The Carchive: The Citroën Visa


Welcome to the dawn of another week of flotsam and jetsam, blown onto the rocky Hooniverse shores from the rusty deck of that decrepit steamship, SS The Carchive.

Citroën is a brand that a lot of us hold in high esteem, particularly for the eccentric ways that the double-chevron badge like to do things. Today we visit one of the lesser-known models. The question is, do you accept Visa?


“Unbeatable. The 5 door, 4 engine Visa”

Yes, that’s right. Just like a C130 or a 747, the Visa had four engines. A 954cc, an 1124cc, a 1580cc or a 1769cc diesel. The brochure makes no mention, though, that you could have them all at once in the same car, which is disappointing.

The Visa could have replaced the Older-Than-The-Oceans 2CV, but didn’t. At the beginning you could have the 602cc twin cylinder “engine” from the tin snail under the snout of your Visa, but other than that the latter car was a colossal step forward in time.

Sharing a platform with the Peugeot 104 and Talbot Samba, this also meant sharing it with the Citroën LN and LNA. However, all those tiny hatchbacks were only ever equipped with three doors. The Visa, from the beginning, had a full five.


“Every Visa engine has been designed to be driven hard and to maintain top speed for long periods without overheating”

That’s the French way of doing things. Anybody who has driven in France will know that the rural locals are famed for being able to extract almost aviation-levels of speed from the most humdrum of cars, and preserve that momentum irrespective of traffic level, terrain, weather, obstacles or mechanical wisdom.

And, to look at one, you’d be hard pressed to imagine the Visa coming from any country beside France. The styling sits somewhere between homely and hideous, yet somehow sits protected behind the safety barrier of “characterful”. You just can’t hate it. This brochure, incidentally, showcases the later facelifted car, which had had some of the more extreme weirdnesses of the original scraped off.


“Traditional round dials and graphic symbols tell you all you need to know at a glance.”

Those traditional round dials weren’t actually at all traditional in a Visa. Before the facelift your analogue dials sat in peculiar square bezel which squinted at you from behind the steering wheel like the eyes of some sinister robot. Weirder still was the satellite pod which flanked the wheel, an ugly, cylindrical affair the size of a can of beans, which carried the controls for the wipers, the lighting and the direction indicators.

All in all, the Visa made sense as a robust family car as even the most low-sticker model had at least a modicum of standard equipment, comfortably undercutting most mainstream European models. The regular trim levels were base and “R” models, but don’t even begin to think that the letter meant anything to do with high performance.

You could get an RD, for instance. That meant extra comfort features together with a frugal diesel engine which clattered out 60 dependable, no nonsense horses. Bank on sixteen seconds to sixty but 95 or so at the top end, which was pretty respectable for a car like this. After the RD there was then something of a gulf in the range between that and a somewhat unlikely next step on the ladder.


“The 119mph GTi. The quickest Visa yet”

No lie. The GTi was, by comparison with all the other Visas, pretty ridiculous. The engine was shared with the legendary Peugeot 205 GTi, except the Visa was even smaller than the other French car. The lack of weight and the surprisingly adept aerodynamics added up to 8.7 seconds to 60, and that double-sixty VMax.

“The sporty feel of the GTi is naturally reflected in its appearance.”

There was no mistaking it, with wheelarch and sill extensions, distinctive alloy wheels with low-profile tyres, colour coded bumpers and air dam, and those quadruple halogen headlamps. There was also the 115CV sticker brazenly advertising all that power to the world.

Even more bananas was the earlier (and so outside the scope of this brochure) Mille Pistes version with four-wheel-drive, which, at this precise moment in time I want to drive more than any other car in the history of the world. That car, incidentally, had a 112hp variant of the 1360cc engine, which must have been absolutely manic.

As a kid, one of my next door neighbours bought a Visa to replace her Austin Allegro. The only vivid memory I have of it was being driