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We owe the basic concept of the 2CV to Pierre Boulanger, the man
appointed to manage Citroen's affairs after the company was taken over
by Michelin in the mid-1930s. The car very nearly appeared in 1939, but
the outbreak of War caused production to be suspended. The cars then on
the assembly lines were scrapped, although a couple of prototypes were
salted away during the War years and can now be seen in French museums.
The 1939 car would undoubtedly have created a sensation in the motoring
world, but there can be little doubt that the refined and reworked
version which finally was launched in 1948 was a much better machine.
Its success spread far beyond the agricultural community at whom it was
aimed, and the 2CV's appeal as basic transport earned it enormous sales
worldwide. Some 25 years after its introduction, the car took on a new
lease of life when the fuel scares of the 1970s caused buyers everywhere
to seek cars which were cheap to run. Citroen responded by marketing the
2CV as a chic answer to this new need and they succeeded brilliantly.
However, the 1970s were also the age of increasing concern over safety
in motor vehicles. The 2CV could not be made to meet new regulations
without major and costly re-engineering which would have destroyed much
of its essential character. So it was that production was halted at the
beginning of the 1990s. By then, the car had been continuous production
for well over 40 years. Today, the 2CV stands out as a kind of symbol of
Frenchness in the 1950s and 1960s. Like all Citroens, it was eccentric
in its way. But it was also eminently practical, and today many owners
still recognise its charms. It is certainly not a classic car in the
conventional sense, but it would be surprising if our descendants do not
look upon it as one of the truly exceptional cars of the 20th century.