From Spain To The ‘States: An International Tale Of Two Citroën 2CVs
Story and photography by William Sturm
I grew up in a car family. My grandfather was an inventor, and at one time he owned a local VW/Import car dealership in St. Louis, MO. He would often tell stories about his group of driving buddies getting into trouble and doing all sorts of wild stunts with their modified cars when they were young. They went on to build midget racers, and started doing well in local competitions. I remember he said that after a particular weekend of racing he won enough money such that he couldn’t fold the bills and put them in his pocket. So he figured that if one car would make that much money, two cars would double it— so he started to build a second car.
As one great story goes, while working on one of his inventions there was an explosion close to his head and he had to have his eyes bandaged for several weeks. In order to be ready for the race however, he decided to walk my grandmother through every step of assembling the car while he was blindfolded. She somehow assembled the car in time, and they won the race with it.
I’ll fast forward to my own life with cars, but first a bit of background. My wife is Spanish and her family has a beautiful country house outside of Sevilla. We met and lived in Paris and would go to Spain in the spring/summer and at Christmas. Cooking has always been my first passion and this area has some of the best culinary products in the world – Spanish Jamon, olive oil, and sherry wine. But for me, the best is La Gamba Blanca de Huelva, which is located 125 glorious kilometers from their house along one of the windiest and most breathtaking national highways I have ever seen. So I needed a way to get there.
So, I got it in my head to buy a car that I could use to fetch said shrimp for the family. The prerequisites were: vintage, convertible, and with at least four seats (with belts) because I have three kids and wanted to be able to bomb around with them. Most important was that it had to be cheap and easy to maintain so I could work on it myself. The Citroën 2CV just sort of seemed like the obvious (and pretty much only) choice. I had never driven one or even been in one, but it just seemed to fit the bill. Long story short, I found a red ’79, fixed it up, and I fell in love with it. It made many shrimp runs and trips to Jabugo for Caña de lomo and to Sanlucar de Barrameda for Manzanilla.
After more than 10 years in Paris, we decided to move back to the states with our three kids to get a taste of America. My friends started to ask me if I would take the 2CV along with us. So I found myself in a quandary: should I take Red to the US? You have to understand my father in law allows me a tiny spot in his tractor garage to keep it. I always leave it washed, gassed and clean as a whistle with the battery disconnected and my number 10 laying there ready to connect.
When I show up I release the parking break and push off the wall of the garage with one finger. There is enough of a downward slope to let me roll start it. It has become a ritual that I want to continue. Alas, I couldn’t bear to take the car from its home in Andalusia. Cateto is a word in Spanish that means yokel, bumpkin, hick or hayseed. It also represents somebody who doesn’t like to leave their home because they think their town and surroundings are perfect and there is nowhere better in the world. The red car fits this definition. So, it stays in Andalusia.
That being said, I knew I needed a 2CV in my life. Initially when I found out we were moving to the ‘States I thought I would buy an old convertible Mustang. It was the same idea as the 2CV: convertible, four seats with belts so I can go for rides with the kids, and an accessible project I could work on. But the Mustang just isn’t me. Not to mention it was too expensive. So I soon began a hunt for another 2CV to ship over.
While packing up my house in Paris in early July last I was on the hunt for the right 2CV to ship across the Atlantic. I cant say my wife was too pleased with the idea but I pressed on.
A few weeks later, I found it. My friend Carlos made a video call me with the car while they started it up and it seemed perfect. The seller was a guy from Huelva, and quite the character. He was an artist and also spent time South of Spain, he has a pretty nice car collection and a garage in Madrid takes care of most of his cars. I didn’t negotiate too hard with him, and we kind of hit it off from the get-go. He offered to help me get the 2CV painted and passed the Spanish road test. Before I had even seen her she got a fresh coat of AC138 Gris Dandy, an older Citroën color code from the ‘60s, that looked great with the red interior.
Two weeks later, I showed up in Madrid and took it for a spin. I did about 20km that day, and besides the transmission sounding a bit stiff and grumpy, I decided to set off for El Puerto the next morning: 639km at 40°C in an 38-year-old air-cooled car that hadn’t been driven in eight years. What could go wrong?
Between the heat in the city and my nerves, I decided to hit the road at 3AM. Everything was going great until I started to climb the hills past Navalmoral de la Mata. 2CVs aren’t famous for their uphill performance, but this car started to develop a nasty stutter when stepping on the accelerator and deteriorated from there. I don’t know how I made it to the top of that hill, but after arriving at the summit like some victorious climber atop Everest, I started to develop a bond with the car. As I coasted down the other side, I pulled over to Google “Citroën mechanic” and to my absolute joy I found a place in Trujillo, less than 10km away from me.
The downhill slope that had been helping me was now decidedly a flat road and I was back to hiccupping through the small villages only to roll up to Hermanos Elias Taller Citroën as the shop was opening at 9AM. It was a father and son team and at first I got the feeling they didn’t like me… some city kid with a cute little toy who was stuck. Soon I won them over with my lower than average automotive knowledge but love for the Dos Caballos—2cv in Spanish. They proceeded to change the points contact (a part was ordered and delivered on scooter from a nearby town), spark plugs, new fuel line, adjusted the fuel tank gauge, etc. Throughout the morning locals kept coming by saying “I have a 2CV, these guys fixed it up great!” Two guys even drove by to show me their cars. I spent three hours with these new friends and learned loads from them in this short time. When the bill came I was astonished to only pay €92.15 to be on my way. How much luck can you have to find a 2CV father and son specialist in the middle of nowhere when you are about to be stranded? I am forever in their debt.
Back on the road, I saw the famous silhouetted Osborne Bull in Jerez around 7:30 that evening, and as the sun was setting I decided to get fuel even though I was five minutes from home. After filling up I went to start the car and… click, nothing. Some electrical issue that could be figured out later I was sure, but annoying in the moment no doubt. I pushed the son of a bitch down the smallest hill in the world leading toward a busy roundabout. On the last revolution of the tires the car finally turned over and I hightailed it home. The car was weakened by something though, and two blocks from the house it died and wouldn’t even take a bump start. I was able to push it to my front door. Talk about a road trip…
Fast forward 48 hours, add a new alternator/voltage regulator and chrome headlights/grille, and she became the vision I had been dreaming of. The next day my buddy and I road-tripped with Red and the new ride 121 kms to pick up our friends in Gibraltar, and then on to Tarifa for a proper naughty boys weekend. After that all our friends came to El Puerto for a big going away party with flamenco music and enough manzanilla, gambas, and jamon to make everybody more than happy even though they were sad to see us go.
A few days later I loaded the car onto a container and off it went to the US. I won’t go into the boring logistics of shipping a car internationally, but needless to say, ask three people how to do it and you will get half a dozen answers. But, she made it. The kids were thrilled to see the “Blue-Red Car” in front of our new home in Wilmington, DE. Now I just have to find a new place to buy fish in Delaware. There’s plenty of coastline to explore in our new home, and I can’t wait for the adventures to come.
The DMV experience was a hoot. I walked up to the desk and told the lady “Hi, I’m that pain in the ass you have to deal with today,” but, no problems! The guy in the smog check area looked at the car and politely asked “The fuck is this?” But we also hit it off, and he passed it. It’s hard not to love a 2CV!
Its a true cliché about old cars : no matter what is going on in my personal or business life, a quick ride in a 2CV puts a smile on my face. Now I drive it everywhere when the weather is nice. The grocery store, to pick up the kids from school, errands… It always turns heads. As fall approached I would wake up at 5AM and go for amazing drives through the winding roads of the Brandywine River Valley. The 2CV is no go-kart, and tight and twisty roads make it feel like you are flying in a P51 as opposed to some hot sports car. But it has fulfilled the dream I had of owning one here and one in Europe, so I can’t complain about the sports car it never was.
I don’t know why I feel so hard for these odd little cars. But hey, you can’t pick who you fall in love with.