Under its wobbly tin bonnet it will have the 602cc twin-cylinder air-cooled engine (200cc bigger than the original version), because even sucking fuel via an old fashioned carburettor it will still come in under the environmental Taliban’s radar (an admirable Group C, it turns out).  It will be one of the simplest answers to the carbon problem: light as a feather, soft as a sofa, cavernous semi-circular interior, flat floor, simple rubber mats, four plastic covered seats, a canvas roll back roof, incapable of breaking the maximum legal speed limit (except with a tail wind), Michelin tyres that last forever and road holding that never loses grip.  My pre-war concoction of interlocking Bauhaus semi-circles will be part of the future,

an alternative to the injection-moulded factory-sealed iPods-on-wheels that can only be fixed using the computing power of NASA.  My current TV production company is very small.  In TV parlance it is known as a “micro-indie” and I use it to sell programme ideas and my skills to the wider TV ecology.  It also pilots ideas.  The concept of recycling a car – or cars – into one crisply re-engineered, carefully designed, modern-day 2cv seems like a good project, so we set up a development budget and what you are reading is the beginnings of the story.  It will be the story of the 2cv and me: Pierre Boulanger’s original concept and my life, both revisited.  Citroen stopped building 2cv cars at the end of 1989.  Long before that, the infamously dingy Paris factory had been closed and final production came to a halt not in France but in Portugal, so eighteen years later here I am hunkered down at my Mac.  I Google ‘2cv’.  Instantly up pop page after page of 2cv contacts, parts suppliers and clubs.  One looks better than the rest.  It is called Quirky Classics.  The website is not just entertaining, it catches beautifully the inner smile of the car it supports.  Quirky Classics claims it will do the lot: fix an ailing runner; recondition a non-runner, rebuild a battered old friend or make a completely new one from what’s left of a registered original.  After a leisurely hour mooching around the site and its various links to the local 2cv enthusiasts I pull down a form that asks prospective buyers to tick a row of boxes.  A deux chevaux is nothing if not simple.  The list of essential components fits on one page – an easily understandable menu of bits like wheels, seats, headlamps, paint, bumpers, brakes and mats.  It’s like ordering a curry except there are now garnishes that bring the ‘puddle jumper’ closer to the modern world.  A separate menu offers stainless steel bumpers, heater fans, stainless exhausts with a lifetime guarantee, leather upholstery, carpets, interior lights, galvanized chassis, bespoke paint finishes and other 21stCentury delights like heated rear screens and even opening rear windows!  Pick and mix.  Click ‘Send’ and it’s gone – back to Devon via cyberspace for a quote.  A full specification and price list come back as an email.  Pay a deposit and away it goes again, or so I hope.


As I later discovered, France never really got the (German) bubble car thing.  There were a few French micro-cars in the 1950s but after the war Citroen returned to production with the pre-war family sized 2cv, albeit made from steel rather than the original aluminium.  In the end it was the French who got it right.  The 2cv, like Germany’s VW, wasn’t the dead-end that bubble cars turned out to be (although they might yet come of age as electric micro-cars).  The 2cv was part of the post-war future.  My lifetime relationship with vehicles: the stolen 2cv; a love of lightness and small air-cooled engines, a penchant for weirdness and reluctant environmentalism got me thinking.  The big 3-ltire Shoguns I had owned were the real automotive anomalies in the list.  The various very basic vehicles I had owned were the ones that had brought me true enjoyment.  Even my seven restored motorcycles had been oddities: a red 1957 500cc Moto Guzzi Falcone converted to ‘Sport’ specification; a red 1973 750cc Moto Guzzi Le Mans Production Racer – a real one with straight-cut gears 40-mm carburettors and stubby ‘Imola’ pipes; a bright orange 1978 750cc Laverda SFC Production Racer with magnesium cycle parts and early electronic ignition system that seldom worked; a red 1952 250cc MM A51 precursor to the Moto Morini; a grey-green 1949 75cc AeroCaproni Capriolo built by the manufacturer of WW2’s fastest fighter plane; a black 1957 500cc BMW R69, the one with needle roller bearings on the valve rockers; a white 1952 125cc Moto Rumi Squirrel prototype, and a mint 1957 150cc Lambretta D rescued in the 1990s from the back a south London motorcycle shop.  But over the years the idea of a re-born 2cv kept coming back.  The introduction of the silly ‘art deco’ 2cv Charleston, the twee Dolly, the horrid Beachcomber and the marginally less tasteless Bamboo were proof to me that Citroen had lost its way.  Such cosmetic makeovers missed the direction Citroen might have taken 2cv in its final years: back to the car’s roots, to make and market something that still expressed the design’s original concept, its aesthetics and its history.  Oddly for such a cheap car the 2cv’s charm always lay in its well-thought-out details: the body’s corrugations, the functional grille, its tiny cast aluminium door handles; the aircraft-like sweep of the rear wheel shrouds (similar to the Junkers Stuka undercarriage); the opening vent under the windscreen; the geometrically perfect single-spoke steering wheel; the extraordinary suspension travel, the seams and hinges doubling as gutters, the removable doors and boot lid, and so on.  These were the outer displays of the car’s inner soul.  In my view those daft paint jobs simply obscured such enjoyably honest engineering excellence.  My rebuild would be the car Citroen should have built.


