Looking for a classic that stands out from the crowd as well as is technically interesting? Here's how to find a solid Citroen BX
How much to pay
• Project £200-800 • Good £1200-3000 • Concours £2500-4000 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Citroën used to build bonkers cars, and while some people loved the company for this, most buyers stayed well away, petrified of the complex hydraulics and crazy interiors. What the brand needed if it wasn’t to go belly up was a more mainstream model with just the right amount of je ne sais quoi. Enough to be interesting, but not so much that potential buyers were scared off.
The BX was that car. It looked like nothing else on the road, yet underneath, the engineering was largely conventional. Designed by Bertone and borrowing most of its running gear from the Peugeot parts bin, the BX doubled Citroën’s UK sales thanks to company car drivers deciding the Sierra and Cavalier were too dull for them. If Q cars float your boat, too (that’s Q for quirky), the BX could be the classic you’ve been searching for.
Your AutoClassics Citroën BX inspection checklist
Engine-wise there’s not much to worry about on the BX. Most surviving examples feature a 1769cc or 1905cc naturally aspirated or turbocharged XUD diesel engine, as fitted to various PSA and Rover models. This lasts forever if looked after, although head gaskets can fail – but even then the engine will still often keep working for ages.
Changing the oil every 6000 miles, the coolant every two years and the cambelt/water pump every 40,000 miles (or four years) will see 200,000 miles despatched with ease. All engines have a cambelt apart from the early 1.4-litre petrol unit.
Petrol fans could choose between a 1.4 carburetted or 1.6/1.9 XU petrol engine in carb or injected forms. Until 1988, the 1.4 was the gearbox-in-sump unit shared with the Citroën Visa and early Peugeot 205/309; later came the more modern TU motor shared with the Citroën Saxo and Peugeot 206. Early cars are now rare; the later engine is more refined and parts supply is better. Both give nippy performance but are low geared, so they’re vocal on motorways.
The 1.6 and 1.9 XU engine came in four-speed auto or five-speed manual forms with 80-160bhp, the latter in twin-cam Mi16 form. This motor is reliable if maintained, yet carburetted versions go out of tune and the automatic choke on twin-choke Solex versions can be unreliable. Overhaul kits and manual-choke conversions are available, but the best solution is to fit more reliable Weber replacements – although sometimes the system just needs tuning.
The final cars got electronic fuel injection and catalytic converters, which rarely give problems. However, air-intake leaks can cause rough running and idling issues on cars with multipoint injection. Watch out for thrashed 16-valve BXs; they were cheap, fast bangers for many years. Most have now been cannibalised, their engines transplanted into Peugeot 205s.
Gearboxes are tough. Some basic 1.4-litre BXs got a four-speed transmission, but all others got five speeders; entry-level 1.4 cars are now almost extinct. The same BE1 or BE3 gearbox was used across the range – the two are interchangeable and were also fitted to the Peugeot 309 and 405.
The thing most likely to wear is the idler gear, which gets noisy. If the selector mechanism and linkages wear, they’re easily and cheaply replaced. Clutches can last 200,000 miles; they get sticky and stiff with age and use. However, these symptoms can also betray a tired clutch cable, which can also snap; replacements are cheap, readily available and easy to fit. A stiff pedal can be greatly improved by lubricating the lever on top of the bellhousing.
Speedo cables fail regularly, but they’re no longer available. They’re long and run through the offside of the bulkhead and behind the dash at a sharp angle. If the speedo is wobbly or ticking, the cable is on its way out and you’ll probably have to get one made specially.
Automatic BXs are common, and they’re unbreakable if the fluid is changed correctly. Dexron 2 needs to go in, but Dexron 4 is often used; this destroys the transmission.
Suspension and brakes
Most BXs have had a suspension overhaul by now. A hard, bouncy ride betrays worn spheres; these are typically cheaper than a shock absorber and can be replaced in minutes. If the rear wheels lean in at the top and there’s creaking or cracking, the rear arm bearings have worn.
