The Citroën Dyane is Fifty This Year

Was it the 2CV’s slightly duller brother, or the car the 2CV should have become?

Image : favcars.com

In all practical respects the Citroën Dyane was an improvement on the 2CV. The sliding front windows were more convenient, the two position fabric sunroof easier to use, the hatchback more versatile, the bodywork a little more slippery. Yet, despite comprising nearly 17% of total 2CV derivative Citroen production in its 15 years, against the 2CV saloon’s 45% over 42 years, it is a bywater in Citroën history because, of course, it isn’t a Deuche and, in terms of original intent, it isn’t even strictly a Citroën, since it was intended to be a Panhard.

Based on the 2CV platform, it was developed as a counter to the Renault 4, which was perceived as being a bit more ‘civilised’ than the 2CV. The Panhard connection is because, having been forced to sell itself to Citroën, for a while the new owners were playing at being nice to that noble marque, before unceremoniously dumping it the year the Dyane was actually unveiled with chevrons on the grille.

The Dyane was available in 425cc (later 435cc) and 602cc form, though with only 32 bhp available in the largest version, the smaller engined versions were maybe just too slow. Available in the UK from 1968, we got the fully specced Confort version with one piece moulded plastic door mouldings rather than hardboard and a spare safely located under the bonnet rather than bouncing around in the boot. Earlier versions had a comfortable bench front seat in a breathable plastic. Both front and rear seats came out easily for picnics. Spanish versions had wind-down front windows and sliding rear windows, whereas back passengers in more Northern lands had to rely on the sunroof for ventilation. There was also a van version, the punningly named Acadiane.

My family bought a Primrose Yellow Dyane 6 new in 1972, replacing the rust borne Fiat 124 I’ve written of elsewhere, and it was dragged off to scrap car heaven about 10 years later after around 80,000 miles. During that time I had been a significant driver and, for the latter part of its life, the only driver, so I guess I must take full responsibility for, effectively, running it into the ground. In mitigation, cars seem to last longer these days, though compared with the Fiat the Citroën had a long life. In the end, rust was the killer for our Dyane too although of course today I could, and would, rescue it with new floor panels or, even, a galvanised chassis.

I was the prime mover in suggesting the Dyane purchase and I loved it from the moment we got it. After a couple of years I took up the rubber mats and found a Paris Metro ticket left by one of the guys who built it. It gave me a bit of that signed Aston Martin engine block sort of feeling. It’s now over 35 years since I drove a Citroën twin, but I remember every sensation, from the weight of the steering, the sliding of the gear lever, the lurching forward to the bracing against the door on left hand bend. When I drive my SM, it’s clear that it’s the Dyane’s stuck-up relative, far more airs and graces but, at heart, oddly similar. Only my living in London has stopped me from buying one again.

Not that I suppose a sentient Dyane would have felt the same about me. It was abused, I admit. I took it off road too many times, once memorably taking it down a military tank testing track into a dip from which it was remarkably hard to get out. It did, however, get out, something that its predecessor would certainly not have achieved. I drove around Europe on holiday various times, on three occasions four-up with our belongings and full camping equipment in boot and on roof rack, and the 602cc twin buzzing along at full revs all day, if needed, never missing a beat. Until one year crossing the Pyrenees, when a helicoil in the left hand sparking plug failed causing a persistent misfire, rather critical with only two cylinders. Afraid that debris might get into the cylinder I dismantled the side wing (15 minutes work) then removed and replaced the cylinder head (no gasket required) and had it all back up running smoothly enough in time for an afternoon swim. This is a tribute to the car’s partial friendliness to the amateur mechanic, not my abilities. I say partial because other items, like the inboard drum brakes (discs were fitted on later variants) could be more of a pain.

