My first car was an ocher yellow Citroën Ami 8, which I was able to buy dirt cheaply from an aunt because it was difficult to start. Of course I thought that the starting problems were my aunt, but unfortunately that was not the case. The Ami 8 was an oversized 2CV, yet a Duck-like in every way. In those years, the Duck was a statement, in fact an ideology. Anyone who didn’t really want to drive a car could convince himself as a Duck owner that he didn’t actually have a car, after all it was little more than a moving umbrella.
Baker in Lefèbvre
It is undeniable that the 2CV is a classic. It may be the most original car ever mass-produced. According to the brilliant British motoring journalist Leonard Setright, the 2CV was “the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car.” After Citroën came into the hands of tire manufacturer Michelin after bankruptcy in the 1930s, Pierre-Jules Boulanger became director there. After thorough market research, Boulanger commissioned Citroën’s genius chief engineer, André Lefèbvre, in 1936 to Very Small Car (TPV) for the lower end of the car market.
The well-known basket of eggs
The TPV had to be as simple as possible, but still had to meet a number of strict requirements. Boulanger stipulated that he should be able to sit comfortably in the back, wearing a hat. The car was actually intended for the countryside, where the roads were still abominable in those years. Despite this, farmers had to be able to market a large basket of unbroken eggs with the TPV. That required an extremely flexible suspension and that is what happened. The TPV received a water-cooled two-cylinder boxer engine for the front axle and front-wheel drive, for great directional stability. A starter motor was not considered necessary, after all, starting was also possible with a crank. Light metal was used as much as possible in the construction.
The TPV was ready in 1939 and it has to be said: the end product looked downright eccentric with its single headlight, linen roll roof and creaky doors. The tiny 375 cc engine produced less than 10 hp. A pre-series of 250 copies was built. The TPV was to be presented at the 1939 Paris Motor Show. The Salon was canceled due to the start of the Second World War. After the German invasion of 1940, Boulanger had the pre-series destroyed. However, a few copies were so well hidden that they managed to escape demolition and resurfaced after the war.
Completely utilitarian and therefore timeless
After all, this very strange primal TPV did not become the 2CV that we know. After the liberation of France in 1944, work could continue on the project. The TPV was in fact completely redesigned. The water cooling of the two-cylinder was replaced by air cooling, because it was simpler and therefore more reliable. The light metal was replaced by ribbed steel and at the last moment only a starter motor was fitted. Finally, the body, if you can speak of that with the 2CV, was normalized by Flaminio Bertoni, the later designer of the DS. The asymmetrically mounted single headlight was replaced by two headlights.
The whole remained completely utilitarian and therefore timeless, like so many other completely utilitarian designs. The 2CV debuted at the Salon of 1948 and was immediately regarded as an ‘ugly duckling’. The car press, as ever arch-conservative, thought it a fiasco and the Citroën dealers were bitterly disappointed; how on earth could they sell such a weird thing to their customers?
Years of waiting for a 2CV
The intended customers thought completely differently about this and ordered so many that you finally had to wait years for a new 2CV, which was only supplied in the color mouse gray for the first few years. The combination 2CV stood for two horsepower, which indicated the lowest rate of the French road tax at the time. The 2CV was a phenomenal success. Including the order Duck and the various Duck derivatives, 9 million were produced between 1949 and 1990. In fact, many more, because the equally successful Renault 4, which we can safely consider as a slightly improved Duck with a fifth door, added more than 8 million copies.
From an Ami to an R16
It didn’t end well with my Ami 8, which I had to swing with some regularity. Because I had taken seriously the indication that the top speed could also be used as a cruising speed, the engine stalled with burnt valves. Then when I bought a Renault 16 TS (actually a very large, silent Duck) my acquaintances thought I was a proletarian and a traitor. That’s why I was slightly indignant again when those acquaintances all drove a Saab ten years later; an expensive car for decent people. German cars have been banned for a long time in my circle of acquaintances. Yes, that was a close call then!
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