Citroen 2CV outback adventures

By: Paul Osborn, Photography by: Dominique Blejean, Jenni Donaldson, Megan Doublas, Lou Molesworth, Etoile Marley, Andy Murray and Paul Osborn

Presented by

Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures Citroen 2CV outback adventures

You need a hardcore 4WD for an outback adventure from Coober Pedy to Cape Tribulation, Right? Someone forgot to tell Paul Osborn and an intrepid bunch of brave Citroen 2CV owners

Citroen 2CV outback adventures
Citroen 2CV outback adventures

 

Citroen 2CV adventures

KISS THE DIRT

When André Citroën designed his ‘people’s car’ pre-second world war, his brief was for it to carry a dozen eggs over a ploughed field. Little did he know that, over half a century later, 11 of his twin-cylinder, air-cooled French workhorses would attempt to traverse one of the toughest, most rugged paddocks imaginable – 3778km across Australia’s outback.

Among the 20 adventurers up for the challenge are French holidaymakers, a scientist, a stuntman, a dancer, horse rider, garage sale wheeler-and-dealer, an audiologist, a writer, blogger, truck driver, several artists, and a director of education. Some of the most unlikely characters imaginable. And it’ll be as much a challenge for the people themselves as it is for the car.

Originally designed before World War II, the Citroën 2CV was to the French what the Volkswagen Beetle was to Germans. Very cheap. Very simple. And, much like the Beetle, the ‘deux chevaux’ is as full of character as the people who bought it.

During a 42-year production run spanning 1948 to 1990, 3,872,583 2CVs were produced, plus 1,246,306 2CV delivery vans. The 2CV also spawned 3,683,325 of the mechanically identical Ami, Dyane, Acadiane and Mehari models – making a grand total of 8,756,688 units.

At the height of the ugly-duckling Citroën’s popularity in the 1970s, advertising played a big role in the 2CV’s cult status. One early-’80s UK ad ran a checklist of the equipment the 2CV didn’t have: wind-up windows, a fanbelt, a radiator, an electric sunroof, retractable headlights, the list went on, though it did boast of a central-locking system that meant you could "reach all four doors from the driver’s seat". And the 2CV’s tag line? "No wonder it’s so reliable, there’s nothing to go wrong!" Can’t argue with that.

So what is a 2CV raid? During the 1960s, to celebrate the 2CV being exported to all parts of the globe, Citroën sponsored the first two low-cost adventure ‘raids’ – Paris to Africa, then Paris to the Middle East. The cars were prepared carrying some spare parts, with Citroën providing back-up.

Later, individual countries began holding them. The first in Australia occurred in 1988, attracting 27 cars and drivers from all over the world to ‘raid’ from Fremantle to Sydney along the Gunbarrel highway. But the 2012 version is much more challenging – starting in the mostly subterranean town of Coober Pedy in the South Australian outback, and culminating at Cape Tribulation in far north Queensland.

To prepare for the onslaught, each car is serviced. A CB radio is fitted. A sturdy metal engine-sump protector is fitted to the chassis, and the air cleaner is replaced by a hollow sponge ball dunked in oil. Standard Michelin 125 x 15 tyres are swapped for more durable, higher-profile 135 or 145 x 15s. Over dirt tracks, the normal 20/26psi tyre pressures are dropped to 12/15psi.

Spare parts are kept to a minimum. Some are shared around to spread the load, but as raid leader, Peter ‘Viking’ Fosselius says, "We know from experience what can go wrong and we act accordingly."

Insulation tape is wrapped around the headlights (because they can pop out in tough terrain) – otherwise, that’s pretty much it!

Weight is the enemy of the successful raider. Provisions are to be purchased along the way, which also results in fresher food and less waste. You don’t carry slabs of beer. Spirits like rum, whisky or vodka are poured into used plastic soft drink bottles to save weight. Cask wine is preferable to bottles. Beer is to be drunk at pubs along the way – preferably ice cold with a Bundy chaser.

It’s surprising how few clothes you need – shorts during the day, warm stuff at night. Perhaps a non-crease party frock for hitting the occasional bush pub. Most important, though, is a small shovel and toilet roll for burying number twos at the bush camps. Everyone quickly gets used to this process – wandering a decent number of metres away to squat proves to be an egalitarian and liberating exercise!

THE ROUTE

After staying at the world’s only underground campsite in Coober Pedy, we carry 10 extra litres of 98 octane fuel, plus 10 litres of water. We’re supposed to carry 20 litres of water, but as I never touch the stuff, I tip 10 litres away. This allows more useful drinking material onboard.

Our first destination is William Creek, 166km on dirt track. At first, I was packing myself crunching over the corrugations as I thought the car was falling apart, but I’m told to speed up – "the car will dance over the troughs." However, we have to hang back from the 2CVs in front to avoid dust – "does terrible things to the bearings and gearbox", apparently.

