindustan Ambassador (originally a 1950s Morris Oxford), (2014).

Continued popularity

The Chrysler CCV or Composite Concept Vehicle developed in the mid-1990s is a concept car designed to illustrate new manufacturing methods suitable for developing countries. The car is a tall, roomy four-door sedan of small dimensions. The designers at Chrysler said they were inspired to create a modernised 2CV.[90]

The company Sorevie of Lodève was building 2CVs until 2002. The cars were built from scratch using mostly new parts. But as the 2CV no longer complied with safety regulations, the cars were sold as second-hand cars using chassis and engine numbers from old 2CVs.

The long-running 2CV circuit racing series organized by The Classic 2CV Racing Club continues to be popular in the UK.

English nicknames include "Flying Dustbin","Tin Snail", "Dolly", "Tortoise"[91][92]

Other models

Belgian-built Citroën 2CV AZ-Luxe
1978 Citroën 2CV AK400 van



The small French company UMAP was established in 1956 in the northern French village of Bernon, (Aube) by Camille Martin, the former mayor. The acronym UMAP stands for Usine Moderne d'Applications Plastiques — (Factory for Modern Plastic Applications). UMAP produced the SM 425 and SM 500 from 1957, two externally identical coupés based on the Citroën 2CV. In 1958 production was discontinued.[93]


The Bijou was built at the Citroën factory in Slough, UK in the early 1960s. It was a two-door fibreglass-bodied version of the 2CV designed by Peter Kirwan-Taylor who had been involved in styling the original 1950s Lotus Elite. The design was thought to be more acceptable in appearance to British consumers than the standard 2CV. Incorporating some components from the DS (most noticeably the single-spoke steering wheel, and windscreen for the rear window), it did not achieve market success, because it was heavier than the 2CV and still used the 425 cc engine and so was even slower, reaching 100 km/h (62 mph) only under favourable conditions. It was also more expensive than the Austin Mini, which was more practical. 207 were built.

"Sahara" four-wheel drive

One novel model was the 2CV Sahara, a four-wheel drive (4×4) car, equipped with two engines (12 hp each), each one having a separate fuel tank.[94] One was mounted in the front driving the front wheels and one in the back driving the rear wheels. A single gearstick, clutch pedal and accelerator 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 drive 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, Citroën built 694 Saharas. The top speed was 65 km/h (40 mph) on one engine, and 105 km/h (65 mph) with both engines running.

Sahara rear engine bay

The Méhari was also built as a 4×4 from May 1979, but with only one engine and a reduction gear.[51]

Various 4×4 conversions were built by independent constructors, such as Marc Voisin, near Grenoble, some from a Méhari 4×4 chassis and a 2CV body. In the UK, Louis Barber builds single-engined four-wheel-drive 2CVs. In the late 1990s, Kate Humble from BBC Top Gear tested one against a Landrover Defender off road. The 2CV won.

1952 Citroën Cogolin

Another very different double front-ended, four-wheel drive (but not at the same time) 2CV, the 1952 Citroën Cogolin, also known as the Bicéphale, was built for the French Fire Service — the Sapeur-Pompiers. This was meant to enable the car to drive into a narrow position and away again without having to turn.[95]

Citroën Coccinelle project

The Citroën Prototype C was a range of vehicles created by Citroën from 1955 to 1956 under the direction of André Lefèbvre. The idea was to produce a water drop-shaped, very lightweight vehicle, which would be more modern and smaller than the 2CV. One of the prototypes, the Citroën C-10 has survived and is still owned by Citroën. The overall look of the vehicle was quite similar to the Messerschmitt bubble car. It was equipped with the same 425 cc engine as the 2CV. The vehicle was also nicknamed Citroën Coccinelle (Ladybug or Ladybird in French).[96]

Boot extensions

Some late model owners fitted "hunchbacks", an extension to the car's boot. This used the original boot lid, but in a horizontal position with the extension underneath, unlike the 1950s equivalent, which had a curved boot lid reminiscent of a post-war "big boot" Traction Avant. The late models are usually hunchbacks with boot extension.

1970s/'80s-style boot extension

Complete knock down (CKD) locally built cars

The Greek market Citroën Pony[97] and African market Citroën FAF[98] and Baby-Brousse[99] were flat-panelled Mehari type, 2CV based utility cars, built from kits in small low tech assembly plants. There was widespread production of similar 2CV-based vehicles in a large number of countries, including Iran[100] (Baby-Brousse, Jyane-Mehari), Vietnam (Dalat),[101] Chile (Yagan),[63] Belgium (VanClee), Spain, Portugal and others.

Kit cars and specials

Examples of 2CV-based kit sports cars include the Pembleton, BlackJack Avion and the Lomax from Britain, and Burton and Patron from the Netherlands. Most are also available as three wheelers (single wheel at the rear), like an early Morgan sports car. Some have been fitted with larger air-cooled twin-cylinder motorcycle engines. For transportation purposes, some saloon models were rebuilt into vans using fibreglass reconstructions of corrugated 2CV Fourgonnette rear box sections. The "Bedouin"[102] was a flat-panel wooden-bodied kit car.

Lomax 223 3-wheeler


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