Nib of the Matter

A close shave with the lesser-spotted Citroen Saxo-BIC® edition.

(c) BIC

In 1944, two Frenchmen, Marcel Bich and Édouard Buffard set up a business in Clichy to produce writing instruments. In the post-war era, the company prospered and having adapted László Biró’s original design for a ballpoint pen, Bich introduced the mass-produced BIC Cristal in December 1950, quickly becoming a stationary cupboard essential. Such was its impact, commercial success and design influence that in 2001 a BIC Cristal pen was added to the permanent collection of the Department of Architecture and Design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

In 1973 the company introduced a range of disposable lighters, while two years later BIC launched the one-piece razor. Three staple products; perfect realisations of product design, made in their millions every year, reliable, ubiquitous and disposable. Yet each were masterpieces in their own right, eminently fit for their purpose, used and thoughtlessly discarded by millions around the world every day.

Nobody ever knowingly appended the term, ‘masterpiece of product design’ upon the Citroën Saxo, a car which to this day maintains its death grip on a top three placing of least inspired Citroën-badged model lines ever. This is, to the double chevron’s eternal shame a closely fought and much-disputed contest, and one the author chooses to swerve away from this Sunday, if that’s all the same with you. To be honest, the Saxo is a car your scribe would struggle to document with much by way of insight under normal circumstances, and were it not for a number of small badges appended to its flanks it’s one he would have walked past without a glance.

Source:

In 1960, BIC appointed famed commercial graphic artist, Raymond Savignac to create a character with a ballpoint head for its “Nouvelle Bille” (new ballpoint) advertising campaign. This cartoonesque image of a boy placed next to the letters B-I-C on an orange background has remained the company’s official trademark ever since.

So to see these logos appended to the side of an unprepossessing (French-registered) Saxo came something of a surprise – especially in this Irish coastal enclave. In 2016, DTW curated (okay, that’s probably dignifying matters a touch) a theme on the subject of special editions, one which brought forth a number of oddities and outliers from the realms of automotive embellishment, but I have to say, despite the PSA group’s propensity for obscure product endorsements, this struck me as particularly left of field.

But then when you’re in the business of pushing tin, or plastic in the case of the French stationery giant, you employ whatever marketing levers are at your disposal. Mind you, as special editions go, this is one of the more subtle of the breed, the sole external identifiers being a series of discreet BIC logos here and there, some of which looked more like something the owner knocked up themselves, to be frank.

Inside, the cabin was enhanced with yellow seat piping, and rather more distinctively, a similarly hued gearlever knob, although given the fact that BIC’s signature colour is somewhat further up the RGB colour scale, one has to wonder about PSA’s commitment to the stationer’s cause in this instance. Half hearted is a term that immediately jumps to mind.

One has to assume this was a French market-specific edition, so not only is this Saxo a curiosity, but a fairly intrepid one, having made the land and sea crossing to this draughty isle. What is unclear however is how much a few corporate logos, some brightly coloured interior detailing and (one imagines) a few extra features were likely to sway prospective customers in its native land – after all the Saxo was most likely a car that was purchased purely on price and proximity to a friendly service agent.

BIC ‘s history of sponsorship includes a successful and (dare I use the term?) iconic professional cycling team (Eddie Mercx rode for them), but to my knowledge, the Saxo appears to have been their solitary foray into the automotive arena. Perhaps they got their fingers burned? However, on this basis, one is tempted to suggest they might wish to stick with what they’re good at.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

21 thoughts on “Nib of the Matter”

  1. Citroën put a special edition out almost every week or so it seems, at least where I live (The Netherlands) Especially with the BX.

    The Saxo Bic wasn’t exclusive to France as it sold here too. The egg yolk yellow was probably a safety feature as anyone could see you coming 🙂

    1. Hi Freerk,

      I was about to mention Citroen’s insane special edition output at the time. Weren’t there a ‘Mentos’ special edition too ? At some point it looked like Citroen would just do a deal with just about any company that was willing to associate themselves with them. Desperate times.

    2. I thought Citroen jumped the shark with the Saxo ‘Tiscali Liberty surf’ special edition. Who knew we needed a partnership with an internet service provider ? Without even the Internet in the car. It’d be like an Austin Metro ‘BT Internet’.

