From Europe to Africa...and back again
How Citroën was forced to take a detour to eventual World Rally Championship success.
In 1980 Citroën Competition wasn't in the best of health. Although the previous decade brought a lot of success in African long distance rallies, neither the funding nor the right car was there to compete in the World Rally Championship on a regular basis. When former rally driver Guy Verrier took over the reins from Marlene Cotton at Citroën Competition in 1980, he quickly discarded the big Citroën CX2400 GTi Group 2 and aimed for the World Rally Championship.
The huge CX2400 GTi Group 2 was more capable than it looked, but no longer the right car for Citroën Competition. (https://www.favcars.com/wallpapers-citroen-cx-2400-gti-rally-car-1977-313093)
Of course the Citroën CX wasn't suited to the events in the World Rally Championship calendar. A more compact car was needed for the planned WRC program and the recently released Citroën Visa with independent suspension all round was seen as the right base for Citroëns sporting future. With the introduction of Group A and B regulations in 1982, there were still two years left to transform the humble front wheel drive hatchback into a successful rally car. In 1981 Citroën launched the Total Trophee Visa, a competition to seek new driving talent for an upcoming WRC works team. For this one make competition a non homologated Group 5 prototype rally car based on the Visa Super X was built by Mathiot. The cars featured as slightly enlarged four cylinder engine with about 115 hp and fiberglass body panels to reach a impressive kerb weight of around 650 kg. Christian Rio emerged victorious from 2000 contestants, which earned him a works drive for the 1982 season. The car form the Total Trophee Visa evolved into the fittingly named Citroën Visa Trophee and became the first Group B car ever homologated. Due to the constraints of regulations the Visa Trophee was a bit heavier but with a weight of around 700 kg it still offered a impressive power to weight ratio. Of course a front wheel drive hatchback with 1,3 litre engine was in no position to fight for overall victories, but it was perfect for the Group B9 subclass for cars up to 1300 cm³ of displacement. The Visa Trophee was largely aimed at the customer market but Citroën did commit to a few works outings like at the 1982 Tour de Corse. Towards the end of 1982 Citroën homologated the Visa Chrono. Apart from a few minor bodywork changes and the 1360 cm³ engine, it was pretty much the same car as the Trophee. As a result it qualified as and evolution and only 20 cars were built. Even though the bigger engine offered more power, it was a bit of an odd move as it put the car just about into the B10 class.
1982 Tour de Corse, Maurice Chomat/Jean-Bernard Vieu on one of the few works outing with the Visa Trophee. (http://www.citroen-en-competition.fr/fiche-pilote.php?pilote=153)
Simultaneously Citroën commissioned companies like Lotus, Dangel, Strakit, Mokrycki, Mathiot and others to develop a more potent Visa based rally car for the upcoming Group B regulations. The range of ideas that were implemented is crazy. The Visa Lotus was essentially a Lotus Esprit with a Visa silhouette, Dangel built a mid engined 4WD car with a PRV V6, Mokrycki built a mid engined 4WD car with hydro pneumatic suspension and even a twin engined Visa was developed.
The Visa Lotus was deemed unsuitable and to expensive by Guy Verrier. (https://en.wheelsage.org/citroen/visa/1982-88/lotus_prototype/pictures/249101)
The impact of the Audi quattro was not lost to Verrier and therefore only 4WD cars had a realistic chance to progress beyond the prototype stage. Ultimately the pedestrian looking but crucially 4WD Visa developed by Mathiot was chosen. While it was modestly powerful, it was very light and ultimately formed the basis of Citroëns first 4WD rally car. After a year of development, the Visa 1000 Pistes was homologated in March 1984. It featured a naturally aspirated 1,4 litre engine and at 770 kg it was exceptionally light for a 4WD car. The simple yet effective full time 4WD system lacked a center differential, but this was not really a problem. It is worth remembering that the Audi quattro usually ran with a fully locked center differential, which had the same effect. The car was still competing in the B10 class and aimed at the customer market, but a few WRC works outings were on the plan as well. The cars first class victory in the WRC came at the 1984 Safari Rally, where Maurice Chomat/Didier Breton won in front of his team mates Philippe Wambergue/Peter Tilbury. As per usual the B10 class wasn't very populated and they were the only two finishers. Generally speaking the little Visa 1000 Pistes was best suited to gravel events as it was the only serious 4WD car in its class, but its finest hour came at the snowy 1985 Monte Carlo Rally when veteran Jean-Claude Andruet (co driven by Annick Peuvergne) finished eighth overall and first in class.
