A love letter to the Citroen BX
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
How the once-ubiquitous Citroen BX sparked my interest in Car Design... And got me hooked on Citroen's history forever!
Nowadays, few people seem to remember the capital importance of the BX in the history of Citroen.
As I've mentioned in the XM video, Peugeot completed its acquisition of Citroen in 1976, leading to a few joint projects within the newly-formed PSA group, namely the LN and Visa. But the "XB" project was to be the real test: a completely new family car aimed at the core of the European car market. A conquest car designed to appeal to a much wider audience than the traditional Citroen customers, yet still an avant-garde, distinctive design in the best Marque tradition. And it couldn't come soon enough.
Citroen sales were going down at an alarming rate: the CX slumped, the GS was over ten years old, and the Visa's look was poorly received.
Things at the parent company Peugeot weren't looking good either, as the purchase of Chrysler's European operations had dried its coffers.
Sometime around 1985, my dad turned up in a new car. Little did he know about the impact that event would have on my car-obsessed brain back then...
If the new Citroen bombed, the storied brand was unlikely to get another chance.
Developed on a new shared platform with Peugeot, the BX ditched the GS's air-cooled flat fours to take a wide range of Peugeot-designed petrol and diesel engines. This choice would prove instrumental in the success of the BX, as it allowed Citroen to offer a wide range of models through the years. From the stripper 55Hp 1100cc basic models for Italy and Greece only, up to a 160HP grand touring version capable of 220 Km/h, with anything from Diesel wagons and 4WD variants in between.
But what few people know is that none other than Marcello Gandini of Lamborghini Countach fame came up with the exterior design of the BX... Which he originally envisioned for a Volvo!
Bertone's Tundra concept car from 1979 was Gandini's idea for a Volvo 343 replacement. Still, one can very clearly see the BX's trademark origami design language in it.
Sometime around 1985, my dad turned up in a new car. Little did he know about the impact that the event would have on my car-obsessed brain back then...
The Diesel BX: 19 TRD
That metallic blue BX to me looked like a freaking spaceship, one that made the rest of Turin's traffic look like... well, crap.
I treasured each and every time dad fired up that car, while it was going up from its bump stops, high-pressure pump hissing and ticking... It gave the BX (at least to my young, impressionable mind) a sort of... Animal, if not human, quality.
The fact that other cars around never changed ride height only reinforced that feeling: the one and only car that could touch the BX, back then, was the red Alfa 75 of an uncle... Because Alfa!
As you might well imagine, in those days Turin's traffic was mostly made of Fiats: Giugiaro's Uno and Panda ruled the streets, but there were many Ritmo, Regata and older 131 models. The BX looked so different from all of them, cementing my love for design, engineering, and cars that "did it differently".
In later years my tastes matured (or did they?) and I grew to understand and appreciate the brilliance of the Uno, the Panda, and even the original Ritmo, but their sheer ubiquity in those days bored me.
Front spoiler, foglights, the most ludicrous rear spoiler this side of a Cosworth, alloy wheels, and those magic letters... GTI! Things got serious...
As if all that wasn't enough, my dad treated himself to another BX, around 1990: this time it was a silver 16GTI.
Yes, 16: it was a special version for the Italian market, equipped with the 115hp engine also found in the Peugeot 205 GTI.
As I was slightly older in 1990, I still have clear memories of family trips in that car, and boy all that vaguely sporting aura fitted the BX well...
I loved that car to bits and was to feel bitter about my dad's decision, around 1993, to switch to a Mitsubishi Space Runner.
Citroen sold over two million BX, with only one significant restyling in 1986, performed by the Marque's design studio, then headed by Carl Olsen. The exterior barely changed, with the new bumpers softening the look of the car a bit. At the same time, the Interior received a completely new dashboard with a more traditional look.
During the second half of the 80s, BX sales peaked but, after 1990, its popularity waned very quickly, as its "folded paper" design language had fallen out of fashion.
Too few of these brilliant cars survive today, and part of me wishes to own one myself before it's too late.