  2. That Bic logo is a work of quiet genius. It’s a year older than me but (unlike me) still has a remarkably fresh and timeless quality. It is to the company’s credit that it has resisted any thoughts of modernising it, which has been the ruination of other logos, including some automotive examples.

    The 2009 changes to the Citröen double-chevron logo, rounding off the corners, has made a nonsense of its precision engineering reference, unless it’s now intended to represent a worn-out gear wheel, which would be pretty unfortunate. Vauxhall has modernised its Griffin logo many times, but the 2008 update made the Griffin unrecognisable: it could now be any bird of prey, instead of a mythical dragon:

    Likewise, Puegeot’s Lion logo has been streamlined to the extent that only the head looks remotely feline. The body could be, well, anything really. Fiat has tinkered endlessly with its logo, without obvious improvement. Most distinctive and modernist was the 1968 logo, coupled with the five-bar grille:

    Opel’s Blitz logo, probably because it is already pretty pared down and minimalist, has not been subject to the same level of interference as Vauxhall’s. More generally, the German and Japanese automotive brand logos have been treated with much more respect, probably reflecting the manufacturers’ greater confidence in their product.

  3. Hmmmm … top three, least inspired Citroën designs. That’s a tough but irresistible challenge.

    I’d go for (in reverse order):

    3. Xsara
    2. Saxo
    1. C4 (second generation – can’t find reference to a model code)

    Just hanging outside the top three is the Mk1 C5 (the one where the rear looks like it belongs to a different model), but that at least has something distinctive about it.

    The point about the Xsara is that is had an overall design brief which could have looked great – like a smaller scale Xantia – but instead it looked like it was made of blancmange and was not as tasty.

    The Saxo was an uglier, pudgier 106.

    The Mk2 C4 was just a tragedy on wheels, needlessly so, when its predecessor was so attractive.

    1. Yes, I’d agree with those choices and ranking. The Xsara and Saxo were representative of a period when there was a crisis of confidence within PSA about Citröen’s market positioning and design direction, but the Mk2 C4 was inexcusable after the interesting Mk1 pairing, with three and five-door models each having distinct (and distinctive) styling:

      Didn’t the Mk1 C4 models have that interesting fixed hub steering wheel as Well?

    2. Really, Gooddog? I think it’s rather handsome, in a Volvo-ish way:

      Its bigger sibling, the A9 is a bit derivative, but cleaner and less contrived than any current Audi saloon:

      Of course, they may be rubbish from an engineering and dynamic perspective, but the Chinese are learning fast.

    3. Daniel, yes it did! When you look at the 5 door, it’s very much like a relation of the C6. The 3 door reminds me of the old CRX by Honda, what with that split screen at the back. Good looking things, both.

  4. Here’s an excellent and, I’m sure, unbiased review of Donfeng and the A9 I found online and post unedited in any way:

    “Donfeng A9:

    DongFeng A9 have actually had a lengthy and also rich traditions throughout the globe. Famous for their muscle cars, however likewise for the timeless ones, they have made background over the years.

    DongFeng A9 Photos, Characteristics As Well As Realities:

    With a history of more than 100 years, DongFeng A9 is certainly one of the key players of the industry, with a global reach as well as a significant influence for all automobile producers worldwide.

    DongFeng A9 Review:

    It is among the far better entertainers in the class, supplying agile handling as well as lots of power. DongFeng A9 are likewise functional, with great fuel economic situation. The seats are roomy and comfortable, and also the modern technology is straightforward. As a matter of fact, the DongFeng A9 really does not do anything terribly; there are simply some competitors that stand apart a bit extra in some aspects.

    The Last Telephone Call:

    We advised this car. However don’t just take our word for it. Have a look at remarks from some of the reviews that drive our positions and analysis.”

    I’m convinced. Where do I sign?

    1. Well Daniel, A Citröen must do something terribly, if not several things. Do the turn signals self-cancel? I rest my case.

    2. That Citroen C6 is demoralising in a Total Perspective Vortext kind of way. It is an indeterminate shape, fairly professionally handled and for all the money spent advances the art of nothing in any way. It is a nothing-much kind of design, shapes with no meaning. At least they mean nothing to me. Part of the pleasure of European and American car design is the way one can relate forms to earlier forms and trace their evolution (the Americans seem to have given up on this though). I can´t place this C6 anywhere and I don´t think it´s because I don´t know the Chinese market. It´s a mix of design solutions and has no deeper significance.

