At the tender age of eighteen I was thrown the keys to the farm run-around. It was during my gap year working in the vineyards of Bordeaux. I was off to football training in the nearby town of Saint Foy La Grande and the “mobylette” had broken down. It was to be my first drive in a French car in France.
The 2CV, “deux cheuvaux” or “la deudeuche” as it is affectionately known has a two horse power flat twin cylinder engine which sounds like no other car in the world and with its pull in, out and turn gear stick it’s an unusual drive too, to say the least.
It does not go fast, in fact if you are driving back home up the long hill from the local market with the farmer, his wife and kid and a stack of fresh fruit and vegetables plus the meat and fish for a week it is positively SLOW. There were times when I was very tempted to get out and walk as it would have been quicker.
Though with the roof rolled back and the rays of the sun occasionally piercing the canopy of the plane trees lining the country road, sitting on the bench seat in the front of our orange 2CV was like being in a romantic French film, I wouldn’t have swapped places with anyone.
I was already enthralled by many things French in my youth, the language, the food, the wine, people wearing berets, table football, pinball, sitting in cafes and drinking coffee and discussing the rights and wrongs of the world with everyone, the pretty girls of course. But I didn’t expect to fall for the ugly duckling of the car world.
History of the 2CV
The Citroen 2CV was revealed to the public for the first time at the 1948 Paris Car show. It was designed to carry two peasant farmers and 100 kilos of farm goods to market at 60 kilometres per hour along roads ripped apart by artillery shells and steel tank tracks.
It is a legendary car of the people. Inexpensive to buy, cheap to run and easy to repair. Safety was not top of the list back then. But, speak to any French man or woman about the “deudeuche” and a warm smile of affection sneaks across their face, even if really they prefer a fast modern vehicle, the 2CV still has a place in their heart.
Citroen Museum in Provence
If you like cars, then you’ll love the Citromuseum in Castellane where you will find yourself in “deudeuche heaven”. My French wife found her first car, a light grey model and I found my posh version Dyane which the crowd at my wedding to first wife crammed into, with feet sticking out of the open roof. We gaped inside and marveled at the simplicity of the interiors, in the older models there was hardly anything in there, simple steering wheel, gear stick, tiny speedometer and that was practically your lot.
As my eyes took in the rounded headlamps of the 2CV with the clips on top to enable you to open them and change the light bulb, the window catch for the pane which swung up and open in the wind, in my mind I could hear the unmistakable fast chug of the engine as it wound up to gear change speed. All the happy memories of youthful French holidays came flooding back. Such as one time camping on the sand dunes of Biscarrosse where the drive shaft fell out when I parked the car on a steep bank, thankfully four burly chaps lifted the car up whilst I wiped the shaft with an oily rag and popped it back into place. Who needs a garage when you’ve got a 2CV. My wife was just as bad, I could see she was away with her memories of family and the fields of Normandy.
There’s no doubt about it, rarely does a car provoke such feelings of fondness than a 2CV.
Peter Horrocks lives in Grasse where he blogs about life, what to do and see in France, getting beyond the obvious where possible. An avid walker, skier and amateur travel photographer, you can find him blogging at PeterHorrocksTumblr