I have been longing for warmer weather lately and it made me think of a funky offshoot of the 2CV that many people have never seen nor heard of: the Méhari.
The Méhari's underlying parts were similar to the 2CV—air-cooled flat two-cylinder engine (602 cc), independent suspension with chassis-mounted, pushrod-actuated springs, etc.—but the body was completely unique. Rather than steel or fibreglass the body is made of moulded ABS plastic. Citroën advertised it as "resilient and elastic like rubber" although I wonder what years worth of exposure to sunlight would do to it...
Production began in 1968 (before the VW Thing, FYI) and ended in 1987. For a few years in the early '80s they also built a four-wheel-drive version with a locking rear differential and three-speed transfer case.
In comparison to any modern car it's woefully underpowered—about 28 horsepower—but the Méhari is very light: only about 1200 lbs (the 4x4 was about 300 lbs heavier). Despite being very slow I imagine it would be a lot of fun to tool around a beachside community in a Méhari.
Google's doodle today marked the anniversary of Raymond Loewy's birth. Loewy was famous for all sorts of industrial and graphic designs but the 1953 Studebaker Starliner is surely one of his best.
It would take the Big Three another five years to build cars long and low like the '53 Studebaker, a styling trend that would carry on well into the 1960s.
Looking back it's funny to me that I made mention of the '53 Studebaker right after a longwinded ode to the 2CV and yet I never said anything about Citroën's replacement for the Traction-Avant, a car that took the sleek look pioneered by the '53 Studebaker even further: the DS.
Would you believe that car debuted at the Mondial de l'auto in Paris on October 6, 1955?
Whereas the 2CV was minimalist to the extreme the DS was fantastically complex. It borrowed the somewhat outdated engine from the Traction-Avant, a 1.9 L four-cylinder making only 75 hp (at a time when a relatively inexpensive American car like a Plymouth had at the very least a six-cylinder engine with well over 100 hp), but everything else about it was unlike any other car before.
At the heart of the car was a high-pressure hydraulic system that was used throughout. The suspension eschewed springs altogether in favour of a hydropneumatic system. Spheres full of nitrogen gas were mounted at each wheel, with an internal diaphragm separating the nitrogen from the hydraulic system. The wheel's suspension arms acted on the hydraulic fluid, which was forced into the sphere. The effect was that the compressed nitrogen would act as both a spring and a damper. The spheres at each wheel were interconnected with tubing and the hydraulic systems at each wheel reacted against the forces on the others to produce an exceptionally smooth, level ride. The car's ride height also adapted to weight in the car and could be pre-selected with a lever in the passenger cabin, raised as required to overcome choppy rural roads. The hydraulic pump could provide enough pressure to raise the car enough that a jack wasn't necessary when changing a tire, and the hydraulic system could even compensate for the loss of one of the wheels entirely! (French President Charles de Gaulle had an attempt made on his life in 1962 while he was riding in a motorcade in a DS; the would-be assassin successfully shot out one of the tires but because the car's hydraulic system could compensate for the loss and still keep the car level the driver simply sped away, saving the President's life.)
The high-pressure hydraulic system was also used in the semi-automatic transmission. Instead of a conventional linkage between gear selector and transmission the car used the hydraulic system to shift gears. The driver only had to select the gear he or she wanted to be in—the hydraulic system did the rest, there was no clutch pedal. (The hydraulic system was also used for the power braking and steering.)
Other innovations pioneered by the DS included crumple zones, a single-spoke 'safety' steering wheel, a plastic dashboard, four-wheel disc brakes (inboard), and eventually directional headlights and electronic fuel injection.