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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.