- - Thursday, December 29, 2005

When Citroen built the average car for the average Frenchman more than half a century ago, Adil Driouech was not their target audience. Indeed, he had not yet been born when the 2CV model was introduced.

The popular — in France — car never achieved great success as an export commodity except in certain French enclaves such as Morocco. The last Deux Chevaux, No. 5,114,466, was manufactured in 1990 and by that time the streets of Casablanca were full of the small, underpowered but practical cars. In his youth, Mr. Driouech encountered countless 2CV Citroens and thought nothing of them until he immigrated to the United States in August 1994.

Because of safety standards, the Deux Chevaux was not welcome in the U.S. About a year after he arrived in the United States, Mr. Driouech was surprised to see a women driving one of the little Citroens on the street. He attempted to catch her but the traffic was too much. But the Deux Chevaux fire had been kindled.

Mr. Driouech learned that latter-day Citroens could be assembled on old frames and be imported into the United States as antique automobiles. With that knowledge, he began searching for the Deux Chevaux of his dreams, a flashy Charleston, the fanciest model.

“I looked for 10 years to find the car I wanted,” he says. “I’ve always wanted one of these.”

Finally, in March of 2000, he saw an ad offering a 1985 Deux Chevaux Charleston built on a 1960 chassis. The car was on Long Island, N.Y.

With his mechanically inclined father-in-law, John Roberts, by his side as an advisor, the two drove 41/2 hours to New York to see what they could see. As they approached the address, they spotted the yellow-and-black Citroen.

They learned that the car had been restored in The Netherlands and the man selling the 12.6-foot-long car had owned it about two years.

The French mechanicals baffled Mr. Roberts who said, “It looks OK to me.”

Negotiations didn’t consume much time and much to Mr. Driouech’s surprise, the owner gave him some spare parts, a new exhaust system, two new tires and a variety of light bulbs.

“I was thinking,” Mr. Driouech says, “Buy this car and get ready for rust problems.”

The little Citroens have always been prone to rust.

Still, he had to have the car. “It’s nice, unique and simple,” he explains. He was immediately at home with the quirky gear-shift lever protruding from the dashboard that operates the four-speed transmission.

As Mr. Driouech drove off in his new old car, the odometer had recorded 77,000 kilometers but he questions the accuracy of that instrument. The trip home to Springfield took seven hours. “We got home at 11 p.m.,” Mr. Driouech says, “It was a long day.”

Traversing the length of the New Jersey Turnpike, he laments, “I didn’t pass one car, not even a bicycle.” His father-in-law patiently followed the Citroen, putting along at the minimum speed on the toll road. “I didn’t want to harm it,” Mr. Driouech says.

Now that he’s more familiar with his car, he says he sometimes will drive at 60 mph, “but no more than 60,” he says. He never ventures out in his 1,235-pound car on windy days. “I don’t take a chance on the highway.”

A vent the width of the car, 4 feet, 10.25 inches, can be opened below the windshield for fresh air. A screen over the opening filters out most insects.

“The engine won’t let you down,” Mr. Driouech says. The diminutive car rolls along on 235R15 tires and is halted by disc brakes. The flat twin-cycling, overhead-valve engine is air cooled and develops 29 horsepower. Factory specifications indicate a top speed of 71 mph and a zero-to-60 mph time of 32 seconds. The practical little car, however, does deliver 40 miles per gallon.

The upholstery inside the car is a gray cloth and a package shelf is under the dashboard. Mr. Driouech points out that his car is equipped with seat belts and has a Solex carburetor. The engine takes 10W40 oil, he reports, which is readily available. The special brake fluid is difficult to find, he says, except in France.

Rack and pinion steering gives the Citroen an incredible nimbleness that Mr. Driouech has appreciated in the almost 2,000 kilometers he has driven the car this year.

“It’s a happy car,” he says. It brings a lot of smiles to other motorists as well as to pedestrians.

A recurring question posed by admirers that always amuses Mr. Driouech is, “Did you make it yourself?”

 

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