In 1957, the British Royal Navy was preparing to send
two aircraft carriers, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, to take a detachment
of Royal Marines to deal with the rebels in the Malaysian jungle.
Ground transport was needed and the vehicles had to be sufficiently
robust and reliable to cope with jungle tracks and worse and had to be
light enough to be taken ashore by helicopter from the aircraft
An admiral on HMS Bulwark had seen a 2CV Pick-up at a CitroŽn dealer
near Portsmouth, borrowed it to take it on board for his next voyage,
put it through many tests and returned it to the dealer. The Royal
Marines Commanding Officer on board HMS Bulwark was so impressed that
he ordered four more.
The first helicopter lift tests involving the 2CV pick-up were made
on-shore in the UK by the helicopter company Westland Aircraft of
Yeovil sometime in 1957‚ using a standard civilian version of the
pick-up, bearing the registration number 33CPP. This vehicle was then
taken aboard HMS Bulwark on the aircraft carrier’s second commission
(voyage) during 1957 and 1958 for sea tests in the West Indies and the
Indian Ocean with the Westland Whirlwind helicopters of 845 squadron
The tests were judged a success and as a result HMS Bulwark was
converted from a fixed-wing aircraft carrier to the Navy’s first
helicopter commando carrier and equipped with a batch of pick-ups
ordered from CitroŽn Cars Ltd in early 1959, to serve as motor
transport with the 42nd Commando regiment of the Royal Marines.
Delivery of this batch had been preceded by the construction of a
prototype military version, produced by converting a standard civilian pick-up. This
vehicle bore the RN military registration number 61RN91.
The first batch of 35 pick-ups‚were delivered in time to sail on the
Bulwark's third commission during late 1959 and 1960 and both 42
Commando and the CitroŽn vehicles were deployed ashore when the ship
A second batch of 30 pick-ups was later delivered to serve a similar
function aboard HMS Bulwark's sister-ship, HMS Albion, when this vessel
was also converted to the commando carrier role in 1961.
CitroŽn Make Pick-Up Vans For Aircraft Carriers
Britain’s latest aircraft carrier, HMS Bulwark has a
small car park in one corner of the flight deck. Parked there are 35
small pick-up vehicles made in Slough. These ugly little ducklings in
addition to being used for running around on the carrier itself are
capable of being lifted by helicopters and put down ashore. They need
no roads and will keep going for considerable distances in conditions
which at their best are not normal.
When the Admiralty was faced with the problem of
selecting just the right company to make such multi-purpose vehicles,
the choice fell on CitroŽn Cars (Great Britain) Ltd. of Slough.
CitroŽns had the right chassis in their famous 2VC* which as anyone who
has been to France in recent years will testify, are the Frenchman’s
most popular choice. They are everywhere in France. An average
Frenchman is after utility, performance and economy. This little car,
with a body which looks like corrugated iron, is capable of a
remarkable performance for its size and price. It sells at under £400.
All the economy, however, has been made in things
that really don’t matter such as sleek appearance, superb finish and
hold-you-tight seats. The things that matter – the engine, the chassis,
the suspension – are works of great engineering skill. It has
independent suspension, front and rear, air-cooled two stroke** engine
(no boiling, no freezing) and gives 60 miles to the gallon – four
adults from London to Brighton at under 1s. 3d. each.
It is not unusual to see a French farmer drive a
2VC through his fields for great distances and this little wonder will
take it all in its stride and get the farmer and his load there and be
none the worse for it.
Royal Navy’s Role Abroad
The Royal Navy, of course, despite the diminishing
size of the British Empire, has to be prepared to deal with any
situation in any part of the world. It may have to land on the sandy
banks of Kuwait or on the rocky beaches of certain parts of Africa. It
needs small vehicles to go with the men toget them around where no
roads exist. CitroŽns are justly proud that their 2VC chassis was
chosen by the Admiralty.
These little pick-up vehicles were made by
CitroŽns at their Slough factory. After supplying for the Bulwark the
company received another order to make yet another 35 for another ship.
These too have been delivered. In exercises, the pick-up has been
completely successful. While it can be lifted by a helicopter and taken
ashore, it needs fewer than half a dozen men to lift it up and give it
a helping hand in case, without roads, it comes up against an obstacle
it is incapable of jumping on its own. To be capable of being helped is
a virtue in itself!
The interesting question arises as to why these
wonderful 2VCs are not seen in this country. The answer is to be found
in ourselves. It is not the fault of the 2VC. It will perform just as
well across British fields and on our roads as it does in France. But
over here we like something better looking. We either buy a new car or
a good second-hand one. Experience tells CitroŽns that the British
market is not for this little car which has invaded the French roads
like no other before it.
But on the other hand we are not completely
deprived of the virtues of this vehicle, here at Slough the same
chassis and engine are brought from France and made into the more
glamorised version of the 2VC – the Bijou. The Bijou is thus the
British market’s creation but it retains all independent suspension,
rubber suspended seats removable for picnics, flat folding rear seats
to give more luggage room and other features. The body is rustless,
there is no radiator and of course no water to boil or freeze.
The Unique Features
But the basic model which has made CitroŽn a name in
the motor car world is the CitroŽn ID. Its de luxe model, the DS, and
the estate car, Safari are among the most advanced cars made anywhere.
The CitroŽn hydro-pneumatic suspension has done more to solve the
problem of comfort and roadholding. The car automatically maintains a
constant ground clearance whatever the number of passengers or the
amount of luggage. For travelling over very uneven ground one can
adjust the suspension and increase the ground clearance of the body.
In fact the entire car is of such a novel design
that it appears that its designers first tore up all the books on car
designing and tackled the whole job afresh. For example, the idea of
putting the spare wheel right in front of the car, even ahead of the
radiator under the bonnet, is unique and is designed to minimise the
damage, impact and injury in case of a collision, who can think of a
better thing to take the first blow than the spare wheel?
The panels of its sleek body are often bolted on
with no more than one bolt. In case of damage all it requires is take
the panel off, beat it out, repaint it and bolt it back again. Perhaps
the car insurance companies in this country, who have to bear the bulk
of the ever increasing accident damage costs, will do something to
encourage this easy to make and cheap to repair method.
At the moment, despite the high tariff wall,
CitroŽns are selling well, being made in this country CitroŽns pay a
little less of the normal tax paid on cars imported from the Continent.
Despite this, the tax barrier remains an effective hindrance to CitroŽn
sales in Britain. Perhaps when we get into the Common Market the taxes
will gradually come down and in about ten years from now the tax level
will have reduced sufficiently for an average British buyer of cars to
ignore the little extra he will have to pay for buying a foreign car.