The Saxo was the adult version of the Citroen AX. Derived from the Peugeot 106 – itself derived from the AX, it had lost some of the extreme characteristics of its ancestor (it was significantly heavier, built from more solid components but with a diminished aerodynamic finesse). If the entry level versions were still equipped with tiny engines (950cc), the top of the line Saxo VTS was graced with a 16 valve 1600 cc engine good for 120 hp, and was competing in the GTI class. The Saxo was available with gasoline as well as diesel engines, and could be had with an automatic gearbox and ABS brakes.
Its styling was pleasantly neutral (some will say excessively conservative – particularly for a Citroen) but it was particularly nice in metallic blue, and the interior was of reasonably good quality and devoid of the quirkyness of the Visa and GSA of the past.
The one I bought was technically a “used car” – it was part of the demo fleet my local dealer had bought for the launch of the car, and by French law, those cars can’t be sold as new if they’ve been in the demo fleet for more than 3 months. The Saxos of the demo fleet were all painted in the “Grand Pavois” metallic blue, and so was mine. It was a VTL model (2 door, with a 1600cc/90hp fuel injected engine and a 5 speed manual). It was one step below the 16V (it did not have the flared fenders nor the 16 valve engine) but it was already seriously quick – I could routinely drive the 265km between the Brussels office of the company I was working for and my condo in Paris in less than 2 hours – averaging more than 130km/h between Anderlecht and the 12th Arrondissement. Trying to do the same now would probably send me directly to jail.
That, and my rather agressive Parisian driving style, particularly impressed my American colleagues, one told me once that I would get shot if I drove like that in Atlanta.
Compared to its predecessors in my personal fleet, the car was better in every category – performance, comfort, fit and finish, reliability. It also felt solidly built, which was a change after the AX. It became my wife’s car after we got married and she sold her Rosa Mexicano (pink) Renault Twingo.
I can’t associate any long distance trip or even any epic week-end with this car – Belgium was probably the farther it went, and it was for business. It spent most of its time in commutes or running errands around Paris and Valence. I could not find any photo of our Saxo either – which says a lot about the dispassionate relationship we had with this car (the pictures of this post were copied from catalogs or from classifieds).
The VTL was only sold for two years, primarily on the French domestic market, and it seems to have totally disappeared from the second hand market – I could not find any – but the VTR version and the VTS 8 Valve versions (same engine, but with the flared fenders of the VTS) still are represented today.
We finally sold the Saxo when we moved to the US (we could not bring it with us obviously), with approx. 120,000 km on the odometer. Over the 6 years we had owned it, its only unplanned visit to a dealership was for a water pump failure, probably caused by the precautionary replacement of the timing belt a few days earlier. So much for preventative maintenance.
This Saxo was not a car you loved passionately and regretted selling for the rest of your life, it was just a reliable and dependable appliance, a sort of French Toyota. Sayonara.
I always liked the BIC model in a deep warm ballpen yellow and blue interior I believe
That is why you always change the water and cambelt as a set having to dismantle the front of the engine twice to do almost the same thing is a pain worse if you are paying someone to do it, not many if any of these Saxo over here a fair few 106 landed though.
Love the colour I looked over a 308 in the same blue recently
“…with a diminished aerodynamic finesse”
That is a great turn of phrase. I am enjoying your COAL’s, partly since I have zero point of reference for them. It’s all new territory, which is quite enjoyable.
It is interesting that something in the GTI class would not have developed more of a following than the way you describe how these have disappeared. Lightweight and powerful is usually a pretty popular combination.
The VTR and VTS are the proper hot versions of the Saxo and a few do still exist, with unmodified versions making decent money.
However, the were very popular with the body kitting Max Power brigade in the early 2000s and most have either ended up in ditches or scrap yards.
I remember reading about these in auto, motor und sport.
As to your Parisian driving style, I know what you mean, and I can relate.
“Sort of a French Toyota”. Who would have thought that combination of words could fit into one phrase? Cars like these always gain my respect ever since we had our own first car in 1971: a Renault 4 TL. Even though it was more French than “Toyota” back then.
So, from now on we will see your USA COAL experiences. That parallels my own COAL story line which started in Germany and continues in the US. I am looking forward to your subsequent COALS.
