Sam Prokop makes sure to get out and drive early. In the summer, the New Orleans heat and humidity reach tropical intensity by mid-morning. Once the tourists sleep off their hangovers the streets around the Garden District and the French Quarter will be swarming with throngs of people. Besides, Roscoe—Prokop’s beagle-labrador mix—is always up early and ready for a ride.

And so, Sam and Roscoe pile into Prokop’s 1961 Citroën 2CV and make their way through the quiet streets in search of whatever the day has to offer. Motoring through the French Quarter, Prokop maneuvers around the delivery trucks that stock the local restaurants. He waves at pedestrians who, equally charmed by the little French car and the dog that rides in it, shout out compliments and scramble for their phones in hopes of snapping a photo. Very seldom does Prokop have a destination in mind; simply moving forward through the morning streets is reward enough for waking up early.

Sam Prokop's 1961 Citroën 2CV
Aaron McKenzie

“You have the windows open, you have top rolled back and you sort of don’t care if it goes fast or not,” says Prokop, “Because at the end of the day, it’s moving forward. That’s what matters.”

In 2021, few people own a Citroën 2CV for mere transportation. With their lawn chair interior, leather straps in lieu of a gas gauge, and 23-horsepower, air-cooled, two-cylinder engines, these 1100-pound French cars are a relic of a simpler time. They are also, for Prokop, a connection to his homeland.

Prokop was born and raised in France, where the 2CV was as important as the Volkswagen Beetle in Germany or the Ford Model T in the United States. Like those cars, the 2CV was designed to be cheap to build, cheap to operate, and rugged enough to bounce across pockmarked roads or farm fields without breaking a basket of eggs in the back seat. That Citroën achieved these aims in the 2CV—and that the company produced them beginning in 1948 all the way to 1990—is remarkable from a design and manufacturing perspective, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that have inspired a young Sam Prokop to desire to own one as a young man growing up in France.

After moving to the United States with his American wife, however, Prokop found himself wishing for an automotive connection to his homeland. His mind quickly returned to the cars that most stood out in his memories, and his search ended when he stumbled across this 1961 model in a barn in rural France, where it had been tucked away by its original owner 26 years earlier. With the help of some new spark plugs, a new dynamo, and some fresh gas, the 2CV cranked right over as if it had been parked the day before.

“It continues to be the most reliable car I’ve ever owned,” says Prokop. “I would take this car cross-country tomorrow in the state she’s in and she’d be fine.”

Prokop, Roscoe, and the 2CV have become a regular feature on New Orleans streets. Occasionally they’ll set out in search of Petite Rouge, a local coffee truck (or, more accurately, a coffee truck housed in a 1970 Citroën H-Van) that sets up shop around New Orleans, and then head for the sprawling lawns of New Orleans City Park, where Prokop lets Roscoe out to stretch his legs and play fetch outside the New Orleans Museum of Art. After a drive along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Prokop and Roscoe will head home.

Sam Prokop's 1961 Citroën 2CV
Aaron McKenzie

The route may change from day to day, but one constant is the attention this 2CV receives from onlookers. Wherever he goes, Prokop knows that other drivers will shift into reverse and roll down their windows just so they can ask him about the car. While most of the curious onlookers are unable to identify the Citroën, they all have a smile on their face when they see it.

“Every time I pass in front of somebody—kids, adults, sixty-year-olds, ten-year-olds, it doesn’t matter—they all smile,” says Prokop. “I love that about this car. You might say it’s what drives me to drive.”
These 2CVs may not be terribly comfortable. They are not always easy to drive, and they are certainly not going to deliver a driver to a destination with any sense of urgency. What these simple little French cars do promise, however, is that every drive will be an adventure, and for Sam Prokop this is all that matters.

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Cars, much like nature, abhor a vacuum. Word of an empty garage bay at someone’s house has a way of spreading through a local car community. Before long, that small patch of real estate soon houses someone’s project. Someone’s heirloom. Or maybe someone’s secret, hidden from an unsympathetic spouse.

