Other People’s Cars: Citroën 2CV

Citroen 2CVThe Citroën 2CV or deux chevaux is essentially France’s version of the Volkswagen Beetle, and was very surprised to find one at work yesterday morning. I’m not sure where it came from, but it definitely looked out of place parked among the late model sedans. I wish I had my camera with me; the above photo is of a 2CV I saw in Paris awhile back.

The 2CV is a “people’s car.” Like the Beetle, Fiat 500, and Mini, it provided basic but economical transportation and helped mobilize a nation. It’s also a cultural icon and boasts one of the longest production runs of any car.

The last 2CV rolled off the assembly line in 1990, after 42 years of production. That puts it in the same club as the original Mini, which was produced from 1959 to 2000, and the Beetle, which was produced from 1938 to 2003. Considering that most cars are redesigned after four years, these people’s cars’ long lives are very impressive.

Key to the 2CV’s longevity was its simplicity. It featured a small engine that was easy to work on, rugged suspension for dealing with less-than-optimal road conditions, and front-wheel drive for better traction.

Durability was the 2CV’s only real positive quality, though. The engine and suspension may have helped mobilize French farmers after World War II, but they could not provide enjoyable performance or handling. “Comfort” was not on the list of priorities either.

As its styling makes abundantly, clear, the 2CV is a car from another time. It was designed for a world that viewed cars as tools, not lifestyle accessories. Whereas car designers today try to model their products on smartphones, Citroën’s designers looked to the cockroach for inspiration.

Today’s Western buyers can’t tolerate a car as unrefined (or, it has to be said, as unsafe) as a 2CV, which shows just how far technology has progressed since 1949. It’s just too bad that new cars aren’t as bulletproof as this French wonder.

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