Turning a century old is a big deal for many of us. While I’m personally planning to celebrate my 100th birthday by almost dying in a kickboxing tournament and then, again, later, at a deli, I know I can’t choose how to celebrate a centenary for everyone. For a car company, though, I sort of can, which is why I decided we needed to have a small Jason Drives series about the 100th anniversary of Citroën, one of the most consistently weird carmakers ever.
I’m a fan of Citroën for many reasons, even though it hasn’t sold cars in America for decades now. The French car company has a long history of doing things its own way, and coming up with some genuinely innovative, idiosyncratic and high-tech cars that usually managed to find some brilliant and unusual solutions to the problems of automotive design.
For this series, I’m just going to focus on what’s arguably the most iconic Citroën, the famous 2CV, the Deux Chevaux, the Duck, the Tin Snail, all of that. The 2CV was one of those people’s cars, designed to cheaply and efficiently motorize as many people as possible, with a special emphasis on getting rural French farmers off horses and into cars.
In that sense, the 2CV may be the last car designed to specifically compete with a horse and wagon, and that’s part of why it had such odd requirements: it famously had to be able to drive over a plowed field with a basket of eggs on the seat without breaking a single egg—that’s the origin of its strange, soft, and remarkably effective suspension system.
The 2CV was developed in the late 1930s, but a little distraction called World War II prevented any from being built until after the war. When it was released, it proved to be a masterpiece of minimalist design: everything that could be pared away was, and what was left was one of the most lean, practical, and strangely elegant automobile designs ever.
Most motor critics thought it was absurd, but real car-buying people loved it, as it was a functional car that was cheap as hell (about less than half of what a typical American car cost at the time) and the car had a waiting list for years after its introduction.
Our pals at the Lane Motor Museum let me drive around a first-generation 2CV for this video, along with a bunch of 2CV variations for upcoming videos. This thing was so basic and crude and just so unashamedly mechanical that I fell in love, hard. Plus, I got to take my son Otto with me, since it was summer vacation and I’ll be damned if he’s going to watch YouTube and play Roblox all day long.
Sure, the Tennessee heat was intense and shooting videos is taxing on a kid, and, yeah, maybe driving a kid in a car with no body is frowned upon by modern parenting standards, but this is how you build character, people. Or long-term resentment. Maybe both.
So, please, pals, join me in exploring this wonderful and weird-ass little car, and all of the even weirder-ass variations we got to drive. Otto and I had a blast making these, and, more importantly, the processes re-awakened my love and respect for a truly important treasure of human culture: the spit-take.
Happy birthday, Citroën. This is all I got you, so if you don’t like it, merde dure.