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Citroën Competitions (1980~1989) / Citroën Sport (1989~2000)
Team Operations HQ: Trappe, France
- Citroën Visa Chrono / Thropée
- Citroën Visa Mille Pistes
- Citroën Visa Prototypes
- Citroën BX 4TC
- Citroën ZX (rally raid)
Notable WRC Drivers:
WRC GROUP B RESULTS
Famous for its unique approach to car design and capacity for innovation, Citroën wasn’t new to rallying: between 1959-67 its ID and DS models were notable in international events. After the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, when a DS-21 inherited the win after the debacle of the Mini’s illegal headlamp strands, Citroën’s focus shifted to endurance events outside Europe. It would take until the early 1980’s before the company would once again fully commit to European rallies, with its new ‘supermini’, the Visa.
Introduced late in 1983, the Group B Visa Mille Pistes was a feisty, lightweight, four-wheel driver aimed at the clubman (amateur) level as well as those who aspired to greater things. Jean-Claude Andruet finished eighth overall on the 1985 Monte Carlo Rally in his Mille Pistes, ahead of Miki Biasion’s Lancia 037. An incredible finish for a 145 bhp car.
In fact, the Mille Pistes was the winner of a vast study launched by Citroën Compétitions’ team boss Guy Verrier to find the best contender for its new interim Group B rally car. In fact, a lot of prototypes, sporting both rear wheel drive and four wheel drive, were built and tested. CLICK HERE to learn more about them!
But although a prolific class winner, the Visa was faced with the impossibility achieving the overall win. In the meantime, the BX had been making a rather persuasive case for itself. For Citroën, marrying a Group B rally program to its chart-topping, bigger-engined road car made practical and fiscal sense. From mid-83 on, Citroën’s competition department, under the direction of former rally driver Guy Verrier, threw its weight behind the BX and planned to have its Group B contender ready for the start of the 1985 season, with the required 200 homologation road cars and 20 ‘evolution’ models.
Unfortunately, Citroën missed its deadline… by a whole year. A very important 12 months during which Group B’s pace of development had accelerated – the 205 T16 turned into the even more spectacular Evo 2 version and Lancia replaced its outclassed Rallye 037 with the massively capable Delta S4. MG and Ford were also not far behind with their new top contenders. Alas, instead of examining what the competition was doing, Citroën’s competition department went its own way and spent all of 1984 rummaging through corporate parts bins and, with engineering firm Heuliez, created five prototypes – none of which bore any technical resemblance to the new crop of Group B cars. All used variations of Peugeot’s X5N2 engine.
The first had a 310 HP, 1996 cc transversely mounted 16-valve engine, Hewland gearbox and front-wheel drive. Stylistically, it resembled the later BX Sport/GTI models. Next was a design which featured a longitudinal 150 HP, 2155 cc turbo engine, Citroën SM gearbox, hydropneumatic suspension and four-wheel drive. Third was a 4WD evolution of the first prototype and was known as the “BX 4×4 Strakit”. It featured an improved 16v “ROC” 2445 cc engine producing around 325 HP. The car was built around a spaceframe (tubular) chassis, sporting conventional MacPherson strut suspension, and draped in a lightweight composite body resulting in a 1050 kg (2315 lb) weight. The car performed admirably until it retired in the 1983 Rallye des Mille Pistes with overheating problems.
The fourth BX 4×4 prototype featured a classic monocoque construction, a front mounted (longitudinal) N9TE 2140 cc engine (originally used in the Chrysler 180 model), turbocharged, and originally tuned to 405 HP (later reduced to 380 HP for better reliability). The car sported a very short rear overhang versus a quite long front overhang, making for an unique albeit unbalanced appearance. These prominent features gave the car the nickname of “Cyrano de Bergerac” (for the French novelist portrayed with a huge nose). However, both radiator and oil cooler were in the rear trunk section to help balance weight bias. It also sported Citroën’s famous hydropneumatic suspension to help deal with rough terrain. The fifth and final prototype basically was a narrower road version of the fourth prototype, featuring a 200 HP de-tuned engine.
The final prototypes were confirmed by team boss Guy Verrier to be Citroën Competitions’ top Group B contender. The former being the competition version and the latter being the client “serie-200” homologation road model. Verrier wanted to link the rally car to the road-going BX, and he wanted to incorporate as many in-house parts as possible. As before with the Visa, all were built by Heuliez. From this came the BX 4TC Evolution. Citroën’s competition department built the 20 Evolution models at its headquarters in Trappe, and homologation was granted on January 1, 1986.
Electing to follow a less ‘bespoke’ route placed the BX 4TC Evolution at a huge disadvantage. It ended up being a veritable mess of a myriad of PSA parts slapped together. With massive budgets, most of Citroën’s rivals had used a series of special components to produce raw, feral machines, built without compromise. Verrier, driven by an emotional attachment to Citroën and a modest budget, oversaw the creation of something more domesticated yet, conversely, more difficult to control.
Group B’s winning recipe was its technical freedom; it dispensed with the need for manufacturers to rely on existing production models. Verrier and his team failed to embrace the spirit and failed to exploit the loose regulations, sanctioning an outmoded concept which almost mirrored the original Audi quattro. The engine was positioned in the nose of the car. Despite being dry-sumped, fuel-injected and turbocharged, it was based on a 1970 Simca design with iron block, alloy head, a single overhead camshaft and just eight valves. That said, it was a strong engine which produced 380 HP at 7000 RPM with a healthy 252 lb-ft of torque at 5500 RPM.
