A recent visit by a friend in her Deux Chevaux and the subsequent popularity of the photo I posted on my Facebook page gave me the idea for this post about a true French icon, the Citroën 2CV.
The 2CV, a French Icon
I’m talking about the little car that looks like a toy, sounds like a lawn mower and can’t roll over because its suspension is so bouncy. When my Aussie grandmother first visited Europe in the early 1980s she surprised my parents by commenting on how many vintage cars there were driving around as she thought 2CVs were vintage even then, but they were produced in France until 1988 and for a further two years in Portugal until 1990. The 2CV has just always looked old. It was initially designed to be the people’s car, affordable and reliable and with suspension good enough for a farmer to drive over a ploughed field with a box of eggs in the back without breaking any. Really, I mean it, that was part of the brief! The project was called the TPV “toute petite voiture“, the very small car, and it was basic at best. The original ones were built without door locks, the idea was just to use a bike lock from the steering wheel to a bar on the seat back! 2CV or deux chevaux (literally two horses) means it has a 2 horse power engine. The heating and ventilation systems are as crude as they come, even in the most modern models: to get cool air, you open flaps on the dashboard straight to the outside with a little mesh to stop insects from flying in and the heating comes in a similar way from air that passes by the engine, no filters involved. Just imagine the petrol fumes; they can get quite overwhelming. The joke is that you know you’ve run out of petrol when the smell stops!
Like for so many people in France, the deuche holds a special place in my heart. JF and I had one as our wedding car and went on to own one as our first car together. Our wedding car belongs to his mother who has only ever driven a Deux Chevaux and will not drive anything else. She bought her current one (and the one at our wedding) in 1989 (made in 1988) and is still driving it happily 24 years later. She constantly gets stopped in the street and asked if she wants to sell it but it’s not for sale. I can’t see her ever getting rid of it. We started a trend in JF’s family as brothers and sisters followed our example and used “Mamie’s car” for their weddings too. Unfortunately the weather was so foul at ours that no photos were taken of us and it but I’m including one here of the very same deuche starring in another wedding. It was a perfect wedding car, pretty and quirky, if a little chilly!
Next up was our first car. We were living in Paris, pregnant with our first child and house-hunting in the suburbs. So what did we use to get around? A 1958 model 2CV. Yes this one was older than us by quite a number of years and pre-dated seat belts. Heading out of Paris on the autoroute in a tin can without seat belts never felt safe particularly carrying the next generation and it was with great regret that we sold it a few months after the baby was born. We were young and couldn’t afford either to do the extensive works to have seat belts put in or even just to insure a second car (which it had become by then) so it had to go. Now of course we regret it. It would be such fun to have one here in the south, especially as it was a soft top…imagine, by now it would have been 55 years old!
Deux Chevaux have always had a certain alternative lifestyle associated with them; jokingly referred to as coming out of the factory with a “Say no to Nuclear” sticker already stuck on the bumper bar. There’s always been a great solidarity between drivers who beep and wave to each other as they pass and nowadays there are plenty of clubs worldwide with regular gatherings for fans. The 2CV’s status has risen to mythic levels and it has become as much a symbol of France as the baguette and the Eiffel Tower.
our 1958 2CV in 1999
If you’d like to experience driving one of these iconic cars while on holiday at Lou Messugo, there is a local tour operator who rents them out for day trips either individually or in groups on rally-style outings. I sometimes see them cruising through Roquefort and it does look fun.
Have you ever driven in a 2CV? What’s your favourite “cult” car? I’d love to hear from you.
The French Flag – le Tricolore
La Fête Nat – what is Bastille Day?
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Great posts, I am on my second 2cv, the first was a2cv4 and had the 425cc engine. It really was a bit slow it was a Dutch import, I replaced the engine with a 602cc and that transformed it. I drove it through France across the Pyrenees and down to South of Barcelona, this was in the early 80s. I intend to repeat this journey in early September.
I can relate to the windows flapping as this happened at our wedding in minus degrees (wearing only a wedding dress!) My parents had a morris minor for a while, they are equally as cute as 2CVs.
I look forward to seeing your instagram pictures!!!
Rosie, you need to befriend a local with one and have a ride, they are so bouncy! Alternatively come and stay at Lou Messugo and we’ll take one of the tours together!
