The Model T is the first example, opening driving up to the masses well over a century ago. More recent cars like the VW Beetle, Fiat 500, Austin Mini, Hindustan Ambassador and Trabant 501 offered, at different times and in different regions of the world, the chance for people to get mobile and enjoy the pleasure of motoring. Nowadays we view these vehicles with nostalgic glasses, so it's hard to guess what people thought of them when they were new. I suspect their compact size and simple nature offered real appeal, and their ease of repair and maintenance certainly made them even more desireable.
A few changes to the air-cooled engine, front and rear lights, wipers, and brakes were made over the years, but the basics never changed. The first models had center-hinged 'suicide' doors, making them extremely sought-after, so those models are getting very hard to find. Many variants, including a proper 2-door convertible, the Acadiane 'utilitaire' van, the slightly more modern-bodied Dyane, and the roofless beach buggy Méhari would appear, but it's the 2CV that remains the most legendary and celebrated.
The absolute simplicity of the 2CV makes it an easy restoration project. Even today all of the major parts are easy to find. The doors, hood and trunk can be slid off their hinges and removed in just a few seconds. The front and rear fenders are held on with a couple bolts and hooks. The engine and transmission can be removed in a very short time, and be lifted out by one person. As a matter of fact, it's common practice at fairs and car rallys for teams to race to completely disassemble a 2CV and see who is first to reassemble and start their car!
With alot of elbow grease and some new parts (such as the removeable canvas top), they were able to get this Citroen back into roadworthy shape over the course of a year. All that's left is some interior work to repair the old seat fabrics and recover the door panels, and find a few pieces of exterior trim that aren't readily available.
The 2CV was ready last spring for its inaugural roadtest, and Gérard got to take it for a spin with one of his brothers. Franck even showed me a video of his dad and uncle testing out the brakes! Unfortunately that would be the only time Gérard got to enjoy the fruits of his labour, having lost his battle with an illness shortly after. Still, it was such a pleasure to see this fantastic throwback to a simpler automotive time, and realise how much energy and passion had gone into this restauration. I'll consider myself priviledged to try it out next spring.
This is what an automotive project like this is all about. Working with family and friends and enjoying bringing a car back to life. I'm glad Franck shared this story with me, and I'm happy to share it with you. It also has me convinced that someday I need to pick up a Citroen 2CV of my own...