Image : 2cvcity.co.uk

Even the oddities and faults were endearing. With no distributor (spark was delivered simultaneously to both cylinders, even though one was wasted at the top of the exhaust stroke) and a starting handle I never got stranded. The engine idled in first at a funereal walking pace, meaning that you could get out and walk beside the car, if you thought that was a clever thing to do (naturally I did and ended up running over my hand). Fuel consumption could be good – 50 mpg was quoted but, naturally, I never saw that. For me it was somewhere in the 30s, not bad for then anyway, even if it sounds a lot now. The horizontal interconnected suspension tubes needed occasional lubrication, to avoid a rather loud scrooping noise that resembled, in my imagination at least, the sound of two elephants humping. The heater was fed by a cowl around the fins of the air-cooled cylinders with flexible tubes letting the warm(ish) air and, in the case of leaks, any other noxious fumes trickle into the cabin. Wikipedia claims it gave ‘excellent heating and demisting’. Well all I can say is ‘Citation Needed’. Yes, it was more effective than my motorcycle, but on one cold journey my partner got into a sleeping bag, unfortunately not a driver option. You could however keep food warm by putting it into the tubes.

Image : carthrottle.com

I drove it very quickly since, once you’d picked up speed you seldom needed to slow. There was then, and still persists, the idea that the large roll angles of Citroëns denoted low roadholding ability, and I felt it my evangelical duty to disabuse people of that. So there was plenty of juvenile hassling of so-called ‘sport saloons’ on corners and, particularly, roundabouts. Also, it was surprisingly fleet in a straight line, capable of an indicated 80 mph plus on the flat, a fact that the police could testify to (‘just keep a close eye on that speedo in future son’). Even traffic light duels had their moments since launch control mode (run the engine up to around 3,000 rpm, drop the clutch and let the scrabbling Michelins take up the slack, hold it in first until the revs peaked then slide it quickly and smoothly into second for that nitro moment) meant it would leap away from most things up to 20, even 30 mph.

For a year or so I ran a later Dyane. It was more or less the same car, yet orange rather than yellow. It had lost its press button starter, had separate orange nylon covered front seats and a folding rear but, for no discernable reason, it wasn’t as good. The engine just wasn’t as free and willing. In the end I disinterred its predecessor.

Later Dyane interior. Plenty of room, comfortable, orange nylon upholstery and vacuum formed side impact rails. What’s not to like? – Image : autoevolution.com

Do people feel nostalgia for the Seventies? Probably only if you didn’t experience them. Yes, there was Bowie and Punk and The Godfather and … um, something else but, generally, there was the feeling that we were all going nowhere in an inward-looking, resentful country. For part of that period I was going though tertiary education, convinced that I was training for a job that didn’t exist. Sounds familiar? It might well, especially if you are reading this in a few years time. But the Dyane was a cheering, minimalist light offering so much for not much. Today’s motorist would look at it and recognise it as a death trap, something that feels as though it could disintegrate in the breeze. Yet, if you judge a car by its versatility, its practicality, its ability to entertain, its eagerness to give you the most for the least, then in many ways I’ve never had a better car. It’s a pity it didn’t have a better driver.

And they did them in green.

50 thoughts on “The Citroën Dyane is Fifty This Year”

  1. I just read this, grinning from ear to ear, remembering my own Dyane and our escapades. Unfortunately it ended it’s days in the rear end of a caravan that had no braking lights. But man did we have fun until then.
    And that is probably the most fun car I ever had.

  2. It pains me to say that I keep forgetting the Dyane was supposed to be a different car. I tend to seem it as being just another type of 2CV. Like and Ant and Dec and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, they are hard to distinguish. But yes, the Dyane is the more refined 2CV. Personally, I wouldn´t mind which I had were to be offered a drive.
    What is news to me is that this was to be offered as a Panhard. Goodness me, but this is no Panhard. Badge engineering cynicism has always been with us. Well, it was averted.
    I see a Dyane can be had for €1000, tatty but runnning.

    1. The clue was in the name – Dyane as in Dyna and Dynamic. But it’s hard to know quite how serious Citroen were. There are early sketches with both Citroen and Panhard badges. Maybe it was just a sop to Panhard to give them a bit of false hope.

