By on October 7, 2010

I know some of you dear readers think I’m overly infatuated with tiny underpowered foreign toy cars. And you’re right! But that’s not why you’re rubbing your eyes looking at this visually challenging Ami 8; it’s the only other French vintage car I’ve found parked on the streets we roam on foot. But…I’m thrilled with my fate; the Ami was very high on my list of cars I was hoping to find (after a Peugeot 404), even if its not the earlier and more bizarre Ami 6. Now that would have really made an expensive trip to Paris worthwhile. And get this: the Ami looks pretty tame compared to the car that Citroen planned to build in its place. Get your sunglasses ready:

The Ami 6 often appears on lists of the world’s ugliest cars. It certainly scores high in sheer eccentricity. But every child looks beautiful to its mother, and Citroen designer Flaminio Berton, who also designed the exquisite DS “Goddess”, called the Ami 6 his favorite car. So there. And it looks almost tame compared to the car Citroen was planning to build as a mid-size model.

Yes. Citroen was an adventuresome company. In the early fifties, the gap between the cheap little 2CV and the very upscale DS was vast, and the “Cocinelle” was intended to bridge it. Its boxer engine sat under the front seat, and drove the front wheels. Extremely aerodynamic and super-light, the Cocinelle would have been the most radical production car just about ever.

When Citroen canceled the project, it needed a quick and expedient solution for a mid-level car. Having taken control of Panhard (see Panhard history here), Citroen sold the Panhard sedan at its own dealerships, but that was only a stop gap. The solution was to put a roomier body on the 2CV platform frame, keeping its suspension, and enlarging its boxer twin engine from 435 to a whopping 602 cc. And since Citroen was concerned about in-house competition from the similar sized new Panhard 24 under development, it forbade a four door version. That’s partly why the beautiful Panhard 24 arrived as both a coupe and a long-wheelbase two-door sedan, which was intended to be a four door sedan.

Out of fairness to Citroen and Berton, it must be pointed out that the Ami’s famous face was intended to be not quite  so bizarre. The Ami was the first production car ever to utilize rectangular headlights, and originally, they were to be incorporated in a much more harmonious front end design (above). But the authorities thought the lights were too low, and the front end had to be redone with the lights in a higher, and much more awkward position. So we can thank the French bureaucrats for the Ami’s appearance on all those ugliest car ever lists.

But not the reverse slanted rear window, which was pioneered by Mercury a few years earlier, and also used by the British Ford Anglia. Its practical purpose here was to leave a large trunk opening in a short car, since Citroen had decided specifically against a hatchback. The R4 that came out the same year as the Ami 6 probably made them wish they had gone the same route.

Before we get back to my photos, I just have to share this one that shows these cars in their brisk cornering attitude. Citroen’s suspension interconnected the front and rear wheels on each side, but what was lacking was some interface from side to side. The result is like a sailboat keeling over. Folks just got used to it, or popped a Dramamine.

The Ami 6 first appeared in 1961, and was built through 1971. In 1969, the Ami 8 was introduced with a facelifted front end that smoothed out some of the extreme ugliness,and with a hatchback to replace the Breezeway window. And a power a boost to boot: from 28 to 32 hp, which was upped again to 35 after 1973. Not shabby, for 36 cubic inches! Top speed was claimed to be 74 mph, but Autocar only saw 65 in their test. The amble from 0-50 (not 60) took some 30 seconds.Fuel economy was 44 (US) mpg; great for the times; lousy compared to what today’s modern diesels achieve with cars twice as heavy and many times the power.

Now here’s the kicker with this particular car: it has a trailer hitch! I know the Europeans made some remarkably light travel trailers, but I can only imagine what even the smallest of them would have been like hitched to this Ami 8 wagon. Glacial is the only word that comes to mind. At least much of France is relatively flat.

But help was available towards the end of the Ami’s long twenty-year life span. In 1973, the new four cylinder boxer for the GS was also available in the aptly-named Ami Super. The ads promised 85 mph! The Ami Super was not a sales success, and disappeared after a few years, while the Ami 8 soldiered along until 1979.

