CC Capsule: 1995 Citroën AX 4×4 – A Rusted Development

As I prowled the pavement of my native country recently, I figured my posts, which had been all very JDM-focused of late, might benefit from a bit of CPR – by which I mean Citroën, Peugeot, Renault. For instance, I knew there had never been a CC post dedicated to the unlamented Citroën AX (1986-1998), so perhaps it was time to remedy that situation. The trouble was finding one that was worth the effort – something a bit more flavourful than the common-or-garden AX Diesels still abundant on French roads today. This 4WD version would do nicely…

Citroën tried killing the 2CV several times over the years, but never quite managed. The timid Dyane, launched in 1967, failed miserably. The Peugeot-cloned LN (1976-1986) never had a prayer. The Axel, built in Romania, was an ever more disastrous effort. No, the only way to do it was to nick a Talbot project and pension off the old air-cooled twin in favour of a water-cooled 4-cyl. When it was launched in 1986, the AX was a pure PSA product. Peugeot engine, Talbot styling and Citroën interior melded together to form this rather dreary econobox. Still, the 2CV was now truly outclassed and could retire in peace.

Early Citroën AXs were renowned for their flimsy build quality – especially the interior, which literally came apart under UV light – but were mechanically decent enough. A restyled version arrived in 1991, with a less biodegradable interior, as well as a few new versions. This included the 100 hp GTI and the 4×4, which also had the GTI’s 1.4, but detuned to 74 hp. Production of the 4×4 version lasted until 1996, just two years before the AX was nixed altogether and replaced by the Saxo (an even more depressingly forgettable small Citroën, if that were possible).

The 4×4 became a fixture of French mountain paths for a while. Along with the Fiat Panda 4×4 and the Lada Niva, the AX 4×4 was the cheap Alpine transport of choice in the ‘90s. But unlike its Italian and Russian rivals, the AX is seldom seen nowadays. A life of labour in salty and wintery conditions is always a short one. Plus, the Panda and the Niva seem to have a higher survival rate (and were made for much longer), so that explains that. The size of the AX, when compared to a recent Suzuki, is quite diminutive and explains why these might be worth saving: extremely light, rugged and simple with a relatively big and reliable engine, the AX 4×4 is not likely to be made again anytime soon.

I actually talked to the owner of this car, who was planning to tend to the rust (good luck with that) so his son could continue using the car over the next few winters. Said son was a pisteur in a French ski resort – one of the guys who rises before dawn and gets in a snowcat to prepare the slopes. The AX 4×4 is how fellows like him get to work. Light 4WD cars with a FWD bias are alleged to be perfect for climbing snowy mountains – though I’m sure someone in the CCommentariat will argue different, that’s the consensus in the Alps.

So that’s my teaser for the Citroën AX. A full CC is not beyond the scope of the imagination, but it’ll have to be someone else’s turn. I’ve done my share. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, whereas writing one post about the AX could be seen as a misfortune, writing two would look like carelessness…