By Siddhraj Singh
When you talk about automotive countries, many names come to mind. But, more often than not, France is at the bottom of the list, and wrongly because France has a deep connection with the automobile and its history. One of the first self-propelled vehicles was created in France, the steam trucka steam-powered three-wheeled vehicle made by inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, in 1770. During the motoring’s nearly 150 years, it was also consistently at the forefront of automotive development, and a French manufacturer that truly stood out is Citroen.
Two of the greatest connoisseurs of comfort built for totally different purposes – 2CV and C5 Aircross.
Although it came to the automobile market a bit late, Citroën was the first mass producer of cars in Europe. Since then it has produced a number of highly successful and groundbreaking designs which have since become cult. Most notable being the 2CV – a simple, fuel-efficient, spacious, cheap and very capable utility car.
The 2CV, or two horses in French, meant 2 taxable horses (under French law then in force). It was designed before World War II as the TPV (Tiny Car or the “Very Small Car”) and was intended to motorize the large French rural population. War intervened, but development continued in times of peace. The design evolved a bit, and when it was finally launched in 1948, it was a commercial success. Postwar France had a new champion; the small utility vehicle not only gave hope to a recovering country, but also proved itself around the world.
The 2CV would have served India’s needs well at the time, but we were not one of the export markets. The few cars that arrived were either through diplomats or via Goa and Pondicherry, which were not part of the Indian Union at the time. In the case of the car shown here, it has had a more unique journey. A traveler drove it from Europe, a testament to its sturdiness and usefulness. He abandoned it in India, however, and the car was later auctioned off by the government and purchased by prolific car collector and media mogul Viveck Goenka.
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“As a classic car collector, there are a few must-have cars, and the 2CV is one of them,” says Goenka. The 2CV is one of five Citroëns in its collection, all coveted in their own right.
Having built up a significant collection, he has also created a world-class facility to maintain and restore them. “When we bought the car it was in a terrible state, having had a hard life and then exposed itself to the elements. We had to do a full restoration on it, but we left the rear fenders as they were. modified by the previous owner for his trip,” says Goenka. Today, it still runs like new, you have to get used to its original dash-mounted gearshift. Its large windows make it feel bigger than its small size, and its innovative suspension setup, which connects the front and rear, soaks up even the roughest surface imperfections.
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Interestingly, these are the same principles that Citroën continues to adopt today, and it is so evident in the flagship C5 Aircross, its first automobile in India. The SUV is, like everything French, brilliantly designed. It hides its size well and stands out in that crowded SUV space, just like a 2CV. Subtle use of chrome and unique design elements ensure it won’t be confused with anything else. Inside, the designers have thoughtfully laid out the cabin, with plenty of style to boot. The seats are some of the best on offer and their unique upholstery combination is eye-catching to say the least. A large canopy and a sunroof give it an airy cabin, again, a bit like a 2CV.
A plush C5 Aircross interior completes its luxurious ride
The suspension is supple, and makes it a standout feature of this SUV, not a statement that even many high-end SUVs can brag about. “It (drives) really better than some of my other cars,” says Goenka. If you had to describe it in one word, that would be comfortable. Powered by a 2-litre diesel mated to an 8-speed automatic, the SUV is also one of the smoothest drives you’ll get. Whether in start-stop traffic or on the autobahn, the Aircross is designed to carry on as its ancestor – the 2Cv – was.
The 2CV was intended to put a nation on wheels by offering a car unlike anything that existed then. He has more than fulfilled his mandate. Likewise, over 70 years later, the C5 Aircross does the same thing but in a slightly different way – it puts our aspirations on wheels, ensuring unparalleled comfort on our roads.
PHOTOS: ASHUTOSH VERMA