In 1900 the Americans had as many steam cars as gasoline driven vehicles and electric cars were commonplace throughout Europe.  No one needed to go faster than a trotting horse.  Panhard and Benz made the petrol engine a popular power source that was rapidly developed during the First World War, particularly lubricants and bearings.  By the ‘thirties the legacy of Henry Ford’s petrol-engine Model T had inspired the Europeans to mobilise their citizens with simple pared-down ‘people’s cars’ designed to be cheaply manufactured in huge numbers.  Car moguls made the pilgrimage to Ford’s colossal River Rouge factory in Michigan and copied it. It led to the Austin Seven in Britain; it got Italy the Fiat Topolino; the Nazis built the giant Wolfsburg plant and German citizens were sold shares in the ‘Volks Wagen’.  And Andre Citroen promised the French people Pierre Boulanger’s “umbrella on wheels”, except that war broke out and they got it ten years afterwards in 1948, dubbed the deux chevaux vapeur.

By 1961 I had stopped escorting my brother and sister and joined the fashionable army of south London teenagers, working at weekends in a hardware shop and saving the £2/10d earnings for my first pair of shrink-fit Levi blue-jeans from Brick Lane market, Ivy League style lambs wool crew neck sweater from Liberty’s, white American red soled ‘bucks’ and cream cotton New York-style lightweight raincoat only found in Austin’s American Imports in Shaftesbury Avenue or blagged off GIs leaving the US Army PX behind Olympia.  It was a tough game to keep up with on two-quid a week.  The information about what was ‘in’ and what was ‘out’ came down a mysterious suburban grapevine.  No one seemed to know where its roots were, although many years later a neighbour of mine called Brian Bilgorri who turned out to be the son of Bilgorri of Bishopsgate, a tailor who had made suits for the East End’s first modernists (known as Faces), told me that the council estates in Hackney and Bermondsey packed with well paid young meat porters and stall holders were where he thought much of it originated.  And it wasn’t just the clothes; the look of scooters and the type of music were just as important.  One week no mirrors: next week matt grey paint.  The following week no side panels with engine parts chromed.  Then chromed side pods and French yellow headlamp bulbs.  One week the Detroit sound was cool, the next week it was Booker-T or female singers on the Windy City label.  And only the original American or Jamaican discs were acceptable.  Anything pressed on a UK label from a high street shop was dud – unplayable.  It meant regular weekends spent at the Ram Jam club, the El Partido or the improbably trendy Bromley Court Hotel where DJs flogged the imported records at hugely inflated prices.  There were also the secret retailers: a sort of early version of the pop-up shop.  Clothes, scooter and record dealers were dotted around London’s suburbs and inner boroughs from Lewisham to Richmond, Hackney to Hampstead.  In Bromley north we had Boyers for Lambrettas and at Bromley South the Penthouse Club where Ska was played in an old timber store next to the railway line to Victoria.  In the market square was Dunns, a furniture shop selling only Scandinavian and Italian furniture, a gathering place on Saturday mornings for Mods from the locality and a source of information on parties that evening.  If nothing was happening, an early evening scooter ride to the West End was on the cards, but it was a grim business, often cold and wet with little to do once we got there except watch one another, often drenched, sharing intermittent gossip and chewing gum until someone said “party” and everyone headed off to a remote council estate or road of semi-detached houses where some unfortunate sister or brother was trying to celebrate a birthday.  The intimidating site of fifty chromium-plated scooters each two-up clad in flapping bat-like parkas would usually close it down in seconds.  After that – or even before – it was home for me through London’s empty and slippery streets with the exhaust chattering off the shop-fronts.  For those who took amphetamines a Sunday spent nervously waiting in someone’s flat for the clubs to re-open usually meant a Monday morning ‘throwing a sickie’.  By now I was at art school and enjoying it too much to want my brain bleached by anything stronger than orange juice and coffee.


My first scooter was up and running in 1962 but with no money I had to teach myself how to rebuild it.  It was a very un-cool 1956 Lambretta 150d.  It had been a tatty non-runner I spotted in a front garden hedge on Widmore Road one Autumn evening on my way back from life drawing, but by the following Spring I was using it as regular transport gradually improving the smoky engine and replacing missing parts over the summer months.  It had one detail I absolutely loved.  The expansion box under the footboard was very solidly made with two removable baffles designed for de-coking.  The baffles could also be left out of the exhaust to give the engine that essential crackle that all Mod scooters had.  I couldn’t afford a retrofit sports exhaust so this ‘botch’ had to do, but it worked really well after I had re-jetted the carburettor to balance the weaker backpressure (I suspect the scooter was actually slower with the baffle removed, but the crackling sound more than made up for that).  It didn’t take long for the police to stop me (a rite of passage for scooter boys in the 1960s), but by 1964 the little Lambretta was a glittering if highly modified artwork.  In the end, as mods grew up and flower power took hold scooters slipped out of fashion and I became more interested in full-size motorcycles.  For my employed ex-Mod friends Issigonis’ Mini became the mid-sixties vehicle of choice, often tuned and lightened to mimic the Cooper racing versions we watched at Brands Hatch.  But for me, having elevated myself in 1966 from humble art school to the Royal College of Art, Minis – or any other fashionable vehicle – were financially out of the question.



