CITROËN VISA

By the Seventies, Citroën had fallen into the hands of arch-rival Peugeot. While this could be seen as a disaster, especially for those who worship the SM which Peugeot killed off pretty quickly, it was also a blessing in some ways.

For a start, they gained access to Peugeot’s small car family. This quickly resulted in the LN – a truncated Peugeot 104 initially available with a 652cc version of the 2CV’s aircooled boxer engine. The purists may not have been pleased, especially when the LN turned into the LNA – this even had a Peugeot engine. Quelle horreur!

But the little supermini couldn’t match the utilitarian appeal of the Tin Snail and Dyane, and this is how the Visa came into being. Launched in 1978, it had quirky looks, a hugely practical 5-door body and when sales began in the UK the following year, you could have a Club, Special or Super – the former pair having the 652cc engine, the Super relying on a transverse 1124cc Peugeot powerplant.

The model range developed into a frankly baffling number of trim levels, which could take half this guide to explain but in short, engines ranged from the 652cc flat-twin to the fiery 1580cc GTi. There was even a hugely economical diesel. A short-lived Convertible – one of very few topless four-doors – was available in 1983.

Production ran until 1988 but like the Dyane and LNA before it, the Visa was culled while the Tin Snail lived on, albeit for only another two years.

VITAL STATS

Engine 652cc/4-cyl/DOHC
Power 36bhp@5500rpm
Torque 38lb ft@3500rpm
Top speed 72mph
0-60mph 28sec
Economy 36mpg
Gearbox 4-speed manual

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK

Like so many cars of the period, the Citroën Visa suffers badly from corrosion, as can be witnessed by the small number of survivors. The main areas for concern include the front outer wings, engine bulkhead, rear quarters, rear suspension top mount and the boot floor. Compared with other Visa models, the 652cc air-cooled twin-cylinder suffers minimal engine bulkhead rust. If there's a sunroof fitted, have a good look at the tray.

In its original form, the Visa had distinctive frontal syling, retaining a real Citroen look, despite being based on the Peugeot 104 floorplan and suspension. The unusual combined polypropylene grill and bumper was changed for the MkII in the hope of attracting greater sales. Original Peugeot-engined Visas could be identified by different wheel trims and a rubbing strake along the sides.

All Visas are all five-door hatches, with the exception of the striking four-door cabriolet - introduced from 1984. If you manage to find one of the latter, check to see if the hood has been reconditioned and if the rear window has been replaced. The convertible retained the standard door frames with a tie-bar between the pillars to maintain rigidity. Inspect these carefully for signs of corrosion.

ENGINE & GEARBOX

Engine sizes are 652cc air-cooled twin-cylinder petrol; 954cc, 1124cc, 1219cc, 1360cc and 1580cc water-cooled four-cylinder petrol; and 1769cc water-cooled four-cylinder diesel. All engines are generally reliable and the Peugeot XUD 169cc diesel (also used in the original C15D van) is capable of achieving more than 200,000 miles. The fuel-injuected 1580ccGTi engine is also used in the Peugeot 205 GTi. As a result of the use of the latter's powerplant, the GTi model has plastic wheel arch extensions to take the wider track.

The 1124cc models often need their carburettor servicing in later life, while the 1360cc GT twin carbs can have balance problems, too. Repair work that can be undertaken with the engine in place is limited. The engine identification number lives on a plate riveted to the cylinder block, while the body number can be found on the right-hand suspension mounting. All gearboxes are good, although the GTi 'box can have synchromesh problems. 

RUNNING GEAR

The cars had independent suspension with MacPherson struts at the front and an anti-roll bar and trailing arm behind, and soft-rigin characteristics in the typical French style of the 1970s. The GTi model offers a lower and firmer ride with better road-holding capabilities than the equivalent Peugeot 205 GTi. New Citroen-designed disc brakes were introduced for the Visa with LN drums at the rear. The original Super model featured wheels one size up from the Special and Club models, the narrower section tyres on the latter giving a slightly tighter turning circle over the Super.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

A 'satellite' control unit, mounted on a stalk on the steering wheel colum, operated the flashers, headlamps, horn and indicators. This remained until 1985 when a new design dashboard and switchgear were introduced.

The MkI models feature vibrant colours and more interesting fabrics, but the earlier seat fabrics are prone to fading and rot. Replacement seats in the correct material are not easy to find. The later seat fabrics have less nylon and are more durable. Bucket seats in the GTi are prone to wear on the wings. The electrics on all models are reliable with the exception of the larger, temperamental, loom on the GTi.

OUR VERDICT

These quirky cars are becoming increasingly rare and those early MKIs have a certain je ne sais quoi about them. As of 1 January this year, the DVLA said there were 90 on SORN and 33 taxed, making a total of just 123 (plus the possibility of a few stored pre-SORN). While some will remember early Citroën Visas as sedate, even on fairly level roads, others will recall the hot Visas developed by both Citoren and specialists for rallying. Later models such as the Chrono, GTi, Trophee and Mille Pistes continue to be club rallied.

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