Modern Fossil - 1986 Citroën BX 4TC

In 1980, small German manufacturer Audi shocked the rallying world by releasing their game-changing quattro Group 4 rally car. The innovative machine made very effective use of a four wheel drive drivetrain and a turbocharged engine for the first time in rally history. The quattro silenced its many conservative critics by quickly dominating virtually all rallies on loose surfaces.

Four wheel drive was now clearly the way to go. As Group 4 morphed into Group B, Audi's competitors started to fight back. By 1984, the Quattro had been surpassed by the much lighter, nimbler and better balanced mid-engined Peugeot 205 T16.

 

Audi's quattro inspired Citroën to pick up the Group B fight.

Audi's quattro inspired Citroën to pick up the Group B fight.

Meanwhile the people at the quirky French car maker Citroën had been watching all of this unfold with a fair bit of jealousy. The company was in dire straights with disappointing sales during the 1980's and needed a spectacular halo car to lure customers back to the showrooms. To this end they decided to show the world what a real rallycar was made of for 1986.

As with any rally project, first order of business was finding an adequate road car to base it on. Citroën decided on using their compact BX hatchback, as it was their strongest seller on the difficult car market. Using its silhouet was deemed the smartest move from a marketing perspective.

 

 

 

Citroën's top selling BX was chosen to become a rally hero.

Citroën's top selling BX was chosen to become a rally hero.

From an engineering perspective, the move was less of a success. Contrary to the latest developments in Group B, the four door midsize BX was still rather large. Peugeot's tiny 205 T16 and Lancia's spaceframe Delta S4 were purpose built to be as small and light as possible, an advantage Audi had already desperately tried to address by cutting a full foot out of their quattro.

Inexplacably Citroën completely ignored the the obvious clues given by its corporate parent Peugeot, and soldiered on with the BX. Right away the engineers ran into another massive problem. The BX had a traditional transverse engine, front wheel drive layout like any other European hatchback. A transverse engine four wheel drive car had never been done before, and Citroën certainly wasn't going to be the first. 

 

Instead they threw out the nifty Peugeot engine and its drivetrain and drew up a new plan. Taking a page from Audi's book, a Chrysler Europe Simca Type 180 2.1L turbocharged four cylinder was placed longitudinally in front of the front axle. The new setup freed up space for a traditional four wheel drive in house developed SM-C35 5-speed manual gearbox. The major downside of this was that it forced Citroën to severely lengthen the car's nose.

The result was a bloated, exceptionally nose heavy monster. The new engine took up so much space that the radiator had to be moved to the back, which necessitated monstrous bulging air intakes behind the rear side windows. A massive rear spoiler and wide bulging wheel arches completed a car with a face only its mother could love.

It just looks very unhappy with itself.

It just looks very unhappy with itself.

The end result was a car outgunned in every possible way from the very start. Its relatively large and cumbersome body made it grossly overweight at 1150 kg. Its rivals were all under the 1000 kg mark. The Simca engine produced just 380 horsepower at 7000 rpm, which was about 70 horsepower less than stablemate Peugeot and a whopping 170 less than the Audi and Lancia entries. As well as being overweight and underpowered, the car suffered from its painful drivetrain transplant.

The massive weight over the front wheels resulted in truly catastrophic understeer. Somehow the car seemed to handle even worse than the eight year old idea it had been based on, despite featuring Citroën's unique hydraulic suspension system. On its debut at the 1986 Monte Carlo rally, its drivers Jean-Claude Andruet (FRA) and Philippe Wambergue (FRA) found the BX very hard to handle. 

Andruet found out the hard way by by slamming into a snow bank on Stage 6: Cafe Carret - La Sappey en Char. The left front suspension upright had been totally obliterated, which meant Andruet and his co-pilot Annick Peuvergne (FRA) were forced to retire. Wambergue and his navigator Jean-Bernard Vieu (FRA) had only made it 2.6 km into the first stage of Aillon le Jeune, before the quirky hydraulic suspension developed a fatal leak.

 

Jean-Claude Andruet's stranded BX4TC, Rallye Monte Carlo 1986.

Jean-Claude Andruet's stranded BX4TC, Rallye Monte Carlo 1986.

The next round of the championship was the Swedish rally famous for its massive snow banks, which must have sent a cold shiver down Jean- Claude Andruet's spine. Thankfully he performed much better this time, scoring an impressive 6th place overall. Even so he was still beaten by two Group A Audi's, and was the 4th Group B finisher. Philippe Wambergue was not so lucky, as he suffered an engine failure on stage 24: Valasen.

Jean-Claude Andruet and Annick Peuvergne, Rally Sweden 1986

Jean-Claude Andruet and Annick Peuvergne, Rally Sweden 1986

After the disappointments of Monte Carlo and Sweden, Citroën took three rounds out to regroup. During this time a third car was completed for Maurice Chomat (FRA) and Didier Breton (FRA). Citroën set their sights on round 6, the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

Again the event got off to a shaky start, as Chomat had to bail after a suspension failure on the very first stage, Imittos. Philippe Wambergue had a similar experience, and was also out after Stage 1. The catastrophe was complete when Jean-Claude Andruet went off the road in Stage 2: Dionissos.

Maurice Chomat and Didier Breton, 1986 Acropolis Rally.

Maurice Chomat and Didier Breton, 1986 Acropolis Rally.

By this time the horrible incidents at Rallye Portugal and the Tour de Corse had already taken place, and Group B was as good as dead. Citroën finally realized their clumsy lovechild did not have the potential to compete with the big boys, and a chronic lack of budget forced them to abandon the rest of the 1986 season.

The Citroën BX 4 TC was an outdated fossil right from the start. With a chronic lack of funding and hasty execution, it was built on an 8 year old idea in an ever evolving world. In the face of featherweight silhouet specials, it still used a basic road car shell. Despite mid-engined designs reigning supreme, it still featured the ancient drivetrain from a tractor. Lacking in power, handling, lightness and overall competitiveness, the BX 4TC is a true testament of the stubbornness of the French.