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The Citroen stand at Retromobile 2019 looks fantastique

Citroen at Retromobile 2019

Citroen’s stand at Retromobile 2019 was always going to be special, but as this 90-second video demonstrates, it promises to be the star attraction in Paris. 

From the Type A 10 HP of 1919, through to the C5 Aircross SUV of today, Citroen has assembled a group of 30 cars representing 100 years of innovation, creativity and eccentricity.

The vehicles are divided across three themes: production cars, concept cars and racing cars. You’ll need more than 90 seconds to take in the splendour of these magnificent machines.

There are famous vehicles, such as the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS 21 Pallas – three of the most significant cars of the 20th century. You’ll also find a Type H Van that’s not selling hot drinks or overpriced sandwiches – a rarity that’s not often seen in the wild.

Motorsport fans are catered for thanks to the likes of the Xsara Kit Car and ZX Rally-Raid, while concepts include the Camargue and GTbyCitroen. The 3D virtual tour also shows Ronnie Pickering’s choice of wheels, although the Picasso isn’t listed as one of the cars on show in Paris.

Alongside Citroen’s centenary stand, Retromobile will also celebrate 60 years of the Mini, 45 years of the PRV engine, and the 1950 BRM Type 15.

Doors open 6 February

The doors open on 6 February, but don’t worry if you can’t make it to Paris – our man Tim Pitt will be on hand to take photos of the best exhibits.

In the meantime, enjoy this tantalising glimpse at the Citroen stand.

Citroen marks 100 years with Origins special editions

Citroen C4 Cactus Origins

Citroen is paying homage to 100 years of ‘creativity and boldness‘ with help from a new range of Origins limited edition cars.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean we can look forward to a Citroen AX GT ‘restomod’, a CX for a new-generation or a modern-day 2CV – although we can dream. Instead, it’s a range of limited-run specials based on some of Citroen’s most popular models.

The first two vehicles in the UK are the C3 Origins and the C4 Cactus Origins. Later this year, Origins versions of the C1 and C3 Aircross will be available to order.

All feature bronze highlights and a nod to the original Citroen chevron logo.

The C3 Origins is available in a choice of Polar White, Cumulus Grey, Platinum Grey or Perla Black body colours, paired with a black roof and 17-inch black alloy wheels.

Citroen C3 Origins

A special Origins colour pack features bronze fog lights and Airbump panel surrounds, along with the Origins logo on the door mirrors and roof pillars. Inside, the C3 Origins features Heather Grey and black seat upholstery, and a soft-touch dashboard trim with a bronze surround.

The C3 Origins is available with a choice of two 1.2-litre engines – a PureTech 82 and PureTech 110 – with the latter equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. Prices range from £16,585 for the PureTech 82, to £19,005 for the PureTech 110.

The C4 Cactus Origins is largely the same as the C3 Origins, although Pearl White paint is also available, while Perla Nera is substituted for Obsidian Black. Only one powertrain is offered: a 1.2-litre PureTech 110 with a six-speed manual gearbox. The price is £20,215.

Citroen Origins logo

Customers can place orders now, with deliveries expected in March 2019. Origins versions of the C1 and C3 Aircross will be available to order in March for delivery in June.

2019 Citroen C5 Aircross

2019 Citroen C5 Aircross review: quirky crossover plays the comfort card

We drive petrol and diesel versions of the new Citroen C5 Aircross SUV. How does it stack up against the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson?

2018 Citroen C4 Cactus

2018 Citroen C4 Cactus first drive: it’s new, but is it improved?

The new Citroen C4 Cactus boats a trick suspension and lounge-style seats, but in growing up, has it lost some of its unique appeal?

2018 Citroen Berlingo Multispace

The new Citroen Berlingo Multispace is unashamedly unfashionable

2018 Citroen Berlingo MultispaceThe new Citroen Berlingo Multispace would take one look at a crossover, take a drag on a half-smoked Gauloises, before dismissing it with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and sauntering off muttering something about stupid young upstarts.

Since its unveiling at the 1996 Paris Motor Show, the Berlingo has cemented a reputation for being one of the most honest and fit-for-purpose vehicles money can buy, and you’ve never required much in the way of cash to secure its services. Twenty-five years ago, a Berlingo cost less than £9,000.

Citroen will do its best to position it as a ‘Leisure Activity Vehicle’ (LAV), but the French company is fooling nobody. The Berlingo Multispace is unashamedly van-based, and that has always been central to its appeal.

Step inside a Berlingo, and it’s like entering a village hall, complete with masses of headroom, a huge expansive area, and the kind of echoes you associate with large, open spaces, spaces, spaces, spaces…

And like the village hall, you could probably use it to house the post office on a Thursday morning and the table tennis club on a Tuesday night. Multispace by name, Multispace by nature.

Initial sales were slow, right up until the point when Jeremy Clarkson gave the Berlingo the seal of approval. On a booze cruise to France, the then Top Gear presenter waxed lyrical about the van-based Citroen, praising its value for money, sliding doors, ample storage and ride quality.

One steak fracas, a facelift and a new model later – for the Berlingo, mostly – Citroen is about to unveil the new Berlingo Multispace at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. So, what’s new?

Van Morrison

2018 Citroen Berlingo Multispace

It retains its van-based origins, which means enough space in which to swing a crêpe, a pair of sliding doors, a vast tailgate, and more flexibility than an Olympic gymnast.

Naturally, the styling slots neatly into the Citroen stable, with the Berlingo Multispace having the look of a taller and more upright C3 Aircross. Fans of the outgoing C4 Cactus will be pleased to see Airbump panels at the bottom of the doors.