A Visa 1000 Pistes on the name giving Rallye des 1000 Pistes. (https://en.wheelsage.org/citroen/visa/1982-88/trophee/exact/gallery/egpd0x)
In parallel to the Visa program, Citroën Competition was planning to enter the WRC with a car that was capable to win rallies over all. Given that the Visa had been in production for a number of years and the Citroën BX was just launched in 1982, a development program for a BX Group B rally car was started in 1983. Citroën decided to work with independent engineering companies again and both Strakit and Mokrycki, built prototypes. Ultimately Citroën went with a relatively mundane approach and developed the BX 4TC in conjunction with Mokrycki. The car featured a steel monocoque chassis, hydro pneumatic suspension and a similar drive train to the Visa 1000 Pistes without a center differential. With 1150 kg the car ended up being almost 200 kg heavier than the minimum weight allowed for its displacement. In the pedestrian BX the engine was transversally mounted, but in the BX 4TC it was positioned longitudinally. This 90 degree rotation necessitated a very long front overhang and positioned a large part of the weight far away from the yaw axle, which made the car lazy on turn in. As if all this wasn't peculiar enough, the car remained a five door ''saloon'' and used a turbocharged variant of an old 8 valve steel block Simca engine, instead of a more modern 16 valve Peugeot unit. The basic characteristics of the car don't sound very promising, but its worth remembering that the development started before the quattro even won a drivers title. Of course sister company Peugeot was already busy developing their revolutionary 205 T16, but Peugeot Sport and Citroën Competition were two completely independent entities.
BX 4TC alongside the radically different looking BX 4TC Evolution. (https://www.facebook.com/bx4tc/photos/3587155741411942)
While the general concept of the BX 4TC was hardly inspiring, it might have had a chance to get some descent results if it would have been homologated in early 1984, but it took Citroën until 1986 to develop it. The 200 necessary road cars for homologation were built by coachbuilder Heuliez, while Citroën Competition built the 20 evolution models at their workshop in Trappes. By the time the car was homologated, the Peugeot 205 T16 had already won two titles. Nevertheless Citroën was about to enter full time in the WRC top class for the first time with Andruet/Peuvergne and long time test driver Wambergue (co driven by Jean-Bernard Vieu). Both cars retired early on at the season opening Monte Carlo Rally, Wambergue/Vieu suffered a suspension failure while Andruet/Peuvergne crashed out. In Sweden Andruet/Peuvergne managed to finish sixth and score points but the pace was not overly impressive. The BX 4TC also appeared in the French gravel championship, but it proved to fragile to be successful there. After a long development break Citroën Competition entered the notoriously rough Acropolis Rally in Greece with a third car driven by Chomat/Breton. Early on Andruet/Peuvergne where within striking distance of the lead and ahead of Juha Kankkunen/Juha Piironen in the Peugeot 205 T16, but Andruet/Peuvergne crashed again, while both team mates retired with suspension problems. Following this disappointment Citroën withdrew from the WRC with intimidate effect and stayed away from the top level of the sport for quite some time.
Jean-Claude Andruet/Annick Peuvergne finished sixth on the 1986 Rally Sweden with the BX 4TC Evolution. (https://en.wheelsage.org/citroen/bx/26579/gallery/x8zfjq)
Citroën Competition, which was renamed Citroën Sport in 1989, didn't abandon the scene completely though, as there were a few Group A customer cars floating around in the late eighties, the most prominent of which was the Citroën AX Sport Group A. It was a small car aimed at the A5 subclass, but there were still some works outings in the WRC from 1988 onwards. Class victories like at the 1988 Monte Carlo Rally by Chomat/Gilles Thimonier were relatively frequent but, the competition was rather slim. More often than not private Peugeot 205 Rallye 1.3 were the only other contenders until the early nineties when the Skoda works team appeared with their Favorit 136L, but by then Citroën only entered the Tour de Corse, as their main focus was once again in Africa.
