It would be fair to say that it’s been rather a bizarre last few months that have seen lots of our plans put on hold, including our one to drive Fifi down to Provence to start her new life there. But as I always think life balances itself out one way or another, it does mean we’ve had a chance to find out a little bit more about her and also have her few little problems sorted out too.
We have had such fun pottering around in her since picking her up, she even managed to make us smile on our weekly shopping trip during lockdown.
Every time we drove in her she seemed happier and bouncier, although there were a few niggles, mainly over her brakes, which I suppose are rather important, especially when you plan to drive over 1000 miles across France.
The main thing is though that the more we have driven her, the more we have become attached to her and can’t wait to start driving her around Provence.
It was during one of these drives that we took a little bit of video and Andy uploaded it onto one of the 2CV Facebook pages, (one of the things I never knew existed before Fifi came into our life) . The video soon started getting a few ‘likes’ and then a comment ‘What a Pretty Car’. We never imagined where this comment would take us.
This comment was immediately followed by someone else saying ‘I think it’s Fifi’ and it soon became clear that the comment about her being a pretty car, had been made by her former owner, (Mel) who lived near London. We had her name on the invoices for work that had been done in the 1980s, but knew nothing else about her, so as you can imagine we couldn’t have been more delighted to hear from her as it gave us the chance to find out more about Fifi’s life.
As we had hoped and really only befitting a car called Fifi, it transpires she has led quite a fascinating life and we are looking forward to starting to write the next chapter with her now.
We now know how people feel as their story is told on BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’. Things they have always understood to be fact are dismantled before their eyes as they delve deeper into the past. That was certainly the case with Fifi, as the first thing we learnt and probably the biggest surprise for us was that she hasn’t always been red. In fact she has changed colour a few times in the last 50 years and knowing what we know now there’s a chance she may change again in the future.
When she was first produced back in 1971, she was pale blue which to be honest explains the blue steering wheel, dashboard and original seats. They had never seemed quite right with the dashing bright red paintwork and now we understand why.
She started her life in Belgium and arrived in England when her first British owner bought her from ‘Eurocars’ in Kingston, a company that used to import Citroen cars from France and Belgium, especially popular during the fuel crisis of the mid 70s when petrol prices rocketed to 55p per gallon – that may not seem much now, but at the time was a considerable percentage of a weekly income.
At that time the owner lived in London and the car was used regularly around the area. We understand that his parents (due to his father’s job) had use of a private suite at The Ritz…. There is a huge part of me would love to know if Fifi ever got the chance to sweep up in front of the entrance, brushing bumpers with Rolls Royces and Bentleys and generally strutting her stuff, I imagine not, but I would have liked to have seen the Valets’ faces if she did.
It was also at this time that Fifi got her name. Her owner had a French background (and surname) and loved all things to do with the country and its people, so he christened her and she’s been known as that ever since (apart from our very short-lived time calling her Rose)
A few years further on, in about 1976, her first owner moved to a job that came with a company car, so his girlfriend (Mel) bought Fifi from him and owned her until very recently, in fact it was her that got in touch following the Facebook post, hence the detailed history.
A few years after buying Fifi, she changed her colour from pale blue to a brighter, electric blue, even having her name air-brushed onto the back (now that has got us thinking of doing the same). At this time she was driving all over the country, regularly heading from London to Lancashire to visit family. She was certainly being used and loved, which was so nice to know.
Moving on then till the late 1980s, in fact just after Andy and I had bought our first house together, the owner moved to a flat in North London, but it had no parking, so rather than get rid of Fifi, she rented a garage nearby to keep her in. By this time though her condition had started to deteriorate a bit, as was to be expected of a 20 year old 2CV at the time and she needed quite significant work doing to her, including her chassis needing welding.
A garage in London suggested someone in High Wycombe to do the work, so Fifi was driven across to be assessed. The owner remembers driving her back after hearing what needed to be done, pottering through fields of poppies bobbing at the side of the road determined, despite the not inconsiderable cost, to get the work done. Without any shadow of a doubt this work will have saved her from the scrap heap.
So in early 1993, when the countryside was blanketed in snow, renovation work on Fifi finally started under the careful eye of the mechanic Steve Hill. What was particularly wonderful though was that he invited Mel to help do the work that was needed in his garage.
Over a few days they worked together, stripping Fifi down to her chassis, welding it back together, before rebuilding her from there. Her old bodywork was so poor that a new (period) body shell was ordered from France and then fitted – once it was done the only original body parts that remained in the electric blue were her doors, bonnet and boot!
It was at this point that she changed her colour again and was resprayed to the wonderful vivid red that she is today. She was also re-registered, getting a number that related to her original build date , which meant she could display the stylish black and silver vintage plates that she still has now.
Following all the work, which without doubt saved the car from the scrapyard fate of so many others made in the early 1970s, Fifi stayed with Mel as she moved houses, being driven around the lanes of Hampshire and attending a few ‘2CV Club’ events too. She also became a cat ‘maternity unit’ when she went into a garage in Islington for some work and whilst there a cat climbed in through her open window and gave birth to 5 kittens on her new, fluffy sheepskin seat covers. It must have been a Manx cat as the kittens had no tails… Happily all were adopted and although I don’t know if any were named Fifi, I like to think that perhaps one may have been.
Just 4 years ago and after having owned her for nearly 40 years, Mel had to sell her when she moved back to London and couldn’t find anywhere to keep her garaged, not wanting to risk Fifi being left on the street.
Then she found her way to us and I know that we will have some great adventures with her too, especially when we start our drive back through France. There’s nothing like a 1000 mile drive in a 50 year old car to make you feel alive!
The one benefit of the delay is that we had the opportunity to book her into Exeter Engineering (our local Classic Car Specialists) for effectively an intensive Spa treatment, in the hope that she would leave feeling like a new car with all her niggles sorted and hopefully a bit more of an effective braking system.
They were superb and have done everything we could have hoped for. Fifi was taken apart like a big Lego model, laid out on the floor…
Then put back together again with a new gearbox, new electrics, new tyres and most importantly new brakes, ensuring they maintained her original drum braking system, fitted in the cars built in 1971.
We may have really missed her whilst she was away, but it was worth the wait and a couple of days ago we cycled out through the hills of Mid Devon to collect her, happy to discover that our bikes slot easily into the back seat through the open roof.
You can find a video of our trip to collect here here….Our cycle out and drive back through Mid Devon
And we’ll be uploading more videos to the You Tube Channel, especially once we start our trip back and are able to drive her around the roads of Provence again, so please subscribe if you fancy following our adventures in France (not just 2CV related) Subscribe here
So for now we are pottering around Devon, taking her for little trips with the excuse of making sure that the the little things that can happen after a major refit are dealt with properly, but in actual fact the little trips are more about putting a smile on our faces.
All being well in just over a couple of weeks we’ll be starting our long journey down and the next exciting chapter of her life, probably best titled ‘Fifi’s French Adventure’ can finally start in earnest.
A final thank you to Mel for her photos and detailed history of Fifi, which has meant we have been able to find out so much more than we could ever have imagined possible…