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Hum... The 2CV was, in fact, designed by a chief engineer from Michelin, during an epoch when Michelin owned Citroën. And it was designed in Clermont-Ferrand, in the French Auvergne region, where people have always been sticklers for efficiency. The 2CV was explicitly designed for poor farmers who had to use it to transport their produce to the market (without the rear seats it would take a grown pig) and drive it on the bad roads and tracks of this mountainous region. One of the anecdotal design constraints was the height: one had to be able to sit in it while wearing a hat - and the chief engineer in question was himself rather a tall man who wore a high hat, so the 2CV has a lot of headroom as a result... ;-)



One major reason why modern cars are heavier has been overlooked: crash protection.

Hit a non-deformable object at 30mph in a 2CV, and you will be seriously injured.

Hit one at the same speed in a C1, and you will walk away relatively unharmed.

Cars with better crash protection are even heavier.

S.P. Gass


Excellent article. I doublechecked your mpg conversions because they sounded high... some online calculators are using 1 litre=.22 gallon whereas other sites show 1 litre=.26 gallon. I believe .22 is correct for liquids. That would bring the mpgs referenced down to 51 and 53 mpg respectively.

Regardless, you make a great point. I own a (slow) 1964 Ford Falcon which gets about 30 mpg, which is approximately the same as most new American cars get.

50+ mpg from 1940s technology is amazing, especially now that people are getting excited about Toyota Prius and Smart car which only get in the 40-50 mpg range.

S.P. Gass


Grumpy, that's a good point. I think the question becomes, would people be willing to give up crash protection for better gas mileage?

After all, the most important safety feature is the driver.

Kris De Decker


Sorry to send you away, but there is someone making an interesting comment on this somewhere else:

"To the gentleman who posits 'Impact safety means weight': incorrect. Impact safety is the result of good design. Good design adds no weight to the vehicle. Formula 1 race cars weigh as little as 440KG, and drivers often walk away from crashes at triple-digit speeds."

Read the full comment (physics included) here:

Adrian K


Just as a by the by, the 2CV engine needs leaded Petrol,new cars don't. It's also air cooled, no water cooling. Just my penny's worth.



One important additional factor is the regulatory insistence that automotive engines produce extremely low emission levels which unfortunately requires considerable use of high-tech materials and extensive computer controls. An eight liter Bentley probably produces less pollution in virtually every respect than the primitive powerplant of the 2CV. High tech will be unavoidable in future engine designs but the main ideas of lightness and simplicity are certainly attractive. Whether the public will be willing to buy vehicles that may be less "safe" but offer big improvements in efficiency is another matter.



On the subject of efficiency and low emissions,I recently came across an interesting concept for a sort of modern steam engine,the Cyclone engine.Like other steam engines,torque is maximum at 0 RPM,therefore no transmission is needed,it doesn't need oil changes,it runs on any liquid fuel,and it's overall efficiency is in the diesel range.The emissions are kept ultra low because it is an external combustion engine,tuned for complete combustion.Other versions of the engine can run on waste industrial heat,solar,etc.
See: http://tinyurl.com/8tkmtk

Gene (Yvon Le Breton)


Sorry but the leaded Petrol comment is not correct.
All aluminium head Citroens including the 2CV had and have steel valve seats. Lead in Petrol did many things, polution, upped octane, and cushioning to prevent (valve recession)but only in cast iron heads where the seats were ground in directly. While the octane of the fuel has to be in line with the compression ratio (3 different one in the 602 engines) leaded Petro and lead additivies are not necessary.



No, no, no... this is all wrong. If we are to go down this route, let us not do it by halves: a bicycle is orders of magnitude more efficient and less polluting than a 2CV - probably more comfortable, and certainly better for health! Additionally, its top speed on a flat with no wind approaches 35mph - faster still (and even more *efficient*) if it is ridden skilfully in a peloton or a paceline!

The only possible advantage of driving a 2CV is if you are old and infirm or you need to a carry a pig. Most things that are carried in an average 2CV journey can be carried on a bicycle (either in panniers or a trailer) with no problem. To my mind, a car is for luxurious travel, shifting extremely bulky/heavy loads, or travelling very fast - since the 2CV cannot do any of these, prefer the bicycle (albeit, the hi-tech carbon-fibre bicycle!)