Although the 4TC Evolution looked every inch a Group B monster, those outrageously-styled panels hid a weight problem. Essentially a monocoque construction, albeit with special tubular subframes, the BX 4TC weighed in at a hefty 1150 kg (2,535 lbs), well above the 960kg class minimum and a lot more than its closest opposition. And, due to the extra frontal length to accommodate the longitudinal engine, it became Group B’s Cyrano de Bergerac (for the French novelist portrayed with a huge nose). However, both radiator and oil cooler were installed in the rear trunk section to help balance weight bias.
Although cited as a Citroën SM unit, the gearbox, first seen in the DS, was an even older design. From the gearbox back, things became even more simplistic. All that linked the gearbox to the Peugeot 505 rear differential was a carbon-fibre driveshaft. The competition department was happy to send the car out to do battle without a center differential, transfer box, or even a viscous coupling, despite the fact that this would make its front and rear axles fight against each other. On asphalt, that problem would be even more prominent. To assist the driver in his struggles, hyper-sensitive Citroën CX (DIRAVI) variable-assistance power steering was fitted.
The rather aggressive driving style needed to make due with these technical oversights pushed the hydropneumatic suspension to its limits and beyond. Thankfully, it performed more fluidly on loose surfaces, where the drivetrain’s inadequacies were somewhat masked, although the limited suspension travel – three inches less than the best of its rivals – would soon bring the car up short on rough terrain. Although highly criticized for his decisions, Guy Verrier (probably blinded by his commitment to the marque), still had hopes for the BX 4TC’s potential to win.
Two cars contested the first event on the 1986 WRC calendar, the Monte Carlo Rally. One was driven by Jean-Claude Andruet, who had won the 1977 Sanremo, the 1974 Tour de Corse and, more importantly, the 1973 Monte Carlo. Philippe Wambergue, a Citroën test driver who would later excel at rallycross and in Rally Raids, drove the other. Andruet threw down the gauntlet and recorded seventh and eighth fastest times before crashing out on stage six. Wambergue fared less well, retiring on stage one due to suspension failure.
In the Swedish Rally, asphalt expert Andruet surprised onlookers with his snow and ice pace, finishing sixth. Wambergue, who wasn’t far behind Andruet, would be sidelined by a frozen oil pipe on stage 25.
Following a lengthy three-event development break, three cars were entered for the Acropolis Rally. Andruet and Wambergue were joined by Maurice Chomat, who’d finished 10th on the ’83 Acropolis in a Citroën Visa Chrono, and had a number of good results in a Visa 1000 Pistes. Sadly, Andruet only made it as far as stage three when he was involved in an accident. This was a huge blow for the team as, prior to the crash, he’d been only five seconds behind Kalle Grundel’s leading RS200. He was even ahead of eventual winner Juha Kankkunen who was driving a 205 T16. Wambergue’s car didn’t even manage to complete the first stage due to suspension failure. Chomat, his car similarly afflicted, also called it a day.
After the rally’s bitter disappointments, Citroën pulled the BX 4TC out of the WRC on the spot. By this time, due to the safety concerns, Group B was already to be cancelled at the end of the year which probably made Citroën’s decision easier.
A brave yet misguided endeavour, the BX 4TC Evolution was hampered by a limited budget, by being umbilically tied to its road-going counterpart, a lack of technical development, and its late arrival. Had the car appeared a year earlier it would have stood a better chance of success. Worse still, by persisting with what was so obviously an outmoded concept, 1985 proved to be a wasted year. The BX 4TC Evolution was immediately outclassed by a raft of space-framed and mid-engined supercars which proved to be as nimble as they were quick.
The choice of drivers also has to be factored into the failure equation. At almost 44, Andruet, a very quick driver, was a seasoned campaigner. This probably explains why he had the ability to drive around the car’s problems. Wambergue too was a quick driver with a number of good results to his credit and Chomat had successfully competed on WRC events. All the same, had Citroën employed drivers from the highest echelon of the sport then it is possible that the BX 4TC Evolution could have been within touching distance of the podium.
By this time, due to the safety concerns, Group B was already to be banned at the end of the year which probably made Citroën’s decision easier. Yet, the abysmal results would always remain in the company’s history: the BX 4TC is often referred as the worst attempt at a making competitive Group B car. Citroën was reportedly so distraught about their humiliating wasted efforts that it is rumored they had most of the evolution rally cars destroyed. Citroën would find solace in the fact that the subsequent cancellation of the Group S replacement formula would soon relinquish the rally supercars to a hazy memory.
Six evolution cars are known to have survived. Philippe Wambergue is currently rebuilding his Acropolis car. Dominic, his brother, has Philippe’s Monte Carlo/Swedish Rally example. Another resides in Citroën’s museum/showcase. The Hommel Museum has one, and the Garage du Midi has an ex-rallycross car. The last one was bought by Patrick Pivert, who competed in the French Rallycross Championship, from French rallycross ace Jean-Luc Pallier. Even though Pivert used the car to good effect, Citroën apparently put pressure on him to ‘retire’ it at the end of the 1989 season. The car was sold and is now domiciled in the UK.
FINALLY FINDING SUCCESS, WITH SOME HELP
The BX 4TC “nightmare on dirt” would soon be forgotten: after the 1990 running of the Paris-Dakar race, sister PSA company Peugeot decided to officially retire the 205/405 T16s from competition and ceded all “off-road” operations to Citroën. They would “borrow” the proven Peugeot Group B technology as the base for its ZX Grand Raid vehicle which would subsequently win the Paris-Dakar event 4 times from 1991 through 1996, officially retiring in 1997.
Not long afterwards in the 2000s, thanks to the Xsara T4, the C4 WRC, and Sébastien Loeb of course, the winds of fate has brought Citroën the WRC winning streak they had dreamed of 20 years earlier.
(C) Article by Jay Auger – website owner & author
- Partial source: MotorSport Magazine – Sep 2009 issue
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- Eifel Rallye Festival Pictures used under permission – McKlein Publishing
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