Buyers Guide Citroen 2CV

Buyers Guide Citroen 2CV

The Citroën 2CV was a car that defied convention, but which was brilliant at providing minimalist motoring in a full-size package. Rob Hawkins outlines its history, and explains what you need to know if you are thinking of buying one.

Your guide to buying this beautiful ugly duckling

Rob Hawkins looks at the pitfalls and the pleasures of buying a Citroën 2CV.

The Citroën 2CV is in many ways an ideal entry-level classic, on a par with the Mini and the many other popular four-seater saloons with which it competed with when new such as the Volkswagen Beetle and Morris Minor. It’s a simple, no-frills design with mechanical components that are straightforward to maintain, and it has worldwide support thanks to sales that exceeded five million during its 41 years of production from 1949 to 1990. It was sold in the UK between 1953 and 1961, and again from 1974 to 1990, although there are plenty of left-hand-drive examples to choose from should you want an example from outside these eras. Numerous model and engine changes were made throughout the production run, but all are powered by a two-cylinder air-cooled petrol engine (sizes range from 375cc to 602cc) that’s mated to a front-wheel- drive, four-speed gearbox.

Buyers Guide Citroen 2CV

Many aspects of the 2CV were ahead of its time, such as rack-and-pinion steering, radial tyres, adjustable headlight aim from inside and – on earlier models – road speed related windscreen wipers (they were driven off the speedo cable).

Whilst the familiar 2CV shape that resembles a snail is the most popular, there are a number of variants, such as a van and a beach-ready Mehari, along with more modern shapes including the Ami and Dyane. And there are numerous special editions with their own specific styling, such as the Charleston, Dolly, Beachcomber and Bamboo.


If you want an affordable and practical 2CV, we recommend looking for one from the 1970s onwards, which will have 12-volt electrics, the largest and most powerful 602cc engine that ensures you should be able to cruise along at 60mph (top speed is supposed to be 71mph) and from October 1981 front disc brakes rather than drums.

The 2CV is a small but surprisingly accommodating car with seating for four people. It should fit in most single garages as it’s smaller than a new Ford Fiesta at roughly 3.8m or some 12.5 feet long, less than five feet (1.48m) wide and 5ft 3in (1.6m) tall. It’s also very light at around 600kg, or less in some cases, which luckily helps the most powerful 29bhp 602cc engine to reach 60mph from stationary in half a minute. On the downside, there’s not much in the way of crash protection.

Whilst the performance of a 2CV may not leave you breathless, its handling may well do so. Thanks to a clever design of suspension with interlinked coil springs, low unsprung weight courtesy of inboard front brakes, skinny wheels and tyres plus a low centre of gravity, these cars are well known for looking as though they are about to fall over under hard cornering, yet they don’t. The masses of body roll generated when cornering will have you grinning from ear to ear.

Other aspects of a 2CV that appeal include the unmistakable noise from the air-cooled engine that doesn’t sound as rattly as a Beetle flat-four, but more like a cross between a Flymo and a vacuum cleaner. And the entertainment value of having a car with a ragtop roof and removable seats makes it even more appealing as a classic car for all the family to use on day trips – you can forget the picnic chairs, just take the seats out of the 2CV and use them!


2CVs that promise to be in good working order and road legal sell from around £7000 or so, especially if they are from the 1970s and 1980s. Anything pre- 1970 generally sells for a much higher price, even if it’s tatty, due to its greater collectability, even though it may be painfully slow to drive. Fresh restorations or examples with low mileage from the 1970s and 1980s sell for over £10,000, whereas restoration projects sell for around £5000 or less. Just be aware that thanks to MoT exemption, many can be advertised as being roadworthy when in fact they really are not.

Tools and parts

A set of metric sockets and spanners will cover all 2CVs as these fastenings were used throughout production. Some special tools help with jobs such as an engine rebuild, wheel bearing replacement, kingpin renewal and centralising the brake shoes, and these are available from GRS Tools – proprietor Graeme Seed has designed and manufactured around 80 tools for the 2CV, and some of them are available to hire. The Haynes workshop manual on the 2CV is one of the most popular references, but there are also numerous other books, including restoration guides. There’s also assistance from a number of clubs, such as 2CVGB ( and the independent specialists we have listed at the end of this buying guide.

Body and chassis

The construction of a 2CV consists of a separate chassis and a set of body panels with a body tub. The steel body tub consists of a front bulkhead, floors and boot, so it’s quite a substantial structure, but is separate to the chassis which supports the suspension, engine and gearbox. Consequently, the bodywork can be removed, leaving a rolling chassis with all of the aforementioned components fitted to it.

Corrosion of the chassis and bodywork is one of the biggest problems to look for. A replacement galvanised chassis is a bonus in a car for sale, but if it was fitted five years or more ago, then don’t assume it will necessarily be rot-free.

