It was 1983 and we were in need of another car. The Renault 6 had finally persuaded Lynda and I that it’s clutch wasn’t long for this world so we sold it. The whole car, not just the clutch. That bit was fast becoming worthless.
By now I had got a job so we had a few more spare pennies each month allowing us to be a bit more frivolous with our purchasing. With Lynda’s enthusiasm for all things brand new, apart from me, coupled with the fact I had never owned a new car we started to look at what dealerships might offer. So instantly made our way straight to the Renault garage where her family had jointly bought their last three vehicles from.
I was no particular fan of Renaults myself because their line up was uninspiring. At the time they had the ageing, pressed tin 4, the chubby little 5, the uninspiring, dated 6, two boring box shaped saloons in 9 or 18 patterns and the Fuego, the expensive, dumpiest fastback on the planet which no one had ever owned. Except Lynda of course, a year or two back.
But they had recently released a new, updated model 9, more modern in styling with a sharp looking front end incorporating quadruple lamps, more reminiscent of a Lancia than a Renault which is never a bad thing. Unfortunately the designer popped to the loo before he got to draw the back end and they just used an Etch-a-Sketch to finish it. Luckily by the time we got to the dealership the designer had finished his ablutions and had set about creating a new hatchback end, so improved from the staid saloon rump that they called it the 11 as it was at least 2 better than the three box solution. So we borrowed one for a day long test drive.
We decided to visit my family who were unimpressed, largely because no one from our side of the street had ever seriously been able to entertain buying a new car and their spotty 22 year old fresh out of unemployment was hardly likely to break that mould. We were told to take it back to the adults and apologise for stealing it.
We were more smitten though. It was smart and modern both inside and out and like all Renaults extremely comfortable. We were leaning toward a high spec 1.4 litre GTS model so started to get together our finances and choose colours when we had an epiphany. We saw a big road side poster of a car we had never seen before and it looked fantastically modern and chic. The poster gave no obvious indication of who built it.
We checked more carefully and upon closer inspection the car was a Citroën BX. Brand new into the country and like nothing we had seen before. Apart from a vague styling nod to earlier Citroëns, our experiences of which until that point were mixed.
My brother, Mark had an old, white DS. It was like being in a spaceship designed in the Victorian era but more comfortable than nestling in a freshly laundered bed. It swooped about with a lightness of steering, strange swivelling front lights and a button mushroom to call upon the braking system. The dials and switches were somewhat unconventional and placed at random places about the car which itself rose and fell at the behest of the owner or upon accelerating or cornering. And not always in the direction one would expect. All this strange and lovely comfortableness supported upon metal bowls filled with green fluid located under the wheel arches. Which eventually leaked all over the road whilst my brother was taking a guitar lesson.
The unreliability didn’t put Mark off though as he then bought one of its smaller brothers, a GS which was slightly more modern, slightly less weird but sadly slightly more suffering from I’ll let you down at the most inconvenient time syndrome.
Lynda’s brother, Kevin, also rambled on fondly about the brand and had long harboured thoughts on changing his Renault, the aforementioned tubby 5, in would a man really buy it in that colour yellow, for a GS himself. Side note, he never did because he bought a CX instead. Then an XM. But only after he bought our… Hang on the story isn’t there yet.
We suspended our prejudices and hot footed it to the local Citroën garage where we discussed the car. Not that we could actually get to see one it was that new. Notwithstanding this small hurdle we agreed to buy one and choose the BX16RS version. They even threw in a free hotel stay as inducement to buy, which clearly sealed the deal and saved us paying for our upcoming honeymoon stay.
The BX16 rather than BX14 because in cars bigger numbers are preferable and the RS because it was better equipped than the base model. We could have gone all out on the TRS version but felt the extra money for plastic windowlets in the C pillar wasn’t worth the upgrade.
The 1580cc motor would put out 91 horses when spun over 6000 times per minute and 97 units of imperial pulling power at a lower 3,500 but as it was French the figures were 68kW and 131 Newtons respectively. Which is all utter taureau-merde because who cares about how many horses are put out? It’s far more important to know why 91 were on fire in the first place.
The net result of all this revving and powering was a 0-60 time of under 11.3 seconds which I know because records indicate that it could go to 62mph by the 11.3rd second and then proceed on to do 176 but this was because it was French and they measure in something called kilometres which are like miles only in France. In England where I was it could only get to 109mph and that never happened anyway. It had to be run in.
There is a certain thrill of driving away a brand new car. The excitement that you are the first to drive it. After the man driving it off the production line, the factory delivery driver who puts it on the lorry, the guy who loads it onto the ferry, the one who drives it off the ferry the other end, the person who puts it on the transporter in this country and the other who gets it off the other end before being tested by the PDI technician and used by the salesman who nips out in it to get his sandwiches on the Thursday before you arrive to pick it up. Once it has been driven about the place by the valet cleaner of course.
