Get yourself one of the most desirable and charismatic small French cars ever. The Citroën AX.
Considered to be Citroen's first convincing step into the supermini market, the AX was light, nimble and 'revolutionnaire' according to Citroen's ad campaigns. Launched in 1986, it promised fuel consumption of 70mpg (in 1.0-litre form), refined engineering and an accomplished drive. It was incredibly popular, especially among youngsters who appreciated the overall light and airy feel to it, making it a doddle to drive. Its adaptability served it well, offering buyers a choice of petrol and diesel engines, three- and five-door bodies and even a 4x4 model, although we never got the last of these in the UK.
In 1996, it was largely superseded by the Saxo (although the AX continued to be produced until 1998), which was based on the Peugeot 106, which itself was a re-working of the AX. If that wasn't proof of how a modern a car it was, it continued to be manufactured from 1996 to 2000 in Malaysia, where it was badged as the Proton Tiara.
Torque: 89ft lb@5000rpm
Maximum Speed: 118mph
Fuel consumption: 33-41mpg
Transmission: FWD, five-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Brown rust for all to see
Watch out for rust - this might seem obvious when said aloud, but most of these cars won't have had an easy life. Many may have been forgotten about, left outisde to battle the elements and rust will have set in. Front wings, behind the headlights, around the filler cap, in the boot floor and round the rear window edge are the obvious places to start. However, you should check every inch of the car for problems. The construction is very lightweight, meaning that the thin panels are easily dented and any tinworm will significantly weaken the structure.
Simple interior, cheap to fix
Cabins are simple. This means there's theoretically less to go wrong, but the cheap trim is known for flling off or breaking - don't let this put you off, you always find bits for them. The interior light is quite a common problem, with one quick fix involving removing the aerial and sticking some grease under the mounting. A leaking heater is a more complex thing to fix though.
A crucnhing noise while changing gears should ring alarm bells. It's usually caused by very worn gear linkages. Gearboxes can be found easily, though.
This chirpy and cheap car has five differnet engine variations, ranging from a 1.5-litre iron block diesel to a 1.4-litre 100bhp OHC beauty. All are long-lived (especially the diesels) although oil leaks are common. Check service history for oil, coolant and cambelt changes. Diesels can survive for well over 150,000 miles if properly maintained.
In the time before soft-roaders and crossovers, the simple hatcback was good enough for the average Brit. We loved them for being cheap to run and repair, while being economical enough to get more than 40mpg (depending on the engine). The AX is spacious enough, with adequate room for kids - and not just on short journeys to the shops and back. It's modern and sufficently reliable to be used as an everyday driver, but its innate French quirkiness makes it more interesting than many of its rivals. GTs and GTIs are especially fun, albeit very rare.