Double Chevron Curiosities

Another instalment of lesser known Citroën varieties, one of which was confiscated by the authorities on drug charges.

Visa Lotus Rally car, 1982

Guy Verrier, in charge of Citroën’s competition acitivities, initiated project Genesis in 1981. Its objective was creating a specially prepared Visa to compete in the Group B Rallying category(1) starting with the 1985 season. Ultimately, the programme would lead to the four-wheel driven Visa Mille Pistes which achieved some respectable results during its career. On the way to the Mille Pistes however, several other proposals – some of them 4WD but others FWD or RWD – would be created and in some cases tested in actual rallying competition.

Perhaps the most unusual one was the Visa Lotus which, as the name implies, was a mixture of Paris and Hethel, with a dash of Billancourt: outwardly it was quite obviously inspired by the Renault 5 Turbo and also shared its mid-engined RWD configuration.

Image: monamicitroen.blog

Behind the driver and navigator, a 2.2-litre turbocharged 910 engine from the Lotus Esprit Turbo provided the power; 215bhp and, no doubt, quite a bit of cabin noise too. Interestingly, the gearbox, while also taken from the Esprit, was actually a Citroën SM item that Lotus’ Giugiaro-styled wedge had employed since its inception. More Lotus DNA was present in the floorpan, a shortened Esprit item, as well as the suspension and brakes. The somewhat crudely shaped polyester body with its rear arch extensions partly made of plywood topped it all off and provided a Visa-ish appearance with no references to Lotus anywhere on the car.

Images: lautomobileancienne.com, theamazoeffect.blogspot.com and lotusespritworld.co.uk

Although the specification seemed promising, the Visa Lotus proved to be a disappointment in actual testing trials. Especially on rough terrain, the handling was described as diabolical and, at 1,020kg, the car was relatively heavy which blunted its performance. On top of that, it would also have been an expensive car to build. That it was rear-wheel driven while the ultimate winning Visa Mille Pistes was AWD was at the time not the reason for dismissing it: initially several manufacturers were still doubtful as to the merits of Audi’s Quattro, although they would all soon become convinced it was the way to go. Just two Visa Lotus prototypes were constructed, of which one can be seen in the Citroën Conservatoire at the defunct Aulnay-sous-Bois plant north-east of Paris.

Image: K Makhaldani

C6 Lignage, 2010

Already something of a modern classic, the C6 is a car that may appeal to a select audience but those that do own, aspire to own or just admire it, the last real big Citroën to date never fails to generate strong emotions. One of these people is Ken-Ichi Takaishi who imported a C6 2.7 HDi diesel to his homeland Japan in 2010. It was and is his dream car since the first time he laid eyes on it, but the Japanese Citroën aficionado did feel there were a few areas where the appearance of his C6 could, in his opinion, be enhanced.

Images: K Makhaldani and blogautomobile.fr

Taking inspiration from big Citroëns of the past and his conviction that a large classic Citroën should have partly cloaked rear wheels, Takaishi fabricated panels to enclose the rear wheel wells. He made the templates himself out of carton and wood and located a company that produces placards for store displays to make the definitive items for him out of ABS(2) plastic. Chrome strips matching the existing ones were fitted to complete the integrated look.

Mr Takaishi also never really liked any of the factory wheels the C6 came with, so he designed new ones himself and had them made – presumably at considerable cost – out of aluminium by a specialist company in the USA. The thin whitewall tires were also sourced in North America. As a finishing touch, the chevrons on the C6’s bootlid were replaced by a custom made retro Citroën logo(3) made from copper and filled in with blue enamel in cloissoné style.

Likewise, the standard C6 nomenclature was removed and replaced with a ‘Lignage’ script badge. The end result looks quite professional and well finished but may divide opinion amongst Citroënistes; your author is not wholly sold on the cloaked rear wheel wells, but loves the aluminium wheels.

