Boxing Clever (Part One)

Confounding the cynics, the 1982 BX was a proper Citroën.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

The 1976 takeover(1) of the bankrupt Citroën company by Peugeot S.A. caused consternation amongst diehard fans of the products of the Quai de Javel. Since the days of the Traction Avant, Citroën had been fêted as a manufacturer of technically advanced and highly innovative cars, noted in particular for the superlative ride quality delivered by their unique Hydropneumatic suspension system. Would Peugeot, noted for its technical conservatism and financial rectitude, be respectful of this tradition, or discard it in favour of cars that were Citroën in name only?

The first(2) post-takeover all-new Citroën was the 1978 Visa. While heavily based on the Puegeot 104, the Visa at least looked sufficiently different(3) and had enough quirky details to be accepted as a proper Citroën in the mould of cars such as the Ami and Dyane. However, Citroën’s small cars were historically relatively simple in technical terms, so the bigger test of Peugeot’s commitment was yet to come, with the replacements for the larger Citroën GS and CX models. The GS had been on the market since 1970 but had been usefully updated in 1979 with the addition of a hatchback, at which point it was renamed GSA. Nevertheless, a replacement(4) for this model was next on the to-do list.

A new platform was designed, intended to be used not only for the new Citroën, but also for Peugeot’s eventual replacement for its 305 medium-sized saloon. Hence, it would be a conventional transverse-engined FWD design, like the 305. However, unlike the Peugeot, the new Citroën would be a five-door hatchback, with an estate to follow later. Cleverly, the platform was designed to accommodate both conventional spring and damper suspension and Citroën’s Hydropneumatic units.

A number of in-house proposals for the new model were considered, but it was a proposal from Bertone that prevailed. Marcello Gandini, Bertone’s chief designer, had put forward a severely angular and geometric design that was at the time very much his signature style. It owed more than a little to both his stillborn 1977 Reliant FW11(5) and 1979 Volvo Tundra concept car.

Image: drivemag.com

The new model, named BX, was revealed in June 1982 but the formal launch took place some months later, at an event beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris on 2nd October. The BX was almost identical in size to the GSA: the wheelbase was 105mm (4”) longer at 2,655mm (104½”), while overall length was just 50mm (2”) longer at 4,230mm (166½”).

Better packaging, however, meant that the BX was considerably roomier inside. Citroën claimed that the cabin length and width at elbow level were increased by 125mm (5”) and 75mm (3”) respectively, while the new car weighed on average about 36kg (80lbs) less than the GSA, thanks to the use of a polyester / glassfibre composite for the bonnet, tailgate and fuel filler flap, plastic for the bumpers and much high-strength steel. The claimed Cd was 0.33, actually slightly higher than the impressive 0.32 claimed for its predecessor.

Two engines in three different power outputs were offered. The smaller unit was the familiar 1,360cc XY unit from the Peugeot 104, Citroën Visa GT and Talbot Samba. This was offered in two states of tune, producing either 62bhp (46kW) or 72bhp (54kW). The larger engine, designated XU, was a new design with a capacity of 1,580cc and power output of 90bhp (67kW). It was first installed in the Peugeot 305 in 1981.

The engines were inclined backwards to reduce the height of the bonnet and mated to either a four or five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, the former taken from the Talbot Horizon. Suspension was via Citroën’s Hydropneumatic spheres, mated to MacPherson struts at the front(6) and semi-trailing arms at the rear, with front and rear anti-roll bars. Brakes were discs all round, with a pressure release valve incorporated into the self-levelling system to prevent the rear wheels locking under heavy braking.

At the car’s launch, Citroën made much of the lightness and efficiency of construction of the new body. It used fewer, larger sections of steel than the GSA and required about half the number of spot-welds to assemble. The exterior styling might have been a bit severe for some tastes, but it was very coherent and quite sleek, thanks to the low bonnet line allowed by the inclined engine installation. One interesting feature was, on upper-level models, a third light inserted into the broad C-pillar. It was certainly distinctive, but whether it did anything for all-round visibility or improved the car’s appearance is a moot point.

Images: @addict_car

The dashboard was entirely faithful to Citroën tradition. It featured a central ‘fish-eye’ digital speedometer where the speed is displayed on a rotating drum. Supplementary strip gauges for fuel and oil sat to the right of the speedometer. To its left were the overall and trip odometers and a digital clock. A tachometer only featured on the top-line model.

All the secondary controls were grouped on two projecting pods behind the steering wheel rim. On the left pod were controls for lights, including flashing and low/high beam, and turn indicators. On the right were controls for the horn, front and rear washers and wipers and hazard warning lights. The heating and ventilation controls were grouped more conventionally on the centre console.

The trim and engine combinations were straightforward. The smaller-engined models started with the basic BX with the 62bhp engine and a four-speed gearbox, then the BX14E with the 72bhp engine, followed by the BX14RE which added the five-speed gearbox. The larger-engined models were the BX16RS and BX16TRS which were mechanically identical but offered different levels of trim and equipment.