In the year of armistice and my birth petrol had been in constant short supply throughout the war and would be rationed for another decade.  It was a world of scarcity.  During my childhood horses still pulled United Dairy milk carts through the streets.  I would pedal out to the road on my tricycle to feed a Tate & Lyle sugar lump to the horse that delivered ours.  Then, at about the time electric milk floats replaced horses tiny three-wheeled economy cars appeared, contraptions like the Bond powered by smoky two-stroke engines offered permanently damp motorcyclists something approaching car-like weather protection at a fraction of the cost.  It was a very low investment option.  These ‘cycle cars’ were largely batch-built from angle iron (cheap), sheet aluminium (easy to work), canvas (low skill) and celluloid (lightweight).  Later on glass fibre replaced the recycled aeroplane aluminium that had been abundant after the war, but got rapidly more expensive as mainstream car production took off.  The results of this cycle car ‘industry’ were hilarious.  I remember the owners of Bonds having to get out and kick-start the engines after they had stalled at traffic lights.  To do this they would lift a hatch in the nose, put their leg inside the opening and pump it up and down until the Villiers two-stroke coughed back into life.  It was around 1955 that vehicles capable of carrying two people dubbed ‘bubble cars’ started to appear.  These futuristic-looking vehicles were built by the dismantled German warplane companies, Messerschmitt, Heinkel and BMW, or by defunct Italian coachbuilders like Isetta.  All of them used motorcycle-type single cylinder engines with chain drives to the rear wheel.  Because the British could not or would not properly invest in small cars, the excuse being we needed dollars to repay our war loans, these German bubble cars caught on in a big way.  British cars were being built, but they were bigger and heavier in a largely futile chase for American buyers and dollars.  These transatlantic offerings like the pre-war designed Triumph Roadster; the bulbous Austin Atlantic or the quirky Armstrong Siddley Saphire bombed.  Ironically it was the little European sports cars that American buyers liked best: dainty drop-heads like the Triumph TR2, Austin Healy, MG and the German Porsche.  For British buyers only the 1948 Morris Minor designed by Alec Issigonis matched European space and economy in one package.  But it was the bubble cars Issigonis hated and it was these that would eventually lead him to design the clever Mini as his sophisticated repost to the their chugging motorcycle underpinnings.

As a child I took great interest in all of this, replicating the battle for supremacy in on the streets of the 1950s with an expanding collection of Dinky toys on the dark-stained wooden boards my bedroom floor.  There was even a Dinky 2cv (‘Fabrique en France par Meccano’).  But from 1958 onwards my biggest influences were the television programmes from America like Highway Patrol (I would mimic Broderick Crawford’s never-to-be-forgotten “Ten-four.  Over…and out”.), Whirlybirds, or better still Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip with Efrem Zimbalist Junior and Kookie Burns sliding in and out of the pearlized Nuagahyde bench seats of Plymouth Plazas, De Soto Fireflights and Chevrolet Bel-Airs.  It meant my pocket money went mainly on model American cars by Corgi and Dinky.  Both companies were in a fierce battle for my attention introducing suspension, plastic windows and opening doors, bonnets full of engine detail and boots with spare wheels: lures to the detail-fixated boys of the era.  But on the roads of south London it remained a much grimmer picture.  Well into the new decade pre war cars were everywhere: battered and mostly black.  Everything felt old, grimy and patched-up.  Then, in the ‘fifties, on the other side of the creosoted Victorian fence that divided our house from the Italian-owned Arpino’s hotel next door I saw two streamlined Lambretta LDs: one yellow and cream, the other red and cream.  They belonged to Mr Arpino’s sons who had ridden them from Genoa.  Shortly afterwards silver-green Vespas started to appear on the streets (imported from Piaggio in Turin by the Bristol-based Douglas motorcycle company).  Even today the crackling two-stroke exhaust note of Piaggio’s compact little engine on overrun still conjures up that first sighting.  These were romantic times: glimpses of a colourful and curvaceous future from far away lands.  Italian machines were expensive in currency-restricted Britain, but you could find them if you knew where to look.

In the late fifties on Sundays after mass I would walk my younger brother and sister from St Josephs Roman Catholic Church along Bromley’s leafy Victorian roads to an Italian café in the High Street called Gino’s.  My mother would give me enough money to buy each of us a hot chocolate drink.  In 1959 Gino’s was the place sharply dressed sixteen-year-olds would bring their Italian scooters: gold Rumis, cream Lambrettas, blue Vespas and sometimes the rarer bright green Demm, or red and yellow Itom 50cc motorcycles: their sparkling Italian shapes contrasting Sunday’s dark and dismal shop fronts.  My gimlet eye for detail spotted the boys’ narrow trousers with ‘split seams’ to show off the glossy pointed Chelsea boots.  These came with obligatory narrow parallel neckties and magnolia coloured shirts with tab collars.  This look slowly morphed into slim-fitting mohair suits, floral shirts and Raoul shoes with dark green suede uppers and polished dark green or blue leather soles with a welt that wrapped around the sides – really only suitable for lounging, dancing or being delicately displayed on the footboards of a scooter in sunny weather (very un-Italian drizzle seemed the norm).  Britain’s unpredictable weather led to a vogue for protective black galoshes with the expensive dress shoes carried in tartan ‘grips’.  In 1962 this ‘look’ gave way to dessert boots, Tonik suits and ex-Korean war US Army fishtail parkas to protect the suits on scooter journeys to the West End.  Lee Cooper jeans, white T-shirts, puffer jackets and white All-Star basketball boots were a favourite of the art students of the day, mimicking Jasper Johns and other ‘mod’ American heroes.

