A trip to the past: 1978 Citroen Mehari

“Alvaro martínez” is a freelance writer who writes articles in his spare time and works making automotive reviews and many many more things!


To begin… I would like to say that classic cars are a part of our history, without them we wouldn’t have next-gen racecars or the boring conmuters around our roads. This small piece is both an insight and a review on a simple but a genius piece of French engineering I came across last summer.

So, last summer I was having a quick soak at my uncle’s pool at his chalet. However, what caught my attention weren’t the annoying mosquitoes… Neither the paella or our obnoxiously loud neighbors having a party next door. As soon I got out of the pool and got my towel to dry myself up, I spotted on the neighbors yard a lime colored buggy-like vehicle. It had a lifted suspension and stood on thin wheels that certainly looked like pizza cutters, certainly… it looked to be VERY old.

What I was looking at on that moment… was a Genuine 1978 Citroen Mehari, a jewel from an eara long gone. It’s owner who I later met down the road during a walk… had a lot to tell me about the car’s history including it’s many quirks and features. 

The good parts

To begin… The Citroen Mehari doesn’t have a bodywork made out of aluminum or treated steel like modern cars. Its entire body was made in 20 pieces of ABS plastic, the same plastic that your children’s Lego toys used back then. That made the car cheap to manufacture & lightweight with all the advantages it enthrails, making it weight 590kg when other offroad vehicles easily reached the 1 ton mark. There was also the unspoken advantage of being easy to repair… if you got T-boned and your Mehari ended split in two, you could easily melt both split halves of the car and join them back together as if nothing had happened at all.

The Citroen Mehari hasn’t got a lot when it comes to talk about extras. There’s no heating neither AC, not even a radio! All you have is foam seats, removable plastic doors* and a foldable & stowable convertible top in either plastic or fabric. All of it surprisingly watertight despite its flimsiness. However they’re not soundproof, so forget to hear anything else than the wind against the car or the engine under the hood yowling at the limit… But at least you’ll have a somewhat smooth ride, thanks to the front suspension borrowed from the Citroen Dianne. Front suspension is independent & the back one is just a wishbone suspension… Did I also mention the reliability and the incredible visibility all around the car? (minus the cramped legroom for tall people of course)

*plastic tarpaulins that serve as side panels for the car.

The bad parts

And the problems certainly don’t end here… we don’t have a gas guzzling V8, neither an inline four… but a small-block M28 Flat-two engine barely reaching 600cc of displacement. Even being incredibly lightweight, the 32 horses under the hood struggle to push the car to it’s 60mph top speed which can easily take 22.4 seconds and that only is faster if you go a down a steep slope with a little tailwind to help. If you want to stop however… You’ll only have four heavy drum brakes to do that decently, and even then if they get a little wet it’s not granted that they will work at all.

And as Icing on the cake… There’s the horizontally mounted 4 speed gearbox that could only be mastered by those who played A LOT with the “bop it! Twist it! Spin it! Pull it!” Children’s toy (which came in 1996), but hey! It had both FWD versions & a 4X4 version which added you 3 extra movements if you wanted to lock the differential for slopes up to 60º degrees, so if you survived to the 90s you would give your children a run for their money on that toy.

Even then, despite all of the bad things about the car … I have a lot to say about this car despite how terrible it is by modern standards, since I think it truly has good things under all of the flaws. 

Conclussion & Final score

My ride on the Mehari wasn’t exactly luxurious despite the independent suspension. Even then I could comfortably hold a glass of water on my left hand with little water spilling from it on a bumpy dirt road at 18mph. Granted that I had to hold on with my right hand to one of the windshield pillars (the one I rode didn’t have seatbelts) much less I could hear the driver telling me all of the anecdotes that he had went through with the car, among them… that time he got T-boned on an intersection and ended rolling over on a field, later melting both halves of the car a year later and just keeping on driving it like nothing.

Still, I feel that it’s pretty fun to ride despite of how dangerous and highly uncomfortable it is compared to a more modern recreational vehicle. I didn’t need internet connectivity, USB connectors or built-in entertainment systems since the danger of the ride was the fun, thrilling to go fast with it, do low speed turns feeling how it leans like a boat on the turns and yet NEVER rolling over… It’s a car you wouldn’t daily drive to get to work but only drive through dirt roads or give rides on the beach to tourists. 

A car that certainly can give you good memories, thats pretty much it. 

  Final score

Performance Rating 3.5
Interior Rating 1.5
Styling Rating 4.7
Quality Rating  5.5
Safety Rating 1.5
Reliability Rating  8,5
MPG 7.5
Towing capability 1.0
Overall score 3.7  

Published in Reviews

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David Olsen-Fabian
1 year ago

GREAT post. Excellent spot and article to go with it.
I have one beef. 1978 wasn’t that long ago, pal. Some of us survived the ‘The Blizzard of ’78’ and had a blast doing so. Some of us were there to see Star Wars in the theater. It wasn’t that long ago because I can still remember that year well. I’m not THAT old yet … at least my mind isn’t tha … well crap. I guess I am THAT old. STAY OFF MY LAWN.

David Olsen-Fabian
1 year ago

I also want to mention the fact that plastics used back then had inferior hardeners in them and were prone to becoming brittle from the sun. Not a great quality in a vehicle but this was meant to be a fun car. Just something to get from A to B in the open. I’d say they struck gold. Just don’t wreck.

David Olsen-Fabian
1 year ago

You can’t do that with any other vehicle. I’m wondering about the structural integrity at this point. It may not do as well if it has a similar crash again. Hopefully that never happens. This is amazing and the car needs to be out there doing its thing. I LOVE IT!

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