Many would consider the Citroen 2CV an unlikely vehicle for preparedness plans. But based on 40 years of personal experience with the car, I am suggesting that you consider the Citroen 2CV as a backup vehicle for your preparedness plans. While not a fancy car, my many kilometers and miles driving a 2CV in across Europe and North America have been easily the least costly road miles that I have logged, and they were a lot of fun.
25 years ago, I wrote:
“A 2CV is the past, days spent going vineyard to vineyard, New Year’s Eve in Guernica Spain for three days straight, crazy descending down “Burg Wachenburg” Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany with the 2CV’s motor turned off, days spent watching geysers while drinking local champagne. A 2CV is max speed on city streets (and sidewalks), is having your paperwork review at machinegun point in Victoria, is briefly claiming that center lane in Luxemburg to pass whatever was a little bit slower. A 2CV is seats out and car loaded full of cases of wine, is cooking out and camping in the mountains, is paying the local beach lads to dive for a better looking and hopefully better tasting fish for your lunch while on the Mediterranean Sea.
A 2CV is today, an oddity in the great north woods of the upper Midwest, it is always finding business cards and notes under the wipers asking to buy my car, is making Milwaukee and return on just a fiver. A 2CV is never being able to sneak in anywhere, because of the small crowd it attracts and the questions. A 2CV is filling the car completely with wrapped Christmas gifts.
A 2CV is tomorrow, a minimalistic, self-repairable 21st century transport. A 2CV is 400 miles in a spare jerry can. A 2CV is a no-computer, EMP resistant survivor. A 2CV is history in action.
All in all, a 2CV is clean good fun!”
I am not going to try to paraphrase the massively inclusive write-up of the history of the 2CV series which you can find at InfoGlactic. (Please note the 2CV Series is part of Citroen’s “A-series” which include van, jeep-like, and other car variants.)
These cars are not physically super small, but they are not big, either. They use a simple opposed (boxer type) 2-cylinder air-cooled engine, four-speed manual transmission, and front wheel drive. Their long-travel suspension handles rough roads or no roads rather well.
Why the 2CV?
- Affordable capability – A 2CV will frugally carry four adults in respectable comfort over a very wide range of roads and terrain, at one of the lowest passenger-mile costs out there.
- Large support infrastructure – about 4 million 2CV cars were built, over 9 million built if counting all A-Series variants, though very underrepresented in North America.
- Frugal – returning about 45 mpg in personal experience – the specifications suggest more is possible, but perhaps I have a lead foot?
- Rough terrain ready – can easily handle rough roads and some off-road situations.
- Simple, easy to repair – sort of designed for “farmer maintained” rather than specialist shop repairs.
- Carries four at highway speeds – though most models struggle with interstate speeds – mine will exceed 70 mph, but I don’t think I can hit 80 mph.
- Flexible as seats, roof and trunk can all be opened-up/removed – so carrying outsized loads like livestock and building materials can be accommodated.
- Affordable to buy – with usable models ranging from under $5,000 for a project to $25,000 for a collectable (certain variants will go much higher, with the ultrarare two-engine Sahara 4×4 leading in the above $150,000 range) – I paid in the teens for my two very nice examples.
- Affordable Spares – a normal critical-spares package is inexpensive, and an in-depth spares stash is affordable – I spent about $200 max for my critical-spares package, and I am considering bringing in a spare drive train to have on hand given the modest cost.
- A truly no-computer automobile – a recent article pointed out how a modern car has 40-50 ICs/Computers accounting for 40% of the material costs and almost none that are user maintainable.
There are some downsides to 2CVs, namely:
- Not all that common in the USA/Canada – while Citroen North American sold them, they were not very popular when new. Many more have been imported as used cars.
- Long out of production – last new production was in 1990. Offsetting this is there are lots parts still being made.
- Few creature comforts – no A/C, no electric locks/seats/sensors, simple heater system. Offsetting this, is the basic comforts are all there.
- Not a secure car – I was always loath to leave anything of value in one when I lived in Europe, as they are not very secure.
- Parts/information comes from dedicated networks – so you won’t typically find parts at your local AutoZone type shop – offsetting is these specialists are simply awesome to work with.
Stick shift only – though a centrifugal “traffic clutch” was an uncommon option, you have to clutch and shift.
- Doesn’t blend in, lacks anonymity in USA/Canada – you won’t do the “gray man” if you drive a 2CV in North America. In some parts of Europe you won’t get too much of a second look, unless you have one of the graphically fancy paint schemes.
- Dash push-pull shifter – unusual design, but easy once you try it out.
- Non self-canceling indicators – easy to forget.
- Cold weather grill muff – another easy to forget item, put it on when it is cold
- Flip up front windows – you can get wire brackets that hold them open a couple inches
Cowl air vent – for that direct fresh air sensation
- Fixed rear windows – so rear seat isn’t got to get air from the windows
- Roll-open roof – which will give everyone a lot of fresh air
- Body roll cornering – looks worse than it is, drives well
- Unlabeled dash lights and controls – fortunately there are so few of them, and you can make your own labels.
Things to avoid/Unobtanium Issues
There are some things to avoid/Unobtanium Issues for a usable Preparedness class vehicle:
- 6-volt early models – spare parts can be difficult to find
- 375cc and 425cc Series – collector’s interest, difficulty finding spare parts, and very slow with perhaps 40/50 mph top speed. (Stick with 435cc and 602cc models)
- Rare models – the cost and unavailability of spare parts for the Sahara 4×4, Mehari 4×4 variants and decorative special models suggest collector cars rather than a preparedness car,
- Close cousins to the 2CV – like the Citroen owned Panhard 17 & 24 models which are more difficult to support and have a different engine designs, again making them collectors cars rather than preparedness cars
- More complex Citroens like the DS-21 and SM – these hydropneumatic suspension, brake and steering cars are wonderful collector’s cars, but are not usual preparedness vehicles.
- 2CV two-seater derivatives – like the Lomax and Manx kits built on a donor 2CV. These are fun hobby cars, but lose the load carrying and utility characteristics.
Contrast to Alternatives
The 2CV versus a UTV/ATV class vehicle – the 2CV is roadworthy, can carry more, and is simpler though it is more modest in off-road capabilities.
The 2CV versus a ex-Military or Hardened Pickup/Jeep type vehicle – the 2CV is likely going to be less costly and certainly much more frugal, but will not come close to the overall load carrying capacity and ultimate level of off-road ability of the ex-Military/Hardened class of vehicle.
The 2CV versus a conventional car – with the 2cv you gain a lot more off-road capability, much lower complexity, and lose creature comforts with usually an extra person capacity.
Several 2CV specialists across the USA – there are a handful of independent 2CV and general Citroen service centers throughout North America who can help you find your car.
A few clubs remain – usually with some sort of for sale ads.
Buying from Europe/South America – I have done this, where a good 2CV was found overseas and brought in for me.
Build your own from parts – while difficult and expensive, this can be done. You will end up collecting parts from a number of vendors and spending a lot of time building up your car.
Purchases from ads, like Hemmings Motor News or Craigslist – Usually there are few cars listed. Also watch for online ads. Unlike the bigger Citroens where there usually is one on auction, 2CVs come up for auction less often. Don’t forget about watching online ads.
Moving a usable car onto a new chassis – as the original chassis can corrode, it is not uncommon to find a basically solid car with a rotten chassis for sale. You can get new a new chassis, including fully galvanized chassis.
Have a 2CV built for you by a specialist – this can range from a simple buildup to the fully galvanized 2CVs some of the European specialists produce, or replicas of rare models, or even dual engine all wheel drive off-road racers with bigger 4 cylinder engines from a bigger Citroen.
My Personal Usage
My first time behind the wheel of a 2CV was as a teenager visiting friends in Spain. My buddy’s older sister let us use her 2CV to show me around, and of course, I wanted to drive it. My first 2CV adventure was a paperwork check at machinegun point leaving the Basque area of Spain, as unbeknown to us a bombing had happened that day and an American driving a Basque province license plated 2CV leaving the Basque region on a small mountain road was definitely something that was out of the norm.
A couple years later I bought a 2CV while stationed in West Germany, apparently one of the few Citroens on US Military plates. German friends built me a much more powerful engine from racing parts bought in France where they race these cars, which made my model a “goer” in a sleeper sort of way. As the annual inspection for US Military POVs (Privately Owned Vehicles) was safety-orientated rather than the conformity to OEM or approved parts portion of the local road inspection, I was able to run a race engine in a road car where the locals couldn’t. It was a very fast 2CV, but unfortunately met its demise when another car wanted to occupy my part of the road at the same time.
We had several 2CVs over the years as our family grew up, mostly in Wisconsin where a 2CV is fairly rare sight. During this phase of our lives we considered the cars simply “fun cars” and each was traded or sold to fund experiencing another different fun car.
Our current 2CV cars are multipurpose, acting as a second car at times, certainly being fun cars, and with a strong mind to preparedness.
I bought the 2CV6 from a friend who regularly imports a car once or twice a year. This car then became a birthday gift for my wife, as I thought it prudent to have a car in her name rather than mine or jointly held. We completed all the usual upgrades, which I did in the garage at our cabin. A new 1-2-3 electronic ignition was installed with all the parts to revert to points retained in our spares. The 1-2-3 system makes starting the car very easy, which was much appreciated by the better half. We then put together a basic spares kit that focused on having bulbs, filters, plugs, belt, and brake rebuild kits set aside. As this is a late model 2CV6 it has disc brakes that use a different fluid that is Green called LHM. Two-liter bottles of LHM were sourced from my Citroen spares stash, one which is opened to do any top-up of brake fluid needed and one kept in sealed reserve.
Perhaps I should mention our cabin is remote with only two mechanics around the local area, so I wanted to make sure routine care would be something we could handle ourselves. We drive this 2CV summers largely as a second car as it is stored at our cabin. This 2CV is ready to drive anywhere and doubles as a perfect second car when we are at the cabin.
At our home we have a Dyane-6 (a fancified version of the 2CV6) that is mechanically all done, has a new but low-key interior, but has been left a bit rough cosmetically. Though rust free the paint is dull and lacks curb appeal. We keep this car in storage at our home and would be confident of setting off on a long trip if we needed to use the car that way.
I also have other Citroen and Panhard models which are about other interests, rather than having any preparedness purpose.
Resources (just a sampling):
Citroenvie – a North American website usually listing a few 2CV models for sale.
French Car Parts West – one of the places I get parts from.
Citroenet – the largest international Citroen information repository.
Burton 2CV – lots of upgrades, restorations, and parts.
International2cvFriends.com – Has a forum all about 2cv cars.
Editor’s Closing Notes: 2CVs are indeed “fun” vehicles and easy to work on. One of my other blog readers once mentioned that he owned a 2CV and that he would often have French girls flag him down and give him hugs! (Yes, a 2CV is a genuine cultural icon.)
A similar approach is to buy a Vokswagen 181 “Thing.” But, more practically, there is a lot to be said for buying and restoring a pre-1972 Chevrolet with small block engine. Those are nearly as easy as a 2CV to self-repair, and parts for them are still ubiquitous in the United States.