My part-rebuilt Messerschmitt KR200 in 1967.


In 1998 my company bought me my third brand new 3.5-litre Mitsubishi Shogun. It was a second-generation model costing £35,000. For that I got six-cylinders, 24-valves, automatic transmission, four-wheel-drive, a long-wheelbase, leather interior, air conditioning and a dashboard brimming with toys. It was a real chunk of Japanese cross-country galvanized heavy metal. But there was plenty of plastic too: an enormous quantity of plastic. They are called Pajero in the USA (although not in Spanish-speaking markets where Pajero is slang for ‘wanker’). In Europe and the Spanish-speaking world they get a Montero badge, but whatever they are called Shogun’s are a truly global product. Mitsubishi was Imperial Japan’s biggest builder of four-wheel-drive military vehicles and the Shogun was its post-war re-entry into the domestic market. The first ones were launched in 1982 and were an immediate hit. Misquoting Land Rover’s strapline (The Best 4×4 by Far) I called my Shoguns “the 747s of 4x4s”, not because they are the biggest or roomiest, but because they have that weird Boeing-like aerospace aesthetic throughout. From the dash-mounted artificial horizon and liquid crystal compass to the push-button overhead spot lamps; from the deep radii plastic window insets to United Airlines-style grey leather seats it feels like a 747, and when it’s cruising at eighty its blunt profile tears the air like a Jumbo too. Up-front you sit in Captains’ Chairs almost as far above the ground as a ready-to-roll airliner. Bulbous plastic ‘panty-lines’ around the Shogun’s midriff inflate its mass to the point where from some angles it can look like a candidate for automotive liposuction. The short-overhang, nose-forward, tail-up stance makes it appear heavy yet sprightly. This is underlined by doughnut Bridgestones on chubby artillery wheels, yet the Shogun is quite small by 4×4 standards – smaller than a Land Rover Discovery: much smaller than a Land Cruiser, tiny compared to a Range Rover. Above the Tupperware-curves of its plastic muffin top is a modestly narrow steel body from the Pacific-rim-only base model. My engine is the compact V-six aluminium block matched to a short ratio four-speed-plus-overdrive automatic gearbox with semi-intelligent four-wheel drive. Not for nothing does the UN use Shoguns in trouble spots. Built in Japan by Mitsubishi Motor Corporation before Daimler-Chrysler buggered it up, all Shoguns are screwed together to last: tough and as reliable as a…what else…a 747? Unlike many SUVs its steel chassis is visible from several angles: displayed like parts of a military gun carriage. For a quality curtain call there’s the toolkit – a big, tough, bright orange hydraulic jack under the back seat. A full set of hard steel tools in a fitted cupboard buried inside the rear door: an inspection-lamp for emergency work at night and more 12-volt electric sockets than a TV studio. The 1997 Shogun is a vehicle the likes of which will never be manufactured on planet Earth again. A vehicle evolved to live a solitary life far away from service stations and predictable roads, but with a comfort and build-quality that is peculiarly Japanese: the product of a culture that is not embarrassed to call a cross-head screw beautiful – and to proudly display them. Japan is an engineering culture famous for its variety of spring steel captured washers, nylon cable clips and ‘O’-rings invented to make complicated machines easy to build and genuinely reliable. So, fourteen years after leaving Yokohama for a life of long-haul family excursions across Europe, my Shogun has no rattles, no smoke and in our new environmental era, almost no friends. It must go. After the motor industry’s pioneering engineers (men like Henry Ford or Andre Citroen) car builders rapidly lost their appetite for simple technology. When the first oil crisis and sulphurous smog hit the headlines in the 1970’s the motor industry was at a technological crossroad. By then Japan and Europe had invested heavily in very small high-power 1-litre engines that were extraordinarily efficient. The Americans had continued to develop big slow inefficient engines that depended on cheap gasoline. The oil crisis melted away, but the smog didn’t and the US government led by California and advised through backchannels to the auto industry opted to throw away some big engine power (thus fuel) by fitting catalytic converters to all new cars. A catalytic converter actually burns fuel to scrub pollutants like nitrogen oxide from exhaust gas. The US market seemed pretty content to waste energy keeping a catalyst hot enough to convert exhaust gas into pure nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. European and Japanese society, largely comprised of political coalitions, moved more slowly. Aware that heavily taxed European fuel prices would inevitably rise, several companies including Ford of Europe and Honda had been experimenting with small ultra-efficient low-emission ‘lean burn’ engines that would, with time, pass US emissions regulations. But the low investment short cut of catalytic converters combined with the clamour to clean up all to new cars – particularly from the German Green parties – led to tough Europe-wide catalyser legislation in 1981. The survival of cars with big engines like the Shogun was the immediate result of this cosy deal. It took another eight years to make 1.2-litre engines with catalytic converters match the power, but not the efficiency, of plain 1-litre engines. Because petrol prices then went up, manufacturers switched to diesel. To get the same power as petrol engines, diesels have to be about 15% bigger still. Add to this the extra power to run a catalyst and we were pretty much back where we started until computers took over the running of engines. It is possible to visualise Earth as a battery: a ball that over billions of years has been charged-up with energy stored or laid down, while the generator – the Sun – continues to ‘trickle charge’ it and everything on it. Like a car battery, as long as Earth’s charge in the form of coal, oil and gas remained unused, the trickle charge provided most of the energy that its population needed. This was energy used and re-grown (or recycled) from material on the surface inside the atmosphere like wood, peat, water and so on. It was a closed system in rough balance with plenty of spare capacity to absorb the ebbs and flows of ice ages and tectonic movement. But once the human engine started to bore down into the stored energy and add the unburned waste to the atmosphere we started to run up debt, or flatten our battery. It was only a matter of time before alarm bells would ring. The time it took was about three-hundred years. In belated response the auto makers set out to launch a whole new raft of expensive cars so we would have to dump perfectly serviceable technology and convert to bewilderingly complex so-called eco-friendly ones, literally costing the earth to build: cars that that will be impossible to fix; will mostly export the pollution somewhere else to nuclear power stations, bio-fuel farms in hacked down rain forests or energy hungry hydrogen pressurizing factories. Current hybrids and electric cars are quickly turning out to not be the answer. So my contribution to the quest for a cleaner environment will be to go the other way. To turn back the tide of new and ever more complex cars and retrieve something from the past, to bring back to life from that automotive graveyard of history something much more appropriate: Pierre Boulanger’s le toute petit voiture.