On the inside, the airy cabin and high-set driving position remain, while the seats can be folded to create a flat floor through to the folding passenger seats. Two sizes are available: M and XL, measuring 4.40m and 4.75m in length, respectively, with five and seven seats.

Boot space has been increased by 100 litres to 775 litres in the M version, or 1,050 litres in the XL version with five seats. Just like the original, you’ll spend some time discovering the 28 different cubbies, pockets and bins, which combine to provide 186 litres of interior storage space.

In common with the Cactus, the passenger airbag has been moved to the ceiling, which provides space for a secondary glovebox, known as the Top Box. This can be cooled (depending on the version) and contains a USB socket, jack audio socket, and enough space for a 15-inch laptop.

But space and practicality are no longer enough, not even for a van-based MPV… sorry, LAV. If Citroen wants to add to the 3.3 million or so sales to date, it needs to add improved functionality and technology.

Van Halen

2018 Citroen Berlingo Multispace

There are no fewer than 19 driving assistance systems, including a colour head-up display, lane departure warning, driver attention alert, adaptive cruise control, park assist, blind spot monitoring, and auto-navigation to the nearest Carrefour or Mr Bricolage. Probably.

And while the Berlingo Multispace is front-wheel drive, the Grip Control with hill descent assist should provide enough traction for the majority of drivers. You can even add a trailer stability control system if the dog doesn’t fancy sharing the ride with a crate load of Beaujolais.

Further hints of modernity include an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A range of petrol and diesel engines will be available, along with the introduction of an 8-speed EAT8 automatic transmission.

Far from being a niche model, the Berlingo is an incredibly important vehicle for Citroen. It’s the top-selling Citroen in nearly 17 countries and is the brand’s second best-seller behind the C3. While other manufacturers sweat over finding new niches, the Berlingo Multispace remains resolutely down-to-earth and unashamedly unfashionable. Combine this with the new safety tech and connectivity, and it’s hard to see it becoming anything other than a success.

Prices have yet to be announced, but the new Citroen Berlingo Multispace will be built in Spain and will launch in the second half of 2018. Still want that fashionable but compromised crossover?

In summary: 2018 Citroen Berlingo Multispace

Built: Vigo, Spain
Debut: 2018 Geneva Motor Show
On sale: second half 2018
Price: tbc

Length: 4.40m (M), 4.75m (XL)
Width: 1.85m
Height: 1.81m – 1.84m (without or with roofbars)
Boot capacity: 775 litres (M), 1,050 litres (XL)

Citroen museum auction: breaking up is so hard to do

To some people, the auction catalogue for the forthcoming sale of 65 cars from the Citroen Conservatoire collection might seem like one of those chocolate selection boxes you’ll receive this Christmas.

It promises so much on the outside, but once you’ve prized open the box, you discover an awful lot of filler and not much in the way of tasty treats. I say to ‘some people’ while acknowledging that to Citroen enthusiasts, this remains a rare and exciting opportunity.

Exciting, and perhaps a little dispiriting. Allow me to explain.

Back in the summer – remember that? – I was fortunate enough to spend a morning in the Citroen Conservatoire, surrounded by some of the firm’s all-time greats. From concept cars to presidential limos, and motorsport heroes to true icons, the warehouse is like a dimly-lit spotlight on the history of Citroen.

While there, I was told about a ‘reserve’ collection: more cars in another part of the building, off-limits to anyone beyond Citroen circles. I tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access. If your name’s not down, etc, etc.

Fast forward a few months and Citroen has thrown open the doors to the reserve collection, as it prepares to move away from the sprawling Aulnay-sous-Bois site and to L’Aventure Peugeot Citroen DS in Sochaux.

With a collection of more than 400 cars and associated memorabilia, something has to give, which is why 65 vehicles and 90 items of automobilia are deemed surplus to requirements.

It all feels a bit like clearing the attic following the loss of a loved one. It’s not that anybody or anything has died – although no cars have been produced at Aulnay-sous-Bois factory since 2012, and the Citroen and DS divorce was a little awkward – it just seems a tiny bit sad to see the collection split up.

I’ve seen the auction lots described as ‘weird and wonderful’, but to casual onlookers and non Citroenians, the collection will be more ‘weird and a little underwhelming’. You won’t find a proper DS, SM or 2CV in the sale. There is a Traction Avant, mind, which is very much the genesis of modern Citroen.

You’re unlikely to find the items of automobilia featured in any auction previews, but there are some genuinely significant lots. Racing overalls worn by the likes of Jacky Ickx, Timo Salonen and Hubert Auriol are expected to fetch between €200 and €500 each.

There are numerous photos, brochures, models and dealer display items on offer, along with spare parts for a Citroen ZX Rallye Raid, if you feel the urge to take your ZX Aura to Dakar. Fancy the bonnet from Sébastien Loeb’s Xsara WRC car? It could be yours for between €500 and €1,000.

But, as ever, the cars are the stars, so what will see me hovering over the ‘bid’ button come 2pm on 10 December? Nobody asked me to create a list of my top 15 auction cars, but here are my favourites anyway.

Citroen GS: €2,500 – €5,000 (£2,250 – £4,500)

I managed to grab a brief go in a Citroen GS X3 during my visit to the Conservatoire, realising a lifelong ambition to drive one of the best cars my father owned when I was a child. You can read about it here.

This Spanish-registered GS is much older than my father’s, and indeed the X3 I drove in July, but it has covered just 921km from new and features the same red interior I remember from my youth.

