Citroën Méhari: The car that was born from an intuition

The original and innovative convertible, with the body completely made of plastic, was designed for the most varied uses.


In 1947, in France, the Patent Studies and Applications Company (SEAB, for its acronym in French). This initiative of the French businessman Roland de la Poype he worked with innovative materials for the time, particularly plastics and colored resins.

The SEAB vehicle fleet included a number of vans AZU y AK, developed by Citroën on the basis of 2CV. One day, one of these vans suffered an accident of some importance in which the driver came out unscathed, but in which the body of the van was seriously damaged, but not the mechanics. That same day the Citroën Méhari, an innovative vehicle that revolutionized the world in the mid-60s.

Citroën MéhariThat incident was used by De la Poype to give shape to an idea he had in mind: he wanted to make a plastic body to be installed on a Citroën base, creating a completely new car aimed at the commercial vehicle market, capable of loading bulky items as if it were a pick-up, but also offering the possibility of closing like a small van or opening completely, like a two-seater convertible.

Different proposals and a few prototypes were made for this with the help of the designer Jean-Louis Barrault, which had already collaborated in the realization of SEAB's latest successful product, a sample container for the perfumery L'Oréal.

ABS was chosen for the bodywork: a easily thermoformable, flexible material that can be colored in the dough. The result was a small plastic SUV that used the AZU twin cylinder chassis and that it was presented to the general management of Citroën.

The meeting was held in 1967 in the basement of the factory on the Quai de Javel, next to the Seine, in the center of Paris. On the part of Citroën they were present Pierre Bercot, General Director of the brand and the head of commercial vehicles; while Barrault and De la Poype himself attended the SEAB.

Citroën MéhariIt was not the first time that they met: SEAB was among the suppliers of Citroën, for which it produced door panels, dashboards and other plastic elements, all of them very well made, but without respecting, on many occasions, the agreed deadlines. .

For this reason, when De la Poype proposed to the brand to send him the chassis since they would be in charge of building and placing the bodywork.Bercot drew a smile and replied: "No way: you will be in charge of the production of the parts, but the car will be assembled by us".

It took Bercot ten minutes to realize the possibilities offered by the Méhari, an interesting car as a work vehicle, but, above all, as a leisure car. It was very light, to the point of being able to face uneven surfaces without excessive problems since it did not get soggy in the mud or run aground in the sand or snow.

After the initial ocher-colored prototype (chosen to match the color of the vehicles of the French road maintenance service) at SEAB a twenty units in the most disparate colors: yellow, red, blue, green, and even an unlikely silver. All these colors were used for the official presentation of the car.

Citroën MéhariWhile a young generation took to the Parisian streets in search of more freedoms at the cry of the famous "Under the cobblestones, the beach", Citroën unveiled the May 11 1968 on the Deauville golf course, a model ahead of its time, a symbol of the spirit of freedom. The entire press was unanimously delighted with the new little Citroën.

Production started immediately in two versions of two and four seats. The first had, in France, a beneficial taxation and the second was equipped with a folding rear row that was flush with the floor of the cargo space and that, when folded in a single maneuver, turned the Méhari into a pick-up in less 10 seconds.

Fast thanks to its lightness and capable of reaching the most unexpected places, its name "Méhari" was chosen derived from a racing camel race, particularly robust and resistant. And if the 2CV was defined by some as a "Brass snail" the Méhari was called, in a sympathetic way, "Plastic snail".

As comfortable on any beach as in the center of Paris, the Méhari made some 150.000 units for almost 20 years: between 1968 and 1987, including the 4 × 4 versions that served in the French army and were used as a "fast ambulance" in the Paris-Dakar from 1980, where they demonstrated their incredible efficiency to get into the dunes without getting stuck at any time.

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Automundo

Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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