– by George Dyke with narrative from Felix van Dijk.
This article deals with that moment in a 2CV that we all dread. Being hit in one form or another. The guy that pulls out in front of you unexpectedly, getting T-boned as you go through an intersection by a car running a stop light, or that sinking feeling the moment you look in the rear view mirror and see a vehicle barreling down on you. You grab the wheel and brace yourself for an impact that you know is going to be severe. On April 18 2013, Felix van Dijk experienced a horrific accident in his 2CV and is lucky to have survived to be able to tell us about it today.
Felix and his 2CV in a happier 1990’s moment.
Felix bought his lovely two-tone grey Charleston 2CV in 1986 in Germany and shipped it over to Port Elizabeth, NJ. The car was in mint condition and he had a blast driving it back to Brooklyn where he lived. Felix’s friend Philippe, who also lived in Brooklyn bought his 2CV at the same time. His was a maroon and black Charleston. They took them on various outings. One memorable day Felix fondly recalls was driving up to Philippe’s parents apple orchard near Cooperstown. They pulled seats out of both cars, drove under an apple tree, then climbed in to the tree to shake the limbs filling both 2CV’s with apples. They drove them down the hill to his parents apple press.
Felix used his 2CV as a daily driver for over 28 years. It was he and his wife Jussara’s only car! They drove it year round without reservation! Jussara comes from Brazil and though she doesn’t recall seeing 2CV’s in Sao Paulo, however, on her business trips to Uruguay and Argentina she remembers seeing these quirky cars and was quite fascinated by them. Eventually the wear and tear of daily 2CV use resulted in rust gremlins infesting the car.
Daily driving in New York winters took its toll. This photo was taken in 2003.
Felix, needing major restoration work to be done by the spring of 2013, called Dave Burnham. (Dave had maintained the car for Felix for years. In 2005 he installed a new galvanized frame and in 2011 had replaced some rusted fenders). But, as is typical at Dave’s facility, he was busy with a couple of major projects at the time. Dave suggested Felix take it to Rob Harlan, who had worked for Dave, knew Citroens well, was himself a 2CV accident survivor (see “The Reality of 2CV Safety” article we featured in the Winter 2010 issue of CITORËNVIE). Rob lived close to Dave in nearby Schenectady and was pleased to get the business!
On Friday April 12, Felix drove his 2CV up to Rob’s and for the next 6 days gave Rob a hand. Rob welded in a number of replacement panels and sanded down the body. By April 18 it was all primed and ready for paint.
Felix had made arrangements with a paint shop in Brooklyn to restore the two-tone grey top coats and Charleston motif. Just after 6 pm that evening Felix headed back to Brooklyn. It was now dark and as Felix was driving along the New York Thruway near Bethelehem, NY, in the the slow lane, he was rear-ended by a guy driving a 2013 Ford F250 pickup truck. And in Felix’s case he had no means to react whatsoever. From here we’ll continue with the story in Felix’s own words (and we caution you the details are pretty gory):
The Ford F-250 looks nearly unscathed.
Click here to see how Felix and the 2CV fared. Caution; the images are not for the faint of heart.
“I think he was in the passing lane trying to get around somebody and drove into my lane without looking and bang! I had suddenly seen his front lights in my rearview mirror having no time to react and within milliseconds he hit me. During the accident I must have blacked out for a bit because I remembered the impact and then people trying to help me out of the car. There must have been a time frame for people to pull over. I remember seeing blood everywhere and the skin from the top of my scalp was hanging down the front of my left eye. I flipped the skin back onto the top of my head like a toupee. My back and legs were in pain as was my neck. A nurse pulled over and dressed my head wounds. I was sitting on the grassy knoll facing fields with my back to the vehicles. I kept saying I need to lie down. I was in real shock. I turned to look at my crumpled vehicle lamenting out loud that I had just completed restoration work. The nurse said “forget about your car. You are lucky to be alive! “
“When the state police showed up the driver of the Ford pickup at the accident scene pretended to them that he was his younger brother. He did this because he was driving with a revoked license. He was driving his fiancé’s F250. The guy has since been in jail because the state police started an investigation and it turned out he was in possession of $300,000 dollars worth of stolen equipment. Google Joshua M. Flach. His younger brother reported him to the police when he discovered that his brother had used his name at the accident scene. The driver claimed that I was parked on the highway which was such a ridiculous assertion. Physically impossible. I would have been dead for sure!”