Image: Bike-urious.com

BFG 1300, 1982

Louis Boccardo, Dominique Favario and Thierry Grange were the founders of BFG, located in La Ravoire, near Chambéry in the French alps. In the late seventies the trio(4) designed and built this large motorcycle powered by a 1299cc Citroën GSA engine. Modifications to the engine itself were limited to fitting new tappet covers made from aluminium, an electric fuel pump and a switch to electronic ignition. A company named SOMA designed a five-speed gearbox with straight gears – and neutral in between first and second gear – which was integrated with a cardan shaft drive.

The fuel reservoir of the BFG 1300 was located under the seat, similar to the setup used in Honda’s Gold Wing. Brembo was the chosen manufacturer for the brakes. The BFG 1300 was large, heavy and long, not dissimilar in looks to some BMW models but with an almost 8 inches longer wheelbase. Apart from its engine, other cars that served as sources for building the BFG 1300 were the Renaults 5TS and 16 for the instrument panel and headlight respectively.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Contemporary test reports noted that the BFG 1300 was nicely balanced, stable and reasonably nimble considering its weight. The gearbox was also applauded as being notably smooth and better than what BMW and Moto Guzzi offered at the time. Negatives were the weight of the machine, a grabby clutch and relatively leisurely performance; the Citroën powerplant retained the long-tube intake runners and small two-barrel carburettor from the car which muted throttle response.

Not a cheap motorcycle, the BFG 1300 never sold in any great numbers: in 1982 and 1983 a total of around 400 were sold, after which fellow French motorcycle manufacturer Motobécane took over, relocated production to Saint Quentin and produced 150 more, with the last machine completed as late as 1988. The French Gendarmerie Nationale occasionally used BFG 1300s for parade and ceremonial purposes when riding a French motorcycle was seen as preferable to using something made by les boches(5). In June of 1982 a fleet of BFG 1300s also escorted Pope John Paul II on his visit to France.

Image: Alden Jewell

The French connection, 1968

The infamous heroin smuggling scheme that ran from Indochina through France and on to the USA and Canada reached its zenith in the 1960s. One of Citroën’s most glamorous and elegant vehicles of all time, a DS Décapotable, enjoyed a succesful smuggling career as part of this scheme until it was finally caught containing the largest seizure of heroin ever at the time: almost 250 pounds of heroin with a value of more than 22 million US Dollars.

France arriving in New York. Image: independent.co.uk

The dove grey Décapotable, vintage 1962, had already done seven transatlantic crossings on which as later transpired it carried an estimated total of about 1600 pounds of heroin into the USA. Police forces on both sides of the Atlantic had become suspicious, not just because of the amount of back and forth trips made by the convertible goddess, but also because the vehicle had been registered to a different owner every time.

Consequently, as Jacques Bosquet drove the DS from Paris to Le Havre on 18th April 1968, he was already under surveillance by the Sureté. The car was loaded onto the French liner ‘France’, destination New York. When France arrived there on the 24th April the Décapotable was unloaded and placed on the pier awaiting pickup, with the NYPD lying in wait to arrest the smugglers red-handed when they came to collect the vehicle.

However, no-one showed up so, after midnight had passed, the police searched the vehicle and disassembled it partly, discovering the stash of heroin hidden in several locations, amongst which was the fuel reservoir: an auxiliary two gallon tank had been fitted to enable the car to be driven for short distances. The car was reassembled and replaced, but taken away when after three days still nobody had come to pick up the DS.

The French sureté eventually traced Bosquet and arrested him and a few of his associates. The Citroën was confiscated by the authorities and somehow ended up in what was claimed to be ‘the world’s largest moonshine distillery museum’ in South Concord, North Carolina, where it was put on display among other confiscated evidence of illegal seizures. After the museum closed its doors, the car changed hands a few times and is at present rumoured to be owned by a Dutch collector. One wonders if he or she is aware of the vehicle’s fascinating past.

(1) This Visa was not meant to compete with the Group B “big boys” like the Audi Quattro and such of course but rather in Group B9 and B10 for cars with engines up to 1,300cc and 1,600cc respectively.

