by Rod Mcnair…..

Our adventure in France began as a result of listening to Citroënvie club “tool man” Jim Sciberas describe the plans for he and fellow club members to attend the 100th year Citroën anniversary celebrations in France this summer. Nancy, my wife and I take an overseas trip every few years and we had not travelled beyond Canada for the past 5 years.  The appeal of a France trip grew as we thought of vineyards, the Mediterranean, baguettes, historic towns, Paris, where we have family connections, and of course Citroens. We began planning.

There were several obstacles that made it impossible for us to attend the anniversary, however, my ever resourceful wife, found that the 26th French National 2CV meet was to be held in St. Amand-Montrond from May 29th to June 2nd. Since our Citroën is a 1964 2CV, that meet would suit us perfectly.

We felt sure that we could incorporate a stop there as part of a 2-week trip. Our trip included Bayeau/ Juno Beach, Nice, Monte Carlo, Beaune, and Paris and the 2CV meet in St. Amand-Montrond.

We had no problems booking Airbnb’s with the exception of the 2CV meet.  All accommodations in St. Amand-Montrond were booked in the town so we looked beyond the town to a larger place nearby called Bourges. Rail transportation in France is exceptional. Trains are on time, they generally go fast and they are inexpensive. For us, there was only one exception to otherwise great rail service. When we arrived in Bourges we tried to buy train tickets to St. Amand-Montrond, a distance of 40 km.  Usually, trains run several times a day between the towns, however, for the duration of the meet the trains were not running due to track repairs. We looked at options. Car rentals had to be returned before 6:00 pm. There were no direct buses, but we could use two buses to get to St. Amand. This was a 3-hour trip to cover the 40 km. Leaving Bourges at 9:00 am we would arrive at the meet about noon. That would work out fine however, the returning bus was filled and there was no way to return. We decided to go anyway and worry about getting back later.

While waiting for our second bus I had an idea. Using the paper bag that we used to carry our lunches we used our limited French to write a sign that asked if anyone at the meet were travelling back to Bourges and had room in their car for two Canadians.

Nancy was not particularly optimistic but agreed there was nothing to lose. The bus let us off at the train station and we began walking toward the centre of town. There were 2CV’s everywhere. We had arrived at the tail end of the parade. As the 2CVs passed, drivers pumped horns, passengers standing on seats waved and shouted greetings. People on the streets responded with exuberance. My excitement mounted as we followed the path of a seemingly endless line of 2CVs towards what we thought must be the Meet. Unfortunately, we discovered that we were following the cars in a parade route that took us off course. Nancy got out the Garmin GPS. The streets were deserted however and we asked directions from a man who pointed and said “Deux km.” About an hour after arriving in St. Amand-Montrand we were finally at the main gates. I was expecting to see lots of 2CV’s but was still surprised by the number and variety of 2CVs. Apparently, there were 3500 of them.

Many had come from nearby countries and they were camping with their individual clubs. It was indeed a social event. I have attended numerous car events in Canada and couldn’t help noticing the differences. In Canada, generally, the old car hobby is dominated by an aging male population. Many clubs recognize that attrition is reducing membership and there are very few young people joining clubs to fill the gap. This is definitely not the case with 2CVs. There were all ages of owners with their spouses and children. It was nice to see this and Nancy and I speculated that the 2CV attracts just about everyone.

Upon entering the grounds I put the sign around my neck which hung down over my chest. Within a minute, a man approached me and said ” I’ll give you a ride to Bourges. When do you want to go?” Both Nancy and I were amazed at our luck.  Jacques and I  shook hands and introduced ourselves. Then we agreed on a time and place to meet. What a relief it was to have a ride back. The entire discourse lasted only minutes but, we could now relax and enjoy the day.

The weather was wonderful and we were surrounded by 1000’s of 2CVs. There was so much to see. We headed off to the used flea market which was run each morning until noon. Most vendors were in the final stages of packing their vans and trailers with all used items related to 2CVs. We moved on to the field where all the major 2CV vendors had set up enormous tents with parts displayed and well organized. There seemed to always be a crowd in these tents with 2CV owners purchasing long lists of parts. This was a great opportunity to pick up parts if you didn’t have to think about space and weight for the return flight. Maybe I should have created more space by leaving my clothes in France!

We walked over to the adjacent field which had 2CV related paraphernalia. That’s where we managed to find perfect gift/souvenirs for our eight grandchildren, 2CV T-shirts. Perfect, the grandkids all love the car and the shirts are light and take little space in our carryon luggage. By this time we were hungry. There were plenty of choices in the adjacent food vending areas. After lunch we walked through the camping area where there was such an array of 2CVs, some with customized bodies, many with barn-find patina, others with modified motors and suspension. They were eye candy for the enthusiast. By this time it was time to meet up with Jacques.

Jacques arrived exactly on time we walked a short distance where we met with a few of his friends who were camping and had gathered to relax together. Nancy and I were surprised to discover that Jacques lived in Leon and was not going home until the meet ended. He was just helping tourists and explained that these meets for him are many things, including meeting people.

As we approached his car he said that his 2CV was unique. It was definitely modified. The rear trunk had been adapted to be twice the size of a regular 2CV and inside the dash had numerous extra switches. Jacques has owned the car since 1985. He replaced the engine at 250,000 km and now has over 400,000 km. The last 200,000 km, the car has run on propane (LPG). The conversion was done by Jacques. He explained that the only modification in the motor was hardened valve seats. He mounted the LPG injector on top of the carburetor so with switches inside the car he can shift from one fuel to the other. The LPG tank is 40 litres and he said he has travelled as much as 700km on a single fill. As we travelled at 100km/hr he demonstrated the change over from LPG to gas. It was seamless.

Jacques asked if we had seen the 2CV museum. We explained that because we were travelling on foot it was too far from the meet. He then said he would drive us there because he felt the museum should not be missed. He was right. The theme for the museum was a look back at the year 1969. All displays were from that time. There were French cars of all makes as well as Citroëns from various years prior to 1969. Along with the description of each car, there was the value in francs of each used car in 1969. H-vans, Tractions could be purchased for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars. Jacques told me he bought an extended version of the H van many years ago for 300 francs and sold it recently for a substantial profit. While we were at this meet Jacques introduced us to his friend who is a well known 2CV guru. He owned a Sahara which he regrettably sold to a U.S. buyer, but has since made many Sahara conversions. Jacques mentioned that he has a second home in West Africa where he has a 2CV that he has converted to 4 wheel drive. I think that he has four 2CVs .

It was good to have made the effort to attend this meet. There was plenty to see. The most significant part of the day was meeting Jacques. Clearly, he is a true 2cv enthusiast but much more. He seemed genuinely happy to help a pair of Canadian strangers and refused compensation. He spent the afternoon with us and made sure that we did not miss the enjoyable experience at the museum. The day was a fantastic experience largely due to Jacques’ kindness, engaging personality and of course, the thrill of riding in his modified 2CV.