Front suspension struts rarely fail (but the rubber return pipes do), although they become stiff and sticky, and can groan when raised to full height. They can be lubricated, but replacement is better; new or reconditioned replacements are available.
A BX will settle on its bump stops over a few hours when switched off, as hydraulic pressure drops. When started it should rise back up to normal height within five to ten seconds; any longer indicates a tired pump and/or accumulator sphere (which maintains the pressure), as do stiff or sticky steering or the low-pressure light coming on. Both are available new or reconditioned, and are easy to fit.
Finally, check for hydraulic leaks, which are obvious as the LHM fluid is bright green. Later models had coated hydraulic pipes, but the earlier steel ones fatigue and corrode; if they fail, there’ll be no suspension, brakes or power steering. New pipes are available, or you can make and fit your own from copper.
On cars with ABS, make sure the warning lamp illuminates then extinguishes when the engine is started; new sensors are extinct, so you’ll have to remove the system to avoid an MoT failure, or find a decent used sensor.
Corrosion kills most BXs. The use of some plastic panels (some bonnets, all tailgates and fuel-filler flaps) can allow cruddy BXs to look decent, while the structure underneath has more holes than a sieve.
Front wings tend to survive well; they bolt on, so they’re easily replaced, and good used ones are plentiful. Rear quarter panels aren’t so durable, especially on estates that were built (but poorly rustproofed) by Heuliez. Replacement panels for these are scarce.
Check the front inner wings where they meet the wheel housing, and under the air box, windscreen surround, A-posts and rear door shuts. The door hinges can break away from the A-post when the welds give way. Repairs are possible but a pain. Rust around the sunroof is rare, but check anyway as it’s difficult to repair; most hatchbacks have an electric tilt/slide sunroof but estates weren’t offered with one.
The plastic bumpers age badly, but thankfully they’re easy to remove and replace. Most are colour coded, and these fade – yet they can be rejuvenated with a hot-air gun and some bumper gel or fresh paint. The 16-valve models got their own bumpers, which are fragile and scarce.
There were two basic seat styles: standard or sporty. Many basic BXs feature non-original, sportier replacements, while the 160bhp 16-valve models got bespoke front seats with lumbar support. These are supremely comfortable and supportive, but as rare as the 16v itself.
The electrics can also be temperamental. Fan motors pack in (usually because of a dodgy earth), while the heater controls can seize up. Forcing these breaks them; replacements are available but fitment is awkward as they’re buried behind the dash. The spindle wears in the single front wiper. Decent used replacements are scarce, so it’s best to fit new bushes.
- 1982: The BX is launched in France.
- 1983: The first BXs arrive in the UK, with 1360cc or 1580cc petrol engines.
- 1984: A 1905cc diesel is now offered, and the BX19 GT debuts.
- 1985: A range reshuffle brings auto and estate options, plus a 1769cc diesel.
- 1986: The 125bhp BX 19 GTi replaces the BX 19 GT; the latter lives on as the BX 19 TRS, though. A facelift brings larger wheelarches, a new dash, analogue dials and redesigned controls.
- 1987: The 160bhp BX 19 GTi 16v arrives.
- 1988: The first turbodiesels appear, the BX17 DTR and RD.
- 1990: The BX19 4x4 hatch and estate are introduced.
If you’re thinking of buying a left-field classic that’s eminently usable, the Citroën BX might just fit the bill. First seen more than 30 years ago, the survival rate is poor – which is why you’re unlikely to see another at any classic car show.
Most of the examples left are MkIIs (introduced in 1986) and diesel powered; find one with a good history and you’ve got an ultra-practical classic that’ll cross continents with ease. Tatty cars can be bought for just a few hundred quid, while even the best examples are worth peanuts.
Be very careful before taking on a project, because while lots of parts are readily available very cheaply, many bits can’t be sourced at any price. That’s why you need to buy the very best car you can, and mollycoddle it.
Picture courtesy of Citroën Media UK
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