Most people may think that a tiny Citroën from the mid-eighties (which means that it’s entirely a PSA product) is nothing to be very romantic about.
But as well as it doesn’t take a supermodel for a man to remember with fondness the time spent together, a supercar isn’t needed to create worthwhile memories of roads and places one shared with a vehicle. I liked this car with its tiny, but beautiful alloy wheels and the classy red stripes on the sides. I also discovered how cleverly it was constructed, with a small, but very rectangular boot that could easily be enlarged by locking the rear backrests in a more upright position, folding them down or removing them entirely.
Or take the hatch whose lower part (made of lightweight plastic, by the way) was only held by the rear window, without a frame. The interior I found a bit dull, with a lot of light grey plastic and seats in the same colour. But they were covered in nice velour, and in this trim level, there was no naked metal on the doors, and the glovebox had a lid. The car even had central locking and electric front windows, not very common for small cars at that time.
You might think that I’m quite a fan of the AX, and I can’t deny it. It’s clever and underrated. But even a much blander car could have occupied an important place in my memory, had it lived through all the things the AX did with me.
A few years after its appearance on our driveway, it was time for me to get my learner’s licence. Twenty years ago, this meant that one was allowed to immediately start driving, either with a driving instructor or with any person older than 23 years and with a valid driver’s licence. The car didn’t have to be special, either. It had to have a hand brake that was in reach of the front passenger, in case an emergency stop was necessary. So as soon I had that little paper in my hands, my dad took me and the AX to an empty road in the countryside. Here we swapped seats…
Three months later, after touring many Sundays with my dad and discovering a lot of nice roads, and also having a few lessons with a proper instructor in my baggage, the great day was here: I passed my driving test. Again it was time to cram the whole family into the small car and head out for a celebrating dessert. Only this time, mother had to take my seat in the back row. And now romance began. For an eighteen-year-old, being able to get anywhere without spending a lot of time and sweat on the bicycle and without reading timetables and waiting for trains is the epitome of freedom and adulthood.
Whenever the car was not used by my mother (she used it seldom anyway) and I had to go somewhere, I asked for the AX. And I often got it, being able to reach my destination quickly – or by any detour I could imagine. Of course, I didn’t always tell her where I went, but I suspect she could have guessed by the odometer that sticking to what would years later become Google Maps’ recommendations was not my primary goal.
As long as a lived at my parents’ house, this more or less continued. I was active in our boy scouts group at that time, so the AX also saw a few camps and other activities where it served to carry groceries to often remote places, reachable only on gravel or dirt roads and paths. It coped well with almost everything and proved unexpectedly robust. Filling it with twenty-five backpacks or nine young people couldn’t harm it, and after ten years and 80’000 kilometres of its life, it had some dents and scratches, but no substantial illnesses. Rust was no topic anyway.
By this time, I had finished my studies and for the first time earned a proper salary. Time to get my first real own car! It became … exactly this AX. My parents were generous enough to leave it to me for free. The only thing I had to pay for were a few repairs to pass another two years of MFK (the Swiss MOT equivalent). So the next stage of romance took off. For the first time I could use a car without asking or giving account to anyone. Of course, the benefit of putting it back to mother’s parking space when the needle approached empty was also gone.
In the two years that remained in the AX’s life, it took me to many trips around Switzerland, Germany and Italy. I loved spending time in it and discovering great landscapes. The suspension was rather soft and very comfortable, but thanks to its low weight, the car was still eager to go through corners, even if it lacked the sharpness of its sportier brothers. I also liked improving it, which mostly meant that I added bigger speakers and a CD changer beneath the front seat. When I met my future wife who lived 150 kilometres away, it became even more useful and the romance of visiting her and discovering new favourite places together will be linked with this little car forever.
Alas, age began to show. Bits of brittle plastic started to break off, the radiator leaked slightly, and the brake discs were warping. Despite good rust protection, a few brown spots began to show. When I discovered a CX in driveable condition for little money, I finally parted company with my little AX. With a heavy heart, my brother and me brought it to the scrapyard after trying to sell it without avail. We shouldn’t have…
Recently I saw a white AX GTi in what appeared to be mint condition. It struck me how rare this once ubiquitous car has become. And how much I still miss its sympathetic little face with the asymmetric badge and the sprightly sound of its engine. There are literally none left on the used car market, otherwise I could be tempted to once again buy and own one. What better compliment could be given to a car that may seem so ordinary for anyone who hasn’t shared an important time of his life with it?