March of the 2CV: We'll take the slow road

This weekend, 3,000 2CV fanatics have driven from around the globe to a field in Scotland to celebrate 'the world's ugliest car'. Paul Kelbie joins them to find out why four wheels are good but 'two horses' are even better
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Indy Lifestyle Online

When the former aeronautical engineer Jules Boulanger sat down to design "a spartan form of transport for those of modest means" in 1938 he is unlikely to have foreseen that nearly 70 years later thousands of his creations would be gathered in a field in the Scottish Borders. Yet 15 years after the last 2CV rolled off a Portuguese production line and into motoring history, the little car designed for French peasants in the 1930s enjoy a cult status shared by few other vehicles.

This weekend more than 8,000 enthusiasts are heading to that field for the 16th World Meeting of 2CV Friends to celebrate the classic car once described as the "ugliest in the world". Thousands of the quirky machines - some lovingly restored to their original specifications, others modified, enhanced and customised out of almost all recognition - have travelled to Floors Castle in Kelso from about 30 countries. The castle, a magnificent 18th-century stately home, is owned by the Duke of Roxburghe.

Representatives of the 2CV world-wide fan club, including devotees from New Zealand, Japan, Israel and nearly every European country, have driven thousands of miles to take part in the biannual week-long jamboree which is expected to generate £1.4m for the local economy and was last held in the UK 20 years ago. Mark Carter, a life-long lover of the "little car with a big personality", said: "It's a bit like Glastonbury for 2CV fanatics. There's plenty of live music, beer tents and a party atmosphere but instead of big-name bands being the attraction, it's the cars." Some 40 hectares of land more used to single horse-power show-jumping spectaculars has been turned into a gigantic car park-cum-campsite for the Deux Cheveux which was initially conceived to replace animals as the main mode of transport in rural France of the mid-20th century.

The first 2CV was produced in 1938 but production was suspended during the war.Citroën unveiled the car at the 1948 Paris Motor Show where journalists described it as "the ugliest car in the world". But by the mid-1950s more than 1,000 were being sold every week. By 1990, more than seven million had been produced.

"The 2CV was designed to be driven by a simple farmer and his wife who wanted to carry produce to market," said James Duffell, a member of the 2CVGB club and one of the organisers of this year's event. "It had to be able to carry a basket of eggs across a ploughed field without damaging a single one, and so simple to maintain the local blacksmith could do it. It is the simplicity of the car which makes it so wonderful."

Among the ranks of the wide variety of cars there are models which have been faithfully renovated, others that have been patiently and intricately customised and those that are simply wacky. "The French are more likely to be classic car buffs who have restored their 2CVs because in France they are considered the cheapest classic car, a bit like the Morris Minor was in Britain," Mr Duffell said. "The Germans tend to customise their cars, turning them into six-wheeled monsters or pulling caravans or trailers made from another 2CV."

Many 2CV lovers know their chosen transport is often seen as a joke and are willing to join in. From clockwork keys stuck on the back to webbed feet protruding from the front, many cars have been designed to raise a smile rather than a look of envy. "It is all about having fun," said Marco Poilu, a Frenchman. "It doesn't matter that we don't all speak the same language, we share a common culture, the 2CV."

Martijn Hoogsten, The Netherlands

For Martijn Hoogsten, a bar worker, his 2CV, with its flower-power paint job, represents a fun-loving, simple approach to life. "Meeting people from all over the world is a major attraction for me," said the 34-year-old from Rhenem, who also teaches African drumming in his spare time. "It is a good reason to get together every two years and have a party. I now have friends from all over the world who I see at these events. The 2CV is an ideal way to relax and party. I like the cars because they are simple and fun and not flash or threatening like some of the other more serious cars on the road."

Gernot Tolzmann, Germany

Gernot Tolzmann, 49, from Mülheim, has been a 2CV enthusiast for at least 10 years. "I used to have one when I was very young and then bought another about 10 years ago," said the accountant, who has customised his bright yellow 2CV by turning it into a convertible. "It's a hobby which lets me travel the world and meet lots of interesting people. It's a very easy car to work on, adapt and enjoy. 2CV owners are very friendly and no matter where in the world you are there is always help at hand if you need it."

