that little french car I used to drive.


I had a Citroen 2CV when I was in my early Twenties, and I remember it very fondly.

On paper, it looks like a genuine POS. It had a 27HP two-cylinder engine and a top speed of 70MPH with a tail wind, and the sheet metal of the body was so thin you could push it in with your hand, but the little thing was fun to drive, and surprisingly utilitarian. The engine was stone axe simple and very easy to work on without having to take it to a shop. The canvas top rolled all the way down to the top of the rear window and turned the 2CV into a quasi-convertible capable of hauling oversized loads. Overall, the 2CV is one of those cars that’s more than just paper specs or the sum of its parts. The two BMWs I owned have been vastly superior in technology and performance, but I enjoyed the 2CV just as much. It was the difference between flying a Piper Cub and a well-appointed Beech Baron 58. The Baron will get you there much faster and in greater luxury, but that doesn’t make the trip in the Cub any less enjoyable.

What’s the car you remember most fondly from your early driving years?

25 thoughts on “that little french car I used to drive.

  1. My first car was an MG Midget. My father towed home MOST of the parts one summer around my 15th birthday as a surprise for me. At the time, as young teenager with high hopes and little gratitude, I was a slightly disappointed with his choice of gifts. I didn’t know anything about fixing cars and I really wanted a Jeep but I soon realized the potential of having my own transportation and reluctantly rolled up my sleeves to get the car working. I learned more trouble shooting and practical repair skills working on that car than I ever did while earning my engineering degree.

    Looking back on my time spent driving that car I realize it was one of the most important defining periods of my life. It wasn’t about the particular choice of car so much as it was about teaching me responsibility, self reliance, confidence in myself, and strong problem solving skills. I drove that car as my only transportation for over 6 years. There were many weeks where I would have to spend all weekend working on it just to keep it running so that I could get to work or school during the week. Most people would have sent it to the junk yard but I kept patching it together.

    Gallons of blood, buckets of sweat, and a small fortune were sunk into that car over the years. It was nothing short of a giant headache. The wounds healed and more money was made but the great memories I have of the good times in that car haven’t faded away. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    20 years later and I still own that MG. I just can’t bring myself to part with it. One day I’ll buy my son a junky old car of his own too.

  2. Wasn’t the 2CV designed to allow the driver to carry a crate of eggs over a ploughed field or a potholed road without breaking an egg? Or is that just an urban legend?

    • Pretty much. The suspension was really soft, and it had lots of ground clearance. It would actually lean away from turns.

  3. My Subaru Legacy wagon circa 95. Reliable, 4wd, able to stash away loads of stuff, ok performance and manual tranny. Also, able to seat a driver in the 99.5% height percentile.

    I especially liked that when I went around a corner too fast the break-away was on the rear wheels and it was very gradual. ( Enough for me to recover.)

  4. 1979 Toyota Tercel 2-door sedan. My younger brother had his way with it first, and drove in up onto a low stone wall on his way home (probably from a bar) one day. A couple of guys helped him push it off, and he drove it home, with the rear tires toed-in so badly due to the bent rear beam axle that all the tread was scrubbed off on the way home. It languished in Mom and Dads’ driveway for a couple of months, until I abruptly needed a car due to simultaneous mechanical disasters on both of mine. For $90, I cut a rear axle out of one in a wrecking yard, bolted it in, and drove that thing until it had over 275,000 miles on it, whereupon I sold it to a guy at work for $500, whose wife drove it for ANOTHER 15,000 miles or so. My little brother bent the shifter linkage, and it took two hands to get it from first to second most of the time. I had forearms like Popeye from driving it. :)

  5. I had a small French car also. It was a 1981 Renault LeCar. Now before you start laughing, my LeCar was actually a pretty sweet little vehicle. It was the two-door model with the huge sunroof.

    I worked in a tool and die shop at the time and my co-workers would give me no end of crap. It only had three lug nuts on the wheels!

    I still miss that car. It was a fun driver and got great gas mileage.

    • I also had a 1981 Renault 5 and loved it. A professor friend bought it on a sabattical in France, had it spec’d up and brought it home and his wife wouldn’t let him keep it. It was a fine, fine car for a college kid who liked fun but also economy. No wonder this car sold in the millions abroad. Americans were just stupid with it.

  6. 1948 Pontiac Business Coupe. Two seater with the area behind the seat equipped with bins, shelves, drawers, and a file cabinet. It had a straight 8 and three on the tree. I got it in exchange for clearing the furniture and about four tons of crap from a five bedroom house which had been bought from an estate by a Sorority. The car was in the garage. I drove it for over three years until one night the engine seizedd about half way across the Lake Washington Floating Bridge. I just signed the title and walked home. I suppose now the thing would be worth a king’s ransom. My next car was a 1960 Rolls Canardly. It could roll downhill, but can hardly make it up another. Actually it was a Rambler American 2 door station wagon, one of the worst cars ever made. It had all the ergonomic wonders of a sardine can on wheels.

    Gerry N.

  7. My first was a Citroen 1220. Gift from a relative after the cambelt slipped. Very nice car, but the big ends don’t split, the crank is pressed together at the factory… so there’s no way to keep the engine running “forever”.

    I’ve also wrenched on a DS or two before getting into Land-Rovers.

    I would *not* mind having a new-in-box 2CV, but if wishes were horses I’d rather have a NIB SM.

  8. A 1982 Toyota Camry Wagon. No, not exotic or especially pretty, but it ran forever, survived a fairly nasty wreck, could haul anything that fit inside and then some (the back seats folded totally flat), and it looked just like a TX State Patrol cruiser! The tan color and low, long line matched that of the TXHP stealth cars, and you should have seen the brake lights flashing when I put on a hat and then pull onto the interstate. He, he, he. No, I never got into real trouble with it (yeah, it would go over 120 MPH. And I scared myself at those speeds). After 120,000+ miles and two winters sitting outside in -40 weather, it suffered cascading systems failures and went to the great Junkyard in the Sky.

