The Citroën BX Was An Angular Spaceship And I Love It

Illustration for article titled The Citroën BX Was An Angular Spaceship And I Love It
Image: Citroën S.A.

When I was in middle school, an abandoned Citroën BX lived in a vacant lot a few blocks from my house. It had a profound effect on me.

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I was living abroad for a few years because of my dad’s job and, being the kid I was (and still am), the idea that I could have a glimpse of cars we didn’t have in America was probably the biggest perk of living halfway around the world and no car symbolized that better than that dingy BX.

But how did a car with such an unorthodox shape, its angular details seemingly more appropriate for a supercar or maybe an escape pod from a starship make it to market? Our friend car designer Matteo Licata has the story.

Back in the early ‘80s, Citroën needed a success. Having come under Peugeot control a few years earlier, the CX and GS, developed prior to the merger, were old and sales were down. If the brand was going to survive, the next launch needed to be a winner.

And so the formula came together. A set of lines that were somehow too boxy for Volvo came from famed designer Marcello Gandini and draped over mechanicals shared largely with the Peugeot 405. Modern transverse engines inside a practical shape allowed Citroen to offer a variety of powertrains and configurations, and the car sold over 2 million units over its lifetime.

From diesel wagons for families to an ill-fated but revolutionary Group B homologation special, the BX really could be an option for almost everyone despite its rakish design. By the early ‘90s, though, the angles on the outside of the car caught up with it and sales abruptly dropped off despite efforts to make the interior more palatable to the mainstream.

Luckily for me, one of those cars managed to find itself abandoned in a corner of Ra’anana, Israel. Even as a kid, I was drawn to cars that did things differently. And in a country like Israel, where most of what you’d see on the street were Mazda3s and Subaru Imprezas, cars like the Fiat Multipla, the goofy mid-’00s Seat Toledo (a story for another day), and this BX were like cryptids, mentioned every once in a while but largely treated as fantasy. Not for me, though. I’d seek them out, knowing that eventually I’d move back to America and lose my chance to see them forever.

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Or so I thought. It turns out that at least one BX has survived on our side of the Atlantic. Raph saw it. And now I know what I’m after.

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

mikekovac
s38junkie

I own a 405 Mi16 and my friend has the BX 16 Valve (Soupapes). For two cars that were born at the same time from the same company with the same motor / trans, you cannot even begin to imagine such different driving experiences! The 405 is light and feels it, but the BX is even lighter, to the tune of 400 some pounds. It wants to be a hot hatch, as the acceleration through the gears - even with “only” 160HP - feels voracious. But the hydropneumatic suspension is a strange mix of brittle / harsh over broken pavement and expansion joints as well as supple over undulating roads (but still no where near as supple as a CX or SM). It adds up to some entertaining dynamics, but the 405 wins hands down for being the champion B road carver. I would go so far as to say the 405's rack is the one of best power assisted systems to find its way into a street car. The 405's interior quality, already a dubious blend of hard plastics and thin wearing leather, is also a step above the cheap BX. Then you get to the BX brakes, and you realize how much Citroen-ness found its way into this car, jointly developed be damned. There’s a brake pedal, but like CXs, DSs and SMs of old, it is really just a pressure sensitive button, complete with anti squat built into the front end under heavy braking (thank you hydropneumatics). The 405's brakes, in comparison, feel positively pedestrian.

Amazingly, both have been dead nuts reliable and more than capable of daily driver duty. The AC system in the 405 is absolutely frigid and the car never overheats even on the hottest of summer days. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the Peugeot, as it feels the more cohesive package of the two, but the BX 16 Valve is definitely one of the coolest cars to emerge from the 80s.