Home » That Time Chrysler Made A Better 1990s Citroën 2CV Than Citroën Did

That Time Chrysler Made A Better 1990s Citroën 2CV Than Citroën Did

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One of my all-time favorite cars has to be that masterpiece of minimalism, that acme of asceticism, that paragon of parsimony, the Citroën 2CV. The 2CV was such a product of its era and of a very specific mindset – a brilliant experiment in doing the most with the least. The 2CV is a unique-looking machine, a strange corrugated tin snail, but it’s also mechanically novel, and all of this contributes to its identity. As a result, reviving the 2CV as a more modern car requires a hard choice: do you just make something with a retro-inspired design that suggests the original, or do you try to, somehow, stick to its original concept? Incredibly, in the 1990s, both of these approaches were attempted, to varying degrees, one coming from a very unexpected source. Let’s take a look at them!

First, it’s worth remembering what the original 2CV was like; designed for postwar French farmers to replace donkeys, the 2CV was, as its designer, Pierre-Jules Boulanger famously said, “four wheels under an umbrella.” It was just that simple: an air-cooled flat-twin up front (that made as little as 9hp in its earliest forms), driving the front wheels, a body made of corrugated metal and canvas around it, and some removable seats inside that resembled beach chairs.

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Combine that with a clever interconnected front-to-rear suspension setup that lets you, famously yet again, drive over a plowed field without breaking any eggs, and you get the idea. A simple, rugged, and somehow deeply and powerfully charming little car.

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So, how would you translate a car like this into a more modern form – or, at least as modern as the 1990s? Well, it seems that attempts did happen, once from Citroën themselves in what appears to be at least a full-scale design study, and once, incredibly, from Chrysler, a company that had precisely Jacques merde to do with the early 2CV.

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Citroen 2cv Brochure

Let’s look at Citroën’s own revived 2CV first, which I learned about thanks to the excellent Car Design Archives Instagram account:

 

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This study is especially interesting because there is really very little known about it; it seems to be called the 2CV 2000, and was made in the 1990s. This full-sized and very finished model is all that remains of the project and was found in the 2010s.

2cv2000 1

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The approach to the revived 2CV here seems to be essentially the same one taken by other carmakers with iconic people’s cars in their pasts: think how Volkswagen turned the old air-cooled, rear-engined Beetle into the FWD, Golf-based New Beetle, or how Fiat modernized their rear engine/RWD 500 into the new front engine/FWD Fiat 500, or how when BMW bought Mini they introduced a new version of that iconic car.

All of these attempts incorporate elements of the original’s design and attempt to capture some of the charm and appeal, but are fundamentally just exercises in putting retro costumes on modern car platforms. They all have their appeal, sure, but none really manage to capture the spirit of those original cars.

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This take on a modernized 2CV captures a lot of the look of the original 2CV but updates it nicely with a 1990s design vocabulary. The gray rubber bumpers I think actually work well here, and the designers even replicated the corrugations in the hood and trunk (maybe hatch) lid.

I think this is a fine design study, but I suspect underneath the skin, this would have been a very conventional little car of the era, with a transverse inline-four engine driving the front wheels, and a platform likely shared with other small Citroën cars of the time. If this made it to market, it would have been just like the New Beetle or the new Fiat 500; a nice tribute to an old idea, but that’s all. A tribute.

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Ccv Sketch

Now, much more interesting is the 2CV-like car that Chrysler showed in 1997, called the CCV. Two C’s and a V. I think they knew what they were inspired by. Those letters actually originally stood for China Concept Vehicle since the emerging Chinese market at the time was the target, but then later they decided those same letters meant Composite Concept Vehicle, which alluded to the unique materials used to build the car.

Ccv 1

The intent was to create a cheap, rugged car for developing environments, and this design brief was really essentially the same as what was asked of Citroën in the 1940s to get earthy, onion-loving French peasants to give up their mules. As a result, the CCV really did feel like a spiritual successor to the original Deux Cheveaux.

Like the OG 2CV, the CCV had a small air-cooled engine up front, in this case an 800cc V-twin sourced from lawnmower-motivators Briggs and Stratton, making a healthy 25 hp. The car only weighed about 1,200 pounds, so 25 horses really aren’t as meager as they may sound.

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To keep the weight low and to keep the costs down, the body of the CCV was made of a material that I just now wanted to call novel, but it really isn’t, because it’s absolutely ubiquitous. It was made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which you probably have put your lips on recently, as that’s soda bottle plastic.

Ccv Body The only 210-pound body was four big plastic cast parts, made by a company that’s used to making big plastic trash bins. The color is an integral part of the plastic, so there’s no painting required, and everything just kind of snaps together.

Ccv DoorsopenThe windows went up and down via these really clever vertical sliders that you can see above. You can also see that the CCV retained the 2CV’s canvas roof, but improved on the 2CV by making the trunk lid hinge down like a tailgate, which would let you use the little car like a little truck if you folded down or removed the rear seat.