But that wasn’t the only engine transplant the Ami received. Not surprisingly, ever-adventurous  Citroen was an early adopter of the rotary engine, and created a joint venture with NSU, Comotor, to build them. The Ami-based M 35 coupe was the test bed for the 500 cc, 49 hp twin-rotor engine. A total of 267 of the coupes were built, and eventually the rotary found its way into the GS Birotor. But the timing was not fortuitous: the OPEC oil-blockade made fuel efficiency paramount, and the three-rotor engine intended for the new big Cx never saw the light of day. Another expensive project canceled that helped push Citroen into near-bankruptcy and into the arms of Peugeot.

The Ami 8 has the typical single-spoke Citroen steering wheel, and the usual umbrella-handle gear shift that the 2CV pioneered. It was a fairly roomy, if somewhat narrow car, since the 2CV itself was fairly long. The Ami’s boxy shape made the most of it.

For a stop-gap, the Ami had a long and reasonably successful life, with some 800k built. Citroen wasted a lot of time and money on a new mid-sized car, the Project F.  When Renault showed a very similar production car with their new R16, Citroen again pulled the plug and started over, with the more advanced GS. They finally built what they set out to achieve: an advanced aerodynamic car with decent performance and excellent efficiency. I have one in the can from Portland, and we’ll get to it one of these days, after you’ve recovered from all this Francophelia. Until then, I’ll leave you with this last shot to sear the Ami into your memory banks.

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44 Comments on “Le Curbside Classic: Citroen Ami 8...”

  • avatar

    I love these old oddballs – there are a few (6s and 8s) kicking around the area my folks live when they’re in France and it always makes me smile when one chugs past.
    Sorry to hear Paris is affording slim CC pickings Paul – rural France is a goldmine for this kind of thing, maybe you could do CCs from Provence next?

  • avatar

    In addition to our family drives past a DS when I was a wee child, I fell in love with these odd-ball cars a little later on thanks to my local library and their collection of the annual “World Cars” books. Published by the Automobile Club of Italy, it was a very large, hard cover book included features on the most interesting prototypes of the show car season followed by a comprehensive listing (with pictures) of every make and model car produced during the year, including the Soviet bloc. Before the interwebs it was as good as it got.

  • avatar

    I so love Paul being in CET. A curbside classic for lunchtime, what a treat!

  • avatar

    That second picture down of the Ami 6 looks like it’s parked in a swamp. Sacrebleu!
    A: A one spoke steering wheel.
    Q: What do Citroens and Neoplans have in common?

  • avatar

    Fun fact: Similar to DS “deesse” (goddess), AMI 6 was also a “talking” acronym. The french pronounciation “L’Ami Six” sounds similar to “la missis”, which was probably no coincidende, given Citroen wanted to market the car especially to women.

  • avatar

    WOW! What a different world compared to here and what we take for granted of what an automobile should look like! What a wonderful series of CC’s, Paul.

    I especially like the Cocinelle, which reminds me of the Stout Scarab of 1935. Wish the Cocinelle was built, but the DS comes closest. With all the cars that have only sliding windows, I suppose that is a cost thing, as it does get hot over there, doesn’t it? The Ami 8 reminds me of a Chrysler from the late fifties from the front with a late fifties/early sixties Rambler rear. Now that’s style in the extreme. And with the lack of rear wheel wells, I had to look twice, as it appeared to be a three-wheeler. BTW, have you found any of those over there, yet? Now that would be a great CC! Good job!

  • avatar

    Europeans have tiny trailers for their tiny cars.  Some are just a bit bigger than a footlocker.  I have seen trailers with two pens for medium-sized dogs; trailers about four feet square for hauling rubbish, and pop-up camper tents.  The Ami probably pulls a little trailer like that.
    While you’re in France, you might look out for Peugeot 504 coupés.  There are a few of these running around Languedoc that I see every year.
    Excellent series on these little French cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Go look at Brenderup UK for an idea of what small utility trailers look like. Easyline is another really light duty brand. There are dozens of brands of lightweight trailers. Want to see RV (caravan) trailers? Look up Hobby caravan UK. Pretty LUX little RV trailers for towing with crossover sized SUVs.
      I doubt the Ami would be suited to tow much more than an 1150S.
      FWIW I’m not rying to sell you a trailer. Just a happy customer last year (1205S) and I don’t know any of the other brands.

  • avatar

    Paul, you could write about any car, any where, and it would be fascinating.  These Gallic absurdities are too easy for you!
    That said, if I lived in France, I would have to own a Citroen.  They’re just too unique to go without.