(2) Acrylonitrile Butadine Styrene.

(3) Funnily enough, Citroën itself has very recently presented a new logo that also harks back to the beginnings of the make.

(4) Boccardo would leave before the introduction of the BFG 1300 and produce motorbikes of his own such as the MF650 with a Visa flat twin engine.

(5) A contemptuous French term used to refer to a German, especially a German soldier, in World War I and II.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

35 thoughts on “Double Chevron Curiosities”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. I was aware of the Lignage’s existence, the rest is new to me. To my surprise Citroëns are not that uncommon in Japan. I even saw a regular C6 in Kobe when I was there last year. The car was on steelies, so maybe the owner didn’t like Citroën’s wheel design either. The aluminum wheels on the Lignage are lovely.

    The motorbike was unknown to me and I was surprised to see it has been built in some numbers.

    The DS Décapotable is lovely as ever.

  2. Something I never understood was all those rallying activities from Citroen.
    Rally sports was extremely popular in countries around the Mediterranean and companies like Fiat invested serious money into it. Citroen got the Visa Lotus, Visa millepistes and the comically ugly BX 4 GT which all sank without a trace in stark contrast to cars like 205 T16, Peugeot 106 Rallye and 306 Rallye which were equally popular and successful.
    Citroen was marketed as a budget brand and in the eyes of a potential customer (at least over here) they sold discounts first and cars second. Matching this sales strategy with an engagement in motor sports doesn’t make any sense in my eyes because I can’t imagine a potential buyer of a BX Leader making his final decision because of the rally success of a Visa.

    The SM gearbox was not only used in the Visa Lotus. Peugeot also used it, mounted transversely, in the 205 T16. That this gearbox was able to take even the full power of the Group B competition cars says a lot about its strength. Then it’s understandable why gearbox troubles are nearly unknown in the DS world on whose gearbox the SM’s is based.

  3. Of course I am going to comment on the C6. It’s been shared here before, probably by brrrruno himself, and, since then, I have had chance to think more on it – I know, I need to get out more.

    I like ‘spats’ on cars, especially Citroëns, but this car was not designed for them, and so they don’t really work, even if the chrome strip helps to match them up with the other panels. I think it’s a shame that Citroën has abandoned this styling feature – the BX, AX, Visa, even the ignoble Saxo all at least suggested the spat in the treatment of the rear wheel arch.

    I like the wheels a lot, the standard and original Roccastradas look a bit cheap (probably because a very similar design was featured on the earlier launched (but later designed) C4. The facelifted car had Atlantiques which were first seen on the last C5, and they looked too of their time for a car designed in the late 90s.

    The tyres are ridiculous and would spoil the ride, which is already not as plush as it should be.

    Overall, a mixed bag, but if the wheels were produced as 18″ and therefore one could fit standard tyres, I might be tempted.

    1. Citroen’s rear wheel spats only work when the track at the rear is significantly narrower than at the front because only then there’s enough room outboard of the wheels to fit flush spats.
      DS, CX, GS, SM are all designed that way and their spats work well.
      The C6 in these pictures has bulges in its spats because the rear wheels are sitting too far outboards.
      The BX series 2 had ugly spats that curved outwards heavily to make room for the wider tyres of the ‘sports’ versions.

    2. Yes, the rear track width must be smaller than the front. I had the same problem when I put (homemade) spats on my Skoda 100. The result was so-so. But my modifications probably cost less than the production of the C6’s enamel logo.

  4. Good morning Bruno. Fascinating stuff, thank you.

    For the spats on the Lignage to work (and I think they could have, beautifully) they would need to be properly flush with the bodysides, but I guess the width rear track made this impossible. Perhaps a rear wheel with a more inboard offset would have allowed this?

