The Citroën Méhari is not something you see every day, that's for sure
The marketing literature bills it as a sure-footed car for all seasons. “Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail, nor sleet can stop the Méhari” states the advertisement.
Which is a pretty amusing endorsement to apply to the automotive equivalent of a flip-flop.
The Citroën Méhari, critically speaking, has a flimsy, removable roof, small vestigial doors without roll-up windows, and a weak heater.
Hardly the stuff you’d want when facing an icy winter. But when it’s warm outside, not much beats a pair of flip-flops.
I heard it before I saw it. Not the comedic wuffle of a pancake-twin engine, but the sound of The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Windshield down, music blasting, George Dyke appeared in front of my house in a bright yellow Citroën Méhari. Seconds later, George’s friend appeared driving another Méhari, this one adorned with bright tri-tone tiger stripes.
Hardly an entrance for the timid. With the windshield folded flat, you have an unobstructed view of the world around you. But what really happens is that everyone has an unobstructed view of you.
A car like the Méhari breaks down the walls between drivers and others on the road or sidewalks. The rules are broken and the barriers cease to exist. Passersby ask a flurry of questions: Does it float? Can it go on the highway? Is it street-legal? Cellphones come out like flash-bulb cameras at a boxing match. Everywhere you go people aren’t just gawking, they’re happy to see you.
While cruising our two-strong platoon of Méharis down Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue, we collided with a Chanel event that had spilled out onto the street. One of the models asked George if she could pose in the car with him for a few photos. He didn’t seem to mind very much.
Mechanically, there’s nothing very bourgeois about the Méhari. Despite its off-road looks, it shares its drivetrain and chassis with the humble 2CV. The 602-cc flat-twin engine is air-cooled, drives the front wheels only, and, according to a very brave George, can propel the little skateboard to around 110 km/h if one is patient enough.
The Mehari was produced between 1968 and 1987 and was offered in the American market for just one year, 1970. The yellow car is one of those very rare US models. When new, the body of the Méhari was made from ABS plastic and the colour was impregnated into the plastic body itself. Period ads claimed the body was impervious to rusting and incredibly durable. But it wasn’t.
George says he has heard stories from those that sold these cars new in the ’70s about brand-new cars fading in the sun within a matter of weeks. The plastic bodies faded incredibly rapidly and became brittle and frail if left in the sun long-term. Because of this, the body on the yellow car has been completely replaced and painted Corvette yellow—because why not?
The brown tiger-stripe car has a similar story. Bought as a display piece for a dealership showroom, the side of the car that faced the window faded dramatically. But because the rest of the car was in decent shape, George made the odd – and I think brilliant – decision to paint the car in a wild tiger safari paint job. It hides the faded panels with outrageous colours; according to George, many ask if it’s the car from Jurassic Park.
As you might imagine, the Méhari was never a huge sales success in North America. But over the car’s nearly 20-year-long production run, Citroën managed to sell over 140,000 of them worldwide. Most sales were in developing countries where its easily maintained, durable, and thrifty engine were strong virtues. The soft suspension was also perfectly suited to rough unpaved roads, and the Méhari can fit a respectable 385 kilograms of cargo when the need arises.
Although dubiously practical for highway use, the Méhari is otherwise a fantastic little city car. Prices on these are fairly affordable, and if you want to turn more heads than any Lamborghini on the roads, then I highly recommend picking one up.
George is the president of the Citroën Autoclub of Canada and their website, Citroenvie.com, has loads of pictures and information to goad you into buying a funny French car.