Thank you for the comments – the French Toyota? Yes, French car makers used to alternate so called innovative cars (the Renault 11 with its digital dashboard, the lightweight AX, the plasticky Citroen BX) with more conventional cars built more solidly, and designed primarily to be reliable transports (the Renault 19, the Saxo, the Xanthia). The three latter cars had a very good reliability record, even if they were a bit boring, and they somehow salvaged the reputation of Renault or Citroen. Until the next round of so-called “innovations”.
Why did the Saxo VTL disappear from the French roads? Citroen probably did not build that many of them to begin with, and the VTL was a tweener – the narrow body shared with the small 950cc Saxos, with a relatively large engine – it was too fast/too powerful for the person looking for basic transportation, and not aggressive enough (from a looks perspective) for the typical buyer of a used GTI. The wide bodied VTR and VTS are much easier to find right now, assuming you’re looking for one.
Ah, Parisian traffic, wherein every driver’s moment-to-moment decision of trafic à droit or trafic à gauche is filed under Liberté rather than Égalité (and Fraternité is right out of the question). It brings to mind the second movie (“C’était un Rendez-Vous”) posted here.
Unfortunately there’s no more 8 lane cruising on the boulevards, except for cyclists, the famous taxi stand in the middle of Champs Elysees has disappeared and the maximum speed in Paris has been lowered,to 30 km/h
I vividly remember every green traffic light was the start of a new race between DS’ses, 404 taxi’s and R16 Renaults. Place Etoile was the biggest traffic challenge in the world yes those were the days
Not that it is entirely related, but I’m wondering if any Europeans reading this article are familiar with the Citroën SM “Regembau”? I only learned about them yesterday, while taking a Swedish quiz about Citroëns. It turns out that Regembau was a tuner who converted 250 SMs to turbo diesel power, apparently improving performance as well as economy and dependability. I can’t find any English language articles about the cars, but there does seem to be some French documentation. Is anyone here familiar with them?
I’m coming from a family of French Citroenists, and I have never heard of that. I Googled and found a few web sites and a few Youtube videos, including the site of the Regembeau garage, which still seems active and entirely focused on improving the original Maserati V6. As for the Diesel, I’ll have to go through the Youtubes to get an opinion. But 250 Diesel conversions, that seems like a lot.
Incidentally, I have a French “Retro magazine” with a very informative article about Mr. Regembau and his famous turbodiesel, 6-speed gearbox (more than a decade before any major manufacturer had such idea…).
There were also some DS converted to diesel, too.
That engine had 145/165bhp and very low consumption, not to mention reliability Maserati V6 could never achieve.
Another interesting tidbit – Mr Regembau made a direct-injection petrol conversion of 15/6 four cylinder at the beginning of 1950s , with over 200bhp. By pure chance, during a highway test, he overtook a strange looking sportscar prototype on the highway, who caught up with him during next fuel stop. Two engineer-types in the car, talking with German accent, were very curious to check out his DI setup…we could guess which company they had worked for 😉
Regarding the DS diesel conversion, I understand that the bugbear with any DS engine swap is that the DS engine turns the opposite direction of every other engine on the planet. This point comes up fairly often because the stock DS engine is unrefined, and people start having pipe dreams about engine swaps. I’d like to know how Mr. Regenbau handled that.
I read through that article once again and that piece of data was not disclosed, actually.
There were other DS diesel conversions in the ’70s, done by Garage Guezennec in Daoulas (29) . Their solutions were never patented, therefore often copied.
You might be able to dig something up online related to more technical issues.
The Georges Regembeau firm’s work on Citroens goes back to the 1960’s, with some significant developments on the ID/DS range, including a 5 speed transmission, which was even used by the factory rally cars, before Citroen introduced their own.
They’ve mostly or always produced complete, upgraded cars, to high specifications, rather than selling bits and pieces. Since the founder’s death in 2005, this has been carried on by his son.
But hard to find much info, now, particularly regarding the earlier periods of their work. A while ago, there was at least one quite detailed history on the Web, in English, but it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps another CC reader can help ?
I’ve occasionally driven 130 km/h, but for no more than a few miles at a time.
I was wondering if all your cars were going to be PSA products. I’ll be very curious to see what cars an expatriate French couple in America owns.