Initial demand for the BX was strong and it took almost a year for RHD versions to cross the English Channel. Car Magazine’s Steve Cropley tested the BX in both engine sizes and reported his findings in the October 1983 issue of the magazine. Cropley was clearly a fan of its angular, chiselled lines and described it as “one of the few really good-looking cars being offered to the car buyers of Britain for the 1984 model year.”

Image: autoevolution.com

Cropley went on to describe the BX as a “parts bin car”, pointing out that much of its engineering had either been lifted from existing Peugeot cars or would be used in forthcoming models. He did, however, acknowledge Citroën’s candour in its BX launch materials where it stated that the company and its previous models had suffered from “over-engineering, high maintenance costs, strange handling and a disparate range.” The advertising slogan chosen for the UK launch tried to counter this perception with the claim that the BX “Loves Driving, Hates Garages.”

On the road, the BX was “pure Citroën” with its “unhurried bump-absorption [and] superb self-levelling”. It represented a step forward over the GSA in that it “allowed less road harshness into the cabin” and less kickback through the steering. The driving position was “superbly comfortable”.

The smaller engine was, however, “thrashy” and required frequent gearchanges. The “mechanical cat fight is made all the more obvious by the fact that the car is quiet through the air and over most road surfaces.” In contrast, the much preferable 1.6-litre unit “propels the car to 110mph [177km/h], near enough, shoves it to 62mph [100km/h] in just over 11 seconds and can support a top gear ratio which is tall enough to make 4,000rpm cruising a thing likely to offend forces of the law.”

Criticism of the cabin was limited to a dashboard that some found “too plasticky” and that “rear seat passengers don’t have as much head or knee room as those in a VW Golf II.”

Overall, Cropley was highly impressed by the new BX, stating that it had “all the advantages its predecessors did [and] improves in areas where they attracted criticism. Were I a family person, I’d find it hard to lay out my hard-earned for more space or more performance than a BX16 – let alone for a combination of the two.”

Praise indeed, but how did the BX do in the market and how did it evolve over its production life?

The story of the Citroën BX concludes in Part Two shortly.

(1) In December 1974, Peugeot acquired a 38.2% stake in Citroën. On 9 April 1976, Peugeot increased its stake in the by now bankrupt company to 89.95%, thus creating the PSA Group.

(2) Ignoring the 1976 Citroën LN, a stop-gap small car that was merely a Peugeot 104ZS fitted with the 602cc flat-twin engine from the Citroën 2CV and a rather makeshift looking restyled front end.

(3) The Visa shared no external body panels with the 104 and had a completely different dashboard, very much in the Citroën style.

(4) Although the GSA would continue in production alongside the new model until 1986.

(5) Reliant had been commissioned by the Turkish Otosan car company to design a small family car for domestic production. It never made it past the prototype stage.

(6) This was the first time Hydropneumatic units had been mated with MacPherson struts. The GSA had used wishbones at the front.

 Sources:

Car Magazine

Citroenet.org.uk

 

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

41 thoughts on “Boxing Clever (Part One)”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. Ah, the BX. Your writing pretty much sum up how I remember the BX.

    I always assumed that PSA wanted to cater for the traditional Citroën buyer and attract customers from different brands. You really did see these everywhere in the Netherlands, so it definitely was a success over here. They sold no less than 124,158 of the things over here in the Netherlands. I wonder how much the sales were helped by all the limited run models with extra equipment thrown in and together with an exclusive badge and/or striping. There seemed to a be a special BX every other week or so. I’m glad that practice has disappeared. Now there are still 1,644 BX’s registered, a survival rate of 1,3%.

    I’m surprised to see the driving position gets praise. The BX owners I know complained the pedals were either too near and the steering wheel too far away. I’ve only sat in a BX a couple of times and never driven one, which is surprising given the large numbers sold here, so I can’t really tell.

    Some people really hated the BX enough to have an entire website devoted to it. Very harsh claims were made about the car and particularly their drivers. I’m happy to report it no longer exists, sadly the hate speech phenomenon still does.

  2. Only the ‚suitcase‘ X engine with its gearbox in the sump was tilted at 72 degrees, the larger XU with its end-on gearbox was mpore upright and tilted backward at 18 degrees.

    Not all BXs had GRP bonnets. The first diesels had metal parts because the GRP would develop cracks caused by the diesel vibrations.

    The initial production run of the BX was criticised for its excessively hard suspension. Citroen reacted quickly and replaced the small 400 cc suspension spheres by 500 cc spheres with softer valve setup. At about the same time the front suspension arm mountings were changed from needle roller bearings to standard rubber bushes.
    Even then, BXs had varying levels of comfort. The small engined cars were quite comfortable, the more comfort oriented XU engined cars were a bit stiffer but still acceptable but the turbo diesels and in particular the ‘sports’ versions were quite stiffly sprung and nowhere as comfortable as you’d expect from a hydro pneumatic Citroen.
    The BX also was the first hydro pneumatic Citroen in which life expectancy of hydraulic components became a topic. In a CX the suspension spheres would last at least 250,000 kilometres, in the BX they were consumables which rarely lasted more than 80,000 kilometres – less in examples with heavy engines like turbo diesels – and McPherson hydraulic cylinders wore out quickly and became sticky.

