Sunday, August 17, 2008

Two Horses

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of that motoring icon of France, the Citroen Deux Chevaux. Whilst the people of France may have taken it into their hearts, Citroen has been trying to disown it for years as a car that does not fit into their image of today.
But, like so many of my era, I learned to drive on one. And if any car is going to stop Frenchmen in their tracks and lead them to stand and stare, it is the passage of a Deux Chevaux. Old timers mourn that the body of later models no longer appears to have been knocked together out of corrugated iron but rejoice that the gear shift is still an inverted hockey stick.
It is not, of course, a vehicle that will appeal to the Jeremy Clarksons of this world. That particularly obnoxious and over remunerated motoring correspondent, who recently commented on the smelly, obese, unwashed citizens of Britain standing at a bus stop as he swept by in his Rolls Royce, would be unable to find enough of his tasteless ramblings to describe his contempt for such a car.
But it was a car designed with a purpose in mind.
France, then as now, was an agricultural community and the far flung communities of farmers desperately needed a car that could get them to market.
Citroen came up with a specification that demanded that it be able to be driven over ploughed fields without breaking any eggs, hence the remarkable suspension that tended to create severe cases of mal de mer in the early models, which lacked shock absorbers.
Perhaps the only other model that is still viewed with dewy eyed affection is the much later and more advance Renault Four, the ‘Quatrelle.’
Whilst the Deux Chevaux has long been out of production, France has never forgotten that many of its citizens need some form of transport to and from their isolated communities. For these, there is the ‘Sans Permis’ car, a low powered vehicle that can be driven without the need of a drivers licence.
As well as those for whom it was intended, it has become a Godsend to those that have lost their licence.
The Sans Permis is not a great performer, especially on hills.
If there is any justice in this world or the next, it would be that Mr. Clarkson is condemned forever to be stuck behind one in his Rolls Royce.
Perhaps he might then learn some manners.


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