Trusty wee 2CV takes on the truckies
Citroen's little beaut takes rough with the smooth
Most people we ask don’t take their classic car much further than a few hundred kilometres. So how far has Paul Absolum driven his 1985 2CV?
“About 10,000km around South America.” Now there’s a conversation stopped.
The New Zealand-new car arrived at his rural property on a trailer. “It had an engine bay fire, and the man who was selling it bet me I wouldn’t buy it. He reckoned it wasn’t a good idea to buy and restore it, and he was right.’’
Absolum did the donkey-work himself, although he did employ a car painter and panelbeater.
The car had no motor or gearbox so Citroen club members rallied around with parts while a retired chap in his early 80s did the upholstery. “He was head upholsterer on the Queen Mary and did it as a little project,” Absolum says.
With the motor acquired Paul put the mechanicals back together in a corner of Auto France in Wiri, Manukau and by early 2012 the 2CV was finished and shipped to Valparaiso, Chile. “We spent eight weeks with three of us in 2CVs, driving through Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina,” Absolum says. The high spot was going through the Atacama Desert. “It was fairly scary, pretty hairy driving as there were no real roads, just sandy and rocky surfaces and the only other cars were Land Cruisers with great big wheels and good ground clearance.”
The result was cavernous ruts. “We had to straddle them, which was pretty exciting at 5000m in first gear, and going uphill with about four residual kilowatts.”
The car weighs 660kg, and fields a 602cc engine that has little torque.
“They say you lose 10 per cent of your power for every 1000m climbed, and we were at 5000m so had about half our power or less, and it only has about 26W at sea level. It’s amazing how much power you don’t need. We were overtaking trucks doing 8km/h and we were doing 9km/h, and the truckies were leaning out taking cellphone photos.”
The car was never very brisk and a common Citroen joke is “zero to 100 in one day”.
The design was launched just after World War II and was never meant to be powerful, but affordable, rugged and able to take peasant farmers and 50kg of farm goods to market at 50km/h, across fields if necessary, without using more than 3l/100km of petrol — so there’s only a 25-litre tank.
Remarkably the recipe continued production with very few mechanical changes over 42 years of production, the biggest single development being the addition of disc brakes up front in 1981.
Perhaps the 2CV’s simplicity was the key. It has north-south coil spring suspension with swingarms front and rear.
“The secret of the car’s comfort was its leading arms and trailing arms coming off a point fairly central, and ground clearance is good,’’Absolum says. ‘‘It does give remarkable ride.”
This car was bought purely for the trip, but Absolum has had many Citroens before, starting with a 1952 Traction Light 15.
“My brother and I bought it when we were young. It was recommended that we buy a sensible car, a Ford Anglia.
“We looked at each other and said ‘stuff that’ and bought the Light 15.”
But when his own boys grew older they didn’t want to go in it, so it was sold.
Paul and his wife, Melean, have always had at least one Citroen; the family now own eight between them.
By now I’m tucked in the passenger seat of the basic cabin. The engine’s up front, the surprisingly roomy boot out back and, yes, it does seat four, and feels remarkably spacious thanks to that arching roof.
The ride is superbly comfy over rural bumps, but by golly it leans into corners, and it’s been photographed at club gymkhanas on two wheels.
“They handle a lot better than you’d think, within limits, and they keep up with traffic.”
These days it “doesn’t get used a huge lot” although they do take it for Sunday coffee.
“It’s a summertime car, a car for enjoyment.”
And enjoy it they do. The plan had been to return from South America, “and if we didn’t crash it, bring it back and sell it. But in the end Melean said ‘we could never sell this car, it’s wonderful’.”
So wonderful, they’re planning a round-Australia trip.