    1. Good morning, Dave. Now that you mention it, I knew someone with a BX GTIi 16V. The suspension made all sorts of noises in that car. It was as if you could here the fluid and nitrogen in the spheres moving around. The car was driven hard all the time.

    2. All proper hydraulic Citroens make noises like a living animal. Burbles, hisses and smacks are normal expressions of life.
      The 16v had (relativly) rock hard suspension which did the BX no favour. The BX not only had the tactile quality of an empty beer can, it had the rigidity of one, too. Even in the softer sprung versions you could feel how much the bodywork was moving in itself when you held a finger in the panel gap between door window frame and roof when driving down a bumpy road. The feel was quite shocking, no wonder they rattled and squeaked.
      The seating position was weird, just as you mentioned. With the comfortable standard seats as seen in the picture of the interior this could be solved by lifting the front of the seat (no height adjustment here, you could move the front of the seat cushion up and down) until you sat with very bent legs. The ‘sports’ seats had a different form with much less under-thigh support and a dead flat cushion which made it impossible to find a seating position without spreading your legs uncomfortably.

  3. Thanks for this Daniel. I still have my BX19TRE and still enjoy driving it. It was originally a Japanese market car when new, and I bought it off a co-worker who had bought it new in Japan and then bought it back to New Zealand with her. She had purchased it from her local Mazda dealer, who were the agents for Citroën in Japan at the time. I was so impressed by the way the car drove that I bought another one for my mother, mine is a manual to full Japanese spec, with air conditioning, electric sunroof, electric windows and ABS brakes, the newer one was the same but an automatic, also ex Japanese new and imported into Auckland by a dealer. She ran the car for a few years trouble free, unfortunately she lived in a place without a Citroën dealer and her well-meaning mechanic topped up the hydropneumatic fluid with ATF rendering the car an economic write-off, as by then BXs weren’t worth much.
    Whenever I get into the BX I am always struck by how cheap looking and plasticky the interior looks, and by how it doesn’t appear to have worn at all, even though the car has now done 250,000+ km. In all those kms it has only needed oil and tyres and one clutch. I suspect the clutch was because I loaned the car to my mother, who was used to automatics, but who knows?

    1. Not asking what it says about somebody when he puts ATF in a container with a big warning sign “LHM only”.
      This happened quite regularly with Dyanes and Amis which used LHM as their brake fluid and often got ‘serviced’ with normal brake fluid by backyard mechanics.

      (I wonder what kind of ATF that was as normally the hydraulic system is rarely damaged as long as the fluid is mineral oil based. HD-30 engine oil is an emergency substitute for LHM and a mixture of three litres of HD-30 and one litre of unleaded fuel can be used instead of Hydraurincage to flush and clean out old systems)
      This happened quite regularly with Dyanes and Amis which used LHM as their brake fluid and often got ‘serviced’ with normal brake fluid by backyard mechanics.

    2. Unfortunately Dave, at the time, I was 400 km away and an insurance company handled the claim. The suspension stopped working and the big red warning light came on. A BX back then was worth about NZ$1000 and the cost of a flush was about NZ$1200.If I had been there the flush would have been done. I wasn’t, it wasn’t.
      As far as I know, the suspension on mine hasn’t been touched, maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe the Japanese market cars were better built?
      Maybe I’m a funny shape, but I find the seats very comfortable and the BX is used for long journeys about as much as my W124s or Rovers are. I drove a few BXGTs and I wouldn’t describe the suspension as firm by any current standards. My Rover 400 has the full MG ZS 180 suspension and that is much firmer, which is, of course, why it is so nice on the track. I would put a BXGT suspension at about the same stiffness as a standard Peugeot 405, it’s sister car conventionally suspended. Of course they don’t ride as well as a CX or GS but the reduced roll is well worth it IMHO.

    3. Your 19 TRE should be on the more comfortable side of the suspension spectrum. GTi and 16V in particular can be very crashy and also the turboD is much stiffer than the standard diesel.
      Does your car have the comfort or sport seats? I always found the comfort seats with tweed upholstery very attractive and found the ‘GTI’ seats particularly unergonomic and uncomfortable with their flat and hard upholstery.
      Regrettably Citroen insisted on selling the upmarket versions with the sports seats as standard in Germany whereas the same versions had comfort seats in France or the Netherlands.

    4. They are the comfort seats with the tweedy upholstery, which, when I got the car looked like it would last five minutes and wear badly. They look just the same now. The rear seats which are rarely used look the same, the slightly baggy look from when they were new. The seats are well tuned to the suspension frequency which I think is why the car is so comfortable, specially at the reduced speeds, rigorously enforced that apply here. The limit on some of the main roads around here has just been reduced from 100 km/hr to 80 km/hr.

    5. Hi Dave

      I understand you are domiciled in NZ. Here is what ought to have happened. Your friend ought to have demanded the “well meaning mechanic” pay for the damage to be put right, economic or not. After all, he made the mess, he ought to pay for it and make her whole again. If he refused (and some of these fools will do that) then straight to cleaners he goes. Tell him she is getting the car put right at his cost. Serve up the invoice with seven days to pay and, when he doesn’t, Statutory Demand the bastard and 15 days later, if payment for the full amount is not received, liquidate. Simple as that. No mercy. Just in for the kill.

