Despite being assembled by Citroen UK in Slough between 1954 and 1960, the 2CV only became popular in Britain when it was reintroduced in 1975.
This success was partly due to the oil crisis, with the call for more economic transport, but also (and this too was in part an indirect result of the oil crisis) because the turbulence of the 1970s had put paid, for a period at least, to those petty hierarchical differences that have usually been so important in British society.
Personally, I have no great fondness for the early and mid-Seventies. I’m too old to have rosy-eared nostalgia for The Bay City Rollers and too young to have chuckled at Rising Damp. For me the crap far outweighed the good stuff but, on reflection, it wasn’t all bad. Pride, as opposed to self-respect, is a false friend and, after you have had a knock, there’s that liberating moment when pride disappears, and you willingly admit to your weakness. After a while, of course, you retrench and start putting up the barriers but, for a short time you’re OK with saying ‘this is all I am, I don’t pretend to be anything else’. That’s how it was for many people in the UK back then, until the Thatcher Years put us all back on course for wanting more, more, more.
The acceptance of the 2CV in Britain could only have happened back then. Look at Citroen’s advertising at the time. It goes against those rules that suggest that you should never rub your customer’s faces in the fact that they are accepting second, third or even fourth, best. It laughs at itself but, in its self effacing way, it points out that, for most of us, the 2CV was all we really needed, and they certainly weren’t all bought by those mythical, sandal-wearing social workers.
But soon enough, basic wasn’t good enough and a whole run of Special Edition 2CVs started with the unprepossessingly named (to anglophones) SPOT (Spécial Production Orange Ténéré). Of them all, the most popular was the Charleston, with its retro paintwork and chrome headlights, a car I disliked intensely at the time. This is because it completely denied the glorious rationality of the 2CV in order to make it look cute, like a working dog with a bow in its hair, although I admit it was also a very skilled and effective bit of packaging and marketing.
But the 2CV that you wanted if, like me, you were heavily turned off by the Special Editions was, perversely, called just Spécial. Originally available only in yellow, with no third side window and no ashtray, this was the back-to-even-more-basic Deux Cheveaux. There was nothing below the Spécial, and it followed Citroen’s (mis)use of Spécial as the entry-level designation on both the DS and GS. Of course other manufacturers did the same trick of using an apparently upmarket designation for the basic model, but were Citroen making a point that, when you bought any Citroen, special came as standard?