Look underneath the vehicle to check for corrosion of the sills and floors, and closer to the centre for rust in the exposed parts of the chassis. If the central floor area is rotten, this is part of the chassis, whereas corrosion in the floors where the front seats’ outer rails are fitted is part of the bodywork. If both areas are corroded, it may be wise to remove the body.

Check the front and rear longitudinal chassis legs at either end underneath the car. These secure the engine at the front and the bodywork at the rear, so it’s essential they are structurally sound and free from corrosion. Inspect the bulkhead for rust, and check all panel gaps between the doors, bonnet and wings. If there are serious misalignments, this may not be so easy to fix with just a little adjustment if it has been caused by the metalwork corroding, weakening and becoming distorted. The 2CV is a light and potentially flimsy car if it is rotten.

Look inside and feel around the carpets and upholstery for damp – water can get through the windscreen seal, via the doors and through the ventilation flaps. Repeat this for the boot. Check the condition of the A-, B- and C-posts too. Despite the threat of corrosion, the good news is that parts are available. A galvanised steel chassis costs between £525 and £954 depending on the model, the quality and whether original patterns and tooling have been used in its manufacture. Floorpans cost under £100 per side, bulkhead repair panels cost £65-£120 and sill repairs range from £15 to £65. Major panels are similarly reasonably priced, with wings costing £90-£145, doors at around £300 and a body tub from £4200. Our advice is to shop around when choosing panels, but also speak to the specialists who repair these cars to find out which parts they prefer to use and why – ease of fitment is usually the reason.

Engine trouble

With only two cylinders and nothing but air to keep everything cool, the 2CV’s engine is relatively simple to maintain, with the exception of the ignition points which are concealed inside a box behind the fan. Various Solex carburettors were fitted throughout its production life, which began with a wheezy 9bhp 375cc, followed by a 425cc and then a 435cc and finally the 29bhp 602cc. Typical engine problems include exhaust gases blowing out of the cylinder head (there’s no head gasket) and leaking into the cab. Oil leaks often emerge from around the seals for the pushrod tubes. A well-maintained and correctly tuned engine should start and run without any hesitation. Jonathan Holmes at Peak 2CV warns: ‘Look for knocking engines, especially when cold, which suggest the engine might have had a partial top-end seizure in the past, necessitating replacement of pistons and barrels. A little smoke on start-up, especially if the car has been parked across a slope, isn’t uncommon and isn’t the end of the world, but if the engine continues to smoke, it might be time to replace the rings and/or valve stem seals. Bottom-end problems are rare, but not unheard of.’

Fortunately, rebuilding an engine is within the scope of a DIYer, providing you have the tools and all the necessary information. We covered this as a two-part guide in the February and March 2020 issues. Alternatively, a reconditioned engine costs around £1300 on an exchange basis.


A four-speed manual gearbox was fitted to the 2CV, which has no synchromesh on first or reverse. The gear lever is a direct connection that protrudes into the cabin via the dashboard. Gear changes should be moderately smooth and direct. Listen for crunchy changes up and down the box into second and third, and general excessive noise signifying worn bearings. Synchromesh in third gear tends to fail, especially if changing up at high engine revs. Lift off the throttle at around 3000rpm whilst holding the gear lever to feel for movement in the gearbox mount bushes – a new mount costs less than a tenner.

Any concerns over the gearbox may be best fixed with a rebuild, which costs around £600. If a test drive is possible, check the operation of the clutch, ensuring there’s sufficient pedal travel before reaching the biting point. Listen for signs of slipping, which could be difficult to detect if you’ve never driven a 2CV before and so don’t know what to expect. At worst, a clutch replacement by a specialist costs around £300, whereas a clutch kit (note there are different types) costs £50-£80.


The 2CV’s suspension uses some traditional components, which are mounted in a very different way to most cars from its era. At the front there are leading arms and friction dampers that became telescopic dampers from 1974, whereas the rear has trailing arms (radius arms) with telescopic dampers. Both the front and rear dampers on each side of the car are mounted horizontally, parallel to the chassis, along with tie-rods to the coil springs on each side of the car (two per side). Each pair of coil springs is contained inside a casing, which can be inspected from underneath the floors. Look for corrosion of the casing – a replacement casing costs around £25 (a pair of stainless steel casings costs £154) and springs are less than £50 a pair. Also check the tie-rods that cost around £22 each. Listen for the suspension making a honking noise, which indicates the spring casings need lubricating. Visually inspect the dampers for leaks – budget for less than £80 a pair.

Kingpins are fitted at the front. These should be routinely greased on early models and can wear, but replacement kits only cost around £25 per side. The steering should be moderately light with little feedback. Visually inspect the track rod ends for perished dust covers and turn the steering when stationary to check for excessive play between the steering wheel and rack. A reconditioned exchange rack costs £230-£275, steering arms cost from £60 each and various repair kits are available for steering components.


Hydraulic brakes are fitted as standard, with drums all round until 1981 when inboard disc brakes were fitted at the front. The handbrake on front disc brake models locks the front wheels and has its own set of brake pads, which need adjusting. A special 44mm socket is required to remove the rear drums. Mineral oil based LHM brake fluid should be used on models with front disc brakes to help preserve the seals inside the entire braking system. Drum-braking 2CVs use regular DOT 3 or 4 brake fluid.

Fortunately, brake components are cheap and readily available in most cases. Budget for around £50 for a pair of brake discs and less than £30 for a set of brake pads for the foot brake and handbrake. Brake shoes for the front drums cost £30-£40 a set, whereas rear shoes are under £30. A lack of routine maintenance and adjustment of drums are some of the common problems with a 2CV’s brakes. Peak 2CV states that LHM brake fluid doesn’t need refreshing because it doesn’t absorb moisture, whereas the DOT-rated brake fluid on drum-braking models does, so it should be changed every 18 months or 18,000 miles.


Check all upholstery is intact and isn’t suffering from fading or wear. A fully retrimmed set of seats costs around £500, whereas smaller items such as new foam and canvas are cheap and plentiful. There’s also a range of special trim, such as a rear parcel shelf trim for £35, doors cards at £70-£80 for a set, and a full carpet set for less than fifty quid.

Make sure all lighting and equipment works as water ingress can result in electrical problems. ‘It’s a French car!’ remarks Jonathan at Peak 2CV, ‘so all connections are crude. As the cars are all old now, you might find broken and/or corroded connections anywhere.

Corrosion or loose connections in the lighting system wiring can cause the switch and loom to get hot, or burn out in extreme cases. Light switches wear, and this often first manifests itself by the lights refusing to stay on sidelights and/or main beam. Their internal contacts can sometimes be cleaned to provide a temporary solution, but new switches are available for about £50 and take 15 minutes to fit.’

Our Verdict

The Citroën 2CV is in many ways a perfect classic car for the beginner thanks to its simplicity and good parts availability, but it is also ideal for anyone keen to get stuck into a restoration or wanting to maintain an already roadworthy example. They are fun to drive thanks to their handling characteristics and no-frills refinement, and versatile enough to be used for more than just a Sunday drive or the occasional trip to a show.

Thanks to

Burton Car Company BV, Netherlands. Tel: 00 31 575 546055, www.burtoncar.comGRS Tools. Tel: 01484 322310, www.2cvtools.comPeak 2CV. Tel: 07890 060533, 2CV Shop. Tel: 01985 841327,

Classics Monthly editor Simon Goldsworthy and Lancaster Insurance’s Car Clubs Manager Dave Youngs are allowed just one car each that they would recommend as a Citroën 2CV rival.

Simon Goldsworthy – Wartburg

Knight Rather than pick something obvious like the VW Beetle or Renault 4, I thought I’d ring the changes and offer up the Wartburg Knight. After all, it has an interestingly diminutive three-cylinder, 992cc engine under the bonnet and a separate chassis under a body that is functional rather than sculptural. That engine is a two-stroke though, so consequently it has considerably more power than the 2CV with 45-50bhp. Like the Citroën though, it was sold at a rock bottom price when new, is spacious on the inside, quirky to own and surprisingly durable. There are not many survivors, but they do turn up occasionally and will usually be cheaper than an equivalent 2CV.

Dave Youngs – Austin/Morris 1100/1300

If Mr Goldsworthy is going to go off piste and champion the Wartburg, then I reckon I can avoid the obvious candidates too and make a decent case for the ADO16 range from BMC. These ride on Hydrolastic suspension, every bit as softly sprung as the 2CV, but swapping that car’s body lean through corners for an up-and-down bounce along rough surfaces. They were once as ubiquitous in the UK as the 2CV was in France, and remain just as practical on the classic scene as they were when new. There is no separate chassis, but there are two substantial subframes. The cars do rust though, so just take care to ensure those are still attached to the body!

ANDREW EVANSON Senior Operations Manager at Lancaster Insurance Services, says: The Citroën 2CV is a near unique combination of prewar feel and post-war capabilities. It may not be the fastest thing on four wheels, but it can post decent point-to-point times if you keep the momentum up. It also has more in-built character than most cars, but remains a thoroughly practical proposition. Learn how to master its quirkier details and you will soon learn to love it.


1989 Citroën 2CV6 Dolly worth £7500

Comprehensive cover: £91.10 (£109.10 with agreed value)

Based on a 45-year old, with a second vehicle. It’s garaged, covers 3000 miles a year and lives in an SP2 postcode. They have no claims or convictions, are a club member, and are employed as a marketing manager. Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may vary between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria.

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