'The Tin Snail' by Cameron McAllister is a charming, somewhat old-fashioned read that delights with its humour, adventure, patriotism and love. Invoking the spirit of war-time France, it tells the tale of the development of the French version of the ‘people’s car’, the Citroën 2CV. We have baddies ranging from Nazis, including the villainous Ferdinand Porche, designer of the VW Beetle and the Panzer tank, who is trying to steal the plucky French design for Germany, to young Philippe, the jealous love rival, and his father, Victor, the pompous and obstructive mayor, who are ultimately redeemed by their courage and patriotism.
'The Tin Snail' is well plotted and the story unfolds like a script for a rattling good family film. However, although the book is illustrated, it is never completely clear from pictures or text what the revolutionary designs look like, unless one is already familiar with the 2CV (which my daughter was not). I wonder whether as a screenwriter, the author was imagining that all would become apparent on screen?
It appears to be creative non-fiction, telling the true story of the development of the car, so I felt a little cheated that that having invested in Angelo, his father Luca Fabrizzi, Christian Silvestre and Bertrand Hipaux, I discovered that their names were really Flaminio Bertoni, André Lefèbvre and Pierre Jules Boulanger. I don’t even know whether Fabrizzi’s son Leonardo had anything at all to do with the design. The other niggle is the sub-title: The little car that won a war – it didn’t. What actually happened was that the prototypes were deliberately hidden from the Germans and the car only went into production in 1948.
That said, this is a delightful book for anyone over the age of eight, and it would make a tremendous film.
This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review Issue 69 (August 2014). Book supplied by publisher.