History of the Development of the Citroen 2cv
For those of you who like more more detail, here is a history of the development of the 2CV, as prepared by guest writer Emily Charlton.
Citroen’s 2CV, purportedly the icon of founder Andre Citroen’s career, was designed with the aim of ‘maximum mobility at minimal cost’ (Reynolds 22). The final result left the market speechless; some in indignation and others in shear surprise at the ingenuity. Most importantly, the design answered a need felt by the everyday French man and women. It was a utilitarian vehicle that “pioneered the concept of the ‘world car’ – go any-where, do anything” (Reynolds 21). For the purpose of driving the children to school, taking a trip through the wheat fields and navigating winding mud and ice-sloshed county roads as effectively as the highway, the 2CV was a car like had never been before.
In 1934, Andre Citroen was removed from position of chairman of his company by the French Government and replaced my Pierre Michelin of Michelin Tyres. It was P. Michelin who brought his conceived concept of the TPV – The toute petite voiture or ‘very small car’ – to Citroen. Four years later, in 1938, Pierre Boulanger took over Citroen and became the father of the TPV project which would later eventuate into the 2CV we know today.
Taking over Citroen after Pierre Michelin died, Boulanger wanted to revive the “culture of technological excellence” (Reynolds 136) created by Andre Citroen. Boulanger established a research department unrivalled for thirty years in the automobile industry of Europe. His staff were told to search for new ideas and never settle for imitation or dogma. When employing staff he only hired men who had completed their studies at night class, “believing that engineers trained at the universities and grand ecoles were blinkered by their formal education and incapable of truly original thought” (Reynolds 136).
“In Boulanger’s scale of values, simplicity was never to be equated with poverty, nor frugality with deprivation, and his abhorrence of the glamour and ostentation so often associated with the automobile industry was reflected in the car (2CV) that he created. Somewhat aloof and austere he deplored egotism and self-promotion, and was completely disinterested in the material rewards of achievements that normally motivate motor industry bosses, preferring to work in a sparsely furnished office devoid of the normal trappings of executive prestige” (Reynolds 136)
“The work of designing and constructing cars always was – and always will be – a team game, calling for the efforts of a number of players, all contributing their differing skills and expertise, rather than the genius of a sole individual” (Reynolds 133). Boulanger elected a design team to work on the TPV project; Andre Lefebvre (a French chassis and mechanical expert), Flaminio Bertoni (an Italian style and shape artist) and Walter Becchia (an Italian engine designer).
With Boulanger as team manager, his design brief has become the ‘badge’ of the 2cv:
“The car must transport four passengers, consume three litres of petrol every one-hundred kilometres, be able to carry fifty kilograms of potatoes or a demijohn of wine, have a maximum speed of sixty kilometres per hour, can be driven by women and on the back seat carry a basket of eggs without breaking them” (Nappo, Vairelli 17).
Other factors that were a part of the design criteria and expectations were that it would be robust, run fifty-thousand kilometres without the replacement of mechanical parts and that repair charges would be no more than ten francs. It was imagined to be a “bicycle with four seats and four wheels under an umbrella” (Nappo, Vairelli 17).
The TPV was “designed and built to provide a radical answer to the problems of personal transport” (Reynolds 22). The need was felt by the everyday French man and women for a means to travel into town and cater for children and gain freedom at an affordable price. Cars were heavy, expensive and fuel consuming commodities for the wealthy and certainly something suspicious to a farmer. The TPV designers focussed on aerodynamics to reduce wind resistance and save fuel; they experimented with innovative materials such as magnesium and aluminium in a quest for lightness; to improve handling on uneven ground and winding country lanes, the wheels were made half the width of conventional car wheels (the tires for the wheels were manufactured by Michelin only, no other company produced their size: evidence of Citroen’s and Michelin’s intertwined business situation).
Between 1937 and 1939 some two-hundred and fifty prototypes of the TPV were made. Design solutions of the TPV:
- Single manual wind-screen wiper on the left-hand side – French regulations only required one and with the aim of light-weight, only one was considered essential.
- Single headlight on the left-hand side – French regulations only required one and with the aim of light-weight, only one was considered essential.
- Canvas roof that could be rolled back from the windscreen to the rear number plate avoiding the weight of a metal roof and promoting the no-fuss, simple utility car.
- Suspended hummock-like seats which hung from the roof and cross-bars across the car.
- Light alloys for the body work including magnesium and aluminium – it was predicated the aluminium prices would drop and it would be an affordable design solution
- twin cylinder, water cooled 500 cc motor-bike engine in an early prototype used the emerging technology of water cooling.
The final TPV design was scheduled to be released at the 1938 Paris Moto Show however at the outbreak of World War II, the Show was cancelled. All of the TPV prototypes were destroyed or hidden – buried, kept in attics and scattered around the country, especially to the south – to keep the technology away from the Germans. Work on the TPV project officially ceased during the duration however in secret the TPV was developed into the 2CV. The 2CV was ready for testing in 1946 and made its debut at the Paris Motor Show in 1948, ten years since the TPV was ready for unveiling.
Improvements on the TPV: aspects of the 2CV
- The magnesium and aluminium that were integral design aspects of the weight of the TPV rose in price and to maintain the low-cost appeal of the 2CV, these materials were replaced by steel.
- Two windscreen wipers instead of one
- Two headlights instead of one
- Electrical starting equipment was introduced because women found it difficult to use the pull-string start and the design brief called for a car for women to drive.
- The water cooled engine of the TPV was replaced by an air-cooled one, the newer technology
- A fourth gear was added
- Added heat exchange system in the engine
The success of the 2CV amazed everyone. Within the first month of its release at the Paris Motor Show there was a three year wait for your ordered 2CV. This waiting time increased exponentially within the year. It was so successful because it was exactly what the majority of the population needed and wanted. Within years it became a style icon and sold in forty plus countries all around the world. It’s functionability extended beyond the French farms to become a vehicle of universal adventure. Surviving photographic advertisements like those below show the extent of the 2CV’s versatility.
Occupational Health and Safety came into play in the 1960s. Industrial standards weren’t in place in automobile factories in the 1930s.
The TPV project, first conceived by Pierre Michelin and carried through by Pierre Boulanger to the result of the 2cv, manufactured for over fifty years, was the embodiment of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité; the French motto. Gallic in essence, the 2CV survived World War II and lived on to be successful all over the world owing to its ingenuity and versatility. It became a symbol of freedom and adventure for the young, the old and families. Flaminio Bertoni, one of the four fathers of the 2CV, believed that cars had to ‘set trends, not follow them.’ And that is just what the 2CV did, creating a lifestyle with the “‘world car’ – go any-where, do anything” (Reynolds 21).
Thanks Emily for this detailed article …
To hire 2CVs in France or book a 2CV tour read more in our post entitled: A True French Classic – Citroen 2CV and also check out the tours run by Paris Authentic. Paris Authentic have many different Paris sightseeing tours in their trendy 2CVs – check out the great instagram captures of their tours below.