When the Citroen BX was shown to the world, I didn’t care much for it, in fact it didn’t even register on my radar, because as any 12-year-old who is worth his salt, I only cared about Italian supercars, while French cars were just worthy of a sideway glance.
It must have taken a year or two for the car to finally land in Malaysia and it received the much expected reserved welcome from the market.
Citroen fans immediately bought one each but everyone else crooked their eyebrows, rubbed their chins, made thin lips and nodded the slow nod usually reserved for when we are looking at modern art pieces that we don’t understand but we don’t want to look like an unwashed heathen to our beret-wearing friends.
First of all, the car was designed with only a ruler and a 50 sen coin. All the lines were straight and when they met, they butted against each other as if curves hadn’t been invented.
The only curves on the car were on the wheel arches, which consisted of three straight lines joined by small radius curves.
They probably wanted to make the tyres hexadecagon, but the marketing department told engineering it wouldn’t sell because it was too difficult to pronounce.
The interior was a collection of sharp plastic edges that had looked like they broke out of a particularly bad science fiction set.
One almost feels the compulsion to wear Star Trek suits and apply uncomfortably large dollops of hair care products before one is worthy of cranking up the BX.
The BX was different for the sake of being different in a decade when being over the top was a virtue and it became a pretty hot seller for Citroen, lasting 12 years in the market.
In a sense, Citroen was overcompensating for Peugeot, who had gone relatively mainstream with their sensible hatchbacks and small sedans. The BX was the quintessential French car for the glam rock era.
Towards the end, Citroen executives were probably worried they could not find a worthy successor.
Going back in time, the story of the BX’s birth was not such a smooth one, in fact it was third time lucky for the design.
It all started five years earlier with Turkish aspirations for an indigenous automotive industry and the Otosan company was looking for ideas, proposals, partners even, and curiously they ended up talking with British company Reliant.
Reliant is a company that is best known for its three-wheeler, the Robin, and, if you are a hardcore fan of British sportscar of the 1960s and 70s, the Scimitar.
Reliant had a rather strong relationship with Otosan, the first Turkish car manufacturer, which was set up as a joint venture with Ford, but strangely they decided to build their own cars rather than just rebadge Ford vehicles for ease of entry into the market.
Anadol was the first Turkish automotive brand and the first car they put on the market in 1966 was unimaginatively called the A1. It was designed by Tom Karen of Ogle Design, whose list of accomplishment included the Raleigh Chopper bicycle.
While the Chopper was a worldwide craze for short time in the 1970s, the A1 simply looked like an awkwardly inflated two-door Morris Marina.
Despite the unfortunate styling, the car lasted for nine years and by that time, the company wanted to offer something more interesting and they called on Reliant to come up with some ideas. Reliant went to Bertone and the assignment landed on the desk of one Marcello Gandini, of Lamborghini Countach.
Still fresh from his super-sharp design, Gandini took out his ruler and came up with an imaginative fastback design. They built four prototypes, Reliant kept two and called it the FW11 while two more were sent to Otosan for evaluation but the project was stillborn.
The car came with many advanced features, including the front wheel drive layout and use of plastic body panels.
It also featured many modern creature comforts such as electric windows and automatic transmission.
While it may be advanced, it was not cost effective for Otosan so the project died an instant death.
Bertone then took that same profile and repackaged it into a futuristic concept for Swedish carmaker Volvo in 1977 and called it the Tundra.
That didn’t take either because the design was too racy at a time when Volvo was looking at ways to modernise the brick. Gothenburg’s brief was to make something exciting using the Volvo 300 compact platform.
Somehow Citroen then took up the idea and the BX was born, complete with plastic bodywork, hydropneumatics suspension and Captain Kirk’s bridge with a modern interpretation of the single-spoke steering wheel.
The whole dashboard looked like a plastic interpretation of an Aztec pyramid while the exterior looked like it was slightly car-shaped cake meant for an eight-year-old’s birthday.
It worked a treat. The French loved it, the rest of the world loved to hate it. The French like it when the world hate their ideas, they would then scoff and tell us that we simply do not have the sophistication to understand their mind and mutter under their breath about how they are still the philosopher of Europe. Bah.
This is a car that deserves a place in any car museum for the way that it interprets what makes a good design and in certainly one of the clearest example of how even a modern, forward looking design, can be turned into turd.