After paying $2.30/litre for 91 octane unleaded and $7.50 for a stubby of Cooper’s pale ale, we’re off again to Coward Springs, 66km away, for some hot-springs action and our first bush camp for the trip. I left England 26 years ago to come and live in Australia, but this is my first real plunge deep into the outback. Bush camping is another first, as is sleeping on hard boards in our 2CV van. But what a sky! What a laugh around the fire! Life doesn’t get more perfect than this.

In sub-freezing overnight desert conditions, I multi-layer my clothes and try out my homemade slat bed in the yellow peril. The pain, tossing from one excruciating hip bone to the other via a seemingly broken spine, makes for a less-than-perfect first night’s sleep – if I had any! I continually check my iPhone for the time. After what seems like hours, it is nearly 9pm. Things have to get better.

Day two does. After baked-bean jaffles for breakfast, we’re off to Lake Eyre, 30km away, and a walk through gluggy black mud to the water. Another 30km trek away are the sculptures at Planehenge, then another 30km to Marree and lunch. Apparently we’re heading for Wilpena Pound. That is after another near-sleepless night camping at Farina, among the ruins of a derelict service town for the old Ghan railway.

During the day, every day, the sky is as blue as you can imagine. At night, the bazillions of stars and a full moon mean it’s not much different. But it is so cold.

This is no ordinary cold. I have never experienced cold like this in England or Europe, even mid-winter. I wake-up to ice on the inside of the car windows. I peel off a blanket, two sleeping bags, my MCC beanie, jumper, and long strides with long johns underneath. Outside, the birds aren’t singing – their beaks are chattering. When we park at night, we face the engines to the east so the big solar heater warms up the engine blocks with its early morning rays.

From Farina, we head to Leigh Creek for coffee and fuel, then lunch at the Prairie Hotel Parachilna. Its menu includes feral mixed grill, emu fillet mignon and camel sausages. In 2010, it was voted in the top 100 Australian gourmet experiences. I reckon the beer is even more stunning.

After coffee at Brachina Gorge, then Blinman, Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges beckons. And a rest day. We recharge our batteries at the caravan park and straighten things out after the nightime ’roo raid.

Next day, nearing Arkaroola while driving into the setting sun for a very late bush camp, I part-flatten my offside front rim driving way too fast into a particularly stony creek bed. Once stopped, Peter Decker lends me a tool and, after some encouragement from a sledgehammer, out it pops. Another Osborn first!

After driving the spectacular ‘great wall of China’, a white-dirt ribbon road atop a scenic mountain range and a great photo-op for travellers, it’s only one more day to Innamincka, a pub meal and outdoor cinema. At school in Blighty, I was fascinated with the Burke and Wills tragedy, but my parents couldn’t afford the school trip at the time. So today, I’m visiting the ‘Dig’ tree to gain a sense of the disaster. Their plight certainly overshadows my humble concerns over missing sleep.

Our next bush camp is at Cordillo Downs – Australia’s largest sheep shearing sheds. One of the Citroëns has a minor fuel blockage so there’s no chance of making Birdsville tonight. Besides, we need to freshen up to take on the bone-shattering 116km Cordillo Downs track through the gibber rocks of the Sturt Stony Desert, via the Cadelga homestead ruins.

I’ve always loved the 2CV, but conquering this piece of track just leaves me in total awe of the car. How it didn’t shake itself apart, I’ll never know. The fact that the tyres didn’t shred to ribbons is a masterstroke of tyre selection and low pressures.

We crack on over the Queensland border to Birdsville and discover cheaper 98 octane fuel than in Melbourne, and our first XXXX beer and Bundy chaser at the iconic pub. We seek permission to film the cars at the Birdsville racetrack. For the first time ever, it is granted (for a suitable donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service).

On reflection, Birdsville marks the halfway point – not necessarily in kilometres, but in conditions. What has been a rush of excitement battling the conditions now gives way to predominantly graded or bitumen roads. We are now sharing the road with armies of grey 4WDs.

Birdsville, once only known for its iconic pub, is now almost a 21st-century metropolis. As recently as the 1970s, settlements on the road north through the outback were described as fly-blown sinkholes. But they’re now thriving towns servicing a constant flow of people in big boys’ toys on a mission to consume camel and kangaroo pies.

There seems to be a voracious drive to suburbanise the bush. In Bedourie, where the Simpson Desert meets the Channel Country, compact motel-style apartments are stacked together reminiscent of your worst inner-city nightmare. I reckon in the very near future, the Toyota Land Cruiser will be replaced in the outback by the Yaris. The Patrol by the Pulsar. The Pajero by the Lancer. Shame.

And so, we’re off to Boulia and the Tropic of Capricorn. It is still chilly at night and the outback is green. Yet the farther north we venture into the tropics, the browner the landscape becomes.
Howzat?

In search of excitement, we’re heading off to the Diamantina National Park. Somehow, I manage to break a little toe at Janet’s Leap lookout climbing rocks in thongs. Seems I’m living up to my radio call-sign, "Dickhead 1"! The insulation tape again comes in handy. A rest day in Winton and the culinary highlight of pub food so far – lamb rissoles – helps ease the pain.

