June 22, 2005

Drains, thoughtfully

The June 9 issue of the New York Review of Books has a thoughtful essay exploring style and design: "How Things Work", by Wytold Rybszynski (unfortunately, needs a payment to read online). He discusses two books by Henry Petroski of Duke University, whose subject, Rybszynski tells us, is "intelligent problem-solving."

There are a couple of paragraphs about that delightful little French car, the Citroën 2CV (Tintin readers note: this is the Thompson twins' car). Sadly, I've never driven one, though I have driven that other irrepressible little French car, the Renault 4: of all places, in Madagascar.

But here's Rybszynski on the 2CV:
    During the last twenty years, automotive engineering has taken a practical turn, so that useful features such as electronic ignition, antilock brakes, cruise control, power steering, and remote locking have become standard equipment in even modestly priced cars. Not that an abundance of safety and convenience automatically adds up to good design. I recently drove a rented Hyundai which, while it incorporated every feature listed above, did not strike me as a particularly helpful example of ... "intelligent problem-solving." On the other hand, I fondly remember my Citroën Deux Chevaux (2CV) ... It was the French version of the Volkswagen, the people's car, and was designed to be versatile and inexpensive.

    The designer, Pierre Boulanger, had thought of everything. If you had a dead battery, you could start the two-cylinder engine with a hand-crank. The large wheels and soft suspension allowed you to drive smoothly over rough roads (Boulanger is said to have road-tested the prototype by driving across a plowed field). The lightweight seats, made of fabric stretched between tubular steel frames, were removable in case you wanted to transport something large ... The canvas roof rolled back to create a fully open top. A sudden shower once caught me with the roof open. When I took up the rubber floor mats to bail out the water, I discovered several removable rubber stoppers. Boulanger had thoughtfully provided drains.


Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I was driven around in a CV many times. It belonged to a friend's girlfriend who dumped him and that stopped my rides. But its the only car I rode in Oxford that got second glances.

R. said...

Didn't the Thompson twins crash the car all the time? Sounds like a neat car though!