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Although somewhat unknown in the US, in the past Citroën has enjoyed a reputation for clever engineering and forward thinking. During WW1 Citroën was among the largest arms producers for the French government, and intending to take up automobile production at end of the war began development of an economical small car to mobilize post-war Europe. Citroën had met Henry Ford during a trip to the United States in 1912 and was impressed with his application of mass production, and visions of simple, affordable automobiles. Citroën’s first car, inspired in part by Ford, was the 1919 Citroën Type A.
The Type A and its successors sold well thanks to their quality and André Citroën’s marketing exploits, which included using the Eiffel Tower as a giant sign by illuminating CITROËN on its side, and company sponsored expeditions in Asia, North America, Africa, and Australia using Citroën vehicles. Despite this success Citroën saw the need for an all new car, one so far ahead of its competitors it could be continually developed instead of replaced by a new model. The 1934 Traction Avant (French for front drive) featured unibody construction, front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension, and modern styling with a roofline almost a foot lower than some its contemporaries. Unfortunately the cost of developing such an advanced car resulted in the bankruptcy of his company. Control was assumed by Michelin, who had been one of Citroën’s largest creditors. Michelin had great success with the car; approximately 760,000 were produced over its 23 year run. In 1937, Citroen head Pierre-Jules Boulanger launched two development programs to both replace the Traction Avant, and reestablish Citroën’s control in the lower end of the car market. The Voiture a Grande Diffusion (VGD, French for Mass-production car) which later became the Citroën DS, was a sedan intended to replace the Traction Avant. The Touette Petite Voiture (TPV, French for very small car) project was born of a need for affordable mechanized transport for the population of undeveloped rural France, mostly farmers who relied on horses and carts, and bicycles to deliver their goods to market. It was required that the car be able to carry 4 people, 110 lbs of cargo, and travel 100 km at 40 mph while consuming just 3 liters of fuel. Also the car had to be able to drive across a plowed field without damaging a basket of eggs placed on the seat.
250 prototypes of the TPV were built, but were ordered destroyed or hidden with the onset of WWII to keep the car from being discovered and militarized by the invading Germans; just five known TPV prototypes survive today. Development was picked up after the war, with the 2CV entering production in 1948. The car in its final form made use of a 4-speed manual transmission and an air-cooled horizontally opposed 2-cylinder engine, which over the years would grow from 22.8 cid to 36.7 cid. Power output ranged from 9 to 29 bhp, which was sent to the front wheels. Top speed would increase from 40 to 71 mph over the lifetime of the model. The 2CV was a great success, despite having earned nicknames like “ugly duckling”, “tin can”, and “flying rag top”. If you were not a doctor, parish priest, or farmer, you could expect a 5-year wait-list to get a 2CV. Within its first ten years of production 895,137 would be produced. Combined, the 2CV and its variants, the 2-engined 4WD 2CV Sahara, the Dyane, Dyane based van the Acadiane, the Ami 6 and its derivatives, and Mehari and Baby Brousse offroaders would reach a total production of 8,572,215. 3,867,932 2CVs were produced, in France, Belgium, the U.K., Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, Spain, and Yugoslavia. It would remain in production from 1948 until 1990.
- Launched in 1948 to mobilize post-WWII France
- First year for “Light Six” body, featuring revised styling and new rear quarter-windows
- Top speed around 55 mph