If someone offers you the chance to drive a race 2CV, then it’s hard to say no. After all, this was a car I had helped nurture through 24 hours of racing in August 2015. I had spent much of the time trying to imagine what it must be like to drive. Very different from a normal 2CV I thought. These ponderings were useful as I attempted to overcome the very strong desire to actually sleep during my pit duty.
Roll forward to 2016 and the owner of the car, Chris Yates, offered me the chance to actually drive The Blueberry Muffin. Well, I was hardly going to say no was I? I originally wrote a feature on the experience for Classic Car Buyer, which was published prior to this year’s 2CV 24-hour race – one I sadly couldn’t attend. Here, I’ve re-written things for a slightly different audience. HubNutters!
Chris had got the car road legal to assist with engine-running-in duties. Well, that’s what he told me. I reckon he just wanted to see if he could make his race car road legal. An awful lot had changed since this 2CV last saw the highway!
So, what makes a race 2CV so different then? For a start, it actually has more in the way of interior appointments than it ever had before. Far from being stripped out, it’s actually packing a lot more kit. There’s just the one seat, a proper race one of course, and a rather impractical roll cage. The seat is placed further back, and lower. From it, you can’t see the bonnet, and you look sidewards pretty much straight out of the rear side door glass.
The steering wheel is smaller and lower, and the column stretched to place it in your hands. The gearlever is extended and the dash-mounted handbrake has been replaced by a proper floor-mounted one. You’d never reach the original.
Then there’s a generous smattering of gauges, a fire extinguisher and a bank of resettable fuses.
Outside, the 2CV sits much lower, on shorter, stiffer springs. The ride height is terrifyingly low, with the axle bolts almost skimming the surface of the road. The windscreen is glass, but all other glazing is polycarbonate. The front windows still flip up as normal.
The canvas or plastic roll-back roof is gone, replaced by a sheet of aluminium, while the rear wings and entire front bodywork are amended 2CV items designed to be removed in double-quick time. The bonnet already slides off in seconds – standard fitment.
Under the bonnet, rules dictate that you must use a 602cc 2CV engine and standard gearbox, though modifications are allowed to the exhaust and carburettor – a Weber DTML is used here, along with the compulsory club specification camshaft. The heat exchangers are gone, with the two exhaust pipes merging neatly into one near the bulkhead. Power output is somewhere around 45bhp at the wheels, compared to 29 (at the flywheel) in road trim. The standard crankshaft is used, which is good for a 6800rpm rev limit – a standard 2CV engine produces maximum power at 5750rpm. These engines are used to high revs.
I go about the difficult process of clambering aboard, and strap myself in. A quick press of the starter and the engine fires noisily into life. It has a purposeful snarl to it. I find the gearlever a little tricky to use – it seems to have some extra play as a result of several extension pieces. I pull away and my ears adjust to the sheer volume. A normal 2CV is hardly quiet, but this is very much louder.
Let the revs rise and it gets noisier still. It never feels all that quick, which is probably my fault for having driven a 2CV with a 100bhp BMW motorcycle engine in it, but it’s certainly entertaining. It may be loud, but it’s a good noise. It isn’t unpleasant and encourages you to go rev-limit hunting.
Do passers by find it all amusing or just annoying? I’m not sure, but they certainly take notice.
The cornering experience is very strange. There’s not a hint of bodyroll! I’m sure that’s great on a track, but must concede that I find it all a bit wrong and disappointing for road use. Worse, the ride is terrible! I actually ground the car out at one point, all because of a pothole. It doesn’t take long for me to miss a normal 2CV’s ability to go charging over speed humps with nary a whimper. That’s not the case here. I’m having to work very hard to avoid undulations and bumps.
There’s certainly a novelty value to driving something quite so ridiculous, but getting in and out is a right faff. I must concede that there are better vehicles for pottering to the shops – though perhaps it’s still better than a 4×4 pick-up…