2cv from 1970 onwards run on unleaded fuel, it can run on e85, this will cost you 25 euro for the conversion. The only problem is that the air cooled engine has a 9% co2 level.



Grumpy makes a comment on impact protection, but the two pages he posts aren't comparing like with like.

The 2CV was crash tested in the 60's and 70's by being fired into a solid wall at 40-45 kph, the Citroen C1 is fired into a deformable barrier such than only the the front quarter of the car strikes at 64 kph.

So sadly it's nigh on impossible to compare.

As the former owner of a 2Cv who walked away from crashing one into the side of a Rover Metro at 50 mph, I can say they're surprisingly good. The bonnet's long, there's plenty of room between the engine and the driver's feet and of course there's no dashboard to crush your knees.

But less weight is the way to go, and roll on Gordon Murray's new vehicle as he's of the same mind and of course is a hugely capable car designer (think Maclaren F1).



It *is* possible to have the best of both worlds - modern safety and low fuel consumption of a lighter car.

I drive a VW Lupo 1.2 TDI 3L which is rated 4/5 stars by EuroNCAP for collision safety.

Although it rarely (ie. never) reaches the 3 l/100km (from which the "3L" comes) it NEVER uses more than 3.7 l/100km (61.9 MPG) - and that's not a theoretical number, but the one from the onboard computer.

The car seats four adults (the two front ones comfortably) and has sufficient headroom for tall people - although it doesn't exactly have a lot of boot space.

Sometimes the solution isn't winding back the technological clock, but using current technologies (turbo, electronic engine control etc.) with lighter materials (aluminium, titanium) - and keeping cars small when at all possible.



I agree. It is not my wish to turn back the technological clock, but I think that many obsolete technologies can be an inspiration when designing new technology. The best of both worlds, as you describe it.

One thing to keep in mind though, is the embedded energy of many new, high-tech materials. Aluminum and Titanium, for instance, require much more energy to produce than steel. They are also lighter than steel, which can lead to a better fuel economy, so I am not saying they are by definition a bad choice. But it should be taken into account when you want to find out which car is the least damaging to the environment.



One factor not mentioned here is the incredibly low emissions levels of modern engines compared to 40s powerplants. Although fuel usage is minimized by computer controlled engine management systems my guess is that efficiency would be higher yet if engines were designed purely for fuel economy.

Colin Hawes


I think your fuel consumption figures for the 2CV are a little optimistic. I drove two 2CV6s over 14 years.I never achieved 60 mpg.
On urban driving, I managed low to mid forties. If I "thrashed" them at maximum speed on the motorway it could be a poor as high thirties. If I took it easy on the motorway it would be mid to high forties. The best I ever achieved was 58 mpg. That was in 1991 between Kinlochbervie and Kingussie in Scotland. Mainly on fairly empty roads where I was taking my time and admiring the scenery.
It would be good to see a modern equivalent of the 2CV. But don't imagine the 2CV was ever low tech. Despite it's funny shape, it was pretty advanced for it's day.



one thing you all forget..Aerodynamics! The 2CV has a dragcoefficient of 0.6. Twice as high as the more modern car.

Furlongs per pint


Further to comment #3: the fuel efficiency conversions in the article are based upon the gallons being Imperial. For US gallons, the conversions become 4.6 l/100 km = 51.1 mi/gal and 4.4 l/100 km = 53.4 mi/gal.

Easy formulas for the conversions between l/100 km and mi/gal are:

to/from Imperial: 282.48 ÷ x = y

to/from US: 235.21 ÷ x = y

If x is l/100 km, then y becomes mi/gal; if x is mi/gal, then y becomes l/100 km.



I have read so many interesting opinions. The 2cv is a great car. I have been driving one for 16 years and I think it was ahead of its time. It has a great suspension, it's fun to drive and I love the way it looks, not to mention its practicality and the opening top. However, I think that a bit more technology would make it more fuel efficient, a bit more powerful (not to show off, but to overtake with safety) and I would like a quicker steering wheel. In any case, I really love this car and I think that in many ways it could show the way forward.



