Paragon in that the 2CV met its design objectives with complete success; paradox, in that it was just too quirky for full public acceptance? Whichever way you see it, we’re looking at an all-time classic car, a very different and completely unmistakeable vehicle that like the VW Beetle retained the same shape and basic design throughout its life and sold around five million units over 41 years to prove the soundness of the original design. It was certainly a successful car, though it didn’t match the sales record of the VW or Model T Ford, or even its great French economy-car rival – the Renault 4. Though completely successful initially in achieving its design parameters of cheap economical and utilitarian transport for the French rural market, and then going on to become part of everyday life in all sectors of French society, its design remained just too way-out for some people to accept.

Early Days

Initial design efforts began in 1935, progressing through several variations to prototype construction in 1938 and 1939. Then WWII got in the way. While Citroën managed a little more work on the project during the war, more serious efforts were put in after 1945 when the idea of a basic cheap, simple, and economical small car held more appeal to war-torn France. Changes were made to the pre-war design, including a new air-cooled engine design, and finally the 2CV was shown at the 1948 Paris Salon de l’Automobile. The motoring pundits panned it, but the car-hungry French public was happier, with the Citroën display stand at the show hosting some 1.3 million visitors while orders amounting to three years’ production were taken. Production began in small scale during 1949, then from 1950 numbers were ramped up and the 2CV was on its way to 41 years of production, with over five million pure 2CV saloons and vans built, plus millions more on several variations of the 2CV design theme, using the same mechanical elements – Ami, Dyane, Mehari, Acadiane and others.

Open wide – easy access

Technical: Engine Design

The 2CV’s engine went through several stages of development once in production, but even before it reached production, ideas were carefully worked through to make the small engine both economically frugal and powerful enough to give adequate performance for its intended usage. It also had to be reliable enough to keep working hard (with minimal servicing) for a long life. The design engineers worked through several ideas, but with design input from the experienced ex-Fiat and Talbot designer Walter Becchia, what was finally chosen after the war was an air-cooled flat-twin engine of only 375cc. It used OHV, activated by long pushrods from a central camshaft.

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