Citroën unveiled the 2CV— The Deux Chevaux: signifying two nominal horsepower (initially it was only 12hp)—at the 1948 Paris Salon. The 2CV, conceived and designed by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger, quickly became a bestseller, achieving his aim of providing rural French people with a motorized alternative to the horse and cart the majority were still using in the early 1950s. It was unusually inexpensive to purchase and with its tiny two-cylinder, two-stroke engine, inexpensive to run as well. The early 2CV model pioneered a very soft, interconnected suspension, but did not have the more complex self-levelling feature that would appear later. The 2CV remained in production, with only minor changes, until 1990 and was a relatively common sight on French roads until fairly recently. It is astonishing to know that nearly nine million 2CV variants were produced, in eleven countries from France to Argentina, between 1948 and 1990.
The Citroën 2CV featured; low cost; simplicity of overall maintenance; an easily serviced air-cooled engine, low fuel consumption; and an extremely long-travel suspension offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Often called “an umbrella on wheels”, the fixed-profile convertible bodywork featured a full-width, canvas, roll-back sunroof, which accommodated oversized loads and until 1955 reached almost to the car’s rear bumper.
Over the next forty plus year the 2CV went through many iterations (including the 2CV Fourgonnette van, the ‘Weekend’ version of the van that had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle at the weekend, as well as for business in the week) and modifications, including different size engines (from 375cc to 435cc and then 602cc), revised lights, extra windows, re-styled seats, and even door locks! The key to the 2CV’s huge success was its clever, lightweight engineering, which combined a small, fuel-efficient engine with an extremely light body and drivetrain.
In July 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced with the 435cc engine. Between 1975 and 1990 a drastically reduced trim basic version was sold, at first only in yellow. The small, square speedometer (which dates back to the Traction Avant), and the narrow rear bumper was installed. Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. It also had the earlier round headlights. From the 1978 Paris Motor Show the Spécial regained third side windows, and was available in other colours. Beginning in mid-1979 a larger 602cc engine was installed in some models.
The 2CV Special seen here was privately imported from Belgium (it still has a Belgian registration plate on the front), and had two previous U.S. owners, before the current owner Frank Barrett bought it in 2011. It is a totally original, un-restored car with only 53,000 miles (85,000km) on the odometer. This ‘Spécial’ features a four-speed transmission, front-wheel drive; shift lever on dashboard, and inboard front disk brakes, with drums at the rear. The unique longitudinal coil spring on each side works as both front and rear suspension. The roof folds back, and the seats are easily removable if you need them for a Picnic!