The article is interesting but in some respects inaccurate. The 2CV's engine is one of the world's finest, full stop/period. Read LJKSetright’s appreciation of this gem of an Otto cycle unit in an early ‘80s CAR magazine issue, not as yet online, as I can see. They have a 200,000 mile lifespan if serviced correctly (many go well beyond with little more than a valve regrind) and engineering details more in line with racing technology than mass-produced money makers.

The reason a modern car can travel at higher speed and return more mpg is because it was designed to do so. With a relatively low drag through the air its engine is quite crude compared with the 2CV’s turbine-like boxer twin. Fuel injection and spark ignition managed by a complex network of sensors and chips optimise the efficiency of today’s god-fearing, accountant-loving in-line fours.

The clever and efficient aspect of a 2CV is the elegant design, but made relatively cheaply using African labour. The fact that a good one (plenty have been rebuilt very poorly, plenty - esp. rhd examples - came out of the factories rather 'Frenchly') will more than hold its own on anything other than a motorway says quite a lot for a 1930s/40s design. Braking, handling, comfort and ergonomics are on a different plane from my 90s VW Golf. As is style and pure enjoyment.

The intellect buried deep in the soul of old Citroëns is not that solely developed through degree courses in motor vehicle engineering but a typically French philosophical yet deeply practical one. The engineers had designed, engineered and also raced aircraft as well as Grand Prix cars, in addition to high academic qualifications. Italian Bertoni was a sculptor turned industrial designer, engineer and architect.

As a car designed to turn a horse and cart jam into a traffic jam with more Michelin tyres in it, the fact that it was driven round the world by so many (and even held the altitude record for decades, achieved by a couple of Frenchmen in the 1950s on a round-the world tour, until factory-prepared VW 4x4s beat it for commercial purposes in 2005) says a lot about the enigma of the car. Regarded as flimsy, fragile and rather naff by your average petrol-head, these cars are able to endure Foreign Legion-style hardships year on year - as many Africans have proved.

Made all over the world, from Iran and Argentina to Vietnam, Belgium and Great Britain, they became an icon for France and a French approach to life which has almost vanished. Ridiculed by half-witted journalists at their launch, there was soon a five year waiting list. The factory even offered a million francs to anyone who managed to overturn one through a corner on a public road. No-one claimed - a very low centre of mass and deep understanding of suspension helped. Forty seven years later, Mercedes-Benz's first front wheel drive car was turned on its side in a simple left-right-left manouevre soon after launch.

They were equipped with efficient heaters from the start, but only 9hp and a top speed of approximately 37mph, upped quickly to 12hp/45mph, 18/60 and 29hp in 1972. Despite apparent barn-door aerodynamics, this heady output gave an eye-watering top speed of over 70mph. On a good day, this could be nearer 80 than 70 - enough to outrage a few Volvo and BMW drivers.

Germans fit unregulated exhaust gas catalysers; emissions are so low that even running on carburettors the cats aren't killed. Without catalysts, the Dutch measured emissions with a view to European-style CO2 taxation, result - under 120g/km. Amongst the very best.

A final point. The car was originally designed from light alloy, but the war meant this was economically impractical. About 250 aluminium cars (body and chassis) went down the production line in 1939, all hand welded - the Germans failed to deliver the AEG welding machines which had been ordered. These cars were destroyed to prevent the Germans capturing the design when they invaded France. A radically cheaper, slightly more elegant, if cruder, steel car emerged after the war.


Juan Marcos


What about my beloved Citroen AX ? Citroen's second best seller after the 2CV. 640 Kg. From Wikipedia: "in 1989 a naturally aspirated diesel AX, using the 1360 cc all aluminium alloy TUD engine, managed a figure of 2.7 litres per 100 kilometres (100 mpg-imp; 87 mpg-US), totalling over 1,000 miles (1,609 km) from Dover to Barcelona." Mine did not have air conditioning, electric windows ... not even a radio. Unfortunately, no airbags and no ESP.



I once owned Citroen Dyane 4 which was basically a 2CV with a more modern body. It had a 435cc engine. This was in the late 1970s in the UK.

While it was a great car to drive. It certainly had character and one learnt the technique of trying never to slow down because acceleration was terrible.

It was also a terrible vehicle to maintain. It required real weird tech to get to the brakes.