Sbarro Berlingo Flanerie: €9,000 – €11,000 (£8,000 – £10,000)

Franco Sbarro has done some wild and crazy things with Citroens over the years, with the Berlingo a particular favourite of the Swiss coachbuilder. The Flanerie is like some kind of theme park safari ride that has managed to end up in a game of Crazy Taxi.

Citroen AX: €3,000 – €6,000 (£2,750 – £5,250)

There’s an electric Citroen AX available in the auction, but this one appeals because it was donated to the collection by Auguste Genovese, a former director at the Citroen plant in Rennes. It has covered just 11,414km since it rolled off the production line in 1991.

Citroen Visa Super: €1,500 – €3,000 (£1,250 – £2,750)

When was the last time you saw a Citroen Visa, let alone one as early as this? As a Super, it’s powered by a 1.1-litre four-cylinder engine, and features the wonderfully idiosyncratic dashboard of the early cars. Also, note the polypropylene bumper and grille.

Citroen BX GTI: €6,000 – €10,000 (£5,250 – £9,000)

Given the crazy prices being achieved by certain performance cars of the 80s and 90s, this Citroen BX GTI has a reasonable pre-auction estimate. It has picked up a few battle scars in storage, but there are only 21,499km on the clock.

Citroen Xantia Activa V6: €5,000 – €8,000 (£4,500 – £7,250)

Just 2,600 Xantia Activa V6 models were ever produced, all left-hand drive. Which means the V6 was never officially exported to the UK, making this the holy grail of the Xantia Activa world. There are just 1,575km on the clock. *Bites the back of his hand*

Citroen ZX Reflex: €800 – €1,500 (£725 – £1,250)

You have to wonder where the likes of this ZX Reflex will end up. It’s in excellent condition, as you’d expect from a 20-year-old car with 1,765km on the clock, but will it be used on the road or stored away in a private collection?

Citroen XM V6 Exclusive: €5,000 – €7,000 (£4,500 – £6,250)

This isn’t the tidiest or lowest mileage Citroen XM in the auction, but it’s arguably the most interesting. It was owned by Roger Hanin, who played the lead role in the French TV police drama, Navarro. Hanin was also the brother-in-law of President Mitterrand.

Citroen Ami 6: €800 – €1,200 (£725 – £1,000)

Being polite, this 1961 Ami 6 is blessed with a delightful patina, but in truth, it’s in need of a complete restoration. These were incredibly popular in France, but less so in the UK.

Citroen CX Pallas: €6,000 – €10,000 (£5,250 – £9,000)

Simply wonderful. In mileage terms (15,220km), this is effectively a one-year-old Citroen CX. Not only that, it’s a Series 1, complete with the idiosyncratic dashboard layout and desirable Pallas trim. Oh, to be able to drive home from Paris in this.

Citroen C-Cactus: €8,000 – €12,000 (£7,250 – £10,750)

The C4 Cactus is arguably the most Citroen of modern Citroens, although the facelift version will see it lose some of its eccentricity. This is the C-Cactus concept of 2013, which built on the original design from 2007. It wasn’t a massive leap from concept to production.

Citroen C5: €3,000 – €6,000 (£2,750 – £5,250)

This appeals more than it should, but to me, the original Citroen C5 has ‘future classic’ written all over it. It features clever active hydropneumatic suspension – so it’s a proper Citroen – while the 3.0-litre V6 petrol is the ‘right’ engine. A €6,000 upper estimate for a C5 with 1,151km on the clock seems like excellent value

Citroen Xsara Coupe VTR: €3,500 – €5,500 (£3,000 – £4,900)

There’s no Xsara VTS in the auction – although I was told about one in the ‘reserve’ collection – so this phase 2 VTR will have to do. With 477km on the clock, it’s practically brand new, and you’ll stand more chance of becoming friends with Claudia Schiffer if you buy it. Probably.

Citroen Xantia 16v: €3,000 – €5,000 (£2,750 – £4,500)

I make no apology for featuring a second Citroen Xantia because this is essentially a brand new and very early 2.0-litre 16v model. The mileage: an incredible 89km. Stick a Ford badge on the front, and you could add a zero to the upper estimate. Don’t be surprised to see this break into five figures.

Citroen Tubik: €20,000 – €30,000 (£17,750 – £26,750)

The Tubik was unveiled in 2011 and soon became part of the furniture at subsequent motor shows. My highly original plan for this: turn it into a mobile deli and tour festivals like some kind of Type H van from the future.

Restricting myself to 15 cars was tough because the other 50 vehicles hold strong appeal. The C-Elysee WTCC car could be fun, and I’m drawn to the Citela, Iltis and FAF, not to mention the Meharis, in various states of repair.

One thing’s for sure: I’m very, very tempted to register for online bidding, with the Xantias top of the wish list. Or maybe I should concentrate on perfecting the cars I already own.

It might be sad to see the Citroen collection being broken up and moving away from the famous old factory, but there’s no denying that this is a terrific opportunity for fans of the weird and wonderful.

Or maybe it’s the fans who are weird and wonderful. About that low-mileage ZX Reflex…

Click here to view the auction catalogue.

>NEXT: Is this Europe’s best car museum?

 
Renault 5 ConnectedCAM

Car-spotting in Citroen’s point and click supermini

Renault 5 ConnectedCAM

If Citroen is to be believed, going down on one knee to ask the love of your life to marry you is so last century. No, what you need is the C3’s ConnectedCAM, which allows you to take photos of a series of letters, culminating in a marriage proposal sent via a smartphone.

Impersonal it might be, and you need to make sure you send the letters in the correct order, as your significant other might be a little perplexed to receive a message about the ARMY and REM.