  • avatar

    Nice finding, actually I think it is easier to spot a 403 or 404 than one Ami…
    Now that you are in France maybe you could go to Sochaux, a 5 hour drive, there is a Peugeot Museum, where certainly you could see the 403 and more.
    Bon Voyage mon ami!

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Not this trip; Paris only, and all via walking, Metro and trains. Another time. Anyway, I used to own several 404s and a 403.

  • avatar

    Man, how nice it is to look at real cars – not just another rear-drive smallblock V-8 (or worse, big block V-8).

  • avatar

    What a freakishly weird cool car. I love stuff like this.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t help but think the leading edge of the hood looks like the densest buttocks in history (the neutron star of buttockses as it were) sat down on it for a moment!

  • avatar

    Does anyone else think the original nose on the Ami looking a lot like a mid-90’s Audi, or is that the other way around?

  • avatar

    Parallel parking seems to be an adventure over there. Bet that ball hitch has done some damage.

  • avatar

    First time I saw an Ami was actually in a Tintin book! The front end of the early, pre-bureaucratized clay model reminds me of that of a C4 Audi 100…which is amazing, considering how much older a design it is.

  • avatar

    I once dated a gal that looked a little like that, as I recall she was quite a bit faster.

  • avatar

    Given the abuse the French heap on their vehicles I am not surprised at the slim pickings.  Europeans in general seem to be quite unkind to their vehicles, but the French take the cake.  The most astonishing moment for me was watching one gentlemen put his car in reverse and use only the starter motor to back his car out of his garage and up a steep hill.  How long a car can sustain that abuse, I don’t know.

  • avatar

    Citroen’s from that era belong in a museum of modern art. And no, that’s not a compliment. ;)

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Back in the middle seventies, we almost bought an Ami 8. It seemed a little too fragile and bought a “sturdy” Renault 5 instead. The R5 was a good machine, especially in comparison to the 1965 Vauxhall Viva we had previously.

  • avatar

    Mr. Niedermeyer do you know why the French use yellow bulbs in their headlamps?
    I have always guessed it’s because the fog, but have never been sure. I’ve seen them in the very few cars Renaults that have arrived here from France without the normal clear ones.
    Off topic, some of my friends had Renault cars during college, there was an R18, R21, R19 16S and R11. They shared in common: excellent seats, stability and good handling, without being punishing.
    You got a Ford Transit and a 1st gen Opel Tigra in your shots. The Tigra shares with the Isuzu Impulse/Geo Storm the giant bubble rear window idea.

    • 0 avatar

      “I have always guessed it’s because the fog…”  Don’t you mean “because of the fRog”?

      Some people claim it helped with nocturnal snail hunting.

      BTW, I like the white bubble car … it somehow reminds me of a computer mouse…

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      Yellow lights don’t really help in fog.
      I always thought the French had yellow lights to comply with French motoring laws.They used to be restricted to 45W bulbs as well I believe.Since motoring laws are now harmonised across the EEC I presume they have proper lights these days.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2 R5 I have have yellow lights, but weirdly enough, my more contemporary ’93 Lutecia (a Japanese Clio) has white headlights BUT yellow foglights … that was the original setup that I kept of course. I remember quite a few cars from MY93 in France had that odd combination, then fogs turned into white light the headlights (maybe just stock management, and law not as strict for the foglights…)
      And no, yellow isn’t really more efficient

    • 0 avatar

      I remember reading somewhere yellow headlights was part of a national security plan to make French registered cars recognizable at night, begun a few years before the war.  Any claimed benefits of yellow light were just welcome extras, though it was the law in France until the early 90s.
      Yellow tends to get drowned out by any other ambient lighting such as street lights, but in my commutes through central Illinois over two years I found they were great when used alone.  Good long distance vision and zero glare, though the fact I was using European code headlights probably was a factor as well.

  • avatar

    I once came acrost a a Peugeot 404 sedan in a field for sale. I had to stop and ask about it. The farmer told me that if I didn’t buy it he was going to turn it into a tractor. Having owned a Peugeot before, I didn’t buy.

  • avatar

    Now that’s more like it! Not just garden variety bland/ugly like the Renault R4, we want full-on bizarro-ugly-mutant styling from our classic french cars…Zut Alors! that is one freaky lookin’ voiture! (the sedan is even more so, love the b/w shot of the little alien-mobile about to tip over!)

    Hope you enjoyed your trip, and hope you’ve got a some more Euro CC’s to come!

