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Car Tales: Can Opener Not Included, Citroën 2CV

‘The Citroen 2CV became the world’s first front-wheel drive car to sell over 1 million units. Between 1948 and 1990, when production seized, more than 3.8 million 2CVs were produced. The car, essentially aimed at those who had previously been financially disenfranchised from owning automobiles, was a huge success.
1956 Citroen 2CV for sale
‘Its design prefigured the brutalist style of the 1960s: indeed, during that decade it became something of a countercultural darling. But beyond that what is really great about the Citroen 2CV is that the car itself – so eccentric enough on first viewing that it almost inevitably elicits a smile of affection – became so ubiquitous in France that it has become like an endearing visual personification of a kind of cartoon Frenchman.

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‘Just glance at this archetypal people’s car – far more rudimentary (in 1949 the first model of the CV had only one tail-light and a top speed of 40mph) than the original Volkswagen Beetle.
1956 Citroen 2CV side view
‘Its initial inspiration and images unavoidably flash through your mind: of baguettes of French bread and strings of onions stuffed onto the rear seat, an exaggeratedly moustachioed driver dressed in a striped Breton sailor’s shirt and an askew beret, a lethally strong French Gauloise cigarette firmly nailed to his lower lip.
‘Unsurprisingly perhaps, as this archetype – once almost a national stereotype – was precisely the individual for whom the Citroen 2CV was intended.
‘Although derided by comedians as a joke when it was launched at the 1948 Paris Motor Show (‘Does it come with a can opener?’ quipped an American journalist), the many fans of the 2CV clearly were not put off by such disrespectful thinking. For example, the English motoring writer L. J. K. Setright, clearly comprehending the Citroen 2CV for the art piece that it was and is, described it as ‘the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car,’ emphasizing its ‘remorseless rationality.’ And in 1953 Autocar described ‘the extraordinary ingenuity of this design, which is undoubtedly the most original since the Model T Ford.’
‘The 2CV even arrived with an affectionate sobriquet – deux chevaux, meaning two horses – that only added to its attraction: the car’s pet-name flashing up the affection instantly bestowed on this fascinating machine. Archetypal French pragmatism had led to the Citroen 2CV.
1956 Citroen 2CV rear view
‘During the 1930s Citroen Vice-President Pierre Boulanger had noticed that many French farmers still used horses and carts; accordingly the budget car was targeted at this market. ‘Priority is given to those who have to travel by car because of their work, and for whom ordinary cars are too expensive to buy,’ said Boulanger. The 2CV came with a slickly appealing advertising slogan: ‘More than just a car – a way of life.’
‘Right now at Beverly Hills Car Club we have one of these un-ordinary cars, a charming 1956 Citroen 2CV that is finished in a color scheme of grey combined with a same color interior and plaid cloth seats. Equipped with a manual transmission, Solex carburetor, roll-back sunroof, two-spoke steering wheel, driver-side mirror, Veglia gauge, front mud flaps, ripple bonnet, body-color bumper, exposed fuel cap, white solid wheels wearing Michelin tires, jack, and a full-size spare tire. A really distinctive French classic, often called ‘an umbrella on wheels’, that just came out of the dry desert state of Arizona and is also mechanically sound.
1956 Citroen 2CV interior
‘Once upon a time in London, my Dad had a deux chevaux. His first experience of the vehicle had been in the south of France in the mid-1960s, where he was studying French. A friend he had made there – a farmer’s son and therefore a perfect fit for the aspired-to demographic – had such a car, and they went on a few drives around the nearby countryside.
‘Once, on the way to Avignon, they stopped and picked up a pair of hitchhikers, who fitted themselves onto the rear seat. Departing the vehicle, they took with them my Dad’s wallet, which had been nestling in his bag in the rear of the car.
‘This bad experience didn’t put him off 2CVs, however.
‘Ten years later, living in London, he bought a second-hand model of the car, for £600.
‘He had been contemplating buying a Jaguar 3.4, but somehow was distracted to quite the opposite end of the scale, loving the utilitarianism of the 2CV. ‘It didn’t quite have the 3.4’s punch,’ he admitted. ‘But as a low-on-gas London car it was perfect. It could indeed turn on the proverbial dime.’
1956 Citroen 2CV engine
‘Eventually, the car was broken into and trashed, and my Dad then sold it. ‘But it had been colossal fun,’ he said. ‘Everywhere you went people were checking it out.’
‘Such a commercial hit in France, within months of it going on sale there was a five-year waiting list. And second-hand Citroen 2CVs soared in value, becoming even more expensive than a new model.
‘But you can beat that line: by checking out the 1956 Citroen 2CV we presently have on sale at Beverly Hills Car Club.
-Alex Manos, Owner
1956 Citroen buyer Alex Manos

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