Iconic French Deux-Chevaux Gets a New All-Electric Life in Paris

Iconic French Deux-Chevaux Gets New All-Electric Life
  • `Deudeuche' turns green as Paris seeks to restrict pre-97 cars
  • The 2CV was used in 1981 James Bond film `For Your Eyes Only'

Postwar France had a love affair with it, driving it across cities, through country roads and to the beach.

The "deux-chevaux," or "deudeuche" as the French affectionately dubbed the iconic Citroen car 2CV, featured in the comic cops-and-robbers films of Louis de Funes and black-and-white movies like “La bride sur le cou,” starring Brigitte Bardot. The car, which became a collectors’ item rolled out for antique parades, is now getting a new lease of life, trading in its old gas engine for an all-electric motor. The first of the converted cars made its debut in Paris at the end of December.

“Deudeuche is a mythical car that’s part of French culture," said Florent Dargnies, the 36-year-old chief executive officer of 4 roues sous 1 parapluie,-- literally, four wheels under an umbrella -- which offers Paris sightseeing tours in the vehicle and undertook the conversion project five years ago. “We wanted to make it more compatible with environment-protection rules.”

Retrofitting vintage models with electric motors to give them an emission-free range is becoming increasingly popular as governments tighten environmental norms to fight air pollution. Similar fume-spewers such as East Germany’s communist-era Trabant or Audi’s R8 sports car have earned a second life the same way.

The case of the 2CV is perhaps most striking. The manufacturing of France’s postwar rival to the Volkswagen Beetle was halted in July 1990, after 42 years of production.

Broken Eggs

Famous for its roll-back sunroof and flashy blues, yellows and greens, the “deux-chevaux” started out at the 1948 Paris car show as a minimalist, affordable, gray car for the average Frenchman -- in rural France. Early TV spots showed farmers driving the 2CV through a bumpy field, raving about not breaking any eggs in a basket in the trunk.

The car now goes for anything between 2,000 euros to 20,000 euros ($2,170 to $21,700) depending on its upkeep, attracting car enthusiasts and those nostalgic for riding their grandparents’ 2CV. Collectors have organized parades in cities including New York and Paris. It’s been called an "upside-down pram" in the U.S. and "the student’s Jaguar" in Denmark or the "the duck" elsewhere. "Do you know the nickname of your 2CV in your country?" Citroen tweeted in August.

The car’s first edition had only one headlight in the front and a single lever to spin to get the engine started. That 2CV hit top speed at about 60 km/h. Citroen manufactured 3,868,634 units between 1948 and 1990, a company spokesman said.

James Bond

The car, an unlikely vehicle for the world’s best-known fictional spy, still made its way into a chase scene in the 1981 James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”. As his Lotus self-destructs, Roger Moore hops into his girlfriend’s car and takes the bright yellow 2CV on a ride of tumbles, flying off roads.

An electric version of the boxy little car designed by 4 roues sous 1 parapluie was approved by Peugeot in 2014. The French environment ministry validated it in December last year, Dargnies said. 

He declined to say how much his company has invested in the project. For now, it has converted one model of its fleet of 40 deudeuches -- the most recent one of which was manufactured in 1990 while the oldest rolled out of a factory in 1968. The conversion cost is partly offset by savings on fuel and maintenance, Dargnies said.

Paris Symbol

Citroen says it has no intentions of making 2CVs again, not even electric ones. But for Dargnies, the makeover may become vital as the city of Paris plans to restrict traffic from July of vehicles made before 1997.

Their use would be allowed only on week-ends and at night, a step unveiled last year as part of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s efforts to fight persisting traffic-induced smog in the French capital.

“We’d like to be able to convert our whole fleet,” Dargnies said. ”We want to make the clean 2CV a symbol of Paris.”

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