Recently on Quora (a question-and-answer website based in Mountain View, California, where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users in the form of opinions) that this question was asked: “What engine is nearly indestructible?”

A number of engines were mentioned by various contributors, but it is this comment by Michael Kay that gave a succinct and informative description of the 2CV engine that we feel is worth sharing here:  
This is the Citroën 2CV Sahara variant which had (I’m not kidding you.) TWO independent but simultaneously controlled 2-cylinder engines and transmissions.  A Twin-4?  Or is it a Bi-Twin?  Well, it was a great car for pessimists.

The Citroën 2CV air cooled flat twin was legendary for its durability. Why?

Well, the 2CV twin was designed from the crankshaft up for durability and minimal maintenance. It was a minimalist engine, designed around the mantra that: “If it is not there, it cannot break.”

Of course, being air cooled, it lacked a radiator, or a water thermostat, or radiator hoses, or a fan belt.  The cooling fan was driven directly off of the crankshaft.  On the original models the generator was also driven off the shaft that powered the fan.  Thus, there was no accessory belt to break.


But the concept of designing to eliminate problem prone parts went further than that.  In that era cylinder head gasket failures were common.  It is still a problem today, 70 years after the first post-war Citroën 2CV was sold.  The 2CV engine solved this by eliminating cylinder head gaskets!  On the 2CV the cylinder barrels and the heads were precision machined and lapped to fit with a gas tight seal without the need for gaskets.  Moreover, as Ian Hunt reminded me, you did not have distributor problems on a 2CV.  It did not have one!  It used a “wasted spark” ignition and simply fired both cylinders when they were near TDC (top dead center) on either the compression or exhaust stroke.  Again, what is not there cannot break.

The same concept was used for the crankcase sections.  Precision machining eliminated the need for gaskets.  In some ways this minimalist concept was taken to absurd extremes.  I drove a Citroën 2CV in which the windshield wipers (which were in perfect condition) would stop completely when I idled at an intersection in the rain.  Why?  Citroen had carried minimalism so far as to eliminate the windshield wiper motor entirely by driving the wipers with the same flexible shaft that drove the speedometer!  [Ed note: That is why Citroën also provided a knob on the dashboard to manually operate the driver’s windshield wiper when the car was stopped.]

Quirky car.  I could tell 2CV stories until I ran out of digital ink.  But Citroën’s concept of minimalism resulted in an engine that would run forever anywhere from Antarctica to the Sahara with minimal attention on whatever fuel was available.  It was truly an indestructible engine.




  1. You still have the possibility of wear in the crankshaft and rod bearings, piston rings, barrels, valve seats, oil pump vanes, and valve guides. On an air cooled engine its important to warm up the engine before putting a load to it. This is something that owners forget to do which can cause wear on the little 2CV engine.

  2. Is it true that prototype 2CV used BMW motorbike engine?, I have heard that even spares fit both…

    1. ignorant rubbish, I’m afraid. I suspect the engine is closer to a Panhard twin…. it is TOTALLY different to a BMW engine. Nothing is remotely similar. The fact that they are both boxer twins is pure coincidence. I can name a dozen boxer twins in cars and bikes off the top of my head, and none are related to each other.

        1. Harsh indeed! The BMW engines can be fitted into 2CVs because of their similar configuration, so that’s probably where this came from. Prototype 2CVs were pre-war: I’m not sure when the BMW bike engine was first made.

  3. trabant 2 cylinder engine is overengineered german failure, comparing with 2 cv engine…and trabant was absolutely unreliable, especially during 6 v existence as trabant 600.

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