Joshua M. Flach.
How would you like to see this guy coming at you full blast?
“I remember flashing lights from the patrol cars and two ambulances showed up. I was strapped down and my neck braced and taken into the ambulance. They cut all my clothes off of me. They even cut open my beautiful motorcycle jacket I happened to be wearing which actually may have saved me from internal organ injuries because of the built-in padding. The drive to the hospital was agony because the roads were so bad. Every bump set off a new wave of pain. I had 6 six cracked ribs, 4 cracked vertebrae, a bulging disk in my neck and lacerations on my head. I was a mess.”
“The car was towed to a car junk yard called Dawsons. The other driver had no injuries. Amazingly I was able to be discharged from the hospital after just 2 days, My major recuperative period was about 3 1/2 months. The first 6 weeks I was on the sofa in a neck brace. I couldn’t move without pain. And if I tried to do so I had extremely severe shooting pains, as my vertebrae had been severely jostled. Eventually that subsided and I underwent physiotherapy treatments. During that time I was walking around the house like Fred Gwynn in the Munsters. Gradually things got better and It’s taken about 9 months now to get full flexibly back in my neck.”
Jussara got the call about the accident at her daughter’s home in Brooklyn visiting their newborn grandson. She recalls the officer saying Felix was not seriously hurt, but when she asked to speak with him the officer said he could not. Felix was on his way to the emergency room hospital in Albany and once there Felix would call. Well, two hours later and the phone did not ring. So Jussara called the hospital in Albany and asked to speak to her husband. She got through to the ER but was informed that Felix could not talk and they really couldn’t provide any additional info at that point. Jussara said “Ask him to nod his head if he wants me to go there.” Felix motioned affirmatively and so she managed to rent a car and headed to hospital to be at his side.
While in Albany Jussara went to the the junk yard to see the 2CV. “It was unbelievable”, she says. “I couldn’t image how anyone could have survived. I approached the car and measured the distance between the steering column and the seat. The space was the same distance was the depth of his body.”
The pictures tell a lot about how the 2CV performed and what happened. Felix says that the bent steering wheel was from the impact on his chest. As with the DS, Citroen designed the one spoke steering wheel to act was shock absorption device for the driver’s body in event of an accident. The car body radically crumpled to absorb the rear impact, which is what the 2CV was designed to do. Look at the rear tires. They are flat on both the top and the bottom. The Ford F250 is a tall vehicle. It rolled on top of the 2Cv’s back end and and the Ford’s weight had both a downward and forward force. As the 2CV crumpled the downward force caused the body to crumple onto the top of the rear wheels effectively using them as a braking device. (Because of its narrow tires, the 2CV on a side impact from a moving vehicle, tempers the force somewhat by easily sliding sideways). The gas tank, positioned low, under the rear seat and in the middle of the frame, was not ruptured. In all the 2CV performed surprisingly well given that a 6786 pound Ford F250 collided with its mere 1300 lbs. Even so, the speed of this accident and the impact from force of the massive Ford F250 would have meant certain death for anyone in the back seat.
Felix’s insurance saga went on for a while until everything came out in the wash regarding the other driver. They realized they were lied to with claims that there were witnesses when in fact there were none. Even so the issuance company took their time settling and wanted to write off the car for $900.00 far less than Felix had just invested into it. He contacted George Dyke at CITROËNVIE and George wrote an appraisal letter explaining what 2CV’s are worth in the marketplace and the and value of the repairs done on the car. That prompted the insurance company to assess the vehicle more realistically and Felix was able to get $7,695.00 for the car portion of his insurance settlement claim.
You are probably wondering what happened to the wreck, the front end, engine and gearbox were unscathed. Felix says that the insurance company wanted the car, however, the tow yard got rid of it because the insurance company didn’t contact them about about the car. It was there too long.
And how does Felix feel about driving a 2CV now? “I loved owning the 2CV, however, I don’t think I’ll end up owning another one unless I was living in the countryside. I have a grandson now and we drive a Mercedes C240. A bit safer.”
[Ed note: To be fair a Citroën DS is more the model size of Mercedes C240. If Felix owned a DS he would be well protected. We did an extensive article on the D-series being the safest cars in the world in the Summer 2004 issue of Citroënthusiast. It is available for CITROËNVIE members to download in our Archive Documents section of the website.]