Of course, ConnectedCAM is designed for the smartphone generation. Those who can’t bear to be disconnected from their friends on social meeja, keen to share every last moment of their day. Simply connect your phone to ‘point and click’ your way around the M25 or along the North Circular.

My recent trip to the Conservatoire Citroen was the ideal opportunity to test the ConnectedCAM for myself. A European road trip, complete with ferry crossings, French countryside and a generous helping of tatty old motors.

Granted, Citroen probably didn’t have French tat in mind when it came up with the idea of a built-in dashcam, but I believe that tired Peugeots, Renaults and Citroens are far more interesting than stunning sunsets and people in fancy dress using zebra crossings. Maybe that’s just me.

I downloaded the app before leaving the home, using the time waiting to board Brittany Ferries’ Armorique at Plymouth to connect the smartphone to the system. It’s as easy as connecting a Bluetooth device to an infotainment system and you can set things up to auto-tweet any photos you take along the way.

Things started positively, with ConnectedCAM taking a good HD photo when boarding the Armorique and another one disembarking the ferry at Roscoff. This is how social sharing works, right? Food, selfies and ferry terminals: three things worth sharing with the world.

From there, things turned decidedly niche. Having snapped a Bentley Bentayga, theatrically weaving in and out of slow moving traffic on the road to Morlaix, attention turned to the wonderful selection of French cars, many of which are on the verge of extinction in the UK.

Peugeot 405s, Renault 21s, first-generation Renault 5s, Citroen BXs, Renault 4s and Citroen XMs: just a handful of the old cars which prompted me to reach for the button situated behind the rear-view mirror.

Not all were shared on Twitter – probably user error – but all were saved to the phone to serve as a visual reminder of a road trip through Brittany and on towards Paris. As pointed out on Twitter, this is what ConnectedCAM was invented for.

It was all going too well. Feeling pleased with the bountiful supply of tat, I caught sight of something rather special emerging through the heat haze in the rear-view mirror: the unmistakable shape of a Peugeot 205 T16. This was it: the moment for ConnectedCAM to shine – social media greatness almost guaranteed. Think of the retweets and ‘likes’. ConnectedCAM: do your bit.

Only it didn’t. Seemingly bored of capturing images of French tat, the infotainment system and camera went into meltdown, killing the sat-nav, audio and climate control settings in the process. Perfect timing, given the 30ºC heat and the maelstrom of the Parisian road network looming into view.

Suddenly, all thoughts of social media greatness vanished into the clouds of smog hovering over the city of love. This was now a test of survival. The rush hour in Paris is best avoided on any occasion, but with no air-con or sat-nav in a right-hand drive car – absolute madness.

Meanwhile, the well-dressed man in the 205 T16 was coolness personified. Anybody prepared to tackle the roads around Paris in a homologation special deserves a lifetime supply of Kronenbourg 1664 and a photo taken via Citroen’s ConnectedCAM. Sadly, the latter was never going to happen.

Citroen C3 Brittany Ferries

The infotainment system rebooted itself, but the ConnectedCAM remained dead, unable to capture more images from the French road trip. A minor annoyance, sure, but you have to question its usefulness in the event of an accident, when Citroen promotes the benefits of video footage taken 30 seconds before and one minute after an incident. And what if you’re mid-marriage proposal? You can’t leave somebody hanging like that.

ConnectedCAM is a neat piece of kit, but like any slice of modern tech, it’s only good when it’s working. It’s standard equipment on the top-spec C3 Flair, or a £380 option on the mid-range C3 Feel. A price worth paying if it encourages drivers to leave their smartphone in the glovebox and can be used as evidence in the event of a road accident. Just don’t ask it to capture photos of rare homologation specials, especially those built by rival manufacturers.

Shame it wasn’t a Citroen BX 4TC…


More Citroen on Motoring Research:


Citroen Dyane and GS

Roots manoeuvre: driving the classic Citroens my parents owned

Citroen Dyane and GS

When, as part of our visit to the Conservatoire Citroen, I was asked if I’d like to drive a couple of the exhibits, my response was quick and obvious. The hardest part was narrowing the choice down from 400 to two.

Opting for the Maserati-engined Citroen SM and hot-footing it down to the French Alps was a tempting prospect. As was spending the day leisurely touring the back roads of Provence in a Citroen DS 23. But, perhaps selfishly, nostalgia won the day and I selected two cars from my youth: a Citroen Dyane and a Citroen GS.

Dad’s Citroens

I can’t quite figure out if my late father was a Saab or Citroen man, as our family owned an equal number of cars from each marque during my childhood. But one thing’s for sure, my father wasn’t a fan of mainstream motors, preferring the charms of the more eccentric and individual carmakers.

And it’s the French connection that must have left a lasting impression, as I currently own three Citroens and can put my name to just two Saabs. The fact that the Citroen Dyane is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017 presented a good secondary opportunity to grab a quick drive.


More Citroen features on Motoring Research: 


I use the word ‘quick’ with caution, as I was given strict instructions not to drive at speeds in excess of 30km/h, or a little under 19mph. Oh, and forget visions of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, as I wasn’t permitted to drive beyond the confines of the old Aulnay-sous-Bois plant on the northern fringes of Paris.

No matter, because my sole experience of both the Dyane and GS was from the comfort of the back seats. A chance to play grown-up in the front was something I had waited too long to experience. If only my father was around to share the experience with me.

His Dyane was the plusher and more powerful Dyane-6, registration mark XEL 32S. Ask me anything about my school days and I’ll respond with a Gallic shrug, but I’ll happily reel off a list of number plates attached to the cars of my childhood.