    “Hey, Jacques, we need a nice anonymous car that won’t attract any attention for our transatlantic drug-smuggling operation. Any ideas?” 😁

    1. Then again: “why do you keep shipping that tattered old 4cv across the ocean?”

      “Oh, you know: car shows and such…”

  5. I´m sorry but I think the C6 Lignage was completely spoiled by the “spats” and alloys. Mods don´t do Citroens any favours. The Lignage seems like those cars in sci-fi movies badly modified to appear more “futuristic”.

  6. Thanks Bruno, for another spate of automotive curiosities. If you squint a little, I think the spats might work on the C6, but only, as Daniel and Dave simultaneously wrote, when the rear track is narrowed to allow them to be flush with the bodywork. Otherwise it’s an admirable job to my eyes, although I also agree with S.V. that the wheels don’t need to be quite so big on a Citroën.

    There is something pleasantly unhinged about the Visa Lotus: the same way that the 5 turbo (or the Clio V6) is unhinged, but even more so since they used a Lotus Esprit to build it. That would make it a silhouette racer, wouldn’t it?

    I know there are more motocycles with car engines, but the idea seems a bit odd to me: motorcycle engines are supposed to offer a lot more power relative to their size than car engines do, or so I always thought. So putting a car engine in a motorcycle seems a bit upside down: bigger and heavier, bit less power.

    None of these were known to me, I think. I knew about the French Connection (“have you ever been in Poughkeepsie?”), but I didn’t know they used a beheaded godess.

    1. These motorcycles with car engines were conceived in the Seventies when they had advantages over motorcycles in terms of reliability and longevity.
      Not all of them were slow bikes like the BFG, some of them had real advantages in terms of power like the Münch Mammut with the NSU TT/TTS engine or the VanVeen OCR 1000 with the Comotor rotary engine. These bikes had real power but were monsters with weights at or over 300 kgs,

    2. That does make sense, thanks Dave. Still, I think I’d rather have the NSU:

      Does that make the Van Veen the only Comotor-powered vehicle that actually made it to market and stayed there, as it were? The Citroën GS Birotor was officially sold, but most examples were then bought back by Citroën and scrapped, as I understand it.

    3. I’d also take the NSU because the Münch is crap. The NSU has about twice the weight of the bike with the same power making it quite fast for the time. A guy I knew used a Spiess (best known tuning specialist for NSUs) TTS for uphill racing. He had around thirty NSUs and engine swaps were done in less than two hours if needed (often).

      The VanVeen was made in around 100 examples. It was frighteningly expensive at around the same level as an MV Agusta at the time. They even made 10 examples with the aluminium Comotor engine, saving around fifty kilograms but increasing the price even further.

      In theory all Birotors were bought back and scrapped. At least that’s what I thought until I met a guy with a GS who in our conversation told me he had seven Birotors in his garage…

    4. I would guess the big benefit of having a car engine in a motorcycle is that of cost. The purchase price of an off the shelf product like the GS engine made in the millions must be at least half of that of a highly specialized and bespoke motorcycle engine made in the hundreds or the low thousands.

    5. There was even more Münch madness with the Y2K Mammut 2000 which had a 260bhp turbocharged 2-litre Opel engine – C20LET, I think. There was also the 1986 Titan, which had a purpose-built 1786cc litre four, supercharged to develop 160bhp, probably only one example built.

      None of this seems particularly clever compared with Honda developing a 750cc – with space for expansion – in line four specifically designed for motorcycle use, tooling up to produce 50,000 per year, and selling it at a price within the reach of ordinary motorcyclists.

      The sales projection was pessimistic, and their Japanese rivals followed in due course.

    6. Even more insane, in US Boss Hoss makes motorcycles with V8 Chevy engines. The base model has a LS3, that´s 445 bhp.

    7. Last time I looked, the V8 Boss Hoss had dispensed with the irritating convention of a gearbox, and just had a clutch and drive through a very substantial belt to the rear wheel.

      Which makes good engineering sense, particularly as most of the European car-engined motorcycles had purpose-built gearboxes which must have swallowed a lot of the development budget and production profitability.

