No posh cars today. Meet the Toute Petite Voiture (Very Small Car) by Citroën, France.
The story of this remarkable car is brought to us by Julian March (published @ citroen.org.uk).
Whereas most of Citroën's prototypes have been shrouded in mystery, the company has actually been fairly open about the development of the 2CV. Pierre-Jules Boulanger, an architect by profession, ran Citroën after the company was acquired by Michelin, initially along with Pierre Michelin and Robert Puiseux and after the former's death in a car crash in 1937 he ran the company until 1950.
He was the man responsible for the concept of the TPV - it is said that he realised the need while observing local farmers who used horses and carts and bicycles in order to get their produce to market. He envisaged a cheap, minimalistic, low maintenance solution in which all extraneous and unnecessary components were to be deleted. He was also an astute business man who realised that when Citroën ceased production of the 5CV in 1926, the company had left the bottom end of the marketplace to its rivals, Peugeot and Simca.
Photo by CitronVert12 @ Flickr
In 1934, just before Michelin acquired the company, Pierre Michelin instructed his engineers to build a tyre-testing vehicle (above) on which certain automotive experiments might be undertaken. The basic architecture of the TPV was determined quite early - flat twin engine, interconnected suspension - "4 roues sous une parapluie"(four wheels under an umbrella) and while the surviving cars share no parts in common with the vehicle that went into production, the basic silhouette already existed, together with the use of corrugated metal to achieve the necessary rigidity for very lightweight body panels.
Photo by s i b e r @ Flickr
In the run up to WW2, 250 cars were built and apparently all but two were destroyed when the Nazis invaded France. It is likely that the Germans captured one of the 1939 prototypes when they occupied the remains of the Levallois factory with its TPV production line. The car was sent to Wolfsburg where an unimpressed Dr Porsche pronounced that it was "...more a soapbox jalopy than a people's car..."For over half a century, it was believed that the only survivors were this car that has been displayed at shows over the years plus the pick up used for tyre testing.
Both water and air cooling for the engine were investigated. The water-cooled, horizontally opposed, two cylinder engine was of 375cc capacity and was capable of propelling the car to 'almost 60 km/h' (37 mph) thanks to its low weight of only 370 kg. For years it was believed that only this vehicle and the pickup had survived and then, in 1995, three cars were found in a barn at the Bureau d'Etudesat Ferté-Vidame and since then have been kept exactly as they were found.
Photo by portemolitor @ Flickr
During the World War II German occupation of France Michelin and Citroën decided to hide the TPV from the Nazis, fearing some military application. A number of TPVs were buried at secret locations, one was disguised as a pickup, and the others were destroyed. It had been believed that only two prototypes had survived. had been believed that the cars were so well concealed that they had all been lost at the end of the war. However, it would appear that management knew of their existence since in the 1950s an internal memo was issued ordering them to be scrapped. These surviving TPVs were, in fact, hidden from the company's management by some workers who appreciated their historical value.
Photo by pierre m @ Flickr
The war years gave the company time to revise and simplify the design. By 1942, the TPV, powered by a 375cc air-cooled flat twin, was beginning to look much more like the car that was revealed in 1948 although only a single headlamp was fitted. Mechanically too, it was far closer than the 1939 models - the over-complicated torsion bar springing had been replaced by the familiar inter-connected longitudinal coil springs of the production vehicles. Transmission was only three speed and the engine was a flat twin. The cars made widespread use of duralinox - a lightweight aluminium alloy but more conventional (and cheaper) materials were employed in the production vehicles.
Photo by portemolitor @ Flickr
It took three years from 1945 for Citroën to rework the TPV.
The third-generation prototype, unveiled at the Paris Salon in 1948, was nearly similar to the next year's production model, the famous 2CV which quickly became a bestseller due to its low price/maintenance cost. One of the few mass-production cars to enjoy a cult status, the 2CV aka Deux Chevaux or Deudeuche was produced until 1990 - and in 2000s was featured in one of the best animation films ever, the Triplets of Belleville:
Headline photo by doubchev @ Flickr