Rallying’s Cyrano de Bergerac

The big-nosed and poorly conceived Citroën BX 4TC is one of rallying’s least successful cars. But it still deserves its place in Group B WRC history
By Martyn Morgan Jones

Citroën’s Group B challenger, the BX 4TC Evolution, has earned a place in history – regrettably for all the wrong reasons. It doesn’t matter whose opinion you canvas, the general consensus is that this car was a flop. Stigmatised by its lack of success, the BX 4TC is almost universally unloved. But is this car a French farce and best forgotten, or does it merit a postscript in the annals of Group B rallying – or even a chapter?

Incredibly successful, certainly during its formative years, Group B played out on a world stage with world-class participants. In its heyday it drew a bigger global audience than Formula 1. Keen to capitalise on the publicity this new category generated, most major manufacturers, Citroën included, participated.

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. But soured by the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, when a DS21 inherited the win after the debacle of the Mini’s headlamps, Citroën’s focus shifted to endurance events outside Europe. It would take until the 1980s 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 1000 Pistes was a feisty, lightweight, four-wheel driver aimed at the clubman as well as those who aspired to greater things. Jean-Claude Andruet finished eighth overall on the 1985 Monte Carlo Rally in his 1000 Pistes, ahead of Miki Biasion’s Lancia 037. Not bad for a 1440cc, 145bhp car.

But although a prolific class winner, to win outright the Visa would require at least 250bhp – nigh on impossible if reliability was to be guaranteed. In the meantime, the BX had been making a rather persuasive case for itself. Allying a Group B rally programme 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 200 homologation road cars and 20 ‘evolution’ models.

Unfortunately, Citroën missed its deadline… by 12 months. 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 lithe and lovely 037 with the massively capable Delta S4.

Alas, instead of examining what the competition was doing, Citroën’s competition department went its own way and spent 1984 rummaging through corporate parts bins and, with engineering firm Heuliez, creating 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 310bhp, 1996cc 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 150bhp, 2155cc turbo engine, Citroën SM gearbox, hydropneumatic suspension and four-wheel drive.

Third was a 4WD evolution of the first prototype. With its front-mounted longitudinal 2498cc engine and conventional MacPherson strut suspension it performed admirably.

Prototype number four ran a 2142cc turbo engine which produced a hefty 405bhp. It also featured an uprated Citroën CX suspension and SM gearbox, and became known as the BX 4×4 Rally or 4TC. Exhibited at the 1984 Paris Motor Show, it was a portent of things to come.

The final prototype was similar to number four with the engine detuned to 200bhp. Known as the BX 4TC 200 Serie it was approved as a ‘client car’ for sale to the public in late 1985.

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.

Verrier, who had Citroën at the very core of his being and had previously rallied DS and SM models, was on a mission. He wanted to link the rally car to the road-going BX, and he wanted to incorporate as many in-house parts as possible.

Electing to follow a less ‘bespoke’ route placed the BX 4TC Evolution at a huge disadvantage. It ended up being a veritable ‘potpourri’ of PSA parts. With massive budgets, most of Citroën’s rivals had used a raft of special components to produce raw, feral machines. 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 raison d’etre 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. As good as the Quattro was – and it
was so, so good – it did have flaws. The biggest failing was its weight and how that weight was distributed, with the engine ahead of the front axle. Audi’s answer to this weighty and ‘understeery’ problem was the legendary short-wheelbase Sport Quattro, which paid only lip service to its road car origins and gave rise to a legendary Group B car. Not so the BX 4TC.

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 1150kg, well above the 960kg class minimum. And, due to the extra frontal length to accommodate the engine, it became Group B’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

As in the 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 380bhp at 7000rpm with a healthy 252ft lbs of torque at 5500rpm. 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 propshaft. The competition department was happy to send the car out to do battle sans a centre diff, transfer box, or even a viscous coupling. Not only would the BX 4TC be slugging it out with its rivals, its front and rear axles would be fighting against each other. On asphalt, the only respite they’d get would be when tyre slip occurred. To assist the driver in his struggles, hyper-sensitive Citroën CX (DIRAVI) variable-assistance power steering was fitted. The brakes employed the fully powered system fitted to the marque’s hydropneumatic cars.

As testing and competition would prove, the BX 4TC didn’t have an affinity for asphalt. The lack of a centre diff – a major oversight – necessitated a rather aggressive driving style, which 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.

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 San Remo, 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 205T16. 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. So too did the team which pulled out of the WRC on the spot.

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.

Citroën was undoubtedly humiliated by its very public lack of success in the WRC and this is often cited as the reason for its premature withdrawal. However, with costs and speeds spiralling out of control, many manufacturers, Citroën included, were questioning whether Group B had a viable future. Then the sport suffered a spate of tragic accidents: spectators were killed on the Portuguese Rally, and Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresta lost their lives on the Tour de Corse. Forced to act, the FIA announced that it would be banning Group B at the end of the season, which also signalled the end of the road for the much-anticipated Group S category.

Understandably, Group B lost its momentum. However, the FIA had provided Citroën with an escape route. With no real incentive to continue, Citroën bid goodbye to Group B. The BX 4TC Evolution, never again seen in WRC events, soon became a hazy memory.

Six ‘Evolutions’ 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. And there is our feature car, owned by Enda Garvey and domiciled in the UK. It’s a gem.

It 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.

Garvey, who is passionate about the Group B era, has owned this car since 2007, during which time he has overseen a sympathetic rebuild to full Group B rally specification with white paintwork and period decaling.

“The composite panels were cracked, so these had to be removed and repaired and the shell was repainted. I also had the decals remanufactured,” explains Enda. “The interior is in original condition and specification, except for the seats. I’m still looking for originals. I have deliberately tried not to over-restore this car, especially the interior, which has a wonderful patina. Whatever scrapes and scratches that are there now were there when I bought it. I’ve also been through the car replacing some components and overhauling others where necessary.”

Although not a car to eulogise, or covet, this is a machine with tremendous presence. But does the BX 4TC Evolution deserve its own chapter? Probably not – but perhaps it deserves more than a postscript.

Over two decades have passed since Citroën tried, and failed, with the BX 4TC Evolution. How things have changed. Thanks to the Xsara T4, the C4 WRC, and Sébastien Loeb of course, Citroën, after six years of stunning success, is once again on a WRC high.

Thanks to Enda Garvey, Justin Shields, Harry Prins and Julian Marsh.