      In NZ a genuine practitioner will carry several million dollars of insurance. You can be certain he’ll run straight to his insurer as fast as his ignorant carcass will allow him and once there he’ll make a claim to put matters right. Of course, they may resist, but that is not a matter for your friend to worry about. It’s not her problem where he gets the resource to put her right. That is HIS problem, just as it is HIS responsibility to make her whole again. If he fails to do this, then all bets are off. Go for his business, vehicles, assets, house even. Get the meanest brief available. Hand it over to the brief and let them do the business. Do not back down. Do not take any phone calls from anyone about this matter, except the brief.

      I’ve had to do this on occasion and the lesson learned was not to hesitate. Make the first offer the best one they’ll ever get. Don’t waste time. Ask (politely) just the once. If you don’t get satisfaction, then hand it over to the brief with instructions to get the result. From that point stay out of it. As stated, don’t get involved. If anyone calls, tell them to talk to your brief. Always refer them back to your brief. No mercy. No sympathy. None. Let the brief go in for the kill. Get your money.

      Now in NZ you have to follow the steps exactly in the correct form and order, so you do need a brief. Make sure you know a good one- just to have ready on stand-by. You’ll be impressed how much easier life can be.

    6. Hi JT, this happened twelve years ago, not to my friend but to my mother. The two insurance companies sorted it out, (the mechanic, and the car’s)

  4. I remember the BX launch coinciding with that of the ‘jelly-mould’ Sierra, which really highlighted how awful the Sierra was. Before I realised how fragile the BX was I really wanted one – fortunately my pockets weren’t deep enough.
    Soon after the launch I met a French tourist in a Killarney car-park who was delighted with my interest and showed me around his BX. When I subsequently looked at a RHD one at the Irish Motor Show, the Citroen man couldn’t explain why it didn’t have a plastic bonnet – I subsequently assumed (incorrectly) that a steel bonnet was easier to sound-insulate over a diesel engine.

  5. Here’s a film, courtesy of Car Design Archives, about the BX’s design and testing.

    I think I prefer clay to the plaster-like material that they used when making the model. The digitization process which takes data points from the model always amazes me, although I know that they go away and ‘sweeten’ the data once it’s been captured.

    The technology they used for illustrating the ergonomics design process looked very advanced to me, too.

    I was interested that the narrator said that they chose a glued-in windscreen as it improved rigidity.

    Now all I have to do is get Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ out of my head.

  6. Thanks for this new series, Daniel. We had a post-facelift BX in our family; it was the first Citroën my dad owned, and the beginning of his loyalty to the brand. The first BX was intriguing, but I can’t say I care much for the dashboard now. I’m eagerly awaiting the next part(s)!

  7. In 1982, when I first saw the BX, I felt that Gandini’s design seemed rather too much of the mid 70s (which, when I discovered the Reliant FW11, I realised it was). However, I now view it far more positively. I certainly wouldn’t call it a ‘pure Citroen’, but bearing in mind Peugeot’s parsimony, the Citroen engineers did a brave and resourceful job. It’s just a disgrace that they couldn’t build them properly.

    I bought a new facelift BX19TRS Automatic Break in 1986. Most memorable for me was actually buying the car – oddly the showroom was buzzing like a financial dealer’s floor “Hold that GTI – IT’S MINE!!”. If I felt lucky to have been allowed to secure such a popular commodity, it was short-lived. It had two gearbox changes in short succession, these were so common that they even had a codename for the operation. The tweed seats were nice enough, but the revised switchgear denied me satellite controls, yet felt horribly cheap, and the car never really endeared itself to this serial Citroen owner, even when it wasn’t causing problems or was just being generally frail.

  8. My father had two BXs, a 16TRS and a 19GT, persuaded to try out the Double Chevron by a son obsessed with the make and the fact that we lived opposite a Citroën garage. I drove the second one a lot and it still stays in the memory for its combination of performance, handling and comfort. (He didn’t keep either of them long enough for durability to become an issue.)

  9. It´s odd what you remember: for me it´s the little black window on the C-pillar. A family we knew had one of these and I was about 13 or 14 and I remember finding that feature quite striking. Then again, I was the kind of person who noticed the fade-out ceramic markings on Volvo´s 740 side-glass. The BX is really like a concept car, isn´t it? Today Hyundai and Kia are serving up concept-car-like designs and Citroen very much aren´t. I suppose the XM must have seemed very tame in comparison but it was much more substantial. The BX ´s flat surfaces don´t suggest robustness. It´s still quite fabulous though and to think it was a mainstream product. The Xantia drowned all that with awful finality.

    1. A friend owned one of the very earliest BX 16 TRSs from 1984 complete with hard suspension spheres and roller bearings in its front suspension. It had the first version of these perspex windows with black strakes printed on the outside that peeled off in no time and made owners sand down the part and paint it matte black.
      He always had the car serviced at the most expensive possible location, an importer-owned subsidiary.

      One day when he started the engine the car caught fire but he quickly saw the black flakes from the burnt sound deadening material flying out of the huge panel gaps between bonnet and front wings and switched off the engine, luckily without much damage except to said sound deadening material.
      His car had an early type of fuel pump with a body made from two parts bolted together. These bolts invariably became loose, letting fuel spill into the ignition distributor located next to the fuel pump with disastrous consequences. An official Citroen order had been to replace all those pumps by parts with a crimped body but his importer-owned subsidiary seemingly could not be bothered. He had his car towed to the nearest dealer after the fire who replaced the pump at no cost and at the same time asked him why he was driving around with those ugly peeled-off perspex windows because there had been numerous recalls to replace them at no cost to the owner. The unkown dealer again did the job the other one didn’t care about.
      After that he wrote a letter of complaint to the importer’s HQ, accompanied with the burnt fuel pump.
      A couple of weeks later we bought some spares for his car and when he told them his name the reply was ‘oh, sh*t, you’re the one with the fuel pump that caused us so much terror with our HQ!’.

    2. Hello Richard. I remember a couple of things about the BX that I already mentioned: the driving position and sound that the suspension made. Like you I was intrigued by the black window in the C-pillar, but didn’t elaborate on it further since it was already in Daniels article. I never liked it and the same goes for the vent in the C-pillar.

      Another thing I remember is how the color of the bumpers and rest of the bodywork didn’t quite match, something that got worse over time, if I recall correctly. Like I said I never driven one, but have been a passenger for a couple of times, but I seem to remember it felt flimsy. I think the early base version had a dry weight of less than 900 kilograms. I also never liked the estate, sorry Break version, where the extra volume at the back seems out of place.

      Not sure if it is true, maybe someone of the commentariat can confirm or reject this: weren’t there some electronic issues, since the GRP bonnet didn’t provide the electronics with a Faraday shield? I seem to recall there was a metal mesh weaved in the bonnet on later cars to prevent the issues.

      Now that I had some more time to reflect on it I remember one of my dad’s friends bought a new early BX. He always drove second hand CX’s before. Apparently he didn’t like the BX too much as within a couple of months it was replaced with another CX.

      Having said that the fact remains that the BX was the best sold Citroën in the Netherlands. With its distinctive shape, hydropneumatic suspension and relatively modest price it was a unique offering and its success was well deserved I reckon.

    3. Fuel powered BXs had chicken wire under the bonnet from the beginning to suppress radio interferences through the GRP bonnet.

  10. I had a 19TRS auto (one of the facelifted ones with a more standard dashboard and switchgear) as as company car for four years. It was actually pretty reliable, although by the time I swapped it at 90,000 miles the auto was was a bit reluctant to go into reverse. It was the quietest and most comfortable car I had up to then by a long shot and the ride was indeed lovely, but I can confirm the problem with the relationship between the steering wheel (which had no adjustment), pedals and seat. I put it down to the steep rake on the wheel rather than the actual distance; it was hard to keep a 10-to-2 hold comfortably over long distances without getting aching shoulders. It also felt a bit flimsy and vulnerable to wind on the northern sections of the M6 up through Cumbria, and I had a couple of scary moments in winter on the A9 Drumochter Pass as well.

    I can also confirm that the C-pillar panels in the upmarket versions were functionally pointless. Even if you could develop an owl-like ability to look 180 degrees over your shoulder, they were tiny and peeled enough to be translucent rather than transparent anyway.

    The big rubber spoiler on the back of the 1.9 versions was purely decorative. And the wiper arrangement at the front (single wiper with fluid pumped into the wiper rather than sprayed on the screen) froze up in anything chillier than slightly frosty weather.

    But it was still a characterful car, much nicer and much roomier than the Cavalier it replaced, and I really liked it and was happy to spend a long time in it. One of my sales team had a Peugeot 405, with basically the same mechanicals in a much more conventional car which I got to drive a few times and also liked but nowhere near as much as the smooth, relaxed nature of the BX.

    I also had to drive many hire cars at the time, mainly Montegos (under-rated), Rover 216s, the occasional 820, Sierras and Escorts as well as lots of Cavaliers, and nothing really came close to the general niceness of the BX when I got back to the airport car park to drive home.

    We had a few different cars in the small fleet I inherited from predecessors, including two Volvo 340s (manuals, not Variomatics) which were the only cars I’ve ever driven I’d describe as truly horrible. We also acquired a Volvo 440 Turbo along the way, which while not actively nasty, was so cheap and flimsy that it made the BX seem like a Mercedes. Stylistically, the BX looked shaped and all of a piece, but the 440 looked bolted together from mismatching elements and visually nothing seemed to join up properly.

    I’m going to risk a lot of wrath by saying that my gen 4 Prius (yes, I went and paid real money for one out of my own free will and I love it) is actually very similar to the BX in terms of peace-and-quiet, comfort, airy space and general sense of calm over long distances, and is much nicer in heavy traffic. And I really like its much-derided design.

    1. Some familiar family stories here.

      When my father decided he wanted to replace his Mk2 Fiesta Ghia, as a Citroën-obsessed teenager I managed to persuade him to take us to the local dealer. He couldn’t quite believe how much more BX you got for the same money as the cramped, frumpy and poorly equipped Mk2 Golf he’d just test driven. He also liked that the salesman wasn’t at all pushy.

