Exactly 30 years ago on July 27, the final Citroën 2CV left the production line ending the success story in Mangualde, Portugal, which began at the Paris Motor Show in 1948.
Typically French by its unusual design and construction the 2CV was affectionately nicknamed the ‘duck’ by its growing devotees and quickly becoming an integral part of society; now one of the most recognisable icons of automotive history.
Customers and critics were once again impressed by the marques forward-thinking which included front-wheel drive, soft suspension and an air-cooled two-cylinder engine.
Domestic & Usable
Designed especially for domestic use and extremely usable, the Citroën 2CV bucked the luxury trend and was a relatively inexpensive car with a host of innovative features. So delightful was the ‘duck’ or ‘upside-down umbrella’, it was selling quicker than baguettes in Paris with more than 5.1 million vehicles (including panel vans) sold by 1990.
Prototype TPV “Toute Petite Voiture”
Mid 1930 saw the French designers searching for an inspirational and affordable vehicle to sell to the general public – the future Citroën 2CV.
“Design a car that can accommodate two farmers in boots and a hundredweight of potatoes or a keg of wine, is at least 60 km / h and uses only three litres per 100 km. It had to be extremely well sprung so that a basket full of eggs survived a journey over bumpy dirt roads undamaged“.
The ‘Toute Petite Voiture’ (very small car) was a car for the people and of the people. The water-cooled TPV was ready in 1939 and to be unveiled in the same year. Unfortunately, the beginning of the war meant the Paris Motor Show would not take place; the 250 prototypes already built were scrapped or hidden.
Citroën 2CV – The Peoples Car
The 1948 Paris Motor Show saw the unveiling of a completely revised model in comparison to the TPV – the first small saloon car with front-wheel drive worldwide offered enough space was unpretentious, personable and economical. It was given a rapturous welcome by its enthusiastic public – this was a vehicle for the ‘little people’; a symbol of freedom and joie de vivre.
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Scarce materials and difficult times meant the car was only produced in small numbers, resulting in long waiting lists of up to and beyond 6 years. The low purchase price, maintenance costs and a favourable tax bracket meant patience was in abundance from prospective customers.
Design & Handling
The instantly recognisable four-door steel body wasn’t self-supporting which, like other parts, was bolted to its chassis, a box frame assembly. Lighter by design, the 2CV was even equipped with a roll-up top made of vinyl to make the vehicle lighter and to increase the well-being and outlook of those riding in the car.
The 2CV was incredibly ‘stable’ which was complemented by low-level engine and tank, meaning a good centre of gravity was easily achievable – tipping over was almost impossible. Initially, all vehicles were fully equipped with drum brakes. From 1981, front disc brakes were installed.
A newly developed, air-cooled two-cylinder boxer engine equipped with a four-speed gearbox as standard was implemented for the first time, with numerous further stages of development following. In all vehicles, it was also possible to start the engine using the vehicle lever crank.
The first version of the Citroën 2CV with 9hp reached a top speed of around 70km/h. The last models with 29 hp made top speeds of 113km/h. The “duck” is, therefore, one of the few vehicles whose output of the basic engine has more than tripled through its life and development stages.
The ‘box duck’
The delivery van based on the 2CV, introduced in spring 1951, differed from the saloon from the B-pillar in that it had a box-like, spacious loading space. The ‘box duck’ was loaded via two doors at the rear and often used in public service – for example by the French road rescue service or as a postal vehicle in Belgium.
The unique model immediately became a bestseller. After the last 2CV left the Citroën plant in Mangualde (Portugal) on July 27, 1990, the ‘duck’ matured gracefully and is now recognised as a cult vehicle.
Today, like no other model, it stands for freedom, French charm, non-conformism and adventure. For many owners, the “duck” also reflects the way of life of several generations.