Loved and loathed in equal measure, but prices for the venerable Citroen 2CV 'tin snail' are nevertheless in the ascendancy.
At nearly 3.9 million cars sold, the 2CV may not be quite the mega-seller it’s often made out to be, but it’s still pretty ubiquitous. Ubiquity doesn’t always translate into lowly prices, though – values solidified shortly after its demise in 1990 and prices of good ones have been increasing steadily ever since.
You certainly don’t buy one for an electrifying driving experience, but as a practical, good value and well-known starter classic, it has few peers.
Here’s how to buy the best.
Power (bhp@rpm) 29bhp@5750rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 30.5lb ft@3500rpm
Top speed 71mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
This was a cheap car built from average steel with negligible factory rust-proofing and no real intention of it lasting much more than a few years, so it’s hardly surprising that these cars can – and do – rust with the best of them.
Thankfully, parts back-up is exceptional for all models bar the earliest corrugated panel examples, and major items such as the doors, bootlid, bonnet and wings are easily replaced.
More serious rust develops in the floor, front and rear bulkheads, around the windscreen and at the base of the A-, B- and C-pillars. The seam above the rear wings is a further common rot-spot.
Don’t dismiss uneven panel gaps as a minor problem, either, since this can be indicative of a terminally corroded frame beneath a superficially tidy body. Wherever possible, it’s always a good idea to get a good look at a prospective purchase’s underside – ideally on a service ramp.
Unless you’ve set your heart on a very early car (or enjoy driving everywhere at walking pace), it’s usually best to stick to the later (1968-on) 602cc models, which develop a dizzying 33bhp (29bhp after 1979).
Whichever engine you opt for, however, you’ll be looking at knife-and-fork mechanics, so trouble-shooting should be straightforward. Keep a weather eye out for the usual issues when starting from cold – reluctance to start, lumpy idling, blue or black exhaust smoke – and be sure to take it out on a test-drive. A persistent misfire can usually be traced back to an electrical problem – check plugs, leads, dynamo, contact breaker points, coil wire, etc. – but could also indicate low compression, and therefore an engine in need of imminent work.
These engines are notorious for oil leaks, not least around the front and rear of the block, often as a result of perished crankshaft seals. Being air-cooled, too, the cooling system needs to be up to scratch, so cars fitted with an electric fan are desirable.
All 2CVs are almost absurdly softly sprung, so consider this a characteristic rather than a fault. Excessive wandering can sometimes be down to badly corroded suspension mounting points or badly balanced wheels – either will drastically increase tyre wear, too – an obvious clue.
The brakes are unstressed, but will judder and cause the car to pull to one side if in need of replacement. Tread carefully if the rear brakes require attention, as this is a job is straightforward only if you have access to specialist tools.
Cars fitted with disc brakes – usually post-’82 – must only ever use LHM (liquide hydraulique minerale). Filling a disc-brake car with the more common DOT brake fluid accelerates O-ring/seal deterioration, and can finish the calipers and brake master cylinder off completely. Similarly, earlier models should only ever be filled with DOT fluid.
Be suspicious if the clutch adjustment screw on the bellhousing is nearing the end of its reach – it’s probably ripe for replacement. The gearbox itself is relatively simple, but look out for crunching on second and third gear, indicating worn synchromesh.
You’ll be lucky to find a car sporting a chassis hasn’t been either repaired or replaced. A new complete chassis can be had for around £700.
Upholstery refurb kits are available for less than £200, with new hoods going for around £250. The hood requires close examination as older examples can allow water ingress, with an inevitable adverse effect on the seats and carpets. Check also for perished door and window rubbers.
Instrumentation is basic on all models and can be refurbished by independent specialists at minimal cost. Other switchgear is still obtainable from specialist breakers, but parts for very early cars are virtually non-existent now.
Few cars this side of a VW Beetle have as much character as a 2CV, and if you’re looking to buy into a relaxed lifestyle, rather than invest in something to use on trans-continental tours, then the tin snail is hard to beat. Mechnically straightforward and blessed with terrific parts back-up, the charming 2CV – and the later 602cc cars in particular – are fun to drive and surprisingly practical. You can run one on a relatively shoestring budget, too.