    3. Good morning, Richard and Gooddog. My tongue was at least partly in my cheek when I posted above, but I stand by my view that the C6 and A9 are very competently handled, even if they don’t advance automotive design at all. China has no automotive heritage to influence their designs, so they are borrowing heavily from Europe and America. They are where South Korea was on the early 00’s, when Hyundai and Kia were producing tidy looking Audi-esque designs , like this Hyundai Sonata:

      I take it as a sign of progress that Chinese manufacturers are moving on from the disreputable cloning of western models, such as the disgraceful Landwind X7 Evoque copy. Hopefully, they will evolve a more distinctive style as they grow in confidence and incorporate some Chinese cultural and artistic references in their designs.

    4. The Aeolus A9 (its real name, thank you very much). Nothing Citroën about it but it wasn’t a bad design in itself I think. The interior of Citroen’s version was more interesting than the exterior. I quite liked that brown horizontal leathery look it had going on. speaking of big French cars, pictures of the new DS sedan (DS8 ?) has been leaked in China before its end-of-the-year reval. As expected it’s heavily based on the local Peugeot 508L and to me it’s shameful that PSA still do this kind of things: I think there’s just no way this car will reverse DS’s fortune in China….or the rest of the world perhaps.

  5. The Saxo Bic was definitely not a French market only edition,
    although it is admittedly rather rare.

    The several examples I’ve seen also include Bic-yellow coloured door-locking pins, IIRC, and I’d swear
    that one of the buttons on the central console
    was decidedlyyellow as well.

    To me the Saxo was always agricultural, in terms of that
    it was basically a rebodied 106, with a slightly bigger
    underhood/underwing space and a noticably bigger
    trunk. It was actually made with much more
    hard-wearing materials in the interior
    (read: sandpaper-grade plastics).

    As you dig deeper in the dimensions and other parameters,
    the Citroen ingeniousity is suddenly discovered in the
    way how they made a very practical car, whilst still
    retaining the city-friendly ~1,5 m.width.
    In 5-dr.form, actually, the Saxo is still very relevant as a city car proposition, say, for a small family that needs
    the luggage space (that the 106 hasn’t) for occasional
    camping weekends etc. Rear bench legroom is still surprisingly accomodating, for what is, essentially,
    almost a micro-sized footprint.

    Also, small city damage at the front did no damage on the underwings whatsoever (unlike the very ‘tightly
    packaged’ 106), which is another clever thinking.

    My point is: although it’s undeniably one of the least
    inspiring Citroen products (‘Douze Points’ go to the
    Xsara, of course!), the Saxo has a certain hard-wearing
    vibe, of the city-fighter-with-a-usefully-sized-trunk
    variety, and is a textbook exercise of how several
    cleverly thought-out (and dead cheap to produce)
    mods can transform an exotically engineered
    and slightly delicate city car (106) into an
    agricultural, convincingly-205-emulating
    reliable workhorse, which the Saxo (still) is.

    P.S. In Japan, it was called Chanson, due to some very unpleasant pronounciation connotations of its Saxo moniker.

    1. In lower trim versions I always preferred the Saxo to the 106 which I thought was really ungainly in basic trims. And the VTR/VTS trim of the saxo was neat and had a much different character than the 106 GTI which was also handsome admittedly.

  6. BIC’s big failure was the perfume. Sometimes in the 90s they wanted to reiterate the success they had with the pen and the lighter by selling an inexpensive perfume that you could buy in cigarette shops and throw away after a few uses. It had a massive advertising budget (I think I remember the song) and BIC thought they were going to kill off the established perfume makers but it was a huge flop.

  7. Yes you could say that gooddog, this is a good analogy. And what’s up with the ‘fascinating’? You’re on a slippery slope gooddog…..

    1. Because perfume is one of many French national specialties. Behind my thinking to say “fascinating” is that Swatch could have been a complete failure for similar reasons, but instead it rescued the Swiss watch industry.

    2. I see.

      For Swatch, I don’t really know the market but maybe the industry needed to be saved ? or had to offer a cheaper alternative to survive or develop ( a bit like the premium carmakers going mainstream with their expansion into the compact and supermini segment ?) but on the other hand I don’t think the luxury perfume industry needed saving. It was thriving and it still is. They misjudged the relation people had with perfume perhaps. It was a strange concept when you think about it: “A pack of 20 B&H, a scratch card and one of your bottle of perfume please”.

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