  9. I absolutely lust after the 2CV (there’s a blue-and-black two-tone parked along my daily commute…).

    Too bad they’re a deathtrap, by any modern standard.

  10. ’59 Willy’s Jeep. No roof, no doors, no problem. When you opened up the hood, mostly what you saw was the ground below. It was a three speed, and had to be bump-started as often as not, so I always parked on a hill. Had an old Buick motor, took “leaded” gas. I don’t know why, but I sure want it back.

  11. ’66 Buick Wildcat….
    455 engine, lovely tuna-boat handling and ride.
    Bought it for $50, drove the wheels off it and sold it for $150!

  12. 1967 Dodge Coronet 440, a dark green sedan with a black vinyl top, a three-Hoffa trunk, and a 318 2-barrel that had all the work it could do hauling around that big ol’ Mopar B-body, even with headers and glasspacks.

    It was from before they invented safety, and it had a sheet metal dash with the ignition next to the radio, and you could pull the keys out while you were driving down the road and hand them to your startled passenger, if they were unfamiliar with pre-FMVSS vehicles.

    • My mother’s last car was a ’69 Coronet, with the selfsame 318, albeit in a much milder state of tune, and the indestructible TorqueFlite. I think I got to drive it exactly once.

    • I can take the keys out of my 91 wrangler while driving. It’s nice, because if I’m ever in a hurry I can start driving _and then_ unlock the center console to put the stereo into music-making mode.

      I don’t think I’ll try the ‘toss ’em the keys’ thing, though, since there’s a good chance they’d go sailing off into the wild blue interstate at the first opportunity.

  13. My first car was an 1965 Mini Moke great fun car went all over in that Moke for a number of years,a canvas roof an sides, no heater when it snowed it snowed inside as well,a girlfriend had a 2CV i hated that car you had to take the front wheels of to change the plugs and the ride made me sea sick although her Great Dane Dog loved it when you rolled back the roof.

  14. 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit. 4-door, 4-speed manual, itty-bitty 4-cylinder. That car ate CV joints and clutch cables, but the motor/trans were indestructible. Once, I did an oil change, and when I pulled the oil plug, exactly three drops is all I got. The expression on my face would have been worth money had a camera been present. Also, the flat red paint could be touched up easily with red Krylon. Srsly.

    I’ll die of shock if my brother doesn’t chime in here, as it was his before it was mine. Helluva car, and I never should have sold it.


  15. ’62 Opel Olympia Station Wagon. Mom’s car in ’68. Dad had a bigger engine installed than original. (Bought with bad engine.) I put 30K miles on it that year (fresh driver’s license). Three on the tree. Would hit 95mph downhill with a tailwind! 30+mpg, gas was about 30 cents/gal. Two door. I blew out the muffler by backfiring, to get it to sound better. I kept taking off the hubcaps, for better appearance, which pissed off dad. Lug nuts rusted from this.

    Spun down an ice covered hill and tagged two stalled cars, both new. First drive after getting it back from dad’s bodyshop, I slid into a tree head-on, after sliding on wet leaves with full lock. (tree was on the opposite side of the road, which kept us out of the 20ft drop rocky ravine with creek). Shoved the engine back a foot. Next day, dad towed away my ’62 Alfa Romeo Guilietta Spider to pay for it. Had new headlite assemblies on order, which is why I was “roadracing” the Opel.

    I looked for one of those Olympia for many years, only ever saw one other. Neat car.

  16. Honda 600 sedan, constant mesh tranny (‘crunch box’), two cylinders, air cooled, sounded like an enraged sewing machine. It could go almost anywhere whimsy blew it: down a sidewalk (all tires on the concrete), through an indoor mall, up on a friend’s porch (wide ramp for his Harley). Commuting from Capitola to Sunnyvale over 17 it labored a bit near the summit, but didn’t ever block traffic.

    The Honda shop manual had an entertaining error that had me install the oil pump backwards after I had to replace the primary drive shock dampers. The car ran just fine with almost no oil pressure until I took it up the hill again, then it overheated and quit. After putting the oil pump back the right way, it ran just fine — roller and needle bearing lower end, so nothing really burned.

    Noisy, absolutely minimal transportation, and the most enjoyable car I’ve ever owned.

  17. VW Bus, back in the 1970’s, was what I used in learning to drive. The stick shift that started at elbow height and went all the way down to the floor required significant movement to get to the next gear, the power to weight ratio meant there was never even a chance of burning rubber except when stopping too fast, and the feeling of being an Aztec sacrifice right there on the front of the whole machine while sitting in the driver’s seat meant I drove pretty darn carefully for a 16 year old.

    I still recall fondly the terror that regularly welled up in me when I was perched at a stop sign on an upslope, with another car mindlessly right on my bumper, with me trying very hard to declutch/accelerate correctly rather than slamming back into their front bumper.

    Even better was the hand me down AMC Gremlin my older sister left me when she went away to college. I once fixed the clutch on that rustbucket with a bobby pin I found digging around in the back seat. The cotter pin holding the clutch pedal to the rest of the linkage just rusted away, and the bobby pin fit quite well and lasted months and months.

  18. Late to the party, but my favorite early car was a ’71 Duster (225CID slant six w/TorqueFlite), bought from my younger brother for $100. Learned a lot about brake work on that car. Most fun was 5 or so years later (1987), when I got a ’79 Accord LX. Same motor as the Prelude (1.7L), 5-speed manual, easy to work on even with the front-hinged hood, great on gas, lots of fun to drive.