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Peter Cheney looks back at France's car of the people

The Citroen 2CV is revealed to the public for the first time at the 1948 Paris Car show. The 2CV was designed to carry two peasant farmers and 100 kilos of farm goods to market at 60 kilometers per hour along roads ripped apart by artillery shells and steel tank tracks.

OFF/AFP / Getty Images

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The Citroen 2CV's light weight allowed it to operate with some of the smallest engines ever fitted into a passenger car. The original 1948 model had only 9 horsepower, and the top speed was 64 km/h. Although engine power was gradually increased, it was only in 1981 that the 2CV finally became capable of hitting 115 km/hr - a speed that is considered the bare minimum for operating on North American highways.


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This 1938 Citroen 2CV prototype was a star attraction at the 1973 Frankfurt Auto show. Like the Ford Model T and the VW Beetle, the 2CV was a true people's car, designed for low cost and simple repair. Some afficionados claimed that the only tool kit required for a 2CV was a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a length of wire.

The Associated Press

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A 1950 Citroen 2CV on display at a Retromobile show in Paris, France in 2008. Note the flip-up side windows, which designers chose because they were lighter and cheaper than roll-up versions.

Francois Durand

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Although its appeal is generally lost on North American drivers accustomed to more substantial vehicles, the Citroen 2CV is considered one of the most iconic cars ever built. Author LJK Setright described it as "the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car."

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The 2CV's minimalist style and clever engineering have made it an enduring cult car. This photo shows members of the Greater New York Citroen Velosolex Club at a Bastille Day rally that became an annual New York City event.


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The Citroen 2CV made ingenious use of materials. Many large body panels were curved to optimize stiffness and reduce aerodynamic drag, but the windows used flat glass sheets to lower costs and simplify repairs.

John Rattle/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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The Citroen 2CV featured a folding canvas sunroof. The sunroof was lighter than a full convertible top, and helped preserve the structural integrity of the ultra lightweight body.

Oleg Mitiukhin

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The Citroen 2CV's egg-like shape combined effective space utilization with good aerodynamics, and helped the car achieve its spectacular fuel efficiency (as low as 3 liters per 100 kms, or 78 mpg.)

Nadezda Sitnikova

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The Fourgonette was a delivery-van variant of the 2CV. Citroen built 1,246,306 Fourgonnettes, including this 1976 model owned by Doug Pengelly, who uses it as a delivery vehicle for his Toronto-based micro brewery.

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

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