Citroën Visa: Twin-pot Twin Test

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I’m just back from a thoroughly lovely weekend at the 2CVGB event known as Registers’ Weekend. In short, lots of 2CVs, lots of sunshine, lots of friends, no politics, no sodding Pokemon. LOVELY!

I met quite a few people who commented on how much they enjoy the blog, which has given me a major attack of guilt. I have been neglecting it an awful lot recently, though it’s not entirely my fault. Quite a lot of actual paid work has certainly been getting in the way, but I’ve also been on the road a lot, which included two days in my caravan with barely any signal. Besides, writing blog posts on a stupid ‘smart’ phone requires far more patience than I have. Oh, and then our landline at home failed, so woe is me, no blogs, etc, etc.

But I’m here now, and even though I’d really like to go to bed, I’m putting finger to keyboard to share some twin-pot Visa excitement.

Greeeeen

A pair of aircooled Visas. Are they any good?

First, a very brief Visa history. Citroën developed a cracking little supermini idea, but when Peugeot completed its takeover in the mid-1970s, it told Citroën to stop being so oddball. Instead, it could keep some of the styling cues, but had to fit them over nice, sensible 104 running gear. To stem the tears of the Citroën engineers, they were allowed to develop an enlarged version of the 2CV’s aircooled, flat-twin engine to act as entry level models – the Spécial and mildly posher Club (it had a cigarette lighter). Citroën engineers are a rebellious lot, so they flogged their original idea to the Romanians, who built it as the Oltcit or Axel.

The Visa was launched in 1978, with the 652cc aircooled flat-twin, or 1124cc Super E with a radiator and other posh things. The engineers focussed their efforts on the interior, with satellite pods to control pretty much everything you need to control, and a single-spoke steering wheel. Awesome. There were later other engines, a facelift in 1982 to make it (slightly) less odd, and, horror of horrors, a sensible interior facelift that involved actual column stalks. Boring.

Happily, I managed to get my hands on TWO of these twin-cylinder Visas, one pre-facelift and one post. Even more happily, the wacky interior lasted for a good three years post-facelift.

I began with the earlier Club. This is a left-hand drive car, that was once white, but is now the most magnificent shade of green. It feels slightly tinny as you get in, though not as much as a 2CV does. The driving position is nice and comfortable, and the switchgear falls neatly to hand – albeit neatly in a way your brain may not actually understand. Let it learn and all will be fine.

I didn't break it, honest

I didn’t break it, honest

Starting the engine is a strange experience. It’s like starting a 2CV engine, only like doing so from inside your house while the car is out on the street. It sounds like a 2CV, but one that is far away. Then there’s the conventional gearlever, that sprouts from the floor in a thoroughly ordinary way. It’s quite clunky to use, with a bit too much travel; just like a GS, or a Nissan Cherry Europe. The clutch in this example seems far too light, but it’s still easy enough to pull away. I did have some issue finding the gears I needed, and can confirm that it doesn’t like going from first to fourth. On grass.

Across our test field, it really was pretty comfortable. It couldn’t match a 2CV or BX, but it could beat nearly every car currently in production. It’s certainly far better than a Cactus. Generally, the feeling is of refinement, though it’ll roll just like a 2CV if you decide to corner a bit briskly. I was quite enjoying it, I must admit. Thanks George. It was ace.

The next day, I got to drive a later, right-hand drive Visa, only I took this one out on the actual road. I even got slightly lost in it, though don’t tell Mark who was sitting in the back. No, it wasn’t his car. He just came along for the ride, so he could pretend to be a really poor person who couldn’t afford a limousine – only a Visa driven by a hippy.

This car belongs to my mate Chris, who recently let me live in his field. I like people like that.  The clutch certainly feels more normal in this one, and my left-hand proved far more adept at finding the gears.

Blueeee

Minimalist, very-different dashboard. You didn’t even get a clock on the Spécial

So, 0-60mph. Well, the claimed time is 26 seconds, which is a few quicker than a 2CV. This is a big-bore engine after all. It certainly isn’t brisk, but nor does it feel as hard work as a 2CV – thank sound deadening for that I reckon. The gearbox is also much, much quieter, as is the exhaust. Once up to 60, it feels very comfortable there. Even 70 doesn’t feel out of bounds, or just for special occasions. It feels eminently possible, and is nice and peaceful.

The switchgear works really well once you’re trained your fingers, and this is a very relaxing way to travel given the lack of power. Of course, grippy handling helps, so you don’t have to lose too much momentum. This is a fun car to corner quickly. It turns in very nicely, then the body also turns in. It’s like a 2CV, though a little less frantic. It doesn’t feel quite so hilarious.

Overall then, a staggeringly competent little car that does pretty much everything you could reasonably expect a car to do. It’s delightfully simple, but has enough of what’s truly necessary. Drat. Another car to add to the wish list.