It didn’t have to be this one. Could be any 2Cv, really. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a 2CV at all, but the Tin Snail perfectly embodies the spirit of what it is I’m getting at. Earlier this year, I attended the annual SMMT driving day shindig at Millbrook Proving Ground, where all the newest, most sophisticated offerings of all the big automotive players in the UK were gathered. Much fun was had by all, squirting MX5s and Golf Rs and Maserati Ghiblis around the sinous ‘hill route’ circuit, but the biggest grins of the day were worn by those who took a trip in this little French rascal.
The 2CV. The very embodiment of all that evolution has done to make cars less individual.
There’s no other car quite like the 2CV. Renault’s de facto rival to it, the 4, appealed to a similar audience having been directly inspired by the deux chevaux, and there was a host of other economy cars over the years that were similarly minimalist in ethos. But each of them were very singular in form, identity, performance, comfort and character.
Elsewhere at Millbrook, Citroen and DS Automobiles had much of their respective ranges on hand for journalistic types to sample, but there’s no stripped-down, less-is-more car in the range. Even the baby Citroen C1 is free of rattles, cruises smoothly and quietly and has a generous roster of comfort and convenience facilities on board, because that’s what has become expected.
“Progress” means every car lineup has become homogenised. Every Ford, from Fiesta to Mustang, offers pretty much the same recipe but delivered in different portion sizes, and garnished with different flavours. The definition of just what needs to go into a car is now totally different to how it was, for instance, in the 1989 UK Ford range brochure I covered in The Carchive recently. At the bottom end of the range, there was the Fiesta Popular, with its absent clock, heated rear screen, tachometer and door pockets, and whose narrow 145/70HR13 tyres would only afford moderate grip on the road — yet reward you with a wonderfully analogue driving experience. It’s just that we didn’t realise it at the time.
In ’89, an entry level Fiesta was a car that we drove because we couldn’t achieve anything better. We had no inkling that the drive it served up would come impossible to replicate in thirty years time. Its distant successor would be a Fiesta in hierarchical standing only. It’s still the entry-level model, but in terms of feel, sound, sensation and content it’s really not all that far removed from a Mondeo, now the biggest car (that isn’t an SUV or an MPV) that you can buy from a European Ford dealer.
The 2CV was the subject of derision from some quarters towards the end of its career, at which point it was so far removed from contemporary ideas of “what a car should be” that it almost deserved a category of its own. But it existed! Today, the most basic car you can buy in the UK is the Dacia Sandero Access, which is based on recycled old-model Renault Clio hardware and as deliberately basic as a car can legitimately be. But, while I praise it for its raw simplicity, it still complies very much to the safe, economical and sensible ideals that apply to every other car you can buy today. It’s great, but highly unlikely to gain an enthusiastic following among misty-eyed old romantics in thirty years time. Truthfully, the question “but what car will?” is probably worth asking.
The 2CV stands as a glowing beacon to remind us exactly why we love cars. Not everybody is a 2CV fan, many folk detest their every fibre. It polarises opinions like few other ‘classics’ do, and that can only be a good thing. A car needs to have something, a core value, a defining characteristic in order to lodge in your brain and command affection. Like a song with a killer hook, that you first heard thirty years ago and is every bit as memorable today.
And this particular 2CV, owned and proudly shared by a die-hard enthusiast by the name of Graham, is a shining example of how such a car can get under an owner’s skin and trigger a state of inescapable obsession.
That’s why it’s my nomination for Hooniverse Car Of The Year 2018.
[Images copyright Chris Haining/Hooniverse 2018]