However, as far a fuel economy went it was nothing fantastic. The engine had to work flat out most of the time. It managed around 40 mpg (UK gallons)

I reckon the power was around 10 to 15kW at best.

I now have a Toyota Yaris with 1 litre motor and around 45 kW or power. It has average around 50 mpg. I say has because having done around 160 000 mile according to the on board calculator the average is now nearer 48 mpg.



I never owned a 2CV but did ride in an AK400 and was even allowed to drive it. What can I say... I have loved the 2CV ever since and always planned to buy one, but Citroen pulled the plug before I could. By any technical standard, at the end it didn't measure up to more modern cars, but its appearance, its character, they still bring tears to my eyes. Now I have a 1996 Toyota Tercel that I baby and it treats me well, but it just isn't a 2CV...



We have a Suzuki Wagon R (Google kei car), a similar concept. Very ugly, but masses of room inside and very high headroom, 660 cc three-cylinder engine, and it does 100km on 4.53 litres, which is 62 miles per Imperial gallon. Not silent inside because weight is pared down everywhere, so there's little sound insulation.



My 2CVs have always averaged well over 40mpg - usually 44-49, depending on use. I once managed 58mpg on a long trip at a steady 55-60mph.

One of the most practical aspects is their ease of servicing, the front wings can be removed in 10 minutes to make everything easily accessible. Mechanical repairs are unusual because of the cars' over-engineering, although the steering swivel pins are the exception, if not greased regularly. Quick and easy to change, however, if not already bodged by a lazy/incompetent sort.

The very cleverness and minimalism of the design does not lend itself to rebuilds with inferior quality parts - some popular replacement chassis are desperately flimsy, new engines are made from poorer materials and I've driven quite a few 'restored' cars which have been utter dogs to drive. When you've only 29hp under your right foot, everything from the steering, handling and ride - not to mention a power-sapping gearbox or poor engine - is crucial to maintaining good progress.

There were never two cars the same which came off the production lines and material quality dropped off alarmingly from the mid 1980s. Combined with decades of use and abuse, some cars are divine to drive while others encourage many invectives.



I was going to nit pick, but I'll just simply while it's fun to look at the cars of yesteryear, no progress can me made by attributing to them more to those cars than that's valid to do so. The 2CV what was many needed at that time. Today we need our own Model T, VW Beetle,Citroen 2CV that fills our needs now, not something that filled the needs of of those 70 years ago who where in much more dire straights than we are in now. I'll mention something that I hadn't seen mentioned. That the basic components of today's vehicle are much more durable.

Bill Young


The beauty of the 2CV was its functionality. High ground clearance and big wheels made it suitable for farm tracks. I suspect that the engine's torque has high relative to its power making it very suitable for low speed driving and carrying loads. Its seating and door configuration helped with the load carrying.

I live at the end of a farm track and the functionality of the 2CV is exactly what I am looking for - in a modern car. I haven't found it yet.

Terry  Regennitter


I was stationed in France in the 60's and drove a Renault Friget.
I enjoyed riding in the 2CV 's. I drove a 3 cylinder Metro 5 speed for many years and got 52 MPG. I pulled behind my motorhome.
I wanted to bring a 2CV back from France, but could not because of mechanical brakes.



I'm a french 22 yo citroen ami8 owner (ami8 is just a 2cv with a more aerodynamique body).
602cc 30hp 5,5l/100km to drive in under 110kmh.
cheap, fun, so easy to understand and repair.
i don't want to own an other vehicule.
i just think that we've to change our vision of the transport.
the question is not if the 2cv's engine is efficient or not.
the question is : "why not to build cars with the same specifications but why modern technology ?"
we don't need the power of the recent cars.
we don't need more than 100km/h.
we don't need this comfort.
we don't need all the gadgets you can find today in a car.
we need to ask us what we realy need.
just look at the recubents (i've got one) or velomobiles, that's the future !

Jim LaFortune


We are the happy/proud owners of a 1966 2CV which has been in the family for 28 years. We imported the car from Belgium into Baltimore after having Michelle Fornet overhaul it. (Beautiful job)and drove it home to Illinois without a single problem. It's kept out of the nasty winter weather to insure preservation against salted roads, but in the summer we don't hesitate to setout for a weekends travel. A Ferrari can be parked next to it, but the admirers will be around the "Duck".