      He bought a post facelift BX 14RE, which never missed a beat. This was replaced with his first company car, one of the more upmarket 1.9 litre engine models with the odd little rear three quarter side windows. After a few years that got replaced with one of the pre-facelift Xantias, which was a noticeably heavier, more solid and sophisticated car than the BX.

      I must admit that when I took my first trip in a BX as a passenger, the ride quality left me underwhelmed. I can only presume that the non-McPherson strut DS/SM/GS and CX are much better.

      I always remember the day my dad was given a GSA as a loan car when one of his BXs was in for servicing. That gave him quite a shock!

  11. Here you see the ‘comfort’ seats with the – to my eyes- attractive tweed upholstery of the late models

    Here are ‘sports’ seats with ‘vélours kerkira’ pattern. They’re just as uncomfortable as they look, far too wide, completely flat and rock hard and the cushion ends at an angle to the backrest that forces your lower vertebrae in a painful position.

  12. Good afternoon all and thanks for sharing your BX experiences and memories. It’s good to see that it made a lasting impression, and even better to read that some are still in service. David, yours must be quite a striking sight on the roads of New Zealand these days!

    I wrote this series and one on the Ford Sierra, which will be published later this year, around the same time and the contrast in philosophy behind the two cars was striking. The Sierra may have looked futuristic, but was very much a (worthwhile) refinement of the Cortina, whereas the BX was a genuinely innovative car hidden under a design that looked somewhat dated even at launch.

    1. Thanks Daniel, the local boy racers thought I had ‘airbagged’ it til I showed them the suspension spheres. I still find it hard to believe that Mazda, at that time controlled by Ford were the agents for Citroën in Japan. The BX fitting above the Astina.

  13. The phase 1 BX is one of my favourite 80s designs, both inside and out. And I couldn’t care less about the phase 2 ones. Hard for me to find another facelift so successful in completely erasing all kind of character and uniqueness from the original car. It’s up there on par with the Fiat Ritmo affair.

    1. Italians call the BX Gandini’s ‘brutto anatrocolo’, the ugly duckling.

  14. What I find interesting is that it’s from the era when all car reviews lived or died on the hill of ‘ the visibility available in the rear quarters’.
    A thing that Citroen took note of with the addition of that little perspex infill in the c-pillar of later models.
    Which offered very little more than lip-service to the ‘problem’.

    Nowadays, no-one seems to care about rear-view visibility any more, relying instead on crossed fingers and beeping gizmos to prevent you from reversing over children and the elderly on mobility scooters.

    Bring back bigger areas of glass!

  15. While the comfort seats did have some drawbacks, they were still way better than many contemporary offerings, even for higher priced cars.

    Still, nothing comes close to the Ph2 BX16V ‘Herringbone’ velour semi-bucket seats.

    They are considered
    to be one of the best automotive seats
    ever offerred.

    Hard wearing, and perfectly matched to the peculiar (and admittedly addictive) susp. frequency of the Ph2 ’16Soupapes’.

    (Btw., it is not exactly true that the GTI and 16V / 16Soupapes had “crashy” sphere settings. Firm yes, but they were actully supple and conceded little in primary ride to the blue-collar versions. This prejudice is due to the overlooked fact that the 16V spheres
    were specced at 40bar front / 30 bar rear with *very* small damping orifices (0.65 at th rear(!)). Hence, due to the bigger resistance, coupled with the smaller gas quantity inside, even when “fresh” they quickly de-gassed to 30ish front + 20ish rear, and started to feel slightly crashy.

    A properly & freshly “sphered” BX 16V is never crashy (especially the latter Ph2.5 16V, with their huge ARB specs, are considered to be the dynamically best FWD car ever made (considering ride finesse/handling/feel/
    steering feel/high-speed braking (“Teves” oleopneum.calibrated ABS, offering Porsche levels of stopping power at 180 km/h…).

    Another peculiarity of the BX16v Ph2 / Ph2.5 was their real, functional aero-package, that made steering feel & tracking actually *increase* as the speed exceeded 190km/h – contrary to most other GT cars of the era, where aerodynamic lift deleted tracking & steering feel above 170-180 km/h.

    Besides being very lightweight for what it was, all BXs were also extremely compact in
    their body cross-section,
    making them slippery through the air and very relaxed at sustained highway speeds of 150-160 km/h (easy on fuel too).

    Its 0.8mm gauge hot-galvanised sheetmetal,
    and many advanced body building techniques make it still a marvel of lightweight engineering and packaging, even today.

    Unsurpassed in so
    many aspects.

    1. A great car.

      Did you know that in 1992 Peter McLeod’s Citroen BX won its class (up to 2500cc) at the Bathurst 12-hour? They had a lot of serious competition. For example, the Peugeot team led by Peter Brock driving the mighty 405 Mi 16. There is a good video of the race showing increasingly desperate efforts to pass the BX. It was quicker than the Peugeot, especially through the corners where it was absolutely flat. Brock opined it was impossible to stay with it, let alone compete! Those mysterious hydraulic things were the secret…

  16. Oh, the BX! This is a Citroën I missed out almost entirely, yet it’s one of those I have a special longing for.

    In fact, this is the first Citroën whose launch I actively perceived, including a myriad of previews (more or less accurate) in German and French magazines. I remember sighting the first examples in our summer 1983 holidays in western Switzerland, still with French plates. And then the first brochures I could call my own, imagine this proud 8-year-old!

