Over the years, Citroen hasn’t shied away from making cars of the quirky nature, and the car in this throwback review has to near the top of the pile, surely? It’s the Mehari, the compact SUV that was based on the 2CV and the Dyane, featuring the same 602cc flat twin petrol engine as the former. It’s name, if you’re wondering, comes from a type of fast-running dromedary camel, which can be used for racing or transport.
The quirks come thick and fast (and then so does the noise!)
This particular car was provided at a drive event by Citroen thanks to a dedicated – and brave – owner by the name of Paul. It stuck out like a sore thumb at the Millbrook Proving Ground, which wasn’t too easy to do, thanks to the vast variety of cars. Mind you, the uber-bright Vert Tibesti paintwork certainly helps.
I stepped inside to find a driving position that didn’t really have a taller person in mind as I was greeted with a large steering wheel that seem determined to wear away the denim wrapping my thighs. Then you have the pedal layout, which is deliciously quirky. The clutch pedal is to the left of the steering column, whereas the brake the throttle are to the right of it.
The handbrake sticks out of the dashboard, featuring a handle that wouldn’t look out of place on a vintage cane. The gear lever also protrudes from the back-to-basics dashboard with a wooden knob to give some craftsmanship to this light, utilitarian SUV. Turning the key in to the ignition brings little fanfare, and at first you wonder if the engine is even running. Blip the throttle and you’re greeted with a thrum of yesteryear to give you assurance that the engine is ticking over how it should.
Working the gearbox takes getting used to, as the 4-speed manual works in a pull and pull manner as opposed to the kind of shift you would expect from other cars. I tentatively pull off, feeding the throttle carefully and progressively, with the noise of the engine building in the process.
A cruiser, not a bruiser
It won’t take you long to realise that this car is happier going at a steady cruise, rather than going at speed, but I suppose the power stats are a massive hint of this. You see, this car generates just 29hp and 39Nm of torque. Top speed is just 62mph, and it seems like it will take there, despite the car weighing around 550kg – the same as your average Caterham Seven.
This is thanks to a body that is made from ABS plastic, although models sold in Argentina were made from fibreglass instead. The Mehari may weigh about the same as a Caterham Seven, but it’s safe to say it’s worlds apart when it comes to handling. Yes, I know, the Mehari was not made with handling in mind, but it’s very, erm, roly poly. Even cornering at low speeds will see the chassis want to lean over at a rate that will make you want to laugh out loud – it’s quite the experience!
A very rare sight on UK roads
There’s a good chance you haven’t seen one of these on the shores of Blighty, and there’s a good reason for that – it was never sold here. The model you see here has of course been imported, which is why it’s left hand drive. The Mehari was made between 1968 and 1988, with around 145,000 made.
Most models were made in front wheel drive, however, Citroen did make a number of four wheel drive models, of which around 1,300 were produced. To help distinguish the 4×4 model from the standard car, it features flared wheelarches, additional bumpers, as well as a bonnet mounted spare wheel.
Bringing the Mehari name back
Citroen is not a brand that is afraid to lean on its heritage and the French brand was keen to bring the Mehari name back in 2016. That was in the form in the E-Mehari, an electric open air SUV that harks back to the Mehari, but is much more modern, and as the name would suggest, it’s electric.
It’s built in collaboration with electric carmaker Bolloré, and is based on the Citroen C4 Cactus and the Bolloré Bluesummer. Around 1,000 cars are to be made, and each one will have a range of 124, and will offer a top speed of 68mph. Like its predecessor, the E-Mehari will not be sold in the UK.
So, how do you even begin to sum up a car like this? Well, as the title would suggest, it’s certainly quirky and noisy, but it’s also full of bags of character. I would love the experience of actually taking one off-road as I’m sure it would be quite the adventure, but even in a short drive in a FWD version gave me a driving experience that I won’t forget in quite a hurry.