    2. Likewise, I never really thought of the Dyane as anything other than a slightly tarted up version of the 2CV.
      There were still a fair few around in the late 80’s/early 90’s and a few of my friends were lucky to be given the use of one as their first car, but I only got to experience it as a passenger.

  3. Actually, it makes more a bit more sense as a Panhard. Naturally Citroen lived outside the realm of normal commercial prudence, but as a Citroen it should really have replaced the 2CV not supplemented it.

    I also draw your attention to one of the UK ads. “What will you spend the money you save on? A holiday in Afghanistan”. Not quite the Humvee for the 70s, but also the implication that this is a car for people who can afford to save money, not people who are buying the best they can possibly afford.

  4. It is unusual in that it is a rebodied 2CV that sold alongside it for a long time. This didn´t happen so much, did it? More often one gets a successor that fails to replace a car: the 240 and 740, for example or the the Land Rover and Range Rover. Or the Mini and the Metro. Or the 911 and 928.

    1. I believe the 2CV had already gained too much of a cult following at the time the Dyane came in. So, despite somewhat more agreeable comfort, it couldn’t entirely catch what was the 2CV’s customer base. If you look at your examples, it’s probably a very similar case for all.
      The 2CV / Dyane twins probably had the advantage to be based on the same underpinnings, so a parallel production probably wasn’t so expensive to entertain.

    2. Simon: you´re right there. I expect they dropped different tops on the same running gear, more or less. VAG make a good living on using that approach.

  5. I still very much enjoy my Dyane. It’s a 1980 model, so with proper stoppers up front, that spent its early years with me in Italy, so had a full collection of dents and bent bumpers courtesy of the locals. It was always cheap to run, reliable and importantly, easy to park (it’s shorter than it looks).

    It was then shipped to the other side of the world. After a decade of service on the other side of the road in NZ, and before the dreaded tin worm had a chance to establish itself I did a full body-off restore. It’s been up and over mountain tracks, been run off the end of the speedo with a good tail wind, and struggled flat out doing 70 km/h going into the wind (probably giving a true airspeed of closer to 200km/h…..).

    It’s been very reliable, even after having left it garaged several years whilst we were gallivanting round Europe. It’s still enormous fun to drive, economical, comfortable, and all at speeds that allow you to have fun whilst retaining the driving license.

    https://goo.gl/photos/Pc4M6ZfKyb7aYgw38

    1. That is a very fine example. Is that the original paint colour? These cars have very long bonnets when you consider the tiny size of the engine.

    2. Oh dear Paul, one of those effete ones with shiny bumpers, push button boot release and, god help me, front disc brakes.

      Actually the inboard front drums were OK if they were set up well, but once the shoes went off centre it was a chore to reach them, so of course you put the job off. Then, of course, they snatched in traffic on a wet day in South London and you ended up in the back of someone else. Fortunately your bonnet took all the damage and the car in front was undamaged. Or was it just me?

    3. Richard. The bonnet length is a bit misleading since the footwell intrudes a long way under it whilst the screen is very close to the driver. The Wikipedia comment regarding excellent demisting was correct in that it is no stretch at all to wipe mist away with your hand. Also, the spare tyre lives under the bonnet.

    4. Chris: if there´s one thing going for DTW, it´s a refusal to use (or an attempt to refuse to use) this kind of journalese. I really must compile a list. Top of the list is “with your knees for earrings” favoured by Anthony ffrench-Constant and others. It usually means a slightly lower h-point with respect to your knees than normal. The “Italian ape driving position” is related. And “rolled like a dinghy in a squall” is another for anything less than rock hard suspension. Interiors can be designed with a “set-square” or like “Fisher-Price”. Another one is “square rigged” (when nobody knows really what it is to rig something. And finally, “like a breadvan” (when breadvans have not been seen since the 1970s.

    5. Richard – the colour’s original.

      The heating & ventilation is actually quite good if the heater tubes are maintained and winter grill muff fitted when outside temperatures dictate. Certainly better than many other cars of a similar age. All controls are within easy and tactile reach, unlike many modern things with horrid touch-screens.

      The “Italian Ape” driving position so frequently referenced by British motoring writers was, I was told whilst living in Italy, because the English adopted the incorrect “ten to two” hands on the wheel driving position. If you drive the Italian way, with hands closer to “twenty to four”, the driving position works out.

    6. I might have been a bit unfair regarding the heating. It was effective, but in a curate’s egg sort of way. The big fan at the front sucked in air which went over the cylinder heads then into metal boxes. These had flaps so that they could either vent through the front wheelarches or could be directed into the cabin. There was no separate heater / demister fan. So, if you could chanced on optimum road speed and engine speed, a decent flow of warm air might enter. But around town or in slowish traffic outside, the flow of warm air could be paltry, then it could suddenly billow in. It was more of an inconvenience for demisting, though even then clearing the whole findow could be done with a single wipe of the hand and little stretching. It’s notable that things that would irritate in most cars, were totally acceptable.

    1. Me too. Having made some efforts to test drive older cars, it is a nice way to meet enthusiasts and to learn a lot more than old articles can ever tell you.

    2. Referencing certain cars is an overused journalistic shorthand. “The car rolled around like a 2CV.” “As lively through the corners as a 205 GTI.” “Smoother than a Silver Ghost.” “As handy as a Landy in the mud.” And on and on, ad nauseam.

      My own motoring history is something of a shortcoming in this regard. I have driven nice cars; I have driven shite cars; but the pool of my experience is neither deep nor wide as I would like. Perhaps I should draw up a list of reference cars, a Rust Bucket List if you like, then try to befriend enough people into letting me have a go.

    3. I know what you mean Chris. In my pretty long motoring life, I was disappointed to discover a few years ago that I had driven less that 100 significantly different vehicles, including bikes and vans (and that is judging that a Panda 4×4 is a different car from a 2WD Panda). I’ve now managed to reach 3 figures but there are people who are well-acquainted and/or shameless in getting test drives in cars that they have no intention of buying, and who have huge experience of different cars.

      The better motoring writers are able to give you an idea of how cars feel and, in a way, that’s why both my first drives in Citroens Dyane and SM were somehow familiar to me, though unlike anything else I’d driven. I would also like to have driven more cars from different eras. My memory of driving anything without power steering is fading – what does it feel like to conduct a vintage Bentley?

  6. I, too am smiling reading this article Sean. It makes me think of my learning to drive days in my Mum’s Renault 4. I might have had a couple more cylinders and 25 more horses but the descriptions of gear changing and cornering are equally apt for the quatrelle!

    1. I’d never even test driven a Citroen twin until I picked up ours from the garage. I remember that first drive vividly, the sheer difference between it and the Fiat 124 I’d just left with them in part exchange. I liked the Fiat a lot, but there was just something very special about the way the Citroen made progress. I knew within a few minutes that we’d chosen well.

      Like Blur and Oasis, or whoever you young people listen to these days, there was a feeling that you were either a Quatrelle Person or a Deuche Person. But then I borrowed someone’s Renault 4 once and realised it was just as fine a car, just different – although the standard fitting of a canvas roof would always decide me in favour of a Citroen.

  7. If Citroen had pegged the Dyane’s power output closer to that of the R4, do we think it might have given it a better chance to carve a niche out for itself? Mind you, that would conceivably have put it into Ami territory…

    1. When you look at figures, the Dyane did pretty well. It produced 1,443,493 against 3,867,932 2CVs. For a while it outsold the 2CV (I’ve corrected an error in my piece comparing numbers incidentally). It actually did quite well in the UK too, until the 2CV was re-introduced. Only the 1973 Ami Super had a larger engine. The ordinary Ami 8 had the same output as the Dyane and was 125 kg heavier, though a bit more streamlined.

      The Citroen is the more clever car but, if I’m being objective, as a tool to do what they were both intended to do, the Renault is the better car. The Citroen Twins are a bit more manic, but they will more-or-less keep up with the Renault but, when pushed, the 4 is a more relaxed drive.

  8. I love that advert for the entire Citroën range. It’s peak Citroën, isn’t it? Although I must admit that I never “got” the Ami.