    Yet my personal BX experience is quite limited. My granddad owned two of them in succession, a 1st series 16 TRS and a 2nd series 19 TRS, both in slightly different shades of pale/greyish blue. Being too young to drive them, I sat in them every now and then as a passenger. The same goes for a very early red example, owned by an aunt and uncle.

    When I was about to move to a new city and a new job in 2005, it was also time to replace my by then quite battered old CX. A BX 16V was found in the region and I went for a test drive. I don’t remember the seats, but I was overwhelmed by the combination of a still quite soft ride and its cornering ability, not to mention acceleration. Nearly 160 horsepower for about a ton of weight is a better ratio than all other cars I’ve ever owned before and since. On the downside, I found the car rather noisy. On highway speed, there was a lot of wind noise and some nasty vibrations which only seemed to calm down in illegal speed regions. For a prospect of a daily commute with 80 highway kilometers, this made me have a look for another CX…

    Nowadays, looking for a fun vehicle instead of a daily commuter, I could imagine to rethink this decision.

  17. I drove a number of BXs when they were current (a 1.7 diesel, a 19 GT and GTi from memory) and liked them all. Indeed, my memories of the GTi are especially vivid – for all the right reasons. That was quite the car. I never found any of them to be particularly harsh, suspension-wise, albeit the GTi was quite understandably firmer (as were CXs by then, by the way). Boy, did it handle though! Similarly, I never found the seats to be uncomfortable – quite the contrary in fact.

    The BX was light and felt it. This made it quite nimble and this, in conjunction with its willing engines and of course the oleopneumatics, made for a delightfully satisfying car in the dynamic sense. The real pity was that the earlier cars, with the Citroen-esque dash were not so much poorly assembled, more that the interior – the instrument pod and ‘lanules’ in particular were wrought from the sort of plastic that appeared to have been sourced from Airfix – or Heller (it’s come back to me now!) The groans and rattles from the various interior components held together in this uneasy embrace did little for the impression of heft and solidity. I vowed that should I ever buy one, I would immediately strip the interior and rubber-mount everything.

    The facelift was not a very good one in aesthetic terms (although it wasn’t disastrous), but it did improve the cabin’s perceived quality by a notch. The stalks however were nasty, cheap-feeling things – almost as if Citroen themselves could barely bring themselves to look at, never mind sanction such an abomination.

    From my 80s recollections, the BX was the nicest of the mainstream D-segment to drive (405 notwithstanding), and the most interesting to behold. It also was that rare thing – a commercially successful Citroen. The Xantia that succeeded it was slicker in appearance and delivery, but it lacked the Gallic piquancy of the BX.

    1. Perhaps quality wasn´t the best but I´ve always found the restyling dashboard very good looking, clear and modern for 1987, a lot better than the R19, Kadett or mkII Golf.

      I haven´t any experience from the BX, apart from using a couple of BXs taxi, but in Spain it sold very well and was regarded as a good car. Nowadays only top spec GTI and 16v survive, in the hands of enthusiasts, and some battered diesel ones in rural areas, where they were appreciated thanks to the adjustable ground clearance.

  18. Peter Mc Leod was an astonishingly well prepared racer
    and an outstanding driver.

    He was also willing to help heaps when we reached him
    for our own Gr.E1 Citroen BX project we developed in the early ’00s.

    His team with several BXs used to regularly beat the factory 405 Mi16
    driven by Brock himself (better aero and superior handling / oleopneum.”Teves-ABS” braking did the trick apparently).
    Engines were 100% stock, save for meticolous blueprinting.

    And all of this on Mt.Panorama, one of the most demanding circuit
    in the world for braking performance/handling of a racecar (literally steep uphills followed by very steep downhill sections, rendering
    static weight distribution a poetical notion…).

    McLeod’s was a properly legendary effort.

  19. Two stories confirming the BX’s handling abilities come to my mind:

    The first one involves my granddad’s second BX. After his death, the car was used from time to time by one of my uncles before it was sold. After a longer BX trip, he returned to his own Golf II, and drove the speeds he was used to from the BX. Until the first curve, that is. Here he almost left the road and was thus reminded of the Golf’s limits.

    The person in the second story was less fortunate – a police officer pursuing a traffic (or other) offender in a BX. I don’t know what car they used, they often had Sierras or BMWs at that time. In one curve, he actually lost the BX driver and finished his journey in the meadow next to the road…

  20. And now, it’s time for me to actually weigh in on the BX. In late 1990, a white 1.4 single-point injection, catalyst-equipped TGE (badged “1.4 kat” in Greece) became my dad’s first Citroën, and he remained faithful to the marque ever since. In all honesty, it was one of the few cases where a facelift seemed to help the car. The new bumpers suited the shape well, and the new indicators up front and on the front wings weren’t something one could seriously argue with.

