Citroën 2CV buying guide – “An umbrella on wheels”

Citroën 2CV

Sophisticated simplicity. Are there two words that better describe the humble Citroën 2CV Deux Chevaux?

To the casual onlooker, the 2CV seems nothing more than an antiquated relic, an agrarian, gallic reminder of the 1950s. By modern standards it’s hopelessly slow, perilously unsafe and about as complicated as the French countryside it was so famously designed for. However, just as the countryside veils its complexity with familiarity, so too does the 2CV.  

The origins of the 2CV can be traced back to the late 1930s, when Citroën developed the prototype ‘Toute Petite Voiture,’ or TPV. The TPV basically looked like an even simpler 2CV; it featured corrugated panels, one headlight and had a crank handle poking meekly from its front bumper. The design brief for the car was to make it so convenient that it was like an “umbrella on wheels.”

 As the 1950s approached, the TPV emerged from the ashes of the Second World War as the 2CV in 1948. Albeit with several notable and innovative developments, although you wouldn’t think so looking at the car’s exterior. Outwardly, the 2CV seemed to have simply sprouted an extra headlight and traded the TPV’s flatter, corrugated front end for the curvaceous front arches we are all so familiar with.

But look a little closer and it was clear that things had moved on significantly. The 2CV had a raft of features that were pioneering for the time. The humble 2CV had hydraulically powered  brakes, which were discs at the front by 1981, mounted inboard. 

Then there was the suspension: it was fully independent and controlled by a horizontal coil and mass damper setup, producing a ride so comfortable that it outdoes many modern air suspensions for suppleness. If that wasn’t enough, the 2CV had headlights adjustable from the interior, fresh air vents, a heater, radial tyres and speedometer actuated wipers.

The downsides? Well, the 2CV’s engine is famously anaemic in its power output, producing between 9 and 29 bhp in its various guises. However, the gasketless design of the 2CV’s engine made it reliable and criticising the performance figures is sort of missing the point. 

If the 2CV’s single air-cooled engine isn’t enough for you, then you could always buy the Sahara model which came with two. Citroën’s reason for building a twin-engine 2CV was four-wheel-drive; simply stick an engine on the rear axle and you negate the need for complicated driveshafts, transfer boxes and differentials. Another groundbreaking feature executed in the 2CV’s characteristically rudimentary style.

The simple, creative and intelligent engineering of the 2CV meant 3.8 million cars were built during its 42 years of production, making it the best selling Citroën of all time. Today, the car is revered as a lifestyle statement and is seen as an important part of automotive history. It successfully modernised post-war France and supplied reliable, characterful and affordable transport to millions. 

Citroën 2CV Engine 

The 2CV was a reliable car, but it is still a classic so there are a few things to look out for with the engine. 

If the engine is very rattly then broken piston rings could be the culprit, but thankfully this is rare. A rattly engine could also be caused by ill-adjusted valves. 

If there is excessive smoke when the engine is warm, then the valve stem seals could be failing. Some smoke on a cold start is normal. 

2CV specialists, The 2CV Shop, advise that oil should not be present on the engine or gearbox, particularly on the sump. If the sump is oily then the push rod tube seals could be leaking, the fix for this is removing the head, which is not a quick job. 

If oil is present on the front chassis legs then it could be the rocker cover gaskets that are leaking; this is relatively simple to sort out. 

Check the oil level – oil should be clean and sit at the right threshold. If this isn’t the case then it is evidence that the car hasn’t been well maintained. Oil changes should be done every 3000 miles. Make sure the engine is in good health because a reconditioned one can cost around £2000.

Make sure to put the heater on during your test drive. If an excessive smell of exhaust fumes comes through the vents then the head could be blown.

Electronic ignitions are often retrofitted, these cost around £135 if you’d like to do it yourself, £200 fitted.

Early cars had a single choke Solex carburetor, which was enlarged in 1970 and then replaced with a twin-choke unit in 1978.

Citroën 2CV Gearbox

The four-speed manual dogleg gearbox is not known for any particular issues. It should feel smooth and crunch-free. 

The most commonly cited issue is a crunchy third gear synchro. This can be diagnosed by taking the car up to 30 mph and shifting into third gear; if the gear crunches then the synchro is probably on its way out.

The gearbox bearings can also wear out and will sound noisy if that is the case.

Citroën 2CV Suspension and Brakes

Suspension should be quiet, smooth and of course, comfortable. If the suspension makes a honking noise over bumps then the spring tubes need oiling, but this isn’t a huge job. 

Kingpins need to be greased every 1000 miles, if not, they can wear out. The track-rod ends and steering rack can also wear. If the steering feels heavy then it could mean the chassis is bent and it’s therefore advisable to walk away.

Front brakes are inboard mounted discs from 1981-on. Braking should feel smooth, regardless of setup. 

Citroën 2CV Bodywork 

Rust is the 2CV’s nemesis and it can affect almost any part of the car. As a result of this, very few cars are still on their original chassis. Other than the original chassis the car was built with, there are two other kinds of 2CV chassis to be aware of. 

Firstly there is the non-OEM aftermarket chassis. These vary wildly in quality from non-galvanised versions which are simply painted black and have incorrect chassis leg angles, to galvanised versions that are resistant to rust and fit for purpose. 

Secondly, there are remanufactured original chassis which are made under license from Citroën by Mehari Club Cassis. These chassis are an original Citroën part and stamped with a serial number and come with accompanying paperwork. 

These are galvanised and made with original Citroën tooling in Southern France and are the only replacement chassis that are homologated for use in the EU. The 2CV Shop recommends the Mehari chassis as the best choice for ride and quality.  

If the doors and floor are sagging then the chassis is probably rusted and may have been welded to scrape it through an MOT. It is highly advisable to avoid a car which has evidence of the chassis being welded.  

Rust is also a problem for the rear wings, petrol tank, shock mounts, sills, windscreen surrounds, bonnet hinges, boot floor, door bottoms and rear panel. The good news is that replacement body panels are cheap and easy to replace. Remanufactured body panels are being made by 2CV specialists today and are available from the 2CV shop.  

Finally, check the condition of the fabric roof and ensure it isn’t leaking or ripped.

Citroën 2CV Interior

The interior is extremely basic but very comfortable. The deckchair seats wear around the edges and can be damaged by sunlight at the top.

Many interiors have been retrimmed by now, which is not a hugely expensive job thanks to the cars simplicity.

Citroën 2CV Model History 

1948: 2CV A unveiled at Paris Motor Show with 375cc, 9bhp 

1951: Citroën releases 2CV AU Fourgonette van

1954: 2CV PO designed for French African colonies. Fitted with protection for sandy environments. 2CV AZ released, with 21 bhp, centrifugal clutch 

1959: Original 2CV A phased out

1965: Doors now front hinged, extra side window

1967: Dyane hatchback released with angular body

1968: 2CV Méhari off-roader released, using Dyane chassis, plastic bodywork

1970: 435cc and 602cc engines upgraded. 12v electrics added. 2CV AZ phased out

1974: Headlight shape now rectangular 2CV relaunched in UK with 602cc engine

1975: Entry level Spécial model introduced with round headlamps

1980: Charleston special edition released

1981: Front disc brakes added

1988: 2CV Dolly released with two-tone paintwork, based on Spécial

1988: Last French 2CV rolls off production line

1990: Final 2CV built in Portugal

Which Citroën 2CV to Buy?

Like the classic Mini, Citroën  2CV prices have climbed dramatically in recent times; the 2CV has transitioned from utilitarian people’s car to collectible lifestyle icon. Prices for a decent driveable car start at £2500 to £3000, but something this cheap is not recommended and should be seen as a serious restoration project.

A mint condition car will cost £13-14,000 from a private seller and north of that from a reputable dealer. If you want a genuine four-wheel-drive Sahara model then you’ll need patience and very deep pockets; they’re very rare and one recently sold for £90,000.

Due to the quantity of cars made and their continued following, parts are readily available and there are many owners clubs around the world. Don’t get hung up on mileage, age or specification; the priority is finding a rust-free car that has clear evidence of regular maintenance. There is also a growing trend of converting 2CVs to electric powertrains, which is an option if you want your car to have a touch of modern refinement and performance. 

The information for this buying guide was provided by The 2CV Shop, who are the UK’s leading 2CV specialists. They offer full restorations, servicing, EV conversions and parts for all 2CVs and are Classic Trader’s recommended vendor for your 2CV needs.

Citroën 2CV Specifications 

375cc air-cooled flat twin

Power:          9 bhp

Top speed:   39 mph 

0-62mph:     N/A

Economy:    36-55 mpg

 

425cc air-cooled flat twin 

Power:        12 bhp 

Top speed:   41 mph 

0-62mph:     N/A

Economy:    36-55 mpg

 

602cc air-cooled flat twin 

Power:          29 bhp 

Top speed:   71 mph 

0-62mph:     27.03 seconds

Economy:    36-55 mpg


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Words: Elliott Hughes  Photos: Newspress, Classic Trader 

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