France’s Iconic Car – The 2CV
La Deux Chevaux, la Deuche, la Dedeuche – all different names for the 2CV, the iconic French car which was designed to replace the horse and cart for farmers and at the same time, revolutionized the French motor industry. The 2CV became a symbol for France and its charm has never gone out of style.
During the 1930s, the innovative French automaker Citroën conducted market research and discovered that the farmers and rural residents of France were in need of a small, utilitarian car. As a result, Citroën’s Pierre-Joules Boulanger ordered the development of a car with the following features:
- Economical to buy and operate
- Easy to maintain and repair
- Comfortably seats four adults
- Can transport a barrel of wine or a large sack of potatoes
- Can transport eggs safely over rough terrain
The 2CV was designed and ready to launch in 1939, however its release was abandoned due to the impending war. It was finally released in 1948 at the Paris car show. While the media was unimpressed, the public fell in love with the odd-looking little car with the economical price, so much so that Citroën could not keep up with the demand. Shortly after it was introduced, there was a three-year waiting list, which soon increased to five years.
Everything about the Citroen 2CV was unique and fun. The front doors opened the wrong way. There was no room in the door panel for a window, so the bottom half of the front windows folded up outward and attached to the top of the door. The gearshift was a stick that extended out from the dashboard. It was economical on fuel, easy to repair with a sturdy air-cooled engine and a soft suspension. The top was made of a canvas fabric that could be rolled back to accommodate extra-large cargo or if the occasion called for a convertible. This roof style earned the 2CV the nickname of “an umbrella on wheels.”
From 1948 to 1990, the last year of production, the Citroën 2CV became a French icon. People liked its quirky looks, and it was also valued for its role in helping France recover from World War II. Although some changes were made to the 2CVs over the years, such as larger engines and improved suspension, its basic design remained unchanged.
The 2CV became a cult car in the 1970’s, similar to the Volkswagen Beetle in the US at that time. It was a car that belonged to all of France, as fitting in Paris as it was in the country. Unfortunately, throughout the 1980s, it finally succumbed to customer demands for more speed and modern safety features.
For fans of the 2CV, there are fleets of the quirkly little cars in Paris that offer a variety of sightseeing trips. And the next Tour de la France for 2CVs takes place on July 7, 2013.
The Deux Chevaux or 2CV is the epitome of French charm. It is a symbol of France, just like the Eiffel Tower, or a beret, or a French baguette.