When an astute Frenchman named Pierre Boulanger wrote the design brief for what would become one of the world's most iconic cars, the requirements were simple: It had to carry two people and a 110-pound sack of potatoes at a speed of 30 mph, all while achieving 90 mpg. It also had to be able to comfortably traverse dirt roads and rutted farmland.
Lumpy fields, a sack of spuds, and fuel economy: not exactly the stuff of legend. And yet, Boulanger's 1936 idea would result in one of the most beloved and long-running designs in automotive history. The car that made its public debut twelve years later would go on to put postwar France on wheels. It would also become one of the most recognizable vehicular shapes on the planet.
Fittingly, the Citroën 2CV's technical life began at the hands of a legend. Bringing Boulanger's vehicle concept to reality fell to the hands of Citroën's chief engineer, André Lefebvre, a forty-two-year-old former aircraft engineer. Lefebvre was a bona fide genius - a onetime grand prix driver and protégé of aeronautical and racing-car pioneer Gabriel Voisin, he was also the visionary behind Citroën's revolutionary front-wheel-drive Traction Avant.
Unlike the futuristic, hydraulically suspended Citroën DS sedan (also a Lefebvre brainchild), the 2CV focused on doing more with less: even its name was simple, taken from the French tax category (2CV) into which the car was designed to fit. And while practicality and ingenuity were Citroën hallmarks, Boulanger also specified that the 2CV be cheap. As a result, it ended up with a spec sheet at once thick and thin: a curb weight of less than 1200 pounds; an air-cooled, horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine of just 375-cc displacement; front-wheel drive; independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and almost no creature comforts.
The 2CV's glory lay in its packaging - inboard front brakes (drums at first; discs later), a roll-back fabric roof, and an elegant use of interior space - but the car's true brilliance was found in its suspension.