  • avatar

    Thanks for sharing your Frog romp w/ us, Paul.  I might have to send you some snaps from my upcoming trip to ARgentina.  These Ami 8, CV2s and 3., Renault 4’s are a dime a dozen… all driven w/o headlamps —–

    it’s a fright!

  • avatar

    @ Stingray “yellow bulbs” : They were mandatory in France until 1993 or so, because it was believed that they offer better visibility. Then a new bunch of bureaucrats decided that this is not so. Google for “UNECE Regulation No. 37” to get further details. I’m too lazy now.
    But the Ami 6 is among the worst things that have ever been designed. Not only was it ugly beyond believe, especially the sedans. No, you also got a notorious unreliability plus an amazing susceptibility to rust (even by the standards of the sixties) ex works added as extras.
    For Citroen, the Ami 6 certainly was a nail in the coffin. Look at picture No. 6 and add the whiny sound of an 2CV engine to complete the picture of a complete failure. This is the French version of the Aztec, only less usable and reliable.

  • avatar

    Do not forget the Dyane:

    • 0 avatar

      +1 i always thought the dyane was a better update of the 2cv. check out this electrified dyane in new zealand:

    • 0 avatar

      Ah nostalgia. My family’s first “second car” was very nearly a yellow Dyane until Mum took a very young me and my even younger sister for a test spin in it. We both threw up. She bought a FIAT 127 (also yellow, must have been a popular 70s colour) instead as it had less… dramatic suspension characteristics.

  • avatar

    @Nick, my recollection is that the French, like the Japanese, make it financially difficult to hold onto cars for too long.
    Anyway, I love seeing these cars. This makes my day. Of course, I’m especially hoping Paul finds a 404–the first car I drove legally.

  • avatar

    I have a couple of pictures I took along a canal in Amsterdam in 2007 of an Ami 6 that looked like it had been parked there a long time. I’d be happy to email them if you’re interested, Paul.

  • avatar

    My understanding is that the one spoke steering wheel was designed so that in a collision, the driver’s body would be diverted sideways and down behind the protection of the dashboard rather than being impaled on the steering shaft.  By the looks of it, the version on the DS would work better than in the Ami.

    At the same time, US cars had steering wheels with no such protection, plus nasty “horn rings” that would slice open the face and body of hapless drivers.
    I also understand that the DS’ spare tire was in the nose to add protection in collisions.  If these aspects are true, it shows Citroen was taking safety seriously and early.

  • avatar

    Naples, Italy was full of these back in the early 90s when I lived there. I always thought of cars like this as “picnic cars” b/c in the vintage promotional materials there seemed to be alot of pictures of cars like these taking friends, lovers or family on a picnic.
    In fact they made me think of taking some Italian or French beauty (one of each?) out for an afternoon picnic in the country too. Probably some bespectacled, slightly old fashioned quirky girl in a dress. Quality time.
    I still really admire the honest transportation that cars like this represent.
    James May of TopGear recently “raced” one on this past season in a “regularity rally” in Mallorca.That’s Bit-speak for time-trials.

  • avatar

    It always amazes me when people feel the need to knock these wonderful old cars.

    I had a GSA (as described above) which was the replacement for the Ami and it was a wonderful car with an incredible ride. And when you drove it on the motorway it would seem to get faster and faster as the hours went by. I used to go everywhere at about 85 miles per hour. Which is not bad for a 1299 cc car with a 3 speed semi auto transmission.

    By the way Paul, the designer of the Ami, as well as of the DS, Traction Avant and others is Flaminio Bertoni  ( note the i)
    I really enjoy TTAC- greetings from Ireland.

    • 0 avatar

      GSA are amazing cars. Shame you don’t have yours anymore. I saw a 2 tone brown one in Tallaght few month ago but that’s it. The ride is actually incredible, even better than the CX… And the car is quiet enough too…
      Greeting from Ireland too :)

  • avatar

    All that akward look for a pair of rectangular headlights? Zeppelin styled across the flanges with a horn-rimmed lunettes look to the snout. All that cobbled on a noisy, floaty ride. Memory suggests the Ami didn’t sell as well in the UK as the 2CV. Why does the Ami suggest to me an ugly-duckling so tellingly at home on the campground? I bet there was no Pallas or de Gaulle rider.

    Per Paul the GS that followed was a far, far more attractive proposition.

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