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Cult 2CV and fun Méhari mark big birthdays

The design brief for the first 2CV in the late 1930s, was refreshingly rural: it had to be able to carry two 50kg sacks and cross a field with a basket of eggs without breaking any.

By contrast, the designer of the 1968 Méhari, which shared 2CV engines and chassis, was told the aim was to have fun.

When the 2CV was being designed in the late 1930s people were starting to realise cars were not just playthings for the rich. Especially in rural areas, they were becoming essential.

Rural vets and farmers were among the first ‘ordinary’ people to own cars, and Michelin, which had just bought Cit­röen, was keen for them to buy.

Early prototypes were hidden from the Germans during the Second World War then dug out and dusted off to go on sale 70 years ago at the Paris auto show, Mondial de l’Auto, in October 1948.

Press reaction was mixed and even in 1948 the 2CV’s rustic round lines were unusual, if not old fashioned. Jokers said a can-opener was offered as an extra.

At the time, newly nationalised Renault had most of the ration for steel, and only four 2CVs a day were produced in 1949.

There was a three to five-year waiting list and only priests, doctors and long- standing customers jumped the list. By the time production stopped in 1990, more than five million had been sold.

People have fond memories of the basic, slow but comfortable 2CV or la Deuche and about 100,000 are still in use – with 1950s examples fetching up to €20,000 and one, a 1961 Sahara, selling for an eye-popping €172,800 in 2016.

Retired garage owner Patrick Roux never got tired of working on them, but his special love is for the Méhari.  

Often seen in Charente in summer in his yellow Méhari, his fourth restoration, he said: “I loved the Méhari from the first time I saw it as an apprentice.

“The occasion was special, my boss took me, the apprentice with just two years’ experience, up to Paris in 1968 to bring back a Méhari ordered by a client.

“It took all day to drive the 500km back. I knew then it was a special car.”

Powered by a two cylinder 29hp engine sipping fuel at 6litres/100km (47mpg), it has a top speed of just under 100kph. The Méhari’s ABS plastic bodywork softens with acetone so it is easy to repair.

In its 1970s heyday in St Tropez, the Méhari was the car to be seen in but, today in Charente, that has changed.

Mr Roux said: “It is light, practical and fun, and the ideal vehicle to take into the vines. Today many buyers of restored Méharis are rich vineyard owners who take visitors and buyers out in them.”

Citroën is preparing for its centenary next year but starts celebrations at the Mondial de l’Auto from October 4-14 at Porte de Versailles. The show runs only every two years so Citroën will take the chance to mark its long history... but fellow PSA brand Peugeot aims to take some of the limelight with an “exceptional and radical” concept car.

This year is also the 120th anniversary of the show and a parade of old vehicles was set to go from Concorde to Invalides and the Champs-Elysées on September 30. While it may have lost some shine in recent times as some sports and luxury brands snubbed it, the Mondial has never ceased to innovate and this year for the first time has a pavilion dedicated to Mobilité, meaning new tech and alternatives to cars being developed.

This will include self-driving vehicles, new taxi services, smartphone apps for everything from insurance to finding parking and free public transport.

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