by Bruce Grant….
This little Deuche is a bit unusual in that was a “Modèle P-O”, (Pays Outre-mer) designed for sale in the colonies, instantly recognizable by the tubular bumper and the hole in the right fender. Also unusual, it came to me fully restored, along with the original owner’s manual, service records and its life story.
This is a story about the little French car, the one on the right. No, the other green car is not mine, but the PLBOY serves to demonstrate how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Citroën dealers in Canada tried to sell these cars into a market where the Austin Mini and Volkswagen Beetle were dominant over a lot of other small cars and bubble cars. Isetta, Messerschmitt, NSU, DKW, BMW, Fiat, and Citroën just couldn’t find a niche. In common with most of these failed efforts, this 2CV has a little 425 cc engine that can’t keep up with traffic on a Canadian highway. What were they thinking?
The car was purchased new in June 1969 from Citroën Canada Ltd, at 999 Danforth Avenue in Toronto. The buyer was one René Joseph Hébert, a painter of landscapes. Where other car shoppers had some practical sense, Hébert was apparently a more romantic type. Charmed by the Deuche he bought it to use as his field car on painting trips to North Ontario. The warranty service records are complete up to the 15000 mile inspection in July 1974.
Shortly after that date, Hébert returned to his native New Brunswick and continued his painting activities. Then, came the disaster; he broke a spring. Unable to find anyone willing and able to fix it, he traded the car to Elide Albert, a neighbour who engaged in the business of buying and selling odds and ends of – whatever. The Deuche was traded for a drafting table and parked in the field behind Albert’s barn. There it would languish, slowly sinking into the mud for the next 25 years.
This old soft focus picture shows the car as-found in New Brunswick. The bumper has disappeared into the mud, leaving only the vertical elements (les butoirs) visible.
In 1999, Frédéric Savoie was drawn to this pathetic pile of junk and he bought it for a restoration project. Frédéric is a guy who can’t sit still for two minutes; there is always a project on the go and his collections have become a local landmark.
Fred came with a trailer and a gang of friends who would help him lift the car out of the mud.
They lifted very well, but the body rose up while the rusted chassis stayed in its place. It would have to be dismantled and taken home in parts. The restoration would involve the fabrication of an entirely new floor structure. The body shell is original except for rust damage near the bottom, replaced with new steel. Fenders and doors are all odd replacement parts; in the pre-paint photograph, every piece is a different colour. The engine and drive line are original.
Restoration took almost 5 years; Fred turned out a good-as-new car with only 20600 miles on the clock and painted in a hot green colour that the French called Vert Cacté. (I’m still getting used to the colour) The personalized license plate named it TORTUE, a name that friends had applied to Fred, but he preferred to pass it on to the car.
The front bumper of the Modèle P-O is a tubular section, easy to grasp for pulling the car out of the sands of North Africa or the snows of Canada. The Canadian version has a Gurtner gasoline-fired heater and a 12 volt electric system to support it. The hole in the right fender provides combustion air for the heater. The seats are the basic lawn chairs typical of older models, the instrument panel is the small one and the steering wheel is the basic steel wheel with a cross-bar positioned at ten after eight. The speedometer and odometer are calibrated in miles. In a kind gesture to unilingual Torontonian customers, the starter knob is marked S for Starter instead of D for Demarreur and the choke knob is marked C for Choke instead of S for Starteur.
I first met Fred and his new/old Tortue in 2004 when I joined the gang from Montreal in a 2CV tour of La Gaspésie. Fred and la Tortue intercepted us along the road and led us to his place at Balmoral NB where he and Rose-Mai hosted us overnight. I didn’t own a 2CV at the time; I was co-pilot with a friend from Ontario.
In 2007, I got a phone call from Fred: “Allo Bruce, I want you to buy my Tortue”. He explained that he had to reduce his collection of stuff and he told me why he thought I should buy the car. Knowing the car and knowing my friend Fred, the call came almost as a command. I bought the car and drove it home to Peterborough in Ontario.
The little green Deuche is now re-named as TINSNAIL and resides with me in Ottawa. I drive it around and it spreads joy wherever it goes; I see people pointing, laughing and waving, I see total strangers talking to each other, I see small children pointing and calling out – “Mommy, look!” And from time to time someone will approach with hand over heart and tears in his eyes,
– “Ah m’sieu, ceci est la voiture de ma vie!”
Original Canadian 2CV’s are rarity indeed. To our knowledge only two remain on the road today. (Bruce’s and a 1967 2CV in Walkerton Ontario owned by the Lamb family.) And few, if any, are lurking in barns and fields across the country.
Greg, Andy and the late Eileen Lamb with their ’67 2CV. Photo taken in 2003.
In 1999, the Citroen Autoclub Canada pulled 3 Canadian spec 2CVs from a garage in Uxbridge, Ontario. They were owned by Ken Moore, who has since passed away. All three were in pretty rough shape. Ken had managed to have a front end collision in each one with local gravel dump trucks from a nearby quarry. After each accident the wreck was relegated to his garage, but finally things piled up around his cars and he decided it was time to clean house. In an effort to save what was going to go the crusher, we organized a rescue adventure and the 3 cars were taken to Francis Daley’s autobody shop in Toronto. Unfortunately Francis had no space inside, so they where were stored outside under tarps in the hope that someone would restore them. Sadly that didn’t happen. Ken had Ontario registration papers for 2 of the cars so in 2 cases the registration papers and chassis plates for these mid-1960’s 2CVs were used to “age” late 1980’s 2CVs that were imported but did not conform to age requirements as they needed to be over 15 years of age. Cannibalized for their registration, they sat for a number of years with the occasional part being dismantled. They became part of a growing pile of junked cars that was eventually carted away. Most of the 2CVs sold originally in Canada, and there were probably less than 100, have come to to similar fate.
It’s very significant that Bruce’s and the Lambs’ 2CVs have managed to survive. They give us a unique insight into what Citroën offered in Canada at the time.