11 March 2022
Sampling some rare homemade beauty, with French origins.
It may not look like it, but the stylish little hardtop coupé pictured here is essentially a Citroën 2CV - a car that has been variously nicknamed ‘the ugly ducking’ or ‘an umbrella with four wheels’. And it was made in Britain.
Between 1926 and 1966, Citroën had a UK factory in Slough which assembled cars in right-hand-drive form, often with certain modifications to suit the tastes of the British market. The 2CV that had helped to bring motoring within reach of ordinary people in France was assembled at Slough from 1953 onwards but, in spite of being ultra-economical, the car’s utilitarian looks did not endear it to British buyers. The target market of suburban housewives looking for a second car did not take kindly to such an unusual machine and preferred more conventional – and cheaper – British small cars.
Sales of the 2CV in the UK were minimal and so, in 1958, the Slough management took the decision to dress up the car in more stylish bodywork. The cost of producing steel body pressings being prohibitive, Citroën turned to designer Peter Kirwan-Taylor to style a two-door hardtop with a fibreglass body. Incorporating styling cues from the futuristic DS – in addition to reusing various interior fittings such as the one-spoke steering wheel – the new small car, christened Bijou (‘jewel’) certainly looked the part. But the body was difficult to mould and assemble and, once again, it proved impossible to sell the car at a competitive price. Just over 200 were made until production stopped in 1964. The whole story can be found in a fascinating book by Citroën enthusiast, John Reynolds, From A to X: Seventy-five years of Citroën vehicles in the UK, published in 1998.
The Bijou was soon forgotten and many years passed before it attracted the attention of the toy and model makers. Resin replicas in kit or handbuilt form can be found from MF Creations and Ministyle of France. These have the very small central front grille as fitted to the prototype car shown at the 1959 London motor show. In 2014 a further resin model appeared from Matrix, with the wider grille of the production model, initially in blue and, the following year, in light green. A similar model is also available from another recent collectors’ brand BoS (Best of Show), with some minor detail differences, notably in the wheel styles.
The most economical option, however, is a diecast is a pleasant shade of pale green in the Diecast-Club.com 2CV of the World range, the box of which also carries the name of Ixo, the maker that is behind so many current collectors’ diecasts. This captures the shape of the car well and all the details, such as the badging and wheel designs, are authentic – and that all-important single-spoke steering wheel has not been forgotten either.
After decades of neglect, the Bijou is back, at least in model form. And, surprisingly in view of the limited production of the real one, survivors do turn up regularly at classic car shows and Citroën gatherings. The one pictured was part of a remarkable line-up at the World Meeting of Friends of the Citroën 2CV, held at Floors Castle in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders, back in July 2005.