    Now, to the interior. Ours had the grey tweed upholstery, which was actual wool – I still recall my surprise when, one afternoon when dad and I were cleaning the car, I reached under the passenger seat and pulled out a paper tag that had the Woolmark on it. Yes, that was pure, unrecycled wool. No butt-burning vinyl like the Simca 1307 had or flimsy synthetic as used on the first-generation “System Porsche” Ibiza 1.2 GL. So, in terms of upholstery, the “basic” BX outclassed just about anything in the D-segment, with the Lancia Dedra being, perhaps, the only exception with its alcantara.

    There were, indeed, some plastic pars in the interior whose molding, texturing, or finish didn’t look “right” in a car that wanted to place itself above more basic affairs. The caps of the door mirrors’ adjustment levers, the nacelles for the front doors’ electric window switches, the housings of the courtesy lights that were mounted on the B-pillars, the gearshift’s knob, the handbrake’s handle, the switches flanking the instrument cluster, and the floor-mounted part of central console from under the stereo all the way to behind the handbrake were obvious examples.

    In all honesty, though, the 2008 Lancia Delta’s interior plastics are far worse – and I mean it. In the nine years that the BX was my dad’s breadwinner and our family car, clocking a ridiculous 280,000 km for him, taking him and us to pretty much every part of Greece from near the border with Northern Macedonia to Athens and from Volos to Corfu, nothing broke, nothing came off, nothing shook loose. Did it look flimsy? Yes. Was it? No. In terms of build quality, I could perhaps compare it to the cheap and cheerful Nikon F65, which no pro photographer would ever think of using as his/her main camera, but can take idiotic amounts of beating and keep taking consistently great pictures, even with the plasticky (all the way down to the mount) Zoom-Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-D kit lens.

    Now, to the facelifted dashboard. It was the most practical dashboard I’d seen at the time. In fact, the whole interior gave you a lot of places – some rather specialized, like the cassette storage bin near the driver’s door – for your belongings. The column stalks were the same stuff Peugeot used; a textbook case of parts-bin raiding. The HVAC controls were nice, and the heating and ventilation were pretty good. Equipment-wise, it was a bit odd: it had power windows, two internally-adjustable mirrors, a central armrest in the rear bench, and central locking, but an analog clock in lieu of a tachometer, no water temperature gauge (just a warning lamp), and the rear seat belts weren’t of the inertia-reel persuasion. Still, it had four disc brakes, and the magnificent hydropneumatic suspension was a dream. Also, the “comfort” seats weren’t named “comfort” for nothing. They really were very, very comfy. At around 3,000,000 drachmas, it seemed like a steal. So, we part-exchanged the Ibiza (good riddance) and got a subsidy for scrapping the 126, and the BX was ours.

    Not just yet. Dad splashed out an extra 700,000 drachmas. He had the dealer install all the instruments from the GTi, the factory’s digital clock, rear headrests, fog lamps, an aftermarket aircon, and the GTi’s rear spoiler. He also cannibalized the Philips DC 553 head unit from the Ibiza, along with the speakers and the equalizer, and the Gelhard rear parcel shelf speakers from the 126. He also added some (Clarion?) paper cone tweeters in the factory receptacles on the dash. The whole thing never sounded good, mind you; it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’ve never heard of anything so mismatched in my life.

    Mind you, the BX wasn’t pampered. It was used as a repmobile – dad was an agency manager for various insurance companies, so he had to visit branches in different cities and towns very frequently. He would come home at three PM, grab a bite, a thirty-minute nap, go back to the office and then come back home in the wee hours. Did anything go wrong with the car in all these years? Yes. It needed a new catalyst at 160,000 km or thereabouts, and a new radiator shortly afterwards. Other than that, nothing besides the typical perishables. No mechanical failures. No electrical failures. No NOTHING. Even when we moved on to the – admittedly much better in every respect – 1.8 16v Xantia II, we remembered the BX fondly for its ride, handling, and overall welcoming, cozy experience.

    So, excuse me for fanboying over the BX, but I have to say it: it was simply exceptional, it was money well spent. Worth every drachma, and it did have some pretty stiff competition: the Alfa Romeo 33 1.4 IE, the 1.3 Mazda 323 sedan and its “sportier” sibling, the 1.6 323F, and the Rover 214 Si were the strongest contenders. Initially, I was against the BX, as it was already eight years in production and a generation behind, but now I know better.

    1. Great to read a positive first-hand experience of the BX. Thanks for sharing, Konstantinos.

    2. Thanks for this account, Konstantinos! It makes me long even more for a BX…

      Regarding “a generation behind”… There is a saying about the DS, that it was the car of the day, and all others were cars of yesterday. Maybe it was a bit similar with the BX – one generation ahead when it was launched. Anyway, it seems that it was a good time for PSA, with the 205 at about the same time, and the 405 a few years later.

    3. I think I remember it being said that the 405 and the BX had the same floorpan. Anyway, our BX was a well-loved car for its ride, handling, and brakes. And, as I said, its plastic bits were better screwed together than one might think at first glance.

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