What a gorgeous post. I was only this morning talking to a friend about her orange 2CV and she said that as the windows did not work well, every time the car accelerated or went over a bump the little window “flaps” popped out like wings. Hurrah for beautiful old cars. I would love to try a 2CV having very happy memories of my aunt & uncle’s Morris Minors.
Thank you so much for explaining the 2CV, Phoebe! I see this car everywhere in France, and am always wondering what it’s called, how old it is, etc. It is funny to hear that they’re not always as old as they look, but awesome at the same time that a company make “vintage-looking” cars into the 80s! Next time I see one, Instagram will know! 🙂
I’ve never been in a 2CV but my heart still skips a little beat when I see one as they are such an iconic car. Love them and there are several beautifully restored ones around here. #AllAbout France
They do just keep going and going. My MIL’s works fine and it’s now 27 years old! She’s the other typical driver, an older elegant French lady who only knows how to drive a deuche! (No fag in mouth though).
They are very cute I agree.
Brilliant Rosemary! Another 2CV fan!
So now you know Corinne, you can be all knowledgeable!!
What a beauty! Thanks Maria!
It’s the right fit for M Hulot indeed Catherine!
I still see loads of these cars on the road in France – and never knew their proper name so thanks for enlightening us Phoebe. They always look completely knackered like they could fall apart any second and usually have a French guy smoking a fag at the wheel. But there are still going! Will keep an eye out even more now I know their history. #Allaboutfrance
I have a 2CV for many years.
Oh, I love these cars too – even though I’ve never been in one. They are just so cute. And I loved the part about using a bicycle lock on them. 🙂
I did not know the names of these cars, but absolutely love seeing them when I’m out and about!
Great post Phoebe, we love 2CV’s – a real icon of France!
Did M.Hulot have one. It would go well with him don’t you think
I love vintage cars 🙂 THanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler! 🙂
I’ve seen many of these cars but didn’t know what they were called. I haven’t been inside them either, but it seems like it would be an enjoyable ride. Thanks for linking up to #SundayTraveler again!
I didn’t know that’s what these cars were called, but how neat that you can still tour around in one!
Glad to hear you’ve got one as a neighbour!!
Michele you’ll have to come to France as there are plenty around here!
I love the sound of that pink 2CV! How cool!!
One day I’m going to do the tour too (research and testing for guests is sooo hard, but someone’s got to do it!)
Well, now I know all about the little car parked around the corner from me in London. 🙂 I would love to tootle around France in one!
I have never heard of the 2CV, but it sounds like a darling little car with an amusing history. I can see why your mum-in-law gets so many offers to sell and why she refuses. I really like that you started a family wedding tradition with it. Too bad you don’t have that vintage model any more.
Lol, like that comment that 2CV was vintage even back in early 1980s 🙂 . My cousin had one when we were students, painted pink, and without heating, we had so much fun with that car.
Brilliant!!! I love that there is a tour operator stil around, that would make great memories while staying at your place!
I love old cars!
During the 1950,s the 2CV was manufactured under license in Slough near London UK: Alas they did not sell well during that era…..I desperation Citroen UK had. a British designer redesign the body which none the less was bolted onto a 2CV chassis with 2CV engine. They named it “Bijou” …..but sadly even that failed to sell well and only a few hundred were made though the survival rate is fairly high I believe….. They had fibreglass bodies. To see one just google ‘Citroen Bijou’ or visit the relevant page on Flickr.
Yes Elizabeth, he’s mine though he’s a lot bigger these days!!!!
Hi Delia, sure you can fit 4 in a 2CV. In our old one without seat belts I guess we could have squeezed in a lot more. Maybe it’s time to start a competition instead of “how many people can you fit in a Mini?” it should be “how many people can you fit in a 2CV”?! :p
I love these cars, but the cutest thing on the page is the baby on the bonnet. Is he yours Phoebe?
Cute car, I love it! I wonder if you can go around with a family of four – would they fit in? LOL!
Hi Phoebe – my first car was a 2CV – bright yellow and I loved it to bits. I’ve even considered buying one from ebay, cos I think they are just great. Excellent post.
I have to admit I didn’t know these cars were called 2CV! I have not visited France and very much hope to one day and will now be more informed!
But were you carrying eggs? Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. 🙂
Evocative stuff. I once hired a 2CV in Normandy when my car died. I did indeed bounce over fields to see if it would.