The Citroën 2CV is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
The car - which is as recognisably French as the baguette or the Eiffel Tower - was manufactured between 1948 and 1991. Nearly four million were built.
It is still affectionately known as the deudeuche and the cocorico (the French way of saying cockle-doodle-doo, which is how the car sounds when started up).
The concept is much older. Citroën designer Pierre-Jules Boulanger was given the original brief for the car's manufacture in 1930, eighteen years before production began.
His mission was to produce the simplest car possible to build and drive.
The car had to be cheap and able to allow two farmers to drive 100kg of produce to market at 60kmh, in clogs, across muddy fields. The car would use no more than 3 litres of petrol to travel 100km.
This was a true people's car - and unlike the Volkswagen (literally meaning people's car) the 2CV was designed with the rigours of the country in mind, rather than the smooth efficiency of German autobahns. Citroën had very nearly completed the car and was about to begin manufacture when the Second World War broke out, forcing designers underground.
Some of the prototypes were even destroyed to stop them getting into the wrong hands and being used for military purposes. By 1948, Citroën and its then-owner Michelin were finally ready to go.
The 2CV was launched without fanfare, with no press advertising, and was heavily criticised by journalists. The cars, however, sold well. Within three months there was a three-year waiting list. Second hand models were selling for more than new ones because the buyer did not have to wait.
Production did not catch up with demand until the 1960s, the 2CV's heyday.
By 1988 manufacture had been moved to Portugal, and the last 2CV rolled off the production line in 1991.
Sales continue, however, with a lucrative and busy market in second hand cars, that sell for as little at e100 for scrap cars needed for parts, to e8,000 for
models in really good condition.
Jean-Paul Petit (pictured) has always driven 2CVs. The president of the Amis des 2CVs in France owns five of the cars, including one 1954 model that is as old as he is.
The mechanics teacher often takes his cars to the local lycée, named after the 2CV's inventor Pierre-Jules Boulanger to demonstrate to his pupils that simplicity in design is one of the great recipes for success. The lycée is based in Lempdes, the spiritual home of the 2CV.
He said: “All my pupils know how much I love the 2CV. They ask me how such a simple car can last for such a long time.
“Of course the answer is in its very simplicity. In this regard, the 2CV is as near to mechanical perfection as you can get.
“The 2CV is the perfect people's car. It was designed for everyone and anyone.
“It is just as good for the local doctor, the village priest - and the farmer. The fact that it was designed to drive baskets of eggs over ploughed fields without breaking them was a stroke of genius.
“Not only were they making the point that they were simple, comfortable, had good suspension and were cheap, but they were also designed to take over from the horse as a means of transport once and for all.”
The simplicity of design, fuel economy and high clearance make it an ideal off-road vehicle. Mr Petit believes it is tragic that production of the 2CV stopped in 1991.
He said: “I joined a protest in Paris in 1991 when it was announced that production was going to stop. It is so sad that they stopped making them. Not only could it have been viable but it also means we have lost one of the great icons of France.”
Did you known?
- A Citroën 2CV features at the beginning of the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, staring Roger Moore, in a car chase through a terraced olive grove.
- In the mid 1970s, the French government gave away free 2CVs to families who delivered their fifth child in a bid to encourage population growth.
- There is a guided tourist tour through Paris by Citroën 2CV. During the three hour ride, called the Private Secret Paris Tour, the driver updates clients on history and sites. See www.viator.com and search “Private Secret Paris Tour”.