Ever since the 40-year old control freak Henry Ford started his company it had been legendary for measuring everything and the impact on the market of its model launch programmes was no exception.  The amount of coverage a launch got in newspapers magazines and TV throughout Europe was collated into region-by-region cost-benefit-analysis reports, then dossiers full of graphs were produced.  For the Erika this information would detail the perception of the product in the public’s collective mind and be fed into advertising strategies run by the Marketing Department and, naturally, the next car launch by John Waddell’s Public Affairs department.  Outcomes would determine whether heads would roll or careers would be enhanced.  The Erika was due for launch over a year away in September 1980.

Just over a year before that on the 29 December 1978, a cold quiet Friday, I had walked from BBC Kensington House in Shepherds Bush to the Citroen main dealer called S.E. Thomas in Hammersmith and put down one hundred and eighty-one pounds and twenty-two pence on a yellow 2cv6.  It was ten-percent of the on-the-road price: covered by the £2000 Ford had paid me for rewriting the Erika launch film.  Three weeks later the yellow Citroen ELN 82T was delivered to the forecourt of SE Thomas.  On the drive home, like three-and-a-half-million other owners, I was smitten.

Spool forward thirty years into a marriage and two children, through three brand-new Mitsubishi Shogun 4x4s, a film company (by now closed), five painstakingly restored Italian motorcycles and one German BMW R69 circa 1957…and a re-invented career in millennium-era TV.  Gone is the glittering optimism of the 1980s.  The grim drizzle of environmentalism now washes over my life.  Gone is my hair.  Gone is the dominance of Ford.  Gone is my freely disposable income.  Gone is my Hyde Park duplex from where the 2cv was also ‘gone’.  Gone completely are the old certainties of my Cold War youth.  In fact the hardest thing of all to conjure up is that pervasive Dr Strangelove atmosphere: the ‘get-it-now-because-today-might-be-your-last’ mindset that gripped us as kids and infused every corner of our lives for so long.

During my youth ‘Peace Is Our Profession’ was the motto of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, or SAC.  Was it ironic?  It felt like it at the time.  My birth in 1946 paralleled the inception of the SAC and throughout my life the word peace had been the plaything of the military.  Advertisers tell us that a key to propaganda is to hijack an image the opposite of what you do (does peace belong to CND or the SAC?).  Yet the SAC would doubtless claim my happy life from toddler until the fall of the Berlin Wall had been due to the mutually assured destruction between its B52s and the Soviet Bloc’s ICBMs.  For the military at least, peace is a condition trembling between the two live wires of war: a place where the lucky ones like me are hostages within a pleasure park called ‘freedom’, yet daily reminded to be fearful what life would be like if we stopped appreciating it.  But peace means more than just freedom.  Peace is not a profession.  Freedom might be a profession because it has to be worked at.  Freedom requires judgement, nuance and compromise.  But surely – obviously – peace is a default state like sleep, breathing or love.  If it were biologically internal peace would be an autonomic function operating unnoticed like a liver or sweat glands.  Peace is not the same thing as freedom.  Freedom is relative; peace is not.  Peace is not just lack of war.  It must be lack of fear.  And fear is an automatic human response to vulnerability.  War brings fear in spades, which is why the fear of mutually assured destruction cannot be peace.  An American motto I like much more is the Californian surfer tag ‘No Fear’.  Today fear of nuclear war vaporising life on Earth has been replaced by something intended to be equally fear inducing: an Earth boiled alive by climate change.  Mutually assured destruction, the environmentalists would have us believe, is now the inevitable consequence of freedom.  And that includes the freedom to drive the car you want, where you want, how you want.  That thing called ‘car culture’ that my father lived inside and that therefore I was born into is history.

By the time I reached fourteen it was 1960.  Like my teenage contemporaries I had a walk-on part in the struggle to reinvent London as a creative commercial culture.  It was a conscious project.  The mission was to wipe out the inherited pre-war imperial values of our parents’ generation.  Or rather our parent’s parents, because the war’s effect had been to blend both into a sludgy piece of history making 1960s Britain resemble not so much 1940, but 1930.