    1. Ah, the Ami is a hard one to take. I quite like the second version as it tidied up the wierdness of the initial edition. And having sat in one done the door-slam test, I can reveal it´s really robust. The Ami is the car equivalent of sporting a really challenging haircut and determinedly ugly glasses. That said, it is quite a cool car. It took until the Multipla for its wierdness to be challenged. The Pontiac Aztek doesn´t count because it´s plain bad while the the Ami and Multipla are good vehicles and make internal sense.

    2. Despite the image accompanying my name I’ve never even sat in an Ami (just as Richard doesn’t drive a roast chicken). Ever attached to the controversially styled, I do like the reverse window Ami 6, but I suspect it wouldn’t offer me anything the Dyane can’t do as well or better.

    3. The Ami is not that hard to get. It’s what they could do with limited means to at least try to close the gap between the 2CV and the DS. Not being able to afford a new chassis, they put plush seats and a proper body on the same running gear. At least in the beginning I think the Ami was also the only one to get the 600 ccm “big block”; the 2CV was still strictly 400 ccm these days.

      Having driven an Ami 8 for several occasions (my brother owns one) I can confirm that it makes for a very comfortable and relaxed drive, and it really takes away some of the 2CV’s noise and wind. However the GS, not that much different in outer dimensions, really makes it look and feel like a very small, old and fragile car.

      Where the Dyane fits in here I find hard to tell, never having driven one. I guess it’s closer to the 2CV feeling than to an Ami, but I’m open to be proven wrong.

    4. It’s just like a 2CV to drive. But with a body engineered 20 years later it probably feels a bit more civilised, yet no less quirky.

  9. OK, some good reasons given for the Ami to exist, but did they really have to beat it so hard with the ugly stick? Although the Ami 8’s D-pillar geometry did presage the original Ford Focus’s by several decades.

    Personally I’ve a soft spot for the Méhari. There are some fine examples in multiple colours on that Balearic island no-one talks about.

    1. John. I’ve mentioned it before on DTW, so forgive me if I’m repeating stuff you’ve read, but according to Robert Opron, Bertoni, who designed the Traction Avant and the DS, considered the Ami 6 his best work.

  10. Oh yes, the Méhari… That’s dream material for me. I still wonder if I will ever have a budget for affording one. The problem is, they’re ridiculously expensive and an unmolested one with unpainted body is impossible to find.
    Here the Ami and the Dyane come in. They are not generally recognized by a broader audience and therefore prices are in a much more reasonable field – if something is for sale at all. If I look at the ratio of surviving Dyanes vs. 2CV, the rate seems much lower than the 1:6 production figures might suggest.

    1. A Dyane can be had for a €1000 – as of this morning.
      I had no idea Meharis were valued. It would be not expensive to make new moulds for the body.

    2. Wait…the original Méhari bodies were unpainted? I did not know that.

  11. Sean: I think Bertoni is outnumbered on that one! For me it’s the DS by a country kilometre.

  12. As with your SM article(s), what a great read, Sean! There were of course relatively plenty of these Dyanes bobbling about during my five years in the UK from ’69 to ’74, but I paid them little attention, blind as I was to the clever suspension – never properly explained in the motor rags of the day or the 1960s, meaning they didn’t know either, too complicated in its subtleties for the Archie Vicar/Basil Cardew types to attempt to commit to paper after a proper pork pie and six Guinness lunch and the need to pop out round the newsagents for another packet of Capstans.

    The looks gave the impression that the designers lived a life of great eccentricity, fed themselves on turnip and onion soup garnished with whole garlic bulbs, along with lashings of bread and cheese washed down with gallons of vin ordinaire sourced from bottles with crown caps instead of corks. That was an impression gained from Dandy and Beano and my imagination, not reality!

    Meanwhile, general motoring life in the UK seemed for many to revolve around rotting Mini subframes and watching rust creep along the seams of 1100s.

    As for the design details shown in the engine cutaway, cunning in the extreme. And yes, I’ve been rummaging around citroenet. Considering the crankcase ventilation system and this month’s theme, it is somewhat surprising that a supercharger of sorts wasn’t offered by the go-faster aftermarket, but there was a distinct attitude in the UK in those days to view metric bolts and fasteners with distrust, foreign you know, while flattering themselves that Whitworth and BA standards were good enough for anyone anywhere in the world. That may have inhibited aftermarket innovation. Or maybe not. The ownership of one of these babies ensured that one experienced the road less frequently travelled, and even a polished wood steering wheel would have been a bit over the top.

  13. I knew of Paul H’s ownership (a very nice example) but am pleased at the response to this. Obviously the Dyane is neither forgotten, nor unloveable.

    Bill is correct that motoring journalists didn’t really get the Dyane at the time. The exception was The Motor, whose road test got me interested in the first place. Ticking its usual boxes, the author came to ‘Handling’ and said that word was entirely irrelevant. The Dyane didn’t handle, you just steered and it went there. Actually, of course it would understeer on greasy roundabouts but most the time that was true, following Citroen’s philosophy that the car should be better than the driver. I imagine that a lot of the owners who bought a Citroen Twin because it was an anti-car shared the general perception that it would fall over on corners but, since they would never explore that aspect, didn’t care.

    As for modifications in line with this month’s theme, I restricted it to the mundane and practical. Side indicator repeaters, reversing lamps and a very effective self-adhesive rear window heater (now there’s a period piece). Plus an occasional roof rack that probably doubled the torsional rigidity of the car when fitted. Later on, after the bonnet bending collision I mentioned above, it sported a rather racy pair of bonnet fasteners, a pragmatic solution to the fact that the standard catch had been damaged.

    Although, at the time, I entertained fantasies of a mid-engined SM powered Dyane (somewhere there is an Esprit based Acadiane), most the time I never wanted it to be more powerful. There was great satisfaction in wringing what you could out of the standard engine. Steve Cropley turbocharged a 2CV which notoriously caught fire. I agree supercharging would have been better – here is someone who did it :

    1. The Dyane is “lightly” supercharged as the air intake comes off the fan shroud. It must provide all of 0.5bhp over and above a 2CV. That coupled with the superior aerodynamics makes for much more rapid progress 😉

      There is an 2cv van body fitted to a Ferrari 355 chassis somewhere in Italy. It is completely mental, and would look fine in my garage. https://youtu.be/iquPhTaI390 and https://youtu.be/Xb011YYiXXo

    2. A fine selection of videos. The view from inside a hard-cornering 2CV type vehicle is considerable less dramatic than from outside (at least I think so, though ask the passengers). I’ve mentioned my embarrassing Fiat 124 based protective-mother-and-child incident elsewhere here. There is another occasion that (hand on heart quite sincerely genuinely I swear) had no-one in any danger at any time, yet the sight of my Dyane coming round a corner in the distance caused a woman to hammer violently on the side of my car as I passed. Yet again it was a salutary lesson in perception being more important than reality.

      I can’t find any videos of the Lotus Acadiane.

  14. The car overtook a BMW and an MX-5. The BMW twin engine looks like an appropriate replacement. This dovetails with our aftermarket theme nicely. The only disadvantage I can see with the concept is that you lose the nice sound of the Citroen engine, one of the few nice engine noises I can think of. On the other hand, if it his was put into a stock body it´d make the car a bit more useful in modern traffic? Or is that anathema?

  15. Given that the 1015cc Flat-4 was said to be an enlarged version of an earlier 950cc engine derived from two 425cc Flat-Twins, it is curious that an even smaller 750cc Flat-4 derived from two 375cc Flat-Twins (albeit updated) were never considered for the likes of the Citroen Ami and possibly even the Citroen Dyane.

    Though it was said that Citroen did look at a 750cc version of the Flat-Twin in the Project F prototype as an entry-level engine, however one wonders whether the bore and stroke is known as even a 652cc Flat-Twin with the stroke increased to be the same as the bore only creates a displacement of 717cc.

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