@ Krison on Formula 1 cars,they're so safe because the cars are mostly carbon fiber. If someone develops a new way to manufacture carbon fiber as cheaply as say, steel, then we can start to say this safety and light weight combination will be accessible to the common person.
I'd say most importantly for the future is to invest more resources in battery technology for EV's, lithiom ion isn't cutting it with its weight and low energy capacity relative to what's needed for modern cars. We've already got the tech for sustainable electricity generation, it just needs to be subsidized more. All very doable stuff but since it's capitalism, you've just got to make the option better for the environment cheaper than the nasty one that's better for the pockets.

Bill Young


I have found it!

The spiritual successor to the 2cv is a Dacia Dokker. I have been looking for a load-carrying, five seater car with a low purchase price, Euro 5 fuel consumption and high ground clearance. And I have been following this web page almost from the begining.

Riding a tram through Basel in Switzerland this week, I saw it advertised. Problem for me is, they don't sell it in the UK which is where I need it.

jørgen g. rasmussen


I've owned several 2cvs; they all always started - even if the engine was packed with snow; if you drive them with imagination (i.e. - can imagine what or who pops up next, always remembering that you sit in a can) you'd be relatively safe; however, the soft shell by which you're relatively well protected from the worst wind, rain and snow, will not prevent your fellow motorists' occasional close meetings: my 3 last 2cvs were wrecked from the back, the side and the front by 3 (I hate to write it!:) women drivers; I was nor in the least hurt. Nowadays I have a Berlingo (I'm 77 and sometimes wonder why I'm sitting in a 4-wheel drawing-room) missing my old 2cvs. j.g.rasmussen.

Edward Lye


I drive a 1985 Daihatsu Charade 993cc 3-cylinder manual transmission Japanese car. It has a tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. And ...... a you-left-your-lights-on alarm. Plus a De Tomaso steering wheel.

It comes with an air-conditioner but no other accessories. It gets over 50 miles per UK gallon with the air conditioner running.

I don't know about crash/safety rating but in those instances where I have been hit, it is the other "newer" plasticky car that crumples. I have a slight crack in my rear bumper and a dent at the rear hatchback door courtesy of the most forceful accident but I have not needed to change the bumper. I left the dent alone as a reminder. I was stopped at a roundabout when I got rear-ended.

Safe and defensive driving is the way to go and not increased protection or reliance on crumple zones and airbags or right of way. Blame those energy and weight vampires on the need for speed which are usually beyond the ordinary Joe's reaction time.

I love low tech. It comes within my skills and budget. My old 1993 Sony TV didn't have a remote. A length of string, bamboo skewers, stiff folded cardboard and sticky tape took care of changing the channels "remotely".

Roland Smith


@5 Comparing formula 1 cars to road cars is a comparison of apples and oranges.

Carbon fiber composites can be much stronger than steel, but with a density that is only about a 1/4 of that of steel.
That is why it is used in e.g. formula 1. Another reason is that costs aren't that much of an issue in F1.

Whereas in normal car manufacturing costs is one of the biggest issues.

The material cost (by weight) of the fibers alone is significantly higher than that of steel. And loose fibers are generally made into woven or stich-bonded fabrics or prepregs. A 250 grams per square meter twill prepreg can cost you around 32 euros per square meter. And current manufacturing processes that make the best use of the properties of carbon fiber and give the highest quality and properties (autoclave processing; mostly used in aerospace but also in F1) are very labor intensive and therefore also expensive. In general processing costs can easily be between three and ten times the material costs.

So for most road cars, a carbon fiber body is just too expensive. Unless you have no other choice and you need it to keep the weight down. (like in BMW's i3, which has to lug around a heavy battery)



Someone commented that safety measures have led to increased weight.

While travelling at 60mph, my daughter's 2CV was hit by an idiot in a BMW 5-Series who had lost control at 80mph and crossed from the other side of a dual carriageway. The heavy BMW hit the driver's side of light-weight 2CV. The sideways impact, while travelling forwards at 60mph combined with bent steering, caused the car to roll over twice before landing back on its wheels. My daughter got out and walked away (towards the BMW driver, with the intention of punching him!). He was trapped in his car until the emergency services cut the roof off to get him out. They were both taken to hospital where she was checked over and released. He was kept in. The BMW was scrapped. The 2CV was broken for spares. The chassis was fine and still lives on under another 2CV. I reckon it was the lightness of the 2CV and it's soft, long-travel suspension that saved my daughter's life: the initial impact was absorbed by the suspension and then, being light, it was just flung aside by the heavy solid BMW.

