Top Gear Patagonia: What was that 2CV thing?

Petrol heads and casual viewers alike tuned in to BBC2 to watch the long awaited two part Patagonia Top Gear Special. On an epic road trip across both Chile and Argentina, the famous three brought along V8 sports cars and embarked on a controversial adventure. Every man and his dog across the globe had already heard on the grapevine about the political problems the group faced over a suggestive number plate, which left Clarkson, May, Hammond and their film crew fleeing for their lives from angered nationalists armed with stones.

A surprise in this two part adventure though was the Citroen 2CV, or what seemed to be a Frankenstein tin snail. Just what was this extra boot on the back? And just what are they hiding in Chile and Argentina which Europeans don’t know about? Let’s find out!

Citroen’s history in the region.

Due to respectable import numbers in Argentina, the French manufacturer finally decided to set up shop in South America. From the early 60’s, Citroen were now manufacturing 2CVs in both Argentina and Chile. All 2CV variants sold well until disaster struck in the early 80’s, with the outbreak of the Falklands war. As France supported Great Britain, the Argentinians confiscated their assets, which were later bought up by businessman, Eduardo Sal Lari. Production continued from this point onwards, under the name IES (Industrias Eduardo Sal-Lari SA) instead of Citroen, until 1990 where the company went bankrupt.

Tin Snail Variants

  • 3CV

Citroen fans often referred to the Ami as the unofficial 3CV, due to its fiscal horsepower. Argentinians and Chileans have been producing a 2CV with the same 602cc engine, which equated to three fiscal horses, under the guise of the 3CV. Logical stuff, however this was not just a simple case of intelligent badge engineering either. Early models featured five doors, Dyane stop lights and subtle mechanical improvements, whilst later IES versions appeared more angular in appearance and featured larger front windscreens.

  • IES Gringa

Certainly this is not a misprint. Say what you want about the Falklands, no one can dispute Argentina’s ownership of this variant, a totally original pick-up version of the 3CV. Powered by the same unit as the 3CV and van (IES Carga America). In addition to the contemporary styling, the Gringa also featured front disc brakes, with rear drums, something no 2CV in Europe possessed. A floor mounted gearstick, larger ground clearance and an increased tolerance to potential payloads made this small pick-up much more user friendly for questionable South American road conditions. A card had to be swiped in the dashboard to start the vehicle, as a crude form of vehicle security, which was certainly forward thinking compared to the model its based upon. Unfortunately, sales suffered due to the Gringa’s shocking reliability. That part, was certainly like the French!

  • Citroen “Citroneta” Azam

Now the one from the show! Produced in the Arica factory in Chile, the Citroneta became a hit. The extra boot was added to allow for more storage. Prices were unimaginably cheap for the time and production seemingly continued until Citroen’s departure around the Falklands war. Powered by the 425cc engine producing 12bhp, it’s no wonder the Top Gear presenters feared downgrading from a monstrous V8 to one of these.

Citroen enthusiasts of Great Britain, now is the time to import one of these oddities.

by Mike Armstrong

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