Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

| 1 Oct 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The idea of a luxury 2CV seems incongruous, but it’s what we have here.

Not only that, but we’re talking of a model that was only made for a matter of months – making it a sought-after rarity.

Why, though, did Citroën decide to doll-up the ‘Deuche’ with a sparkle of glamour so at odds with the car’s utilitarian image?

The answer isn’t hard to find.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The interior does feel more special than that of a standard Citroën 2CV

In October 1961, Renault had introduced its R4. In its first full year, sales came within a whisker of those of the 2CV – and in 1963 they would pull ahead.

The notion that Renault sold its small cars – 4CV and Dauphine – to townies and left the rural market to the 2CV was brusquely knocked on its head.

Not only that, but the new Renault had a dual town-and-country appeal thanks not just to its better performance, but also to its availability in more luxurious forms.

Citroën had to react, and in March 1963 it came out with the AZAM – an AZ (a 425cc 2CV, in other words) that had been améliorée or ‘improved’.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV
Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The AZAM Export’s all-black dash includes Ami 6 instruments

Mechanically the car was unchanged, meaning that the air-cooled flat-twin still developed 18bhp, and remained mated to a four-speed gearbox with the option of a centrifugal clutch.

But the equipment list was long – and that was the point of the new model.

Outside there were Ami 6 hubcaps, stainless-steel front window frames, bright trim for the windscreen and the rear-door windows, a polished aluminium bonnet strip, stainless looped overriders, half-moon doorhandles, and chromed headlamp rims and wiper arms.

Marvel of marvels, there was even a second brake light for the first time on a 2CV.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The AZAM is powered by the standard 18bhp 425cc flat-twin engine

Inside, the key changes were better-upholstered Ami-like seating, with a sliding front bench, plus a more styled Quillery steering wheel and a rear parcel ‘trench’.

Other details were black plastic lock handles, an interior light, a passenger sunvisor (with mirror), and a column indicator stalk.

In December 1964, the 2CV’s rear-hinged ‘suicide’ front doors gave way to front-hinged items, to conform with French legislation, and in September 1965 the AZAM, in common with other 2CVs, gained the familiar six-light body style with its revised radiator grille.

More significantly, driveshafts with constant-velocity joints became standard on the AZAM, eliminating the snatch when pulling away under lock that previously blighted drivability.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The rear ‘hammock’-style parcel shelf

In this form the model lasted until April 1967, when it was replaced by the AZAM Export.

All the while, the engine remained at 425cc – whereas from January 1965 the Belgian assembly plant savvily offered an AZAM 6 with the 602cc engine of the Ami 6, along with 12V electrics and CV-jointed driveshafts.

The Spanish factory in Vigo would later list a similar model, lasting until 1972. Quite why the French were never offered a 602cc AZAM remains a mystery.

Returning to the Export, its key interior features were an Ami 6 instrument panel with knobs, buttons, steering wheel and gearlever ball in matching black, while outside there were indicators on the front wings for the first time on a French-built 2CV, along with the adoption of the ‘Gala’ plastic wheel embellishers found on the Club version of the Ami 6.

Otherwise, the specification was as per the preceding AZAM.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The AZAM Export was built for just a few months

If we’re honest, all this stuff was pretty much smoke and mirrors. A few strips of brightwork didn’t make for a better car.

The standard 2CV ‘hammock’ seats were perfectly comfortable, and the CV-joint driveshafts could be specified on lesser 2CVs.

Members of the press were unmoved. Period French road tests of the six-light AZAM didn’t deem the supposed enhancements of the model even worth mentioning.

The 2CV was a car whose time had passed; that was the message. The Citroën was judged crude, poorly finished and above all miserable to drive, due to its lack of performance.

It was time to put it out of its agony.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The upholstery gives the 2CV’s interior a real lift

The public thought differently: there was enough loyalty to keep sales stable, with even the odd tick upwards.

But the R4 was powering ahead: in 1967, 321,079 were produced, against 201,679 of the 2CV family, Ami 6 excluded.

The answer was to emerge with the announcement of the Dyane in autumn 1967, ahead of which the AZAM Export was deleted from the price list in August.

The ‘new 2CV’ was initially just a crisp, fresh suit of clothes over the old mechanicals. But once it was given the option of the 602cc engine, in January 1968, the hatchback Dyane answered many of the criticisms aimed at the 2CV, which it came briefly to outsell by almost two-to-one.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

Grey bumper inserts for this rare example

It was only with the availability of the same unit from February 1970 that the 2CV came bouncing back, forming a successful double act with its supposed replacement – which it ended up outlasting.

The 1970-on 2CV6 included some items of AZAM equipment, but above all it had an engine that gave the car the modern-day usability it had previously lacked.

That 602cc powerplant was the real game-changer. An output of 28.5bhp constituted a 58% increase on the AZAM’s 18bhp – no small matter.

In retrospect, the AZAM was low-cost marketing flim-flam that achieved very little.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

The AZAM cars were Citroën fighting back after the launch of the Renault R4

Today, of course, we look at the model with different eyes, appreciating it for its unique quirks of presentation – especially in the case of the Export, whose owners will proudly point out, for example, the chrome ring on the ex-Ami gearknob.

Good survivors of this five-month wonder are scarce, and rare are those that have original upholstery in presentable order and a full set of undamaged ‘Gala’ wheeltrims.

The AZAM Export of Hervé Chauvin was bought in June 1967 by his grandmother, whose only previous car had been a more basic AZL, and passed to Hervé and brother Francis in 1995.

With just 70,000km on the clock, it has its original hood and seats, which in the front are the optional separate type.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

Proud owner Hervé Chauvin inherited this car from his grandmother

It had a respray in the correct Gris Rosé in 2004, and can be regarded as a fine, untampered-with specimen of the breed.

And, yes, it does look smarter than a bread-and-dripping standard 2CV.

Those bits of brightwork give it a lift, the orangey-red upholstery looks plush, and the dashboard less as if it’s been ripped from a passing tractor. There really is a bit of jauntiness to the old girl.

And to drive? Here there are no surprises.

“It’s a bit limited in speed. It’s fine for Sunday pottering but not really suitable for everyday use,” cautions Chauvin as I sink – slump? – into the softly upholstered driving seat and the car gently keels over. Yup, it’s a 2CV all right.

Classic & Sports Car – Meet the luxury Citroën 2CV

Performance is leisurely – note the aluminium trim for the rear side window

There’s the usual lolloping ride – even though for 1966 the 2CV had been given telescopic dampers at the rear, while retaining its inertia and friction dampers up front.

Until you’ve got the hang of it, profiting from the centrifugal clutch demands concentration, but it allows you to trickle along or pull away from below 1000rpm without touching the pedal.

Performance is leisurely, to put it kindly. You really do need to keep the engine on the boil – that usual 2CV combat-driving technique.

But the brakes are fine and so is the steering, now there’s no fight through the driveshafts.

I’d still vote for a later 602cc 2CV, but I can see the appeal of a ’60s model that tries – ever so gamely, but not totally convincingly – to be lipstick-smart rather than boots-and-pitchfork rustic.

As for Chauvin, would he ever sell his family AZAM? “No. Absolutely not!”