Car: Citroen 2CV, 1948

At the Paris motor show in October 1948, the 2CV caused astonishment, even though it had been scheduled to appear eight years earlier. The original launch was cancelled when World War II broke out. All but one of the 250 prototypes were destroyed to preserve the ingenious car’s secrets.

1948 model car Citroen 2CV
The charm and meagre running costs of the 2CV helped Citroën motorize the French nation; the corrugated hood was “normalised” from 1961.

It expressed a new philosophy for Citroën, being the lightest of lightweight economy cars, powered by a newly designed air-cooled flat-twin engine of a mere 23ci (375cc), front-wheel drive, and the first four-speed gearbox Citroën had ever fitted as standard. Its corrugated hood gave the appearance of a wartime air-raid shelter on wheels.

1948 model car Citroen 2CV
1948 model car Citroen 2CV

The “father” of the 2CV was Citroën’s managing director, Pierre Boulanger. He briefed his chief engineer Maurice Broglie to come up with an “umbrella on wheels” that could travel in comfort over rural roads and cost a third of the price of a family sedan.

1948 Citroen 2CV
1948 Citroen 2CV

The tight-knit team that designed the car, led by André Lefebvre, more than rose to the challenge, and continued work on the car during the war. After several concepts had been tried out, using a test track built in the grounds of an isolated chateau outside Paris, Citroën settled on a light, gauge steel body and soft, long-travel interconnected suspension featuring horizontal coil springs. Low-pressure Michelin Pilote tires made sure it could float over any pothole.

Showgoers in 1948 might have been uncertain as to the utilitarian new Citroën, but it rapidly became part of the fabric of French life, both rural and urban.

“Design me a car to carry two people and 50 kilos of potatoes at 60kph, using no more than 3 liters of fuel per 100km… Let it be disgustingly economical.”

Pierre Boulanger, Citroën managing director, 1935 & 1947

Video model car Citroen 2CV

Citroen 2CV tuning

Specification model car Citroen 2CV

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Paris, France
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: flat twin-cylinder, 23ci (375cc)
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
BODYWORK: four-door four-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: 40mph (64kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 3,868,634