Will there ever be a more insane car than the, now defunct but deliciously French, Citroën 2CV? As the proud, and yes, fairly insane owner of three in my lifetime I can provide an unequivocal answer to this oft-pondered question.
With a top speed on a good day of about 70 mph (downhill with a tail wind and a light load), it is little more than a sit-in hair dryer – and even that’s debatable with today’s ‘because you’re worth it’ advances in tresses technology.
And yet my second one (Eric Car-tona, thank you) fell victim to drug dealing joy riders, presumably too stoned to realise the ridiculousness of attempting a fast escape from the police in something that didn’t have the option of high, medium or low speed, rather just on / off. They would have been better off in something Vidal Sassoon-propelled.
However, as I was informed by the equally bemused police, the chancers had pootled along from outside my Clapham home all the way to Twickenham, convinced they were outwitting the cops who were happy just following behind at a steady 40 mph. Knowing they would shortly be going down in a hail of frizz control products, for good measure they had great fun ripping out the gear box and lobbing it into the street before crashing Eric into a wall.
My first one (Billy the Bastard) was a real novelty as I had him with me when I lived in France. The only British, right hand drive 2CV ever to have graced the homeland – or so it seemed from the incredulous stares from open-mouthed residents – he instantly became a local hero. It may have been more akin to sympathy due to his utterly embarrassing decrepit condition.
He started falling apart not long after I’d driven him the long and tortuous trip from London to Paris. It was as though he was coming home to die. During the winter months I would have to open the bonnet and cover up his little concave engine with a massive pink blanket, and he would sit there overnight in the cold and wet, shivering like an ancient man in a hospice just waiting for death.
But, I was determined to let him live out his days doing what he loved best – making a total fool of me.
He took enormous pleasure doing that, bless.
His internal organs were starting to prolapse – the barrel for the keys had fallen out so I couldn’t lock the door and, more seriously, the so called ‘accelerator’ pedal was by now only attached by a bit of wire, under which I had to place a piece of wood to keep it wedged in. To prevent the car from being stolen (hey,it was good enough for drug dealers), I would simply dislodge the pedal and take it with me.
Don’t do any of this at home kids.
The sardine tin peel-back canvas roof blew off one summer’s day and fell down a deep ravine, never to be seen again.
And yet, I loved my car. He was well known around Paris and caused no end of amusement to my friends and the locals. But not always to those who fell foul of his mischievous sense of humour.
One particular incident which, having fled the scene (I’m not proud), left a number of cars scarred after an attack that seriously threatened the Anglo French Entente Cordiale.
I was parked on the Champs-Élysées on one of the narrow slip roads that flank this famous boulevard. When I returned to ‘Guillaume le Batard’ there was a queue of cars crawling along the one-way lane in search of the next free space. I indicated to one driver that I was about to go, pretended to unlock my car, tied the accelerator in and spluttered out of the spot.
I noticed that I still had an hour on my parking ticket and thought I’d offer it to the person who’d taken my place.
I pulled on the hand brake, jumped out and skipped gaily back to hand it to her. Mid-way through an exchange of pleasantries the car behind her began hooting frantically. How rude, I thought, he can’t go anywhere as there was nowhere to go.
So, I ignored him and carried on talking to the mademoiselle.
He then began shouting from his open window which again, I ignored.
Finally he jumped out and started using language that I had never learned in school, but I understood well enough to make me turn on my heel towards the car for a speedy escape.
My car, however, was itself making a speedy escape. I stood rooted to the spot as I watched it roll nonchalently down the slight incline with my driver’s door still wide open, merrily banging and scraping against each car it passed parked up on the side. I could almost hear it chanting, ‘Vive la Révolution!’
Soon I was in hot pursuit and once I reached him I jumped deftly in and was away before anyone could call for the guillotine.
My comeuppance was swift and absolute.
Not a week later I was back at the Champs-Élysées and circling the vast roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe. Without warning, my trusty 2CV ground to a halt and refused to go another step. I was slap bang in the inside lane and at the foot of the Arc with its tomb to the unknown, fallen soldier.
It was rush hour and nothing was moving, masking my inability to drive anywhere.
A full six weeks later however, my car still wasn’t moving and had remained in the exact same position, taking pride of place at this sombre, imposing monument. Such was the traffic that no-one had noticed it had been abandoned.
There were fag ends on the floor and empty beer cans, so it had clearly provided occasional refuge to some homeless.
These were simpler times of course and this wouldn’t be the case any more. Nowadays it would be removed instantly and a small, contained explosion would obliterate it along with any potential terrorist threat that it posed.
Perhaps, judging by the dilapidated state it was in, the view was that this had already taken place and the dismembered corpse of a once fine car was just waiting to be taken to its final resting place.
A poignant location to have expelled its last, toxic fumes.
RIP Billy, you bastard.