After visiting the Lake Quarry dinosaur tracks, we leave the Lake Eyre basin, via Hughenden and Porcupine gorge. The mood of the group is changing – some of us want to hit the beach. We’re almost in line with Cairns.

We hit some very corrugated road and set up probably our last bush camp on the way to Mt Garnet. Then a final dinner at the famous Lake Eacham Hotel, Yungaburra, before everyone splits up to head for either Cape Tribulation or Cairns.

I lead four hardy cars to Cape Trib via Mossman gorge and Daintree village. Unfortunately, bad weather prevents our trek to the reef and any possibility of spotting crocs. But at least we’re wearing shorts and looking forward to a slow beach crawl back south.

The cars are without doubt the stars of the raid. Not one broke down. Only four punctures, and three of those were on the second day caused by cheap Korean inner tubes. I wish I could report how the little yellow van limped along without a windscreen all the way to Birdsville, and how the dust-coated driver looked like Lawrence of Arabia with a dish towel wrapped around his face. But it didn’t happen. No one hit a ’roo. In fact, it was surprising how little wildlife we encountered but, of course, we didn’t drive at night.

With practice, loading and unloading the cars eventually came down to a 20-minute exercise every morning and evening, except for rest days. The raid organisers gave us all a list of things to consider taking, so we weren’t overloaded with stuff for just-in-case!

It wasn’t all ‘go’ either. Occasionally, we’d pull up in the shade and contemplate life in the bush, looking at abandoned buildings and discarded farm machinery from a century ago.

I’d love a dollar, though, for every time members of the grey army and real bush characters would start up a conversation about so many odd-looking little Froggy cars so successfully invading the bush. (They were often camped waiting for parts to be shipped in for their broken 4WD radiator or such-like.) They simply couldn’t believe two cylinders could haul us over terrain they were having trouble conquering. And that we didn’t break a single egg...

2CV FAMILY
Michael and Annette Molesworth were driving their Citroën Light 15 in a 2006 club run behind a 2CV when Annette exclaimed, "I want one of those!" They now have two – the blue van and DIXY, co-driven by daughter Lou.

BEAUTY QUEEN
Harley Durst and Etoile Marley conquered Big Red in the Simpson Desert with Kermit. Now they’re planning the first 2CV crossing of the Simpson Desert after their marriage in December. Etoile came third in Miss 2CV Worldwide 2010 and runs Beebop Arts. He’s a full-time stunt performer.

MR VERSATILE
Bill Moore’s CV includes PA to yellow peril driver Paul Osborn, navigator, camp cook, washer-upper, radio operator, animal spotter, joke teller, camp assembler and disassembler, sommelier, and snack provider. "What happens on the raid, stays on the raid!" he laughs.

HOLY ROLLER
John Parsons, a retired pastor, was on his second raid. Always involved with Citroëns, in recent years, he felt a growing warmth for the little car and bought two in bits. Borrowed 14846H from Peter Decker.

FRENCH SPEAKING
Lorraine Hildebert and Eirik Fosselius met Viking on the 2000 raid from Perth to Cape York. She lead this raid, planning the route, leading the convoy and calling out warnings over the CB radio in her disarming French accent. As Harley says, "I don’t know what she says, but it sounds fantastic!"

KIWI RAIDER
Ex-New Zealander Peter Decker is on his fourth raid since 2004 and drives his Dyane to work everyday. He’d love to organise a raid to the Shaky Isles. "The only thing slowing us down is the cost of shipping cars over the ‘dutch’," he says.

FRENCH MECHANIC
Peter Fosselius runs a 2CV spare parts and repair business in Brittany with wife Lorraine and son Erik. "The official 2012 Mountain Raid (around Tasmania to Byron Bay in March) was outside the European holiday time so we arranged this one to share the Outback with friends."

THE VIKINGS
Ken Cody and Dominique Blejean, a retired UK mechanic now living in Brittany, France, and a director of school education in Paris, hail from the same village, Plougonver. "An excellent experience," they said, even after the disappointment of their car not clearing customs in time and having to drive a Viking van.

ARTY TYPES
Megan Douglas and Lou Molesworth, AKA the Dixy Chicks. When a call centre supervisor/graphic designer meets an installation artist in a yellow and black 2CV plated DIXY, you get a stunning point of view.

RAID VETERANS
David and Janet Gries were behind Australia’s first raid in 1988 and David is the guru of 2CVs and raiding. He bought his first 2CV 44 years ago at 16. "It takes a while to relax into raiding. We go where 4WDs fear and do it very economically. Wherever we go, people come up want to chat," David said.

WINE BUFFS
Andy Murray and Jenni Bull (with Abigail) run winery and Mornington Peninsula tours in their 2CV and a Citroën Traction Avant. This is their first raid, but not their last. "Love the bush camps, the simplicity of looking at the stars and telling tales around the campfire, and the challenge of driving on rough tracks!" Andy said.

THE INDIVIDUAL
Bernie Rachelle shipped this car from England in 2003. "It was rotting in a garage. I like it because it’s an individual car, and I’m an individual," he said.

 

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition