Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II

Our debate on design rationalism has burst out of its container.

An Iranian-built Peugeot 405 Pars:
An Iranian-built Peugeot 405 Pars:

Citroen BX:

I present here the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX together with some highlighted lines marking out their main features. I have extended the lines to see how they relate at a hypothetical level.

And now here are the annotated cars.

Note how most of the main lines are parallel. The feature line running from the front to back lamps is not a straight line but gently curved.
Note how most of the main lines are at or near parallel. The feature line running from the front to back lamps is not a straight line but gently curved.
There is a subtle falling of the bodyside lines and the roofline, the essence of Citroen.
There is a subtle falling of the bodyside lines and the roofline, the essence of Citroen.

The Peugeot is visually simpler in that it lacks a third side glass. The Citroen has that complex area at the C-D pillar plus the louvres underneath. What adds a considerable 1985 Citroen BX profile-bumperamount of visual noise is the vertical line where the black rear bumper meets the rear wheel arch bodywork. An entirely different solution is needed to eliminate that unwelcome vertical element. I believe that the use of large radii all over the 405 also reduces the amount of “information”. Research shows that points attract the eye. Turning sharp corners into radiused corners defeats that effect and make it harder for the eye to fall on any one place.

My conclusion is not that one of these cars is better than the other. Frustratingly, I like them both a lot. What I have learned or what I propose is that the BX is not design rationalism but more “technicalesque”. Whether deliberately or not, Citroen and Gandini did a car that played up the technical elements of the design, adding details that stress the car’s mechanical character. The 405 plays this down in the search for smoothness at all scales. It’s classical to Citroen’s determined Modernism.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II”

  1. “Citroen´s determined Modernism”, but: I think the vertical line of the rear bumper works very well for some reason, maybe I’m just used to it. I like the Peugeot, but I like the Citroen better. The BX is a lovely car to drive as well, my brother had a 1.9 TZD, a dream on wheels. Never driven a 405.

  2. These two cars I believe, shared a floorpan, some structural hard points and a good deal of mechanical and electrical componentry. Yet they couldn’t have looked more diverse, inside and out. Both cleave true to the respective marque’s styling values, yet could possibly have been built on the same production tracks.

    In a way, the BX was Citroen’s Lancia Beta in that it was commercial success, yet conceptually a dead end.

    1. I’ve never heard of the BX and 405 sharing anything other than engines.
      Not sure where you got that from.

    2. Toby. Thanks for your comments. We’re always happy to be corrected at DTW but, in this case, I’m pretty sure Eoin’s correct. At launch it was stated that the 405 used the platform first used for the BX and I’ve never heard otherwise. A quick search of the internet shows this repeated on various sites. Although in the 80s, they were still being a relatively tolerant custodian of Citroen, it’s unlikely that Peugeot would have turned up the opportunity at a bit of cost saving and platform sharing has carried on ever since. Of course, the net is no definitive source so, if you have contrary information, we’d be glad to see it.

  3. Both cars demonstrate in different ways that middle class family cars need not to be boring.
    The BX was for sure the car for the non-conservative customer. I remember 1982 the police report of a bankraid – the witnesses said that the thieves were driving a unknown, but very futuristic car….

  4. Not just the 1979 Volvo Tundra that Melle mentions but, before that, the 1977 Reliant FW11 prototype, intended for Turkey. Bertone certainly touted that shape around before Citroen bought it.

  5. Goodness. The rear wheel arch is better. That avoids the problem. The angles of the profile and the squared wheel arches are the few distinguishing features. The BX has more flourishes. They worked with a limited set of variables in those days.

  6. I seem to agree with most of the writers here that both cars are great designs. Some years ago I was driving behind a 405 (when it has already become a rare sight) and noticed how much sense every single line on its rear body made. There was nothing one could add or take away. Sadly, the times when PSA had this design approach are long gone. And even more so the clear differentiation between the two marques.

    Regarding the BX’s rear wheelarch/bumper area: the small photo with the dark bumper does the design no favour as it makes the vertical line very obvious. I think the BX design was really intended to work with the body coloured bumpers that all BXs had (with very few exceptions). BTW the estate version shows a different bumper treatment with its leading edge being more or less parallel with the leading edge of the wheelarch. A slightly more elegant solution, and I wonder why it was not taken for the saloon as well. A reason could be that the upper front corner of the bumper would have been optically too close to the rear lights.
    And while the Reliant prototype’s wheelarch design avoids the issues with the BX’s bumper it’s certainly not a solution worthy of a 1980s Citroën where the rear wheel had to be partially covered (a concept that only later had to be dropped when the body and roof lines started pointing more upwards on the rear).

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