    8. Of the car-engined motorcycles, this one (a one-off concept of course considering its outlandishness) must be among the most extreme: the 2003 Dodge Tomahawk bike powered by the 500 Horsepower V10 Viper engine:

      It’s a brave person who would dare to take this thing to anything near its potential maximum….

    9. Fugen-Ferdl who was a true motorcycle enthusiast (that’s why he bought Ducati) wanted a VW motorcycle with the EA111 Polo engine. One or two prototypes were built but were much too heavy and bulky (not to mention ugly) and the project was stopped.

    10. Straight outta Demolition Man or something… that looks terrifying.

  7. Not the only Citroen Lotus in existence.

    I did once see this in better days in the mid 90s, but have no photos. These low-res ones come from an eBay ad of 2020, where bidding stopped at £1,800, missing the reserve. I’d have been tempted.

    Another unexpected, though logical, use of a Citroen gearbox was in modified form in Cooper’s ground breaking rear-engined Formula 1 and 2 cars of the late 50s.

  8. At the risk of outraging the Citroënistes amongst us, here’s my idea of a C6 with partially enclosed rear wheels. Original first for comparison:

    I’ve not cheated and incorporated a redrawn rear bumper shut-line, now vertical, immediately below the rear light

    Please don’t hate me!

    1. I like it. But I also have a strange taste, so don’t take me as a reference.

    2. I’ll take any positivity offered, Fred. Messrs Herriott and Robinson will be tougher nuts to crack…😁

    3. I like it, Daniel, but I hadn’t realised how much the tail-light shape of the C6 echoes the rear wheel cutout and placement. I like your rework, it looks much more ‘Citroenish’, but I’m not sure that tail-light treatment works now.

    4. I sort of like it, Daniel, but I’m no Citroënist either. I do think there should be a curve in the lower chrome line, a bit like the rearmost chrome line on the original teases. To me the whole point of the C6 design is that no line is entirely straight.

      A bit like this then, with further apologies to Citroënistes and to Daniel for usurping his work:

    5. Nice work, Tom. That’s really rather good. I was attempting to go for a ‘sheer’ look with horizontal lines that made the truncated tail look longer, but your maintaining the downward curve of the crease through the door handles and upward curve of the lower chrome strip is more faithful to the original design. 👍

    6. Thanks! I think you’d have to change a bit more on the C6 design to make a change like you propose work, make the whole thing a bit more CX-like (especially the Break). Also: aren’t Citroëns supposed to have truncated tails?

    7. The rear side panel in these C6 proposals looks very heavy. Cittroen got around this in DS and CX by tapering the rear in horizontal view, making the bumper fit under the bodywork and then the spats had alower edge pointing upwards with the bodywork. CX series 1 and 2 perfectly show how heavy the looks can become by a couple of square centimetres more in the spats.

    8. I really like it, I could never understand why Citroën discarded one of their main trademarks. Faired rear wheels are arguably a stronger design element tied to Citroën than the Hofmeister kink is tied to BMW. It certainly ties in with another Citroën brand strength, sleekness and good aerodynamics.

    9. Tom’s version is also more faithful to the original DS, which also featured an upward curve to the lower lines over the rear wheel:

      That’s the one I’d go for!

    10. Yes, the C6’s rear end probably should taper more to make spats possible. Maybe aerodynamics more or less dictated a high tail end by the time the C6 was designed, making those tapering rear ends difficult. The Ioniq 6 (or the Audi TT if I remember) has a number of spoilers on its (fussy) rear end, presumably for aerodynamic reasons. And even ten they tried to visually diminish the bulk of the rear end with those contrast colours (which aren’t necessary to my eyes).

      Who wouldn’t go for the DS!

    11. Hi Tom. I actually meant your rework of the C6 rather than mine, but I’d happily have the DS as well!

    12. This rear end looks like a swamp monster or an Ork.

      The Audi TT didn’t have its rear spoiler for aerodynamic reasons but because of what we nowadays would call a shitstorm in form of a press campaign.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: