Here in the U.S., it’s safe to say the Volkswagen Beetle is the quintessential poster-car representing affordability and simple, no-frills transportation from the 20th century. No surprise there, considering the People’s Car is a global icon, straddling the strange intersection between antiquated, utilitarian, and charming, and selling a monumental 21-million cars before the original Beetle’s discontinuation in 2003.
However, in France and a handful of other countries, the center of that Venn diagram is occupied by the fabulously charismatic Citroën 2CV. Launched for the 1948 model year, the 2CV—or deux chevaux–distilled the idea of what’s necessary for basic transportation down to an elemental level. For many in post-war France, the round little Citroën made owning reliable transportation a reality, making the 2CV monstrously popular during its 42-year production history. When the final 2CV left the factory floor in 1990, Citroën had built more than nine-million examples.
So, to shine some light on one of France’s most historical and popular cars, we snagged some classic images of the Citroën 2CV from the archive. We highlighted a few of our favorites, but make sure you check out the full gallery below.
Citroën 2CV History: The Car Debuts at the 1948 Paris Motor Show
When the Citroën 2CV entered the public eye for the first time at the 1948 Paris Motor Show, it was an absolute sensation. Looking at the crowd, it’s not hard to see why there was a five-year waiting list soon after the car’s launch, and why used examples changed hands for more than the price of a new 2CV to circumvent the wait.
Citroën 2CV History: Bright Red Cars at the Factory, 1988
Despite its agrarian construction, the 2CV remained in production through 1990 in various markets. Here, a line of red 2CVs moves through the assembly process at the Levallois, France, factory.
Citroën 2CV History: Citroën Dyane in Forest, 1970
As was the case with the contemporary VW Beetle, the Citroën 2CV’s platform spawned a number of derivative models, including the popular Dyane. Mechanically, the Dyane was nearly identical to the 2CV, but it incorporated more traditional aesthetics and a handy hatchback design when compared to the 2CV. Citroën positioned the Dyane directly against the Renault 5, selling almost 1.5-million Dyanes before close of production in 1983.
Jacques Séguéla Prepares for His Trip Around the World, 1958
Pharmacist and advertising executive Jacques Seguela drove a 2CV around the world to survey rare and legendary medicinal plants and compounds. Seguela is pictured here with his co-driver, along with a map inscribed on the rear panel of the famous 2CV that shuttled them along on this journey.
A Cluster of Citroëns Trade Paint at a 24-hour Spec 2CV Race, 1975
Despite its asthmatic flat-two engine under the front hood and less-than-sporty chassis dynamics, the 2CV has a rich history of dabbling in motorsports, particularly as a cheap and cheerful basher. Seen here is a snapshot of a spec 2CV race from a handful that occurred throughout the years.
Citroën 2CV History: Publicity Shot for the 4×4 Sahara
Seen here is a characteristically chic publicity shot for the debut of the Citroën 2CV 4×4 Sahara. Even for the famously complex and quirky French automakers of the 1950s, and 1960s, the Sahara was a weird—if not somewhat sensible—way to create a 4×4 system. Instead of a traditional setup involving differentials and clutches, the Sahara simply added a rear-mounted engine to power the rear wheels. It was quite ingenious; a single throttle, clutch, and shifter operated both engines.