The Citroen Bijou
The Citroen Bijou was an adaptation of the much loved 2CV (much loved in France, anyway). Bijou is French for 'jewel' but this one definitely failed to sparkle.
It's origins – the 2CV
The 2CV was a simple means of carrying a couple of farmers plus, perhaps, the odd pig or two across dusty, muddy, rutted country tracks. It had seats that could double as deckchairs, a simple steel body (initially partially corrugated for extra strength) and a low powered engine, initially producing just nine horsepower. On the other hand it was extremely cheap to run, easy to maintain, and to a degree was capable of driving off-road. The suspension ironed out a lot of of the bumps that it necessarily had to drive over which meant that even eggs could be carried with relative safety All in all it was a huge improvement on the horse-drawn transport that was used extensively in rural France before it appeared in 1948, and it was so popular that in the end Citroen produced and sold around 9,000,000 2CVs and it's variants.
The birth of the Bijou
By 1959 the head honchos at Citroen decided that they could best capitalise on it's plus points, such as excellent economy, a comfortable ride and ease of maintenance, in the UK market by designing one that was more in line with British tastes. This was to be built in a factory in Slough in order to avoid import duties. The result was a compromise which pleased next to no one.
They turned to Peter Kirwa –Taylor who had styled the Lotus Elite, which was one of the best looking cars of the time. The result was a coupe which looked, to most eyes at least, a little strange. The bodywork was made of fibreglass, which at least had the advantage of not rusting (one of the major failings of the 2CV) but even it's own mother would never call it beautiful. The interior, which was extremely spartan in it's original incarnation, was made a little less so by covering the seats (or deckchairs!) with some decent cloth and generally tidying it up; and smarter bumpers and hubcaps were fitted. The Bijou remained, however, something of an ugly duckling.
Citroen stuck with an air cooled, twin cylinder engine of just 425 cc. This was noisy and had to work very hard indeed to reach the car's maximum speed of around just 50 mph. To compound the problem the bodywork and other alterations had increased the weight of the car considerably and so the pathetic performance of the standard 2CV was diluted even further, with snail – like acceleration.
Was it successful?
No. At launch the asking price for a new one was £674, which was considered very expensive for the time. Furthermore it was undercut by the Morris Mini Minor which had a larger engine, far better road holding and a much more attractive design. The Mini went on to be one of the best selling cars of all time; but over the following five years only 207 Bijous were made and sold. In short, it was a definite flop.