A couple of days ago I was out on a social do with my parents and it was getting late when we started out from the event. It was a weekend midnight, and Kolkata also happened to be hosting a major cricket tie. Thus, on the way back, the roads were understandable deserted – a pleasant deviation from the usual din and bustle of traffic in Kolkata.
So as our little black Santro (now that the state’s CM also drives the same car as me, I have no shame in admitting it!) trundled back homewards, I suddenly spotted a small car ahead of me. At first it looked to me to be a Beetle, the signature Volkswagen product, but somehow it seemed different. The difference became apparent when we pulled up alongside it: it was a Citroen CV6. I did not have a camera handy and hence was unable to click a pic. It was a blue car and seemed to be in good shape.
It is one of the cars I liked and have read a bit about, and hence decided to see if I could track down the car in the city: no luck. If you know anyone in Kolkata who drives a Citroen 2CV, convey my warm appreciation to them.
Anyways, back to the story of this car. In today’s age of Tata Nano and Nissan Micra, economy cars which are fuel efficient are all the rage. This car was probably the baap of the concept. the 2CV was specifically made for the rural and agrarian people. Produced between 1948 and 1990, this mass-produced car was one of the few models which remained relevant through such a long period, one in which automobile engineering grew in leaps and bounds. The car was uncompromisingly built, economically designed and was a no-frills affair overall. But I am no engineer, so I will not go into the specific details of the built of the car.
Instead, I will dwell on the numerous stories and legends that surrounds this particular car.
For example, during the Nazi invasion of France, the Citroen bosses were worried that the Fuhrer’s men would realize the power of this simple, economic vehicle as a war element. They buried the entire project involving the whole stable of the small cars, and instead worked in the background, trying to smoothen out the flaws that had cropped up during the designing of the prototype.
The war years were spent literally in designing redesigning the car to attain the highest levels of minimalist efficiency. It is supposed to have been built so that two tall farmers, wearing hats, could sit on the back seat with 100 kg of farm produce, while the car chugged along a healthy 60 km/hour across non-road terrain, all the while maintaining a steady drive without breaking any eggs in a basketful that the farmers carried.
Whew. That was specific!
The car could make an impressive 100 km on 3 liters of gas, thereby adding to its fuel efficiency.
After launching, the car was predicted to fail by the pundits. But, the market proved them wrong. From 4 a day, productions rose to 400 a day, yet a wait period of upto 5 years was reported. Pre-owned 2CVs fetched more price than a new one thanks to the lengthy waiting period.
The design of the Citroen was nothing fancy. It was bare bones essential. It was one of the first cars to popularize the use of a large box rear section, which went on to become all the rage with Morris Minors and Renaults later on.
It also had a hatchback form, which was the one I saw that night. I must say it was embarrassing to mistake it for a Beetle, but hey, I am rookie, I will be getting there slow, eh!
Thanks to its almost masochistic minimalism, the car had unflattering nicknames galore: the flying dustbin (a play on the Flying Dutchman, I believe), the upside down pram, the tin snail, dolly, little freak, etc. etc.
The Citroen 2CV underwent a large number of modifications and customizations, and the range of hybrid cars it produced seems to be mind boggling. However, one of the facts which marks a special place for this car is this is one of the first cars that revolutionized off-road, dirt-driving. While today that is the realm of the bigger beasts, the SUVs and the like, the humble, little old 2CV may well have been their predecessor!
A beautiful car, this also has the rare privilege of being one of the few, hand picked cars in which James Bond made his escapes. Usually the chase sequences are frequented by snazzy Mercs and Aston Martins, but in “For Your Eyes Only”, the spy with the license to kill drove away in a yellow “little freak”!
What? You don’t believe me? Here, take a look:
And dear reader, if you are from my neck of the woods, and you have an inkling who this car belongs to, care to drop me a line, please?