But you believe you are the first one in it and you find yourself edging out carefully onto the highway with not a care in the world. Apart from a real fear of every other road user who seems to eyeing you up and waiting for an opportunity to administer the first scratch or dent. Along with an underlying gut feeling that you have just spent far too much on what amounts to a piece of metal sculpture.
In fact a lot of it wasn’t even metal. The modern design incorporated new fangled lightweight materials for the bonnet, hatch and bumpers. Not carbon fibre, just a form of wobbly plastic. Like some big red Reliant Robin.
Yes it was red. A deep post box red with a suitably contrasting light grey interior finish. We had opted for the fabric seats as leather was a spend too far but they were accommodating and adjustable enough to get at all the strange and quirky controls that Citroën decided to design into the first variant of this model.
For example, the indicators were not on handy stalks like every other car but instead incorporated into a rocker switch on the top of the lighting cheek protruding next to the binnacle, a handy finger stretch away from the wheel. All well and good for operation when approaching a bend, provided the bend wasn’t ahead of a long curve when your hands may not have been at the ideal position to reach. Plus their lack of proximity to the wheel shaft meant that no self cancelling function was incorporated so more thought had to go into repositioning hands for indicator cancelling after a manoeuvre as well.
The speedometer was also different from standard cars of the time. Instead of the standard big dial and sweeping pointer the speed numerals were printed on a vertically rotating drum which rolled past a fixed point line. All very Star Trek. All very difficult to read at a glance or at night.
One thankfully useful feature was a standardised DIN space for a retrofit stereo, a common upgrade to cars at the time and we spent time hunting out a fantastic Pioneer set up incorporating a slick KEH-9300 head unit coupled to a pair of TS-168 door mounted speakers and another stunning pair of powerful TS-2000 speakers inset into the hatchback cover which created a great deep, lustrous sound using the whole boot space as a bass box. We had to incorporate quick release audio leads but found the structural reinforcing within the plastic cover made it difficult to add extra strengthening to dampen out the uninvited audio induced bounce every time the volume went up.
Citroën fitted the car with its famous hydropneumatic suspension. Still using the gloopy green gunge that had visited the road outside my brother’s guitar learning shop but this time reliably contained within the pipes and spheres of the car. This gave it four settings of height. Maintenance level for fans of low riding, standard, raised and fully raised for wheel changing. It always travelled best in standard mode as raised firmed up the ride to extremely bumpy. As the years passed we saw a number of older BXs travelling out on motorways in raised mode which meant one of three things, firstly, that the system had failed, secondly, the operator didn’t know they could or how to alter the setting or thirdly, the driver was an idiot.
When driving our new, correctly set up car it felt modern, free-revving and comfortable. The manual five speed gearbox slipped into each ratio nicely albeit being a bit spongy in feel plus the power assisted steering was super light. The interior was spacious and having a hatchback always assists the practicality. The only real fault being the aforementioned non cancelling indicators. In fact I’m pretty sure they were still clicking quietly on and off when we sold it. Which was so much sooner than one should for a new car.
It’s not that there was a problem. In the year of ownership it never missed a beat. Unfortunately it also never missed the company entrance gatepost I drove through either but that minor scrape was soon fixed.
We had used it to visit t’North, a camp site in the west and to compete in a local manoeuvring contest held by our Institute of Advanced Motorists group wherein I proved conclusively that I could have missed the gatepost if only I had tried harder.
The reason we sold it was I got a new job. This came with not only a new gatepost entrance but more importantly to this tale a fully expensed company car rendering a second vehicle a bit of a luxury that we had to fuel ourselves. Lynda carried on commuting in the bee-ex for a while but we decided to sell it to Kevin’s partner, Rob, who needed some wheels and a mint condition [once the door was repainted] Citroën was a great deal for both of us. We got back some cash and he got a pretty new low mileage car that he kept for a number of years. With a banging stereo fitted.
My Citroën bubble had been pricked but the experience was far too good to be so short lived. I would no longer refrain from visiting the brand again. And I didn’t… But that story is for another day.
Author: Vince Poynter
First Published in my website vinceunlimited.co.uk on 30 May 2020
A DIN space is a reference to a standardised opening panel space of 180mm x 50mm for dashboard mounted head units as prescribed in ISO 7736
The header photograph shows the actual Citroën BX16RS in the story, parked on the author’s driveway shortly after it was purchased in 1983
The second image shows a close up of the Pioneer rear speakers fitted in the back parcel shelf of the car. The photo was taken by Lynda after the car had passed ownership to Rob around 1987
The final image shows the author manouvering the Citroën at an IAM day in Southampton, around Spring 1984