Carini: When my friends and I locked a Citroën in a cafeteria

Cameron Neveu

Growing up in central Connecticut, I didn’t see many French cars, probably because there were few if any dealers and the “foreign” car shop near us wouldn’t work on them. I saw more Renaults, Peugeots, and Citroëns in one day in the parking lot at Lime Rock than I’d see all year.

I watched a lot of old French movies, and they always had a cool-looking black Citroën Traction Avant, usually driven by the bad guys. Unusually low for a car built from 1934 until 1957, the model had front-wheel drive and a fairly advanced chassis. During World War II, when gasoline was scarce, they were often converted to run on gas produced by fitting gas generators that burned coal, charcoal, or wood.

Deux Chevaux 2CV body roll
Blick/RDB/Getty Images

My first encounter with a Citroën 2CV happened at my high school, thanks to a classmate who sometimes drove his dad’s. Other kids teased him and threatened to tip over the tiny, two-cylinder car. Once, the 2CV was in our auto shop class for service and he left it overnight. That evening, a bunch of us were at a basketball game at the school and decided to have a little fun. We rolled it out of the auto shop and, by removing the center divider strip from one of the school’s double doors, were able to push it into the cafeteria. We then bolted the divider back into place.

I remember the next morning watching the vice principal and three janitors stare at the car and then at the door, unable to figure out how we got the 2CV into the lunchroom. Someone ratted us out and we all received Saturday detention. My father thought the prank was funny, but he was annoyed because I missed my weekly work at his auto body and restoration shop.


Sometime later, I visited Paris for the first time and saw 2CVs everywhere. The small cars fit through narrow streets and were easy to park (head onto the curb). The first 2CV I drove was a 1948 or ’49, which featured corrugated steel panels, a full fabric roof, and hammock-like seats. I loved the simplicity, and I thought features like the suicide doors and fabric roll-back roof were cool. Through my volunteer work with autism, I met a 2CV collector who asked if I wanted to buy one, so I did. My first early car is long gone, but I still have a 1980 Charleston model. I’d also love to have a 2CV Truckette panel van.

As a teen involved with the YMCA Hi-Y club, I encountered a volunteer, a Trinity College professor who drove a Citroën DS wagon. The club met Wednesday nights and took after-school trips, often in his DS. One day he showed us how you could take off a rear wheel and drive around on just three wheels.

I was captivated by the car’s space-age styling, the comfortable ride from the hydraulic suspension, and the single-spoke steering wheel. Driving one for the first time, I immediately took to the ultra-light power steering and that mushroom-like brake button sprouting from the floor—it’s so sensitive, almost like an on/off switch.

My opportunity to own one came years later when a client sent his DS19 to me for some work. One day, his collection manager called and asked if I wanted it. I jumped at the chance to buy the green Citroën. I let it go a few years later, which I truly regret.

Wayne Carini Citroen DS
Wayne Carini

My favorite moment with my DS19 was when I took my mother-in-law to buy a cell-phone. It was a gray, rainy day, and I pulled in front of the store and dropped the suspension to let her out easily. Several of the people who worked there came rushing out of the store asking, “What is it? Can I buy one?” Mom went in to get her phone and I showed them the Citroën. They sat in it, and I raised and lowered the suspension. They weren’t really car guys, but they were amazed, nevertheless.

The Citroën I’d most like to have is the DS Chapron convertible (décapotable in French), but they’ve gotten so expensive that I’m not sure I’ll ever have one. They’re so sleek and look so cool when the suspension is lowered—slammed on the ground.

Wayne Carini Citroen
Wayne Carini

I’m currently looking for an exotic SM, which mates the sophisticated hydraulics and stunning Citroën styling with a V-6 from the Maserati Merak. They are surprisingly affordable—costing a fraction of what you’d pay for a Chapron. One of these days, I’ll definitely have one in my barn, preferably in silver or metallic green.




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    My only real connection to a Citroen was the Maserati powered models. My grandmothers neighbor owned an Oldsmobile dealer in Wadsworth Ohio. For some reason he took on the Citroen line. He had a few of the Maserati powered models but never looked like they ever really sold one.

    I recall one of them ended up sitting in a Mall on the west side of Akron for advertising the dealer. I could relate to the car only because Matchbox had made a model of it and I could buy one at the near by Woolworth store in the same mall.

    What had impressed me was the clear plate cover on the nose of the car and how narrow it was.

    My neighbors grandfather was a Diesel fan for years with his trucks so he purchased a Peugeot sedan. It was not stylish, it was not cool and it was not fast but it was reliable.

    I did have some run ins with Renault cars. Mostly forgettable. It was amazing how much rust a Lecar could sustain and still run.

    Then I had a buddy try to hot rod a Fuego. Not a good idea. I finally got him into RWD American sedans and he did much better.

    The cafeteria story reminds me of a highrise building I once lived in. Some tenants got evicted from the 12th floor. They got revenge by disassembling a Volkswagen Beetle, bringing the pieces up at night and reassembling it in the apartment before they left. I heard the building management was horrified when they opened the door.

    Like Dave I was reminded of story from my youth.
    There was a teacher in our high school that was not very well liked. One day while in the smoking area some of us guys noticed that the teacher had parked his VW Beetle nosed up to the short posts that kept people from pulling on to the grass. We picked up the front of the car and set the bumper on the other side of the post. He could not get his car off without the help of some other teachers. Luckily it was never discovered who would do such a “terrible” thing.

    We did a prank on a student in college that drove a tiny Honda (early 70s). We rolled it up 4 steps through double doors into the dorm’s community room.

    A client of ours owned two Citroen Maserati SM’s in a row. After having so many mechanical problems with the first, he traded it in for the second one after about one year only to discover a completely other set of mechanical problems that led him to sell it for a used, low mileage Lamborghina Espada. That’s another story. I have a love/hate relationship with French Cars: they handle well, the ride superbly, usually the styling is at least interesting, they have lots of zip, they’re quiet, they get reasonable mileage and they BRAKE well. Sadly, the also BREAK well. I’ve owned two, rented several long term, but never again. I can say all the same good things about my series of Swedish cars, one long-term German car and the two Jeeps and one GMC I’ve owned, none of which BROKE.

    Great Citroën print article. Good academic basis for many many valid points.

    As a kid I marveled at the few old 1960s Citroën cars I came upon at car shows and parking lots. Nearly as visually lovely as early XKE Jaguars, other British cars, Italian cars, and 1953-55 Studebaker Starlight hardtops. Adding to the beautiful body shapes of the post war era were the wonderful optimistic exterior and interior colors. Sorry but Tesla designs are tall black, white and gray blobs on black wheels and tires with oversized TV-like screens. Yes, technology is leading edge but the design and colors are lacking in Tesla. Excellent article comparing these two makes from different centuries.

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