The 2CV (deux chevaux - literally "two horses", from the tax horsepower rating) was a popular French car made by CitroŽn. 3,872,583 2CVs were produced from 1948 to 1990.
still running in 2003; notice "suicide" doors
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. By 1939 the TPV (Toute Petite Voiture) was deemed ready and several prototypes had been built.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Michelin and CitroŽn managers decided to hide the TPV project to Germany fearing some military application. Several TPVs where buried at secret locations, one was disguised as a pickup, 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.
In fact the project was so well hidden that the all the prototypes were considered as lost after the War. It took 3 years for CitroŽn to rework the TPV and the car was nicknamed "Toujours Pas Vue" (still not seen) by the press.
Citroen finally unveiled the car at the Paris Salon in 1948. It was laughed at by the journalists, probably because CitroŽn had launched the car without any press advertising. Boris Vian qualified the car as an "aberration roulante" (rolling aberration). Some think that history has confirmed that the car was not only charming, but a revolution in consumer transportation.
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. (The flat-2 engine and thin steel body make a peculiar noise that can't be compared to anything, except maybe a Piper J-3 at startup.) Front-wheel drive made the car easy and safe to drive. Large inboard hydraulic brakes ensured that brake failure on one side left steering and braking largely unaffected. The swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system was lighter and more responsive than existing spring or leaf designs, enabling the 2CV to indeed be driven at speed over a ploughed field. The canvas roof could be rolled completely open. The seats were hammocks suspended from the roof by wires. The car had one rear light, one stop lamp and was available only in grey. Within months of it going on sale there was a three-year waiting list.
The engine was a 375cc developing only 9bhp on the earliest model, which was notoriously underpowered. A 425cc engine was introduced in 1955. A 602cc giving 28bhp at 7000rpm was introduced in 1968. With the 602cc engine the tax classification of the car changed it became in fact a 3CV, but the commercial name remained unchanged. Production of the 425cc 2CV was continued under the name 2CV 4 while the 602cc took the name 2CV 6. The 602cc engine evolved to 33bhp in 1970; this was the most powerful engine fitted to the 2CV. A new 602cc giving only 29bhp at a slower 5750rpm was introduced in 1979. Despite being less powerful, this engine was more efficient, allowing lower fuel consumption and better top speed.
With the evolution of the engine the last 2CV's had a a good power-to-weight ratio giving rather good acceleration for such an economical car but top-speed remained limited due to obsolete aerodynamics. Despite its evolution, the 2CV never lost its reputation of being a "rolling snail", as the car's reliability and ease of repair meant that a lot of underpowered very old models were still running in the 1970's.
A 425cc 2CV driven by Jacques Sťguťla and Jean-Claude Baudot was the first French car to make a round-the-world voyage in 1958.In 1981, a 2CV fitted with the engine from a CitroŽn GS starred in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. CitroŽn 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.
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.
Popular French nicknames were "Deuche" and "Dedeuche". The Dutch were the first to call it "de lelijke eend", the ugly duck. In Germany it is called "die lahme Ente"', the lame duck. An English nickname is the Tin Snail.
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 CitroŽn range. The 2CV has earned a unique place in motoring history: considered by some to be the most radical production car design ever, but some would argue the ill-fated Stout Scarab was a far more radical design.