Check the oil, bitte

Jon Chomitz, his 2CV, and MarcoJon Chomitz, his 2CV, and Marco

Jon Chomitz, his 2CV, and MarcoJon Chomitz with his 2CV and MarcoJon Chomitz stopped by The World‘s studios last Friday morning as the program feted the 60th anniversary of that odd little car, the Citroen 2CV, the deux chevauxHere’s the story.

We got in touch with Chomitz through the Greater New York Citroen Velosolex touring Club, and Chomitz agreed to take producer Andrea Smardon and me for a ride.  What fun!  Chomitz not only loves this car, and his own in particular.  But he knows what he’s doing behind the wheel.  He swung me around turns in a way I thought would flip us (you can see Roger Moore’s stuntman doing just that in this clip from For Your Eyes Only).

I needn’t have fretted though as long as I kept reminding myself of a simple fact about the 2CV.

So here are three things I learned about the 2CV while driving around WGBH last week with Jon Chomitz.

1.  Despite what you may think, the 2CV does not have a high center of gravity and therefore is unlikely to flip.  It does have a high roof, and the wheel base is relatively high (hey, this thing was supposed to bounce across a field with two bags of grain and a pig).  But its center of gravity is in fact pretty low.

2.  The 2CV does not mean “two horses” as in two horsepower.  That’s what I always thought.  But I love cars mostly from the outside.  My appreciation of the insides is limited.  The 2CV actually has about 26 horsepower, which ain’t great.  But two horsepower would barely spin a moped.  The 2CV was originally a French government tax designation, making the car equivalent to owning two horses.

3.  My favorite Chomitz story of the morning:  I mentioned that I once had a girlfriend who drove an R4, Renault’s slightly more brawny answer to the 2CV.  Chomitz told me that Renault collaborated with the Nazis during World War 2.

“What about Citroen?  Didn’t they also have to collaborate?” I asked.

“Well, no one really had a choice,” he said, “but Citroen wasn’t at all happy about it.  To get back at the Germans, Citroen stamped a line that was lower-than-normal on the oil dipstick.  That way, the engines burned out in weeks, rendering the cars useless.  And after the war, Citroen pulled out the ‘good’ dipstick prototype, and the cars were good to go again!”

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