Dad’s Citroen GS was a 1976 Pallas, registration mark LDY 935P. In both cases, the Citroens have long since departed for the big French scrapyard in the sky: the GS last taxed in 1984, the Dyane in 1991. Shame.

Oh, Dyane

Citroen GS X3

First up for my trip down memory lane was the Dyane. “That’s the sound of my childhood,” I said to the Citroen PR man, as the twin-cylinder, air-cooled engine burst into life, before sputtering to a halt before it had left the shadowed coolness of the Conservatoire.

“That’s also the sound of my childhood,” I said once again, as the Conservatoire resident mechanic tried in vain to get the Dyane restarted. With no joy, the Dyane was pushed unceremoniously back into line. Easy work when the car weighs about the same as a dozen packets of Gitanes.

Enter plan B: a 1979 Citroen GS X3. By the time this particular car had rolled out of the factory in Rennes, the GS was into its ninth year of production, and yet it remained a technical tour de force in its segment. It was also preparing to make way for the more practical GSA, which would live on until 1986.

Once again, the GS fires into life with the unmistakable sound of an air-cooled engine, only this time it’s a 1,299cc flat-four unit, the same one soon to be powering the forthcoming GSA. With 65bhp on tap, a top speed of 99mph was possible, not that I would be demonstrating this in the old factory workers’ car park.

Settle into the supremely comfortable seats and it doesn’t feel like a car dating back to 1970. The GS hallmarks are there – single-spoke steering wheel, dash-mounted handbrake and wonderful circular display of dashboard lights – but it’s a measure of Citroen’s forward-thinking that it felt new and fresh, not least in 1979.

Citroen GS X3 cabin

It’s also incredibly easy to drive. All the controls are neatly positioned and the all-round visibility would shame even a modern convertible. Even in temperatures approaching 30ºC, there’s a sense that you could drive this all day, every day, although I wasn’t about to test this theory on the Peripherique.

Let’s remember, the GS featured a simplified version of the Citroen’s famous hydropneumatic suspension, along with all-round disc brakes and an aerodynamic body that must have seen otherworldly in a segment of three-box saloons. That the GS didn’t feature a hatchback was a wrong put right by the GSA.

There’s no power steering – it doesn’t need it – but even at the permitted low speeds (I did top 40km/h, but shhh), it turns in neatly and is utterly predictable. The clutch is light, the four-speed gearbox is smooth, with everything combining to create an effortless driving experience.

The highlight, of course, is the suspension, which smooths away the imperfections of Aulnay-sous-Bois and makes even low speed cornering an absolute joy. Quite what it must be like on a French ‘Bis’ road is something I’ll have to imagine and plan for another day.

While some cars might be thrown off line by potholes and drain covers, the GS behaved impeccably, steadfastly refusing to ‘hop’ in the same way I’d experienced in the C3 test car I’d driven to Paris. In fact, the GS completely outclassed the C3 in the comfort department. So much for progress.

The brakes are also excellent, with a strong initial bite that gets more progressive with more force. Once again, I’m left with a feeling that the GS could be driven daily, although the rarity factor might encourage you to save it for high days and holidays. But what a tremendous thing to have parked in the garage.

With the all-too-short test drive complete, I return the GS to the Conservatoire, pull the handbrake from the dashboard and switch off the engine. The suspension creaks as it returns to its resting position, as I relive my youth by climbing into the back seat. I don’t remember the legroom being so restrictive as a seven-year-old…

Talkin’ ‘bout Dyane

1970 Citroen Dyane

The Dyane is in the workshop, bonnet open, Yannick Billy hunched over the engine. My chances of grabbing a drive are slim, as time was ticking and we had strict orders to vacate the building by noon. But just as I was about to search for GSs on Leboncoin, Monsieur Billy wanders over with a split hose in his hand and a thumbs up. The drive is on.

Although it is claimed that the Dyane was designed to replace the 2CV upon which it is based, it was certainly seen as model to occupy the space between its more utilitarian sibling and the Ami. Contemporary press photos show a more youthful clientele, with trendy young things doing whatever trendy young people do.

Launched in 1967 as the 425cc Dyane-4, the 602cc Dyane-6 was unveiled at the 1968 Brussels Motor Show. Power was increased from 21bhp to 28bhp, raising the top speed from 63mph to a dizzying 71mph. Comically, the speedo on this Dyane-4 displays a rather optimistic 130km/h (81mph), which might be possible if you’re descending the hill into Cherbourg. It’s what the escape lanes were invented for…

I distinctly remember our Dyane-6 struggling to climb the 1 in 4 Devil’s Staircase on the Abergwesyn Pass, but feeling totally at home on the motorway. Thanks to its low weight, it didn’t require much in the way of power to give it a decent burst of acceleration.

Citroen was keen to press home the price and practicality of the Dyane, with headlines such as “The lowest-priced 4-door car has 5 doors and a sunshine roof.” The hatchback certainly gives the Dyane a practical advantage, although the full-length canvas roof is straight out of the 2CV book.

Citroen Dyane cabin

If the GS felt like something from the future, the Dyane was very much of its time. The cabin is stripped of all but the bare essentials, with a pair of benches to provide seating. It’s sparse, but certainly not stark. In fact, its simplicity is totally charming and a welcome antidote to the tech-laden, button-fest cabins of today. The Dyane was a car you could run on a shoestring, as there was very little to go wrong.