Dave Meades, New Zealand

Dave Meades, 37, has combined his passion for motorcycles with a love for the simplicity of the 2CV by creating his own hybrid tricycle. The landscape gardener, who now lives in East Sussex, claims to have the best of both worlds, the freedom of the open road with the wind in his hair but with the reliability and simplicity of a 2CV. "It took a long time to build but it was worth it. The only real design problem is that I have to remove the engine to change the points, but these engines are so light anyway, it's not a big deal."

Rolf Schroer, Germany

Rolf Schroer and his son Jan from Soest, Germany, have their own tailor-made 2CV caravan in which to sleep at this year's jamboree. The 37-year-old chef made the trailer from an old 2CV he cut in half and adapted to create a bedroom on wheels which he tows behind his matching yellow 2CV. "My second car was a 2CV when I was 17 years old and I have liked them ever since. I have been to the world meetings in Austria, Italy and now Scotland, plus a few other meetings in Holland," he said. "It is a great way to see the world."

Marco Poilu, France

Marco Poilu, 35, from Brittany, is proud of his classic 2CV, although he admits it is need of restoration. Despite the abundance of rust spots and peeling paint, the car has served him well as he has driven it across France, to the UK and to Greece without any problems. "It is a classic car and is very reliable. I love the 2CV because it is simple to drive and to repair if it breaks down," he said. An enthusiast since 1999, his 42-year-old 2CV has completed more than 67,000 miles. "These cars just keep on going."

Fedja Schuth, Germany

Fedja Schuth, from Kiel, has had a 2CV for just four years but already the 28-year-old student claims to be hooked on the lifestyle. "It is not just a car but a way of life. A friend of mine had one and that was what got me interested in it," he said. "I like that everyone involved with 2CVs is friendly and we can travel to places like this and have a great time. The cars are cheap to buy and can be adapted to a person's own personality. Apart from the lights my car is pretty much original. I am very proud of my car."

Bruno Aregger, Switzerland

Bruno Aregger, 45, from Lucerne, is proud of the custom-made trailer he has made for his 21-year-old 2CV which he has rebuilt. "I have had three 2CVs over the years and even won prizes for my last car, a 2CV roadster, which took more than 1,000 hours to build. I was very proud," the metal-work teacher said. "These cars are fun to work with because they can be adapted and changed and played with easily. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating something like this. Among 2CVs, there are no two cars the same."

Yvonne Thiesen, Germany

Yvonne Thiesen, from Kiel, Germany, is a relative newcomer to the 2CV scene. The 29-year-old student has only owned her car for a few months but already she has started personalising it. The registration plate bears her nickname of Kiwi and the car is being slowly customised to her own tastes. "This car is just so incredibly cool. It is cute and it feels great to drive along with the roof open," she said after driving to Scotland in convoy with other 2CVs from Germany. "It might not be fast but it has style and is fun to drive."

Arjan and Mandelon van der Wielen, The Netherlands

Arjan and Mandelon van der Wielen from Utrecht have a specially adapted Lomax, a sports car body built from a kit which is bolted onto the chassis of a traditional 2CV. The couple admit they enjoy the admiring looks their sleek, open-top car gets, especially when their two-year-old daughter Andee is sitting in the customised rumble-seat behind them. "It might not look like a family car but it is," said the 31-year-old door manufacturer who built the car himself and has now attended four world meetings.

"Andee loves sitting in the back and often goes to sleep and we travel around in it a lot as a family. We like the cars because they are simple, low-cost and great fun."

Kathryn Dodington, New Zealand

Kathryn Dodington, 54, owns a very rare four-wheel drive 2CV which she drove to Kelso from Surrey. Built by Citroën in the 1950s to cross the Sahara desert to help the oil exploration industry, her car has two engines - one at the front and one in the back, which independently drive the front and rear wheels. "I think 2CVs are the best cars ever made and are just a lot of fun," said the British Airways data manager who has driven across Europe and Australasia. "Coming to these events is like the Olympics. The difference is we are all on the same side. There's just a shared interest in 2CVs."

Cees Stelling, The Netherlands

Cees Stelling from Voorburg, considers his car is the ideal vehicle with which to demonstrate his sense of humour. Complete with a beer-bottle opener on the rear door, giant hi-fi speakers in the back seat and a map of the world that covers the entire outside of the car, it represents the classic "free spirit" of 2CV owners. "On and off, I have been involved in 2CVs for 20 years," said the 39-year-old handyman . "I have had other cars but always in the background there has been a 2CV. It is a way of life. It is easy to maintain and simple to drive." Mr Stelling drove for 14 hours via Calais and Dover to get to the Scottish Borders.

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