AX Sport Group A driven to class victory by Maurice Chomat/Gilles Thimonier at the 1988 Monte Carlo Rally. (https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/339107046942398307/)
After the ban of Group B in 1986, Peugeot Sport used what was left of their Group B project in Rally Raids like the Paris-Dakar. Peugeot Sport boss Jean Todt invited his former driver Guy Frequelin to take part in the 1989 Rally Paris-Dakar aboard a Peugeot 205 T16 Grand Raid. Frequelin was set to become the director of Citroën Sport and it was planned to move the Rally Raid program from Peugeot to Citroën. When Citroën Sport took over in 1990, Frequelin was already familiar with the program. Citroëns ZX Rallye Raid was based heavily on the Peugeot 405 T16 Grand Raid and shared the basic layout (mid engined, four cylinder turbo charged, 4WD) with its predecessor. The car made its debut on the 1990 Baja Aragon event, before the Citroën ZX hatchback which it resembled was released. Ari Vatanen/Bruno Berglund who were previously competing with Peugeot Sport won the event in front of their team mates Jacky Ickx/Christian Tarin. Vatanen/Berglund then went on to win the 1991 Paris-Dakar Rally, the first of four Paris-Dakar victories for the ZX Rallye Raid. From 1993 to 1996 Pierre Lartigue/Michel Perin won the first four FIA Cross-Country World Cup titles and in 1997 Vatanen/Fred Gallagher added another title in the final year of the rally raid program. The appearance of the ZX Rallye Raid changed significantly during its seven years of competition, from wider arches in 1992 to completely different bodywork that hardly resembled the original version from 1995 onwards.
The original ZX Rallye Raid as it was used until 1991. (https://en.wheelsage.org/citroen/zx/55809/gallery/m6yitu)
Cross country rallies where the main focus of Citroën Sport at the time, but when the ZX 16V was launched in 1992 Citroën homologated it in Group A regardless. Citroën Sport didn't commit to an international works program and instead ran two cars with Bernard Beguin/Jean-Paul Chiaroni and Patrick Magaud/Guylene Brun in the 1994 French Championship. The results were nothing to write home about, but Citroën Sport ended up still developing a purpose built Kit Car based on the ZX 16V Group A. In total only six of these high strung ZX 16V Kit Cars were built for customers as there were no plans for a works program. Citroën Sports technical director Jean-Claude Vaucard who previously was involved in the development of the Peugeot 205 T16, was very proud of the ZX 16V Kit Car. And not without reason as Jesus Puras/Carlos del Barrio won on the cars debut at the 1997 Rally El Corte Ingles. Given that the Citroën ZX and Peugeot 306 shared the same platform and engine range, it is not surprising that the ZX 16V Kit Car was fairly similar to the 306 Maxi Kit Car of Peugeot Sport. Due to its famous brother and the lack of a high profile works program, the ZX 16V Kit Car is largely forgotten. Even though it might be seen as just a footnote, it is still a important car in Citroën Sports history, as Chassis 001 was used as testbed for the Xsara Kit Car.
Jesus Puras/Carlos del Barrio with the ZX 16V Kit Car at the 1997 Rally El Corte Ingles. (http://clasedeadolfo.blogspot.com/2010/05/citroen-zx-kit-car.html)
Following the conclusion of the Rally Raid program at the end of 1997, Citroën Sports could once again fully concentrate on traditional rallies. The team around Guy Frequelin aimed for the World Rally Championship once again, but first it was off to the French Championship with the new Xsara Kit Car. The program which concluded in the most successful uninterrupted spell in the World Rally Championship had just began.
Citroën Competition before...
How Citroën started rallying with a most unlikely car