To start, you twist the key and press a little red button situated beneath the top of the dashboard. The push-pull-twist gear lever protrudes from the centre of the dash and takes a while to get used to. I’m not ashamed to admit I stalled the Dyane – twice – and managed to shift from first to fourth, which made the car stall. Again.

But once you’re accustomed to the procedure, it’s little short of brilliant. Soon I was touring the car park without drama, gathering enough pace to warrant third gear. I’d forgotten about the speed limit by then.

Fallin’ in love again

Again, it’s the handling that shines through. The Dyane leans to almost comical levels when cornering hard, but the skinny tyres hold firm, enabling you to maintain terrific pace through a series of chicanes.

But just as I was getting carried away – and having thoughts of attempting a lunchtime drive through the centre of Paris – an almighty clunk was heard from the back of the Dyane and I limped back to the Conservatoire. Yannick gave it a knowing look as he drove the Dyane back into the workshop for another repair job.

Needless to say, it would have been a quick and easy fix, because that was the beauty of the Dyane. Here was a car that could be repaired by one of the countless number of independent Citroen specialists that dotted the land before the rise of the franchised dealer. A car that sips fuel like your grandma nursing a Babycham at a Christmas party.

Maybe the Citroen Dyane was ahead of its time after all. Sadly, it died in 1985, five years before the 2CV. Total sales of 1,443,583 puts it firmly in the shadow of the hugely successful ‘Tin Snail’, which amassed sales of 8,756,688 over a 42-year period.

My drives were all-too-brief, but I’m left with the overwhelming sense that my father knew a good car when he saw one. Time spent in the back of these wonderfully eccentric and idiosyncratic cars shaped my love of motoring, and that’s something for which I can thank Citroen and my father.

Conservatoire Citroen

Inside Citroen’s ‘secret’ car collection

Conservatoire CitroenNestled between the appropriately named Boulevard Andre Citroen and the sprawling 170-acre Aulnay-sous-Bois site, where 8.5 million vehicles rolled off a busy production line, stands a rather anonymous looking building. Within the grey walls sit more than 400 old Citroens, preserved for future generations and maintained by a man in blue overalls.

His name is Yannick Billy and the cars form part of the Conservatoire Citroen: the largest collection of Citroens in the world. For a company with such a proud history, Citroen is reluctant to throw open its doors to the general public. Which only served to make our visit to the house of Citroen all the more special.


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Yannick BillyConservatoire Citroen

Conservatoire Citroen isn’t open to the public, so it cannot be classed as a museum. Instead, entry is via invitation only: not even a sheik armed with two million bucks could rock up and demand entry, said the Citroen UK press man, perhaps flippantly. Indeed, when we turned up at the agreed time, the reception area was cloaked in darkness and nobody was answering the door.

We wandered around to the back door, where we were greeted by Yannick Billy, a long-standing member of the Citroen Heritage team. Our lack of French was matched by Yannick’s lack of English, but eventually we were guided through the workshop – enriched by an intoxicating and evocative blend of oil and petrol – and to the doors to the collection.

A feast for the eyesConservatoire Citroen

As a Citroen fan it’s almost impossible not to be initially overwhelmed by the spectacle of 400 Citroens in one very large room. But even a non-car person would be amazed by the sheer scale of the place. Citroen’s complete history is here, from the Type A to the latest production models and concept cars.

We were given until noon before we’d be shown the door and told to leave. A little over three hours to immerse ourselves in the history of the world’s most innovative and eccentric car brand. So where do you start?

Top gear wheelsConservatoire Citroen

You start, much like Andre Citroen, with the Type A. Citroen’s first vehicle was launched in 1919, but the company’s roots date back to 1905, with the creation of Citroen et Cie. Back then, the company manufactured double-helical gear wheels with V-shaped teeth, the design of which inspired the famous Citroen logo.

Andre Citroen had first seen gear wheels such as these during a visit to Poland in 1900, and he returned to Paris where he took out a patent for their design. A factory was built to house the production facilities and soon his gear wheels were being used across the world. Famously, his wheels formed part of the steering system in the Titanic.

Andre CitroenConservatoire Citroen

In 1912, Andre Citroen went to America where he met Henry Ford and marveled at the production facilities used to build the Model T. He returned to Paris with the aim of building a car of his own, but his plans were put on hold by the outbreak of the First World War.

But from adversity came an opportunity. As an officer, Andre Citroen witnessed his army running out of shells, and he approached the government with plans to mass produce them. He won the contract and by the end of the war he had built 23 million shells from a factory in Paris.

Citroen Type AConservatoire Citroen

With the experience gained through the production of gear wheels and shells, not to mention the capital and production facilities, Andre Citroen was well-equipped to build his first motor car. The Type A arrived in 1919 and was, quite simply, a revelation.

Not only was it Citroen’s first car, but it was also the first mass-produced European vehicle. For the first time, motorists could buy a car ‘ready for the road’. Little wonder, then, that Citroen managed to shift 12,000 Type As within the first two years.

Andre Citroen: industrialist and marketeerConservatoire Citroen

But Andre Citroen was more than simply an ace industrialist. He knew the power of promotion, which is why his name was displayed on the Eiffel Tower at night. Once a month he took out a full page advertisement on the back of France’s biggest newspaper, while aircraft were sent into the skies to write the Citroen name in smoke.

In 1926, Citroen opened a new showroom in London’s Piccadilly, reported to be the grandest and most expensive ever built. The interior was clad in marble and the place felt more like a cathedral than a car showroom.