Eric Oberlander experienced this axiom play out in real life, shortly after moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2008. Word somehow leaked out into his neighborhood that Oberlander had some garage space that he wasn’t using and, before long, a young neighbor came knocking at his door.

“Any chance I could store my old Bronco project in your garage?” he asked Oberlander.

Eric Oberlander's 1971 Ford Bronco
Aaron McKenzie

At the time, Oberlander knew next to nothing about early Ford Broncos. Growing up in the Washington, D.C., area with a stepfather who was into air-cooled Volkswagens, Oberlander had spent most of his youth bouncing around in the family’s Thing and scavenging local wrecking yards for old Porsche and VW parts, or even full cars—this being a time when old Porsches were just old cars and not collectible titans. (By the time he went off to college, Oberlander was able to sell the 1971 Porsche 911 T he had cobbled together to help pay for his tuition.)

Amid none of these automotive adventures, however, did Oberlander encounter any first-generation Ford Broncos, so when his neighbor started restoring that old SUV in Oberlander’s garage, he was fascinated. New automotive exploration, right before his eyes.

It was, says Oberlander, the beginning of a “passion, an obsession, and a problem” that has started him down a path to his own collection of twenty early Broncos—many of them among the rarest in existence.

Eric Oberlander's 1971 Ford Bronco
Aaron McKenzie

There is, for instance, serial #005, one of the very first 1966 model-year Bronco off the Ford assembly line in August, 1965. Oberlander also owns a U.S. military Bronco that immediately prompts one to ask, “Wait, didn’t the military use Jeeps back in the 1960s?” Well, yes, but for a brief moment, the military’s procurement machine felt that Kaiser Jeep would be more inclined to give the U.S. government a better price on Jeeps if it had to face a little competition. Thus were, at most, 120 military Broncos delivered to Uncle Sam. Jeep ultimately retained their place as the military’s vehicle of choice and these Broncos—which found their way into service around the world, from Panama to Vietnam—lived hard lives that by no means ensured survival.

The crown jewel of Oberlander’s stable is his 1971 s, also known as the “Baja Bronco.” Known for its distinctive orange, blue, and white paint scheme, the Stroppe Broncos were the creation of Bill Stroppe, a California-based off-road racer who made his name at races like the Baja 1000 and who partnered with Ford to build a hot-rodded Bronco, much like Carroll Shelby juiced up Mustangs for the Blue Oval. An estimated 400 Stroppe Broncos were ultimately produced and, short of owning Parnelli Jones’s “Big Oly” Bronco (which recently fetched $1.87 million at a Mecum auction), a Stroppe Bronco is, for many, the pinnacle of Bronco ownership.

Oberlander says his Stroppe Bronco is entirely original, from paint to fender to engine. He bought the truck from the original owner in Boise, Idaho, a man who kept every scrap of paper related to the Bronco and who maintained it with a kind of religious devotion. The result is a survivor that, when he hits the dirt for a day of hunting and fishing with his two young sons, immediately takes Oberlander back to the 1970s.

“I probably baby it a little more than I do my other cars, because it’s so collectible.” says Oberlander, “I’m not going to put it in harm’s way, but I’m definitely not afraid to flog it around and get it covered with mud.”

Oberlander now maintains a side hustle building and restoring old Broncos. Even that, however, doesn’t entirely satisfy his passion for these utilitarian rigs. Eventually, says Oberlander, he’d like to open a Bronco museum to share his passion with others—and to make them aware that these rare models exist.

Some of these Broncos are so rare that no one has ever even heard of them,” says Oberlander. “And for there to be interest in something, people have to be aware that it exists.” Oberlander’s goal: to help people know that these classics exist.

In the meantime, however, Oberlander is content to pile into his Bronco with his sons on a Saturday morning and light out into the Louisiana woods in search of new adventures.

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