My mum and dad were comfortingly un-intellectual embedded in the day-to-day struggle to keep up and, I think, rather enjoyed their eldest son importing what were called ‘Modernist’ values.  British teenage Modernists borrowed from ‘resurgemente’ Italy, American street culture, French cinema and hip Caribbean immigrants to over-paint this leaden class structure of post-war Britain.  It felt exciting, particularly from where I stood.  I started at Sidcup Art School in late 1962.  I had a father who worked in south London’s burgeoning motor trade, a Vauxhall dealership with its connections to America’s General Motors, and a mother in love with (admittedly middle of the road) popular music.  The swaggering consumerism my friends and I practiced continued on and off right up until the late 1990s: then came the seeds of change.  Slowly at first, then gathering momentum until now when the engines with which we had beaten Britain’s dismal default setting are seen as ‘the problem’.  It is an odd feeling.  Having liberated not just the UK but the much of eastern Europe from the baleful stasis of centrally controlled command economies, environmentalism means we now have to slam our lives into reverse.  Head back to chilly houses with low wattage light bulbs, roads without cars and shops where empty shelves await gluts of muddy seasonal produce, just like it was when I was eight years old.  While it has always been obvious to anyone who understands it that technology needs to be harnessed to do less harm, the grumpy socialists who were outed as envious after the cold war have morphed their anti-capitalism into their new ‘ism’: environmentalism, catching us all in their unhappy love of denial.  Wasn’t this the same crowd taking to the streets to support coal miners, presumably so their coal could be carbonised to generate electricity?  Now they are out to kill relatively clean cars, but this time the clammy hand of government is on their side.


Long before his Mini had been launched Alec Issigonis and his colleague, the suspension engineer Alex Moulton, had been fascinated by Andre Citroen’s ‘engineering’ approach to car design.  In 1986 when I first met Alex Moulton at his Burton-on-Trent manor house home he had a well-worn Citroen GS and a dusty old 2cv stored in his garage.  Citroen’s cars: the pre-war Traction Avant; the post war DS and the 2cv, were all front-wheel drive but only the 2cv offered anything close to the package design – the ratio of passenger space to mechanical components within the overall dimensions of the body shell – that Issigonis had managed to carve out of his Mini.  To achieve this space efficiency with a conventional water-cooled four-cylinder engine Issigonis had turned the block sideways and placed the gearbox (usually bolted onto the back of the engine) parallel to the crankshaft.  In the 2cv Citroen had done it another way by placing the extremely short flat twin engine just ahead of the front wheels with the drive shafts emerging either side of the differential which was bolted directly to the engine clutch housing with the gearbox components within it: all very unconventional.  But in 1960 at just over 400cc the 2cv’s slow-turning twin cylinder engine offered feeble performance compared to the buzzy four-cylinder 950cc Mini.  The Mini marked a totally new direction leaving other companies no alternative but to copy it.  The result: rapid innovation and design turmoil…and a death sentence for the 2cv.  Or so it seemed.

I had started working for Ford of Europe as a scriptwriter/consultant in 1979 while I was still at the BBC.  Ford of Europe’s Vice President of Public Affairs, the late John Waddell had watched a BBC2 Horizon film I made about vehicle aerodynamics called The Race to Reshape Cars.  In it I had interviewed various automotive engineers, including Ford’s Vice President of Design Uwe Bahnsen, about the effects of what Ford’s engineers correctly called “bluff body airflow management”.  Unknown to me at the time Bahnsen was fighting for the aerodynamic Sierra – a clay concept by ex-Simca designer Patrick Le Quement. This battle was going on within Ford of Europe against more conservative design suggestions, and he had used my TV interview to promote his view that all cars needed to move away from three-box outlines to what he called “fuselage” shapes.  Ford had some previous experience marketing aerodynamic cars, notably the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr.  It had turned out to be marketing triumph halted in 1942 by the war.  The question now for Ford was whether the late-twentieth century European buyer would ‘get’ the newly touted link between fuel efficiency and aerodynamic shapes.  This was what my television programme had been about, so Bahnsen was very keen to pull me inside the company to help promote his philosophy via John Waddell’s department, although at the time I didn’t know it.

Ford had recently launched the front-wheel drive Fiesta: a boxy, totally conventional Ford that used Dagenham’s old 1-litre Kent engine mounted sideways driving the front wheels.  It was bigger than the Mini and offered comparatively lacklustre performance, but Ford’s legendary marketing department had rapidly promoted it to top spot in the UK hatchback market.  Earlier, Volkswagen had launched the bigger Golf with a boxy but beautifully proportioned body designed by Giorgio Guigaro.  It had become an iconic hit, particularly in its GTi form.  Ford, still making the rear-drive Escort, had needed to react, fast.