Richard Citron


Russell G and chevrons2 both got it about right. At the moment we are driving the following 2 cylinder Citroens: 1976 2CV Club but with 1950s bodywork, 1975 AK400 Fourgonette and 1975 Mehari. I have owned, overall, eleven 2CVs as old as an immaculate late 1954 Citroen 2CV AZ, the first with the 425cc engine then with only 12 hp and as 2CV Clubs in the mid 1980s. The 2CV engine, despite the year of its creation is remarkably engineered.

Do not confuse simple with crude. The aluminum heads were so finely machined they did not need a head gasket. I drive and have driven them all hard, accelerating hard, breaking hard and driving them at full out top speed for hours on the autostrade (115 kph for the 2CVs, 105 kph for the Mehari). Never EVER have I had an engine fail me.

The worse situation was with the first engine I had in my second Mehari. I bought it used in 1988 and had no idea how many km/miles it had on it. After a year it began to consume oil. Not very much but notable in the fact that none of my other 2CVs ever consumed even a drop of oil between changes. I replaced that engine with another used engine from a wrecked Mehari. It's still in there running well. Zero oil consumption. Parts are cheap, plentiful and easily replaced.

If any of them ever start to run rough, usually a spark plug wrench and two plugs will do the trick. One thing I did do when I replaced the engine in the 75 Mehari with the engine from an 83 Mehari was swap the entire engine/transmission as a piece which gave me the front disc brakes of the later car. The drum brakes worked fine but the disc pads are a breeze to replace on the inboard mounted front drum brakes.

Yes, the old "low tech" car has inboard mounted front brakes, allowing for better cooling, less unsprung weight and greater braking surface. How many "modern" and "high tech" cars offer that? Driving any one of these cars is a hoot, always a pleasure.

Others have referred to how you have to approach driving in modern traffic. Once you master that, very few people in a city will get anywhere faster than you will in your far more entertaining 2CV. New high tech cars are, in fact, boring. Good for getting from A to B and that's about it. I know. I have rented plenty of them over the years. I do not fear dying in my 2CV. I fear dying of boredom in some anonymous box.

Rick C.


Hello. First time visitor. Fascinating site, now bookmarked. Minimizing in all respects is truely the key to sustainability. Now about ever growing car weight. Most people attribute it to safety. You see this stand on every car site on the net when this topic is brought up. This is incorrect. Slice open a similarly sized modern car and an older one. The quantity of metal is about the same. There's no massive 2:1 ratio difference (or similar) in the amount used. It's how and where you place it that creates crumple zones and non-folding passenger compartments, with a touch of different metals with different properties all located in specific locations. All that extra weight? A ludicrous amount of 'extras' added to the car, and like fast food, Mcmansions and belt lines, a product of the supersizing trend. Just say no. Keep it light. Keep it cheap. Keep it simple.

r greven


Bought a 400 in 79 in holland 435cc 29 some hp brand new.
never had any engine problems, drove it hard all the time.
in the city there where very few cars faster at trafic lights.
the trick was to accelerate hard in first gear,step on the clutch without dropping engine rpm and pop her into second.
ticked of a lot of mercedes and bmw owners with an attitude.
could not bring the car to canada, had to sell it.
would buy one in a flash if i could.
alberta canada.



As far as I know, the 2cv has a heating system: 2 air ducts come from the cylinders to the dashboard. An actuator lever allows the passengers to move 2 flaps that let the hot air into the ducts or drive it out of the motor compartment through the vents just behind the front wheels.
The motor fan is always spinning, so hot air is available even when the car is not moving.

During the hot days, the 2cv can be driven without its roof.
This close to say that air “conditioning” is actually real with this car!

About the fuel gauge, if early models didn’t have a dashboard instrument, they actually had a fuel gauge as a graduated leather strip attached to the tank cap. It works like a motor oil gauge, by filling it in and letting the gasoline dry out.

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