Yes, I have driven an Ami 6 before, but that was a modified monster that while hilariously amusing, was not something I’d necessarily choose to live with on a daily basis – unlike its creator, who uses it for the school run.
This time, I got to enjoy a sunset cruise in a late Ami 6 in stock condition. What sort of difference did that make?
Firstly, history. The Ami 6 was introduced by Citroën in 1961 as an attempt to plug the enormous gap between the 2CV – the farmer’s friend – and the super-plush, super-complex DS. Under the skin, the Ami was little more than a 2CV chassis and running gear, albeit with a larger 22bhp, 602cc engine. The skin itself was penned by sculptor and stylist Flaminio Bertoni, who had already added some graceful charm to the 2CV and styled the Traction Avant and DS.
The looks are a tricky one. Most people run a mile at first but stay with it, and start taking in all of the delicious details and Bertoni’s motoring sculpture really does warm the heart. It is certainly quite unlike anything else and even more extreme than Ford’s Consul Classic. It was also one of the first cars to feature headlamps that were not round – though the later one I’ve driven here has quad circular units. Features shared with the DS included the remarkable single-spoke steering wheel, and the glassfibre roof.
The Ami was an enormous success in France, with more than one million sold by the time production ended in 1969 – when the smoothed-off Ami 8 took over. Attempts to market it in the UK were thwarted by a market that preferred convention and import duties. Only three or four right-hand drive Ami 6s remain in the entire world.
By the time this Ami 6 was built in 1968, power had been increased substantially. A completely redesigned 602cc engine had been introduced that year, taking power from 25bhp (DIN) up to 32. It had been facelifted too, with circular headlamps now the norm and new combined rear light units that would soon be fitted to the rear of the 2CV – remaining in production until 1990.
That redesigned engine ended up in the 2CV as well, though detuned to 29bhp. Again, it remained in production until 1990, and proved very robust.
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of these later Ami 6s. The earlier cars may have less power and a more fragile engine (one that has no external oil filter), but they have a delicious purity that the later ones lack. That said, when I look at the pictures of this one now, perhaps I’m being too picky! It’s still a remarkable looking little car.
Inside, beneath all the paraphernalia that confirms this car’s role as a daily driver for its lucky owner, there isn’t that much that has changed from the earlier Amis. It’s very simple, but very charming. Turn the key, pull the button marked D (for démarreur or starter motor) and the engine swiftly fires into life with the usual 2CV-esque whirring noise. The same push-pull gearlever as the 2CV offers perfect gear selection and bodyroll is just as pronounced once under way.
What really amazes me though is how refined this car feels. Sure, there is still plenty of engine noise – it’s hard to make a quiet aircooled engine – but it’s not as obtrusive as it is in my 2CV, nor Pete Sparrow’s modified Ami. It’s almost peaceful.
The ride is truly astonishing too. The Ami 6 was given telescopic dampers to replace the previous friction dampers in 1963, yet it still retained ‘batteurs’ on the rear of each front wheel hub. These are effectively oil filled tubes with a large weight in them, further damping wheel movement over broken ground. Certainly across a field, the ride is extraordinarily smooth. Far more so than my XM, which is a little bit depressing given the respective ages of the vehicles, and the complication employed in the XM!
Performance is certainly acceptable, for 2CVers at least, with 0-60mph taking 27 seconds and a top speed of 75mph possible. The engine must naturally be worked hard, but that’s fine, because it likes to be driven hard. Maximum power is delivered at 5750rpm. The brakes are more than adequate, with large inboard drum brakes up front.
Overall then, I must concede that perhaps I was wrong to favour the earlier Ami. It’s silly how looks can lead us to overlook practicalities. Certainly, if I am to achieve my dream of Ami 6 ownership, it will be to the later end of production that I will look after this experience. In fact, I must concede that I was very reluctant to hand the keys back! The later Ami 6 really is a most magnificent machine.
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