My first project for John Waddell was to rewrite – or rather to rescue – a film about the company’s reaction to the Golf: its next front wheel drive car code named Erika.  In its XR3 high-performance form Ford was hoping to claw back some of the German market it was rapidly losing to the Golf GTi.  The film was being made by Barry Hinchcliff Productions.  Hinchliff’s company lived in a semi-basement on Fitzroy Square and survived shooting films about rallying.  These were what are called, “up-and-past films”.  No one in the company understood automotive technology well enough to include the Erika’s technical points that Ford insisted the film should describe.  To me the job was simple.  The Erika – prettier even than the Golf – had vestigial aerodynamic details that I knew Bahnsen had fought for.  These were most obvious in the ‘bustle’ at the back (a detail the Golf did not have and that Ford had christened an “Aeroback”); the intake grille with a layer of carefully profiled aerofoils to smooth out incoming cooling air, and a sharply raked windscreen and semi-flush side glass.  The car was one of those shapes that looked good from every angle, but didn’t photograph well.  Its underlying technology would have to sell it.  I commissioned a series of graphics to explain the aerodynamics and the new aluminium ‘Valencia’ engine with its hydraulic valve actuators that helped give the car class-leading interior silence.  This “big car ride” (as it was claimed) had also been helped by the use of Ford’s new analytical technology that read the so-called NVH or Noise-Vibration-Harshness on various running surfaces with different suspension designs (it would turn out later that this quasi-scientific work, which was done in Belgium, had missed the peculiarities of British road surfaces and the car would have to be hastily re-engineered after its UK launch).  Following several sessions in the edit suite I got BHP’s rambling film down to a crisp 25-minutes and on the assumption it didn’t need any more of my input, went back to my day job at the BBC Science Department.

Rescued Van Utrecht



The floaty road holding of the 2cv is nothing to do with suction, wings or skirts.  It is entirely mechanical: the result of evenly distributed weight, large diameter low-pressure radial-tyre wheels and clever suspension; just as neat in its way as a Formula One car.  It does have one thing in common with racing cars – the 2cv’s weight has been pared to the absolute limit.  Even the air-cooled engine is tiny with no unnecessary plumbing.  It is a ‘flat twin’ or perhaps put more glamorously a quarter of a Porsche engine.  Flat twins run very cool with smooth ‘opposed’ firing cycles.  Traditionally these horizontal twin engines have heavy flywheels to ‘store’ the momentum during the 180-degree pause between the cylinder firing moments.  This helps them run slowly and economically at top speed all day without harm.  On long flat roads astonishing distances can be covered in a 2cv on small amounts of fuel with the engine spinning away aided by its flywheel.  Piere Boulanger, who conceived the 2cv, specified that it should be able to carry two farmers and two sacks of potatoes for two hundred kilometres on three litres of fuel.  During the years my little yellow puddle jumper, two-up with luggage had toddled all the way to Greece: twice round Italy; once round France and suffered a crash with a reversing dumper truck while slaloming through rush hour traffic on Shepherd’s Bush Green.  That impact took off the right rear wing.  But even this made me smile because it was so easy to fix.  Then it was gone.  “Probably to Japan, Sir”, added the helpful copper as he flipped his notebook shut and slid his pen into the top pocket of this jacket.

 I had owned the puddle-jumping 2cv from new.  Now eight years and 49,648 miles later it was gone.  During this time I had resigned from the BBC and in 1982 started my own production company to make science programmes for the new Channel Four.  My company boomed.  The puddle jumper contributed to many of its films, lugging kit, people and of course tracking cameras with the action.  In fact little yellow ELN 82T became a sort of company icon while my enthusiasm for automotive technology led not just to commissions for television programmes, but to an increasingly large number of ‘commercial’ jobs from the motor industry.  And being a sort of ‘non-car’ the 2cv couldn’t offend anyone’s corporate identity and it certainly didn’t leave an impression of a managing director awash in a sea of money!

During the late seventies, several years before I set up my company, Ford of Europe had been secretly exploring smooth aerodynamic forms like the yet-to-be-built Sierra to replace its ‘three-box’ Cortina: a car so successful in the UK that inside Ford it had become known as the ‘thumper’ with its ability to knock-out the competition in the mid-size car market.  It was a poorly kept secret that within Ford a battle was underway for the future direction of its car design.  Ford’s search for more efficient body shapes partly hid the company’s stingy investment strategy: a sort of industrial mirror image of the British racing car companies’ attempt to stay competitive using aerodynamics rather than develop expensive turbo-charged engines.  Like all shareholders, those who controlled Ford always wanted to put off major investments in technologies like front-wheel drive until it was impossible to delay any further.  Re-shaping car bodies might be expensive, but it is a lot cheaper than changing the precision engineered mechanicals underneath.  In the mid-eighties the writing was on the wall.  For twenty years companies like Fiat, Volkswagen and Renault had seen the advantage of front-drive cars.  This advantage had been stamped on the market a decade earlier, not by the ancient front-drive 2cv, but by the radical Morris Mini designed by Alec Issigonis and launched by BMC in 1959.  While the Mini had been a huge cultural hit and to some extent a marketing triumph, it had struggled to make the sort of money Ford regarded as viable.  Many companies, particularly the penny-conscious Ford, had analysed the cost-benefit of the Mini and claimed (grudgingly) that while there might be an argument for smallish front-drive cars, anything much bigger than a Renault 5 could not offer the customer a significant improvement in package, road-holding or efficiency.  Even as it publicly argued the case I was fully aware that Ford knew this to be an untruth, because at that critical moment I wasn’t just a TV producer, I was inside very heart of Ford’s European empire.  Ford had become one of my company’s commercial clients.


“Who’d nick a little puddle jumper like that?” chirped the cocky young policeman. It was January 1989.  I had returned from a Christmas holiday in Tobago to find the parking space under my central London duplex empty.  The canary yellow Citroen 2cv6 had gone.  Stolen!  It might have been a puddle jumper to him but to me it had been a smile on wheels.  And more: I had almost completely rebuilt it over the years so it was a rather special puddle jumper.  Not just that.  It had played a supporting role in many of the television programmes I had made.


The first was a 1980 BBC Horizon documentary about Formula One motor racing called ‘The Grid’.  That year all the teams were trying to find out how to circumvent the side-skirt ban imposed the previous year by the sport’s Paris-based governing body, FISA, after the continental turbo cars – including Ferrari – had failed to beat the lower powered British skirted cars.  Sliding skirts were the result of aerodynamic research at Imperial College in South Kensington by Professor Peter Beardmore.  The skirts – more like a pelmet than a skirt on either side of the car – made a seal between the car’s bodywork and the road, funnelling the air under the car from front to back.  Beardmore and some engineers from Lotus had quickly discovered that by lowering the underside of the car to within about 5-centimetres of the road but increasing the height of the underside from approximately the back of the engine block to the rear of the car a venturi could be created that encouraged the air to tidily rejoin the slower air moving over the car, in effect turning the whole car into an upside down wing.  Crucially the speeding air under the car caused a drop in pressure and sucked the car onto the road.  By further carefully adding winglets onto the back of the cars’ bodywork they could achieve even more of this ‘negative’ lift, although – as in a plane with its flaps down – power was sapped from the car by the drag.  In the end the aerodynamic ‘weight’ of the car could be multiplied so that theoretically it could have driven upside down sucking itself onto the roof of a tunnel (providing it maintained speeds of over 100 mph).  For the driver it made cornering like driving on rails.  A really good road car like a Porsche 911 will impose forces on its driver of up to 1g when cornering.  A skirted grand prix car multiplies this to about 5g and can create blackouts if the driver isn’t super fit, particularly around the neck muscles.  The turbo teams couldn’t use this trick of physics to improve the cornering of their cars because the turbochargers and the essential extra plumbing for cooling them stuck out on either side of the engine filling the space where the all-important venturi had to go.  But a ban on skirts, enforced by insisting on a measurable 6-centimetre gap between the cars’ bodywork and the road, did not just ‘level the playing field’; it tilted it totally against the non-turbo teams.  The turbo teams could afford to waste some of their engines’ huge extra power to run bigger high-drag winglets on the back of their cars creating crude down-force.  The less powerful British non-turbo cars with normally aspirated engines could not afford to waste energy in the same way.  So finding an aerodynamic answer to the skirt ban was essential if the British teams were to challenge the turbo teams.  And that is what my film was about.


At the third race of the 1981 season the Brabham team lead by the maverick engineer Gordon Murray astonished everyone by introducing a complex modification to its normally aspirated car.  At standstill it stood the regulation 6-centimetres clear of the road, but squatted onto the track at speeds above sixty miles an hour allowing its vestigial skirts – more like ribs – to reconnect with the road and hold the airflow under the body restoring some of the lost aerodynamic grip of the previous year’s skirted cars.  I had filmed it and interviewed the puckish Murray on the pit wall at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jarama: he’d done it using tiny valves in the suspension that ‘actuated’ the ride-height of the car.  Because the rules had banned skirts by categorising them ‘moveable aerodynamic devices’ (the pelmet-like skirts had been spring-loaded running in lubricated slots) and suspension was not an aerodynamic device, Murray’s trick was perfectly legal.  In truth Murray had turned the whole car into a moveable aerodynamic device.  But the central story in my film was the Williams Grand Prix Engineering team – the only team with the word ‘Engineering’ in tits title: something they were very proud of.  Like Brabham it had been methodically working on its own hydraulic system to legally lower the car and restore lost suction.  By July the team’s technical director Patrick Head with Williams’ aerodynamicist Frank Dernie had cracked it and I had taken a BBC film crew to Silverstone to film Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann drive the Williams cars at the British Grand Prix.  But before the Saturday qualifying sessions to determine the teams’ starting places on the grid (hence the title of my film: The Grid) I had cranked my little yellow 2cv through a lap of Silverstone, camera facing backwards, while the team principal, Frank Williams cockily jogged the three-and-a-half mile circuit behind me taking the line his drivers would take as they tried to go faster than anyone else for pole position at the start.  “Kept you in third gear mate” Frank had joked after the run, not a trace out of breath.  He had too!  But unlike my rocking and rolling £1500 2cv his rock solid £2-million Williams FW07c, piloted by Alan Jones lost grip in the early laps of the race and crashed into the catch fencing.  Jones was livid and would like to have blamed the rather underdeveloped hydraulic suspension that should have kept his car stuck to the road.  In the end John Watson won the race in a McLaren with the same Ford Cosworth engine as the Williams, but tellingly the fastest lap went to Rene Arnoux in a turbo Renault.  In the crucible of F1 engineering the power advantage of the turbocharger was beginning to show!


Later, while making ‘The Tin Snail’, an equally technical film about the history of the 2cv for Channel Four’s Equinox series, the puddle jumper had again been the production’s workhorse carrying equipment and acting as its camera-tracking vehicle: a task pioneered by the French nouvelle vague filmmakers from the sixties: Chabrol, Truffaut and Jean Luc Goddard. Continue reading

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