After more than 40 years in production the very last Citroen 2CV rolled off the production line at the company's plant in Portugal on July 27th, 1990.
Dubbed the "Tin Snail" for its distinctive shape, a grand total of 5,114,959 cars had been produced worldwide, opening up affordable family motoring to generations of French and other Europeans.
French engineer and industrialist Andre Citroen had converted his munitions plant to automobile production after the First World War, becoming the first mass producer of cars outside the USA. By the 1930s there was growing demand for an affordable and economical no-frills car which ordinary working people could afford to buy and run.
Citroen's answer was the 2CV, but early development and testing was put on hold and kept secret following the outbreak of World War Two in 1939. It only resumed after the war, with the revolutionary 2CV finally unveiled at the 1948 Paris Motor Show.
The design brief was said to be for a low-priced, rugged "umbrella on four wheels" that would enable four small farmers in clogs to transport 50kg of farm goods to market at 50 km/h, if necessary across muddy, unpaved roads. The car would use no more than three litres of fuel to travel 100 km.
Since France taxed cars based on their engine output, the 2CV deliberately had a small engine, its name an abbreviation for Deux Chevaux Vapeur (two steam horses). Consequently the car's body, chassis and engine were designed to be lightweight, but strong. Several of its panels, including front and rear wings, were easily detachable for home maintenance and cheap replacement.
Despite its overall simplicity the 2CV had a sophisticated suspension system and front-wheel drive through a four-speed manual gearbox. Flying in the face of widespread criticism in the motoring press for its quirky looks and utilitarian design, the car was an instant hit. Above all it was affordable to a huge segment of the public for whom car ownership had previously been the stuff of dreams.
Production could not keep pace with demand and at one point there was a waiting list of five years for a new 2CV. It also proved rugged, reliable and easy to mend if it did go wrong, fulfilling every aspect of its design brief. Over the coming years several variants were produced, including the first 2CV van in 1951 and a luxury version in 1956. Later models were also capable of reaching higher speeds yet remaining economical.
The popularity of this quintessentially French little car quickly spread and it was soon found across Europe, including the UK, and in Africa where it coped better than some four-wheel drives on rough unmade roads. A 2CV even featured in the 1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only", the legendary spy driving one at uncharacteristically high speed in an entertaining car chase.
By the late 1980s, the 2CV was struggling to meet new standards for crash testing and pollution levels. By then there were also other affordable cars which offered a little more luxury and comfort combined with contemporary design. As sales fell production was moved from France to Portugal in 1988 and finally came to an end two years later.
Yet the appeal of the 2CV endures, with fan clubs around the globe and prices now rising for early unrestored examples and later fully restored models. Always intended as an introduction to low-cost motoring, it is now opening up the world of classic cars to enthusiasts on a tight budget.