“The AX and 205 feel like little competition cars which just beg to be revved high and driven hard.” Road Test, Citroen AX GT Vs Peugeot 205 XS. Autocar, 6th July 1988
By the time Autocar decided to let representatives of the two bastions of the French motor industry slug it out, the Hot Hatch market was Jane Birkin mature. It knew where it was; confident, sassy, accomplished, been there done that. So much so that there was a healthy sub-division of Warm Hatches; what the no less entertaining EFL Championship is to the hyped to death, self-satisfied, not available on terrestrial TV, Premier League of the GTi, HS, RS and Turbos if you like. Smaller engined and without the complex and expensive “i” of their big brothers these rockets for the shallower pocket were always going to have to make do with less power but you know what they say, sometimes less is more and the solution was just that – less weight. Since the days of the ground breaking 2CV, Citroen had been the past masters of making something out of virtually nothing through clever and imaginative engineering and the AX GT was a fine example of just that. Sharing exactly the same, just eighty-five BHP, engine as arch rival the 205 XS, it nipped to sixty from a standing start nearly half a second quicker and just for good measure, it took a couple of tenths off the Ford Escort RS Turbo’s time too. Remind us again, which one is supposed to be the Hot Hatch there?
The engineering black magic employed? Lightweight composites undoubtedly played their part but there was more to it than building the body out of tin-foil. One of the first cars to have its design computer aided, the AX’s shell was thick and strong where it needed to be, thin and light everywhere else. Bearing in mind nothing is as light as nothing, the Citroen guys then added plenty of nothing – if it was a good enough strategy for a 2.7RS lightweight, it was probably good enough for the AX GT. Keeping it simple is in Citroen’s DNA so things like single windscreen wipers are not alien to a company who considers one to be the magic number for steering wheel spokes.
Often in the shadow of their more obvious performance siblings when new, the warm hatch has continued to be somewhat overlooked as they pass into ‘classic’ territory and consequently survivors are few and far between, good ones even more so. From a high of some seventeen thousand in 1995, AX GTs were disappearing from the DVLA’s database at the frightening rate of two thousand per year in the noughties and the population has now bottomed out at less than thirty-five examples on the road, with a further two-hundred odd registered but off the road, presumably undergoing financially ruinous restorations.
This particular example has spent a number of years laid up for some refurbishment which eventually stalled before the owner acquired it and finished the job. According to the odometer it has done some 23,000 miles but though the MOT history goes back quite a number of years and bears this out, there is no documented history prior to this to prove the total mileage. However, the interior is in excellent condition with minimal wear, the engine bay is cleaner than average and the way the car drives suggests that the mileage could very well be correct.
Repainted in its original Venetian Red to a standard the owner describes as “eight out of ten”, the AX looks more than presentable with just a few blemishes such as the odd touched-in scratch, one or two hard to find runs and a couple of small rust bubbles on the rear quarter panels beneath the side windows - a common (and odd) AX quirk. As is apparent in the photo gallery, the underside is very sound throughout with sills, floors, suspension pick-up points and the susceptible cross-member beneath the radiator all in great shape. A small amount of remedial welding has been carried out to the area forward of the front bulkhead behind the strut towers, another common AX issue caused by blocked scuttle drainage holes. The repair is robust, MOT-worthy and only evident when looked for from beneath the bonnet. The doors and bonnet are rust free, while the composite tailgate is naturally immune from the dreaded tin worm. A factory sunroof (a £153.24 optional extra) is fitted and functions as it should with no undue wind noise. As it was looking a little scruffy, the entire GT specific body-kit including bumpers and tailgate spoiler has recently been repainted with the correct matt finish.
The alloy wheels have been refurbished and fitted with brand new, good quality Kumhos. The spare is serviceable and the jack is present.
Inside, the Mk 1 dashboard is in very good condition being un-cracked which in itself is fairly rare and it is fitted with the correct Blaupunkt ‘Blue Spot’ radio cassette player that the GT came with when new. The upholstery is unmarked and taut while the black and red carpets show very little wear with only one small blemish. The door cards, quarter panels, headlining and switchgear are all in very good condition, though the gear lever knob is deteriorating which seems to be the norm. The electric windows function well and now new door locks have been fitted, the central locking also works correctly. The boot is in good order throughout with its floor carpet in good condition.
On the road, the drivetrain feels tight, very smooth and generally functions as you’d expect of a car with this indicated mileage. The timing belt and tensioner have only just been changed, as have the spark plugs, oil and both air and oil filters – a comprehensive service. New rear brake shoes have also been fitted, the handbrake works and the car stops square. The clutch engages as it should, as do all five gears (plus reverse). A four-wheel laser alignment has just been carried out, and the car handles as it should; it is agile with keen steering and prodigious grip and though it rolls quite a lot by today’s standards (though not by Citroen’s), it is great fun.
Aside from those mentioned above, during the course of the refurbishment a number of other new parts were fitted and the car has covered less than 30 miles since. Due to a stone chip a new windscreen and its associated rubber seal were fitted along with wiper blades front and rear. A new Chevron badge was fitted to the bonnet (no, it is not supposed to be centralised, it’s a Citroen) and the indicator stalk was replaced with a new assembly.
The car’s history file contains a number of old MOT records, various bills, the current V5C and a correct MK1 AX GT owner’s manual.
While there is no denying the AX GT sat a rung below the full on Hot Hatches in its day, it is still a hugely entertaining proposition with its non-injection engine a reminder that while ‘first time, every time’ starting is certainly a desirable characteristic of fuel injection, the instant throttle response and sheer ‘zing’ of a well-developed carburettor set up is not be sniffed at. In the real world, the warm hatch actually gives very little away to its hot siblings. Throw in cheap insurance and running costs and a certain ‘in the know’ kudos and the little Citroen makes for a beguiling proposition which for us is where the smart money is now starting to head. While this example is not in absolutely concours condition, it is undeniably a very smart, fit and well-presented machine.