The CCV really did feel like an authentic and spiritual successor to the 2CV, and with a target price of only $6,000 (that’d be about $11,500 today, still absolutely dirt cheap for a car) I suspect had this actually made it to its intended markets, it could have been a success.

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I’m really amazed at just how comprehensively and unashamedly Chrysler took the Citroën idea and fundamental DNA and just ran with it; this feels like if Honda decided to make an all-new entry-level EV that looked just like a Volkswagen Beetle or if Volvo showed a concept car that was a dead ringer for a ’65 Mustang. It’s just the sort of thing that’s almost impossible to conceive of happening today.

Ccv Show

Was Chrysler even remotely concerned with Citroën’s response? I haven’t found any media of the era that gives any suggestion of what Citroën thought of this or anything – I’m sure they knew about it, since it was shown at the 1997 Frankfurt Auto Show – but if they had any thoughts on this act of either flattery or theft, depending on how cranky you were when you got up in the morning, they seem to have kept it to themselves.

The Daimler-Chrysler merger effectively killed the CCV project, which I think is a shame, because I think that little minimal car was absolutely brilliant.

Mostly, though, I think it’s fascinating to see how this iconic car got reinterpreted by its own family and a bunch of outsiders from across the ocean, and somehow the group that had no ties to the 2CV’s actual history managed to be the ones that found an authentic way to resurrect not just the look of the 2CV, but the original car’s basic mission, goal, and, yes, soul.

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I guess maybe to pull off a really honest and genuine reboot of a car, you need some distance. Maybe we should just take every automaker’s most iconic cars and assign them to random other automakers to re-work? I’d honestly love to see how that turns out. Wouldn’t you like to try out Volvo’s take on a Corvette Sting Ray or a Kia E-Type? Sure you would.

 

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Torque
Torque
3 months ago

1st (clearly) 1990s Chrysler understood the assignment Way better than Citroën in this Mano a Mano match up…

2nd thinking of other companies that took on the challenge of recreating a classic and getting the assignment right to the core of what the original car was all about…

I’ve said it before (here even), but worth rewriting…

Electric Brands modern ev version of the original VW Bus! It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, it’s space efficient, it will slice, dice and julian your fries!

It is Slow w/a highway doble nickle (ish) top speed…

it is a swiss army knife ev van platform that can complete a Lot of different missions

It is worth a look and an article here!

https://electricbrands.de/en/myxbus/

Last edited 3 months ago by Torque
Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago

I smell some bishop content here (unless he has already done it)

Justin Short
Justin Short
3 months ago

Thanks Jason!

Black Peter
Black Peter
3 months ago

I disagree with the Mini at least, the new 500 has a similar vibe, but the OG 500 was so cheap ($260) it’s hard to match. However a late 50’s Mini started at around $1300, was fun, FWD and practical package. It’s hard to say the early 2000 BMW mini wasn’t the same, fun, FWD practical package, and adjusted for inflation nearly the same price at $15K

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
3 months ago

I actually think there is a great opportunity to sell a modern 2CV – I even have a name for it that works: the deuxEV.

I am thinking something really basic but significantly cheaper than the likes of the Dacia Duster, and with more of a utilitarian tilt than the ë-C3. I would like to think they would sell like the proverbial warm-gateaux, but I’m probably wrong.

Torque
Torque
3 months ago

Change the suspension so it can cross a plowed field and the BYD Seagull is a great ‘cheap and cheerfully seeming modern car for the people and available at least in China at an incredibly low price equal to $9700 USD starting, even if said price is helped by the Chinese Govt. and it is a lower speed car

https://electrek.co/2024/03/06/byd-launches-cheaper-seagull-ev-9700-price/

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
3 months ago

If, by some miracle, the CCV had ever made it into production and onto US shores I would have been all over it.

Also, imagine all the possibilities for alternative lawnmower-engine swaps! There could be upgrades gaining dozens of horsepower. Dozens!

On a slightly more serious note, such a simple car would be a perfect, non-threatening entry point for folks to learn to wrench and modify cars. What a wonderful opportunity it could have been for car culture.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

It’s more or less what Elio should have just done. 3 wheels to avoid FMVSS bullcrap, lightweight enclosed body, off the shelf Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine + a snowmobile CVT, could have had their vehicle on sale by 2009 instead of futzing around pissing away money for 16 years with nothing to show for it

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Substitute a Tecumseh for the Briggs & Stratton and you’ve perfectly described my 1981 HMV Freeway. They sold hundreds of them! Hundreds, I tell you! Mine is #449 out of the literally hundreds sold! So many!

https://live.staticflickr.com/1412/4732772669_6986f7f583_c.jpg

Last edited 3 months ago by Mike Harrell
Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
3 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Maybe, or maybe it would have been strictly a throwaway car..not sure if I’d want much more than 25hp in a trash an on wheels..

Last edited 3 months ago by Boxing Pistons
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