They’re not for everyone, but there’s no denying the quirkiness and alternative appeal of the Citroën 2CV.
Here’s how to get one
Character is a diminishing resource in motoring. The 2CV has it in abundance, along with surprising all-season practicality (it’s a convertible) and easy-to-fix simplicity.
Tracking down a good one – that is, one that’s not got terminal rust – is getting more difficult, but specialists are out there restoring these French classics for anyone who is prepared to pay the asking price.
How much is that? A rust-free but maybe slightly dented one will be around £5500. A fully-restored specimen with a new chassis will start at about £9000, and will jump into five figures if it’s also had a new bodyshell, respray and retrim.
There are some rare models like the twin-engined Safari 4×4. A Safari’s front wheels are driven by one 12bhp engine, with a second engine in the back to drive the rears. Luckily there’s only one gearstick, one clutch pedal and one throttle pedal, but it gives you an idea of the sort of thinking that went on at Citroen in the early 1960s.
Just 694 Saharas were made, compared to the nearly four million 2CVs built in the car’s 42-year production run (1948 to 1990) plus the five million or so more 2CV variants like the Dyane.
Safaris are now being advertised at near six-figure prices. More sensibly priced will be 2CV Specials, Dollys and Charlestons from the 1980s. They have just the one engine, an air-cooled 602cc twin-cylinder producing a mighty 29bhp.
Today, an average 2CV will most likely be sitting on a new galvanised chassis, and will probably have a few new floor and/or front bulkhead panels too. You have to maintain a 2CV a bit more intensively than the modern way of checking the oil every few weeks and topping up the windscreen fluid. The 2CV’s steering kingpins need greasing every 1000 miles. You need to ensure that the cardboard heater tubes don’t sag onto the exhaust pipes, unless you like the idea of an unplanned mobile barbeque.
Other than that, the 2CV is a pretty tough beast and easily mendable when it does go wrong. You should get 45mpg in normal use and a top speed of 60mph, which is usually enough on Britain’s terrible roads – which will feel smooth on the Citroen’s soft suspension.
The age (and even the mileage) of a 1980s 2CV doesn’t really matter. It’s all about condition. Look at a few before buying, unless you’re lucky enough to find a cracker on your first go.
The expert view
Alan Bradford of Silly CVs calls the 2CV ‘the big boy’s Meccano’ because of its simplicity. “The first thing I ask when buying one is: ‘does it have a galvanised chassis?’ A fresh MOT is no guarantee of condition. The chassis may just have been patched up with a bit of welding. I’ve known sound-looking cars break in half going over speed humps because the chassis was rotten.
“To be on the safe side, buy one with a galvanised chassis but, even then, you need to check the condition of areas like the lower bulkhead.”
Things to watch out for
Engine: it should start straight away with a bit of choke and run nicely. Any rattles could be broken piston rings or incorrectly-adjusted valves. Leaks in the air filter or at the pushrod tube seals could be a sign of crankcase oil pressure problems. Road dirt can clog up the oil cooler. Check the heater hoses are well away from the exhaust system. Change the oil every 3000 miles and the oil filter every 6000.
Electrics: retro-fitting an electronic ignition system is a good idea. An Albertronic 123 system will be around £200 fitted.
Tranmission: the dog-leg gearchange should be very smooth and crunch-free. The synchro on third gear can become weak over time. Steering/suspension: there should be no clonks. If the steering is heavy the chassis might be bent. The kingpins have to be greased every 1000 miles.
Brakes: pre-1981 cars had drums all round, later cars had front discs.
Chassis/body: rot has created a market for galvanised replacement chassis. SLC replacements are available from Ecas 2CV Parts (ecas2cvparts.co.uk) while original-pattern chassis in steel can be had from the 2CV Mehari Club Cassis (mehari-2cv-spare.co.uk). If the lower bulkhead is in bad condition the floor will sag and door fit will be poor. A quick weld to get it through the MOT test isn’t a good long-term fix. Rust also affects the rear seatbelt mounts on rear inner wings, the boot floor, bonnet hinge, ventilation flap, rear panel, windscreen surround, sills and door bottoms.