The icons: Citroen Traction AvantConservatoire Citroen

In 1934, Citroen launched the Traction Avant, widely considered to be the godfather of the modern motor car. Three years earlier, Andre Citroen had travelled to the US to visit the Budd Corporation in Philadelphia, where he was shown a front-wheel-drive car featuring a monocoque bodyshell.

He knew that it would be possible to build a shell capable of holding the engine, transmission and suspension together, freeing up space and reducing weight. The Traction Avant was the first mass-produced front-wheel-drive car and it changed automotive production forever. But the cost of development crippled the organisation and Citroen was declared bankrupt in 1934. Seven months later, Andre Citroen died, having lost his health, company and the rights to his name. Michelin Tyres took the reins, with the Traction Avant helping to return the company to profitability.

The icons: Citroen 2CVConservatoire Citroen

In 1935, Citroen started working on the idea of a ‘people’s car’, the so-called TPV, as it was then known. The idea was simple: to create a basic French car for the masses, with Citroen’s chairman, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, describing the design as “a deck-chair under an umbrella”.

Prototypes were built in 1939 and then hidden away during the Second World War, with the French keen for the Nazis not to discover their revolutionary little car. It would arrive at the 1948 Paris Motor Show, with production continuing until 1990, by which time more than 30 different versions had been built.

The icons: Citroen DSConservatoire Citroen

The one other Citroen worthy of the icon tag is the DS. The ‘Goddess’ was unveiled at the 1955 Paris Motor Show and such was the response, 12,000 orders were taken on the first day of the show.

It was the first production car to be equipped with front disc brakes and featured revolutionary hydropneumatic suspension. The car pictured is a DS 21 Pallas, showcasing the restyled front end complete with innovative directional headlights.

The legends: Citroen SMConservatoire Citroen

Take the technology found in the Citroen DS, add a Maserati V6 engine and house them in a streamlined body and this is the result: the delightful Citroen SM.

On the right is an original press car from 1970, built at the start of production. On the left is a later, fuel-injected model. Production was short-lived, partly because of the fuel crisis, partly because of reliability issues, and most certainly as a result of Peugeot’s takeover of Citroen in 1974.

The legends: Citroen GSConservatoire Citroen

Imagine being at the Paris Motor Show in 1970. Not only was the achingly beautiful SM first shown to the public, but Citroen also unveiled the brilliant GS. A year later, the GS scooped the European Car of the Year award, leaving the Volkswagen K70 and Citroen SM to finish second and third, respectively. Oh, what a time to be alive.

The GS was designed to slot between the Ami 8 and the DS in the Citroen range, delivering hydropneumatic technology to the everyman. The air-cooled flat-four engine gave it an evocative soundtrack, but a hatchback wouldn’t arrive until 1979, with the launch of the GSA.

The legends: Citroen CXConservatoire Citroen

The CX had the unenviable task of following the iconic DS, but while it wasn’t a game-changer like its predecessor, it certainly captured the true spirit of Citroen. Unveiled at the 1974 Paris Motor Show, the CX featured a futuristic and achingly cool dashboard, hydropneumatic suspension and a concave rear window.

A facelift was introduced in 1985, as showcased by this stunning GTI of 1989. Earlier, in 1975, the last Citroen DS had rolled off the production line: vehicle number 1,330,755.

The presidential cars: Citroen DS 21Conservatoire Citroen

Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of this thing. Designed by the Citroen style department, the DS 21 Presidentielle was built by Henri Chapron and was used by Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou.

Its dimensions are: 6.53m length, 2.13m width and 1.60m height. Oh, and it weighs 2,660kg. The gearbox is designed to maintain a speed of 6 to 7km/h for several hours.

The presidential cars: Citroen SMConservatoire Citroen

Unsurprisingly, the Citroen SM Presidentielle of 1972 is far more elegant and less imposing than the car it replaced. Once again, Henri Chapron was tasked with handling the build of two majestic presidential cars.

They were delivered in May 1972, just before Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Paris. Her Majesty was pictured in the back, travelling with Georges Pompidou.

The presidential cars: Citroen DS5Conservatoire Citroen

A classic case of ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’, this is the Citroen DS5 used by Francois Hollande in 2012.

Today, DS Automobiles has separated from the mother brand.

The concepts: Citroen Project LConservatoire Citroen

The Project L was the final Citroen designed by Robert Opron and was intended to be a replacement for the DS. It features what’s essentially an SM dashboard with a GS steering wheel, and Citroen called for enough space under the bonnet to house Maserati’s V6 engine.

The concepts: Citroen ActivaConservatoire Citroen

The Citroen Activa of 1988 featured four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer and active suspension, the latter of which would appear as the Hydractive system in the XM. The original Activa concept could also boast ABS brakes and traction control, both of which were considered to be high-tech at the time.

The concepts: Citroen EoleConservatoire Citroen

This is the Citroen CX-based Eole of 1986, which claimed a drag coefficient of just 0.19Cd, around half that of the CX. Note the covers over the wheels, which are linked to the car’s hydraulics to lift them clear when steering. The design was intended to showcase the estate car of the future.

The concepts: Citroen KarinConservatoire Citroen

The Karin of 1980 presented the idea of a three-seater, with the driver positioned centrally and ahead of the passengers, some 12 years ahead of the McLaren F1. It was designed by Trevor Fiore but never made it beyond the concept stage. Shame.

The crazy stuff: Citroen RE-2Conservatoire Citroen

Yes, Citroen really did build a helicopter. It was designed by Charles Marchetti and first took to the skies in 1971. It used an evolution of the rotary engine found in the Citroen GS Birotor, but flew a mere 38 hours before Peugeot pulled the plug on the project. The RE-2 was grounded.

The crazy stuff: Citroen U23Conservatoire Citroen

The Citroen U23 was produced between 1935 and 1969. This particular bus was built in 1947 by the Besset facility in Annonay, France. The 18/20-seater was found in Corsica in 2006 and subsequently restored to former glory.

The crazy stuff: Citroen 2CV 007Conservatoire Citroen

Remember the Citroen 2CV from the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only? It was powered by an engine from a GS and reinforced with a host of safety features, including a roll cage, reinforced plating and raised suspension. Legendary stunt driver Remy Julienne was the man behind the wheel.

The crazy stuff: Citroen Evo MobilConservatoire Citroen

Looks a little out of place in these surroundings, doesn’t it? Look again and you’ll see that it was inspired by the design and build of the Traction Avant. Clever, eh? French designer Ora-Ito used an icon of the past to present a vision of the future. Or something.

The racers: Citroen MEP X27Conservatoire Citroen

The X27 was the final development of the Citroen-Panhard racecar produced from 1964 to 1975. It competed in the final years of Formule Bleue, which ended in 1975.

The racers: Citroen BX 4TCConservatoire Citroen

The Citroen BX 4TC is one of the least successful rally cars of all-time, managing just three races before Group B was banned in 1986. The project was so disastrous, Citroen attempted to buy back all road-going versions in order to have them destroyed.

The racers: Citroen ZX Rallye RaidConservatoire Citroen

You’re unlikely to see more Citroen ZX Rallye Raid cars in one place. In the 1990s, these were formidable machines, taking no fewer than four Paris-Dakar victories and winning the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for five consecutive years.

The hot hatches: Citroen ZX 16vConservatoire Citroen

The Citroen ZX 16v is an increasingly rare sight in Britain, with a mere seven registered as being on the road. Thanks to passive rear steering, it’s a genuine delight to drive on a B-road.

The hot hatches: Citroen AX SportConservatoire Citroen

The Citroen AX was a hugely successful car, with around 2.4 million cars produced over a 10-year period. The AX Sport was introduced in 1987 and was a prelude to the more familiar GT and GTI models.

The hot hatches: Citroen Visa GTIConservatoire Citroen

According to the DVLA, there are just five Citroen Visa GTIs on the roads of Britain. Which is a shame, because the Visa GTI is a genuinely good hot hatch, with powered sourced from the same 1.6-litre engine you’d find in the Peugeot 205 GTI. And quad headlights are cool, right?

Richard Hammond Citroen Saxo VTS

Richard Hammond has bought a Citroen Saxo VTS – and we’re jealous

Richard Hammond Citroen Saxo VTS

If the current episode of The Grand Tour is anything to go by, Richard Hammond is about to nip out and steal a chainsaw… in a Citroen Saxo VTS.

According to Amazon Prime’s clever X-Ray feature – which provides extra information about what you’re watching on screen – Hammond loves the Saxo VTS so much that, after the show was filmed, he went out and bought one. The lucky so-and-so.

During ‘Conversation Street’, the presenters were charting the rapid fall in numbers of Citroen’s hot hatch, which had dropped from around 4,500 in 2008 to 491 when the episode was filmed. We’ve just checked the latest figures, and they show that the number on the road has now fallen to 464 –with 946 declared as off the road.

Fabulous, proper and fizzy

“By 2019 they’ll all have gone,” said the ‘Hamster’, which was enough to see him off to the classifieds in an attempt to save the “fabulous, proper, fizzy little hatchback” from extinction. Good man.

That he loves the Citroen Saxo VTS so much should come as no surprise. In his days as a presenter on Men & Motors, Hammond pitched the French tearaway against a Caterham Super 7 Sprint, before driving home in the Citroen.

Weirdly, in a different episode, former radio presenter and drag racer, Dave Lee Travis – aka the ‘Hairy Cornflake’ – proclaimed the Saxo VTS to be “the closest you can get to an old-school GTI”. High praise indeed.

Later, in 2008, Hammond named the Saxo VTS as one of the ‘best second-hand boy-racer bargains’, saying it’s “another belter from Les Francais. The Saxo VTS is virtually a cult car among the young and to see why, you only need to drive one.

“It looks cute, with reasonable performance and good handling.”

This isn’t the first time Richard Hammond has bought a Saxo VTS. In series 18 of Top Gear, he paid £550 for a 1999 model and went racing against Clarkson and May. Sadly, the car’s MOT expired in 2012, so we can only assume that it has gone to the great rallycross track in the sky.

The Price is right

The hot Saxo’s fall from grace is hardly surprising. The Saxo VTS, with its 120hp 1.6-litre 16v engine, developed a bit of an image problem: a kind of hot Nova for a new generation. Lads believed that a Saxo VTS and a pumping stereo was the key to getting a girl undressed.

Citroen didn’t help matters when it asked Katie Price, AKA Jordan, to perch on the bonnet of its four-wheeled bra remover.

Citroen Saxo VTS and Jordan

It meant that – for all of its qualities as a typically French hot hatch – polite, gentle folk stayed away from the Saxo VTS, allowing it to spiral into the abyss. On the flip-side, this means values are stupidly low, so you needn’t spend more than £1,000 to secure a good one.

Compare and contrast with the values of other French heroes – most notably the Peugeot 205 GTi, Renault 5 GT Turbo and Peugeot 106 Rallye – and the Saxo VTS looks a bit of a bargain. Prices won’t stay this low forever.

Take a leaf out of Hammond’s book: rescue a Citroen Saxo VTS today. You won’t regret it. Just don’t let a girl called Katie sit on the bonnet.