One of the original prototypes is lifted out of a barn hidden deep in the French countrsyide.

The True Story Behind... The Tin Snail

 

On a snowy winter's day in 1995, something very special was found hidden in a barn in the French countryside not far from Paris; something that had been kept a secret from the world for nearly fifty years. High up in the hayloft were three of the earliest prototypes for a car that had become a legend in France and around the world. It was called the "Deux Chevaux", or simply 2CV for short.

 

When I saw the newspaper photo of these cars being winched out of the barn, I was immediately fascinated by how they had come to be there. It turned out that, like the car Angelo helps create in my story, the original 2CV was designed to be a revolutionary new vehicle: a car for the ordinary French worker. When war broke out in September 1939, the head of Citroen really did then order that all the prototypes be scrapped so that the German army - or rather the spies for Citroen's rivals - couldn't steal them. Two young engineers who had worked on the car, however, couldn't bear to see their precious designs destroyed and promptly took matters into their own hands...

As I started to research the story, I began to wonder what would have happened if the Germans really had discovered these prototypes... and the story of The Tin Snail was born.

 

A lot of my story is a work of imagination - but several of my key characters are inspired by the real inventors of the 2CV: in particular Flaminio Bertoni, who really was Italian and drove an old BMW motorbike; and Andre Lefebvre, a dashing engineer who really did only drink champagne and drive rally cars.

 

Special mention must also go to the head of Citroen at that time, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, a very wise and courageous man, without whom the 2CV (or Tin Snail) would almost definitely never have existed. It was his idea that the car had to be cheap and sturdy enough to drive over a ploughed field without spilling any beer or breaking any eggs. What's more, he really did move the oil marks on dipsticks so that the cars he had to make for the German army always broke down!


The last 2CV was made in 1990, after which production stopped for good. But if you look hard enough, you can still see the odd lovingly-cared-for model on the road. Thanks to its revolutionary suspension, however, you probably won't see it turning over as it comes round the bend...

 

Three of the original prototypes for the 2CV...

Flaminio Bertoni, designer of the 2CV, carving a model in plastecine...

Dashing engineer Andre Lefebvre...

Pierre-Jules Boulanger, the visionary boss of Citroen....

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