Make your children love cars with this strange Citroën


Are Modern Cars Turning Passengers into Freight? All we know is it’s all a 2CV adventure

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At around half past three, at least 15 minutes after the usual school pickup time, a small car with the face of a red frog drove to the sidewalk. I had arrived late, but all was forgiven. You see, I had also arrived French .

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Punctuality ? What a silly English concept. Style, joy of living , make a statement – these attributes are the real essence of life. In addition, I only have 29 hp. I tried my best and didn’t even stop for cheese. Here are your berets, you two: let’s go!

In a flurry of laughter and throwing backpacks, my two daughters rushed into the padded back seat and class began. Of course, they are already learning their one two Three at school, but this weekend was devoted to learning the French automotive language. And precisely the dialect which is really only conveyed by Citroëns.

Allow me to introduce our teacher, Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975. On loan from Johnny MacGregor, events manager of the local Citroën club, she is an irrepressible delight, a Madeline noisier than the primitive Miss Clavel. It rolls around corners, honks happily at waving pedestrians, blows raspberries with its air-cooled two-cylinder engine and is never, ever, in a rush to get anywhere.

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If you think auto writers can get a little jaded, you should meet their kids. Mine have ridden everything from Hyundais to McLarens, and they almost don’t give a damn about what’s in the driveway this week. The youngest sometimes asks us to quote “Launch it”, but being informed that No, we cannot launch it, because that would be irresponsible, and it is also a Buick, usually loses interest.

Here, however, the children were immediately charmed by their socks. I developed a theory that the growing popularity of the crossover and the cave-shaped rear seats that come with it saved our children’s bodies, but at the cost of their souls. Tied up securely, barely able to see out a window, and probably glued to the screen of a digital device, our children have become mere cargo. Safe, bored and passive cargo.

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I’m not saying you have to let your kid actually drive – I at least taught him how to change gears from the passenger seat – but if you don’t include your kid in the driving experience, he will absolutely grow up and hate it. that. It’s the equivalent of a commercial flight with the blinds down – at least open the window and let some air in! I mean, with your car, not on your flight. I hear that the latter is frowned upon.

If being a passenger in a modern car is like taking the middle seat in a Boeing 767-300ER, then getting into a 2CV is like taking an elevator in a biplane. Is it a car? Is it a tent? Is it some kind of motorized umbrella? Yes ! Yes ! Yes ! It’s all of these things and more. Where does this accordion music suddenly come from? We do not care? Let’s go get some pastry.

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Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975
Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975 Photo by Brendan McAleer

Originally, the TPV (for Very Small Car , as Citroën originally called the project) was meant to be a very pragmatic solution, providing efficient and affordable transport to the masses. Developed in the late 1930s, prototype vehicles had only one headlight, as that was all that was legally required. The first chassis were tested without a bodywork by men wearing leather flight suits. I wasn’t kidding about the biplane.

Judged against contemporaries like the Volkswagen Beetle, the 2CV is more than a little offbeat. One of the early VWs was also low in power, but drove much like a modern car. In the 1960s and 1970s, a whole cottage industry of the Beetles as dragsters and offroad racers emerged. Some crazy people have swapped out motorcycle engines for 2CVs, but it’s like dipping your eclair in some hot ghost pepper sauce.

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Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975
Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975 Photo by Brendan McAleer

Instead, a 2CV features a slower, more experiential type of ride. The Beetle was built to hum on a straight, narrow road highway . The little Citroën was famous for transporting rural peasants through a plowed field without breaking a cargo of a basket of eggs. The roof vibrates to the rhythm of the air flow, the slit windows encourage the driver to put a bend in the wake. The push-me-pull-you action of the gear lever feels like it is operating some sort of wheeled pipe organ in order to produce The Marseillaise . It seems vaguely wrong that there weren’t a pair of puzzled geese perched in the passenger seat.

Extracting enough speed to keep up with modern traffic requires unrestrained driving, and at the same time, reduced speed. Driving a 2CV is having an exciting conversation punctuated by Gallic shrugs, an experience that requires you to get fully and actively involved while not accomplishing much. It reminds me a lot of trying to dress the kids and going out to school on time.

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Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975
Monika the Citroën 2CV from 1975 Photo by Brendan McAleer

Better yet, and with my apologies to Edmonton-born Marshall McLuhan, there are no passengers on the planet Citroën 2CV: we are all crew members. Monika has a distinct reluctance to start, requiring careful application of the choke – not too much, you’ll flood the engine – but more importantly, a shared song of encouragement. “Come on, Monika! We all scream together as chug-chug-chugs starter. “You can do it! Here we are – let’s go ! “

Later bribed with Chocolate bread from L’Atelier Patisserie, my chocolate-smeared co-pilots could not have been happier. All the bakery staff came to see the car, with the Paris-born baker explaining what a 2CV was to the girl at the counter, who had never seen one before. When we finally left, the kids waving to us from the backseat, it was like the end of a Pixar movie.

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Or maybe not a Pixar movie, but a Studio Ghibli movie. Japan’s greatest living animator, Hayo Miyazaki, infuses films like Abducted as if by magic and My neighbor Totoro with a curious and colorful fantasy. It is perhaps not surprising that he has been going to his workshop in a series of Citroën 2CVs since the late 1960s.

This is what a 2CV does. It invigorates the driving experience with childlike wonder. It even turns short trips into adventures and parades. This keeps the door open to the idea that there is magic in movement, that driving doesn’t have to be a boring chore in traffic. It makes you wonder what other things are you missing out on as you try to stick to the daily routine.

On the way home, back over the bridges and through downtown Vancouver, I peeked in the rearview mirror as I moved to third. One child waved at a smiling commuter in a Honda, the other tried a new and even more casual angle on his red beret. I laughed to myself and we floated through traffic, in no rush at all. It didn’t matter what the clock said. How time passed was all.

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