I’m guessing you recall, vividly, that it’s the 100th anniversary of Citroën, and we’ve been celebrating with a Jason Drives mini-series about the bonkers and legendary Citroën 2CV. After starting off with the original 2CV, we’re back with the 2CV’s off-road brother, the Mehari. And not just any Mehari—this one is the rare Mehari 4x4. Oh and I also try to roll a 2CV.
To really appreciate the 2CV, you have to appreciate how flexible and adaptable its basic chassis and mechanicals are, which is why it was the basis of so many very different cars in its time.
I think the Volkswagen Beetle drivetrain and chassis are probably the true masters of the slap-a-new-body-on-it-and-holy-crap-you-have-a-whole-new-car thing, but the Citroën 2CV platform has to be a close runner-up.
The Mehari is a great example of this, because if you’re not familiar with Citroëns and you saw a 2CV and a Mehari side by side, I don’t know if you’d immediately realize that under the skin, they’re pretty much the same vehicle.
Of course, that skin is important, because the Mehari’s body is what makes it so fascinating. It’s a big plastic tub, really, and that’s about it.
It’s not even fiberglass—it’s ABS plastic, basically the same stuff LEGOs are made out of, and like LEGOs, the color is just baked right into the plastic. This car isn’t painted, so scratches and scrapes don’t even look that bad.
It’s actually 11 plastic bits bolted to a simple tubular frame, and the result is something that’s rugged and weatherproof and you can wash it, inside and out, with a hose. It’s perhaps one of the least fussy cars ever when it comes to how well you have to treat it, which is not well at all.
The Mehari was one of those now-rare “fun cars,” rugged and cheap variations of popular economy cars that could be used off-road, but weren’t as serious as a hardcore Jeep or other off-roader. They were just silly, enjoyable cars to have a good time in with a minimum of care.
The Mehari we got to drive, owned by our pals at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, was one of the four-wheel drive Meharis. They only made about 1,300 of those out of nearly 145,000 Meharis overall. Only built between 1979 and 1983, these were one of the few real 4x4 vehicles at the time to have independent suspension and disc brakes (inboard, even!) all around.
Meharis were just useful, weird, and fun, all adjectives I could use to describe what I like about Citroëns, period.
Oh, this episode is also fun because I try to roll a 2CV by doing donuts, which you just can’t do. It sure as hell feels like it’s going to roll while you’re doing it, and while I hammed up the nausea for the cameras because that’s my job, dammit, the fear that I might, just might, roll a car loaned to me by a museum I very much do not want to have mad at me was very, very real.
Seriously, it felt like that thing was going to tip at any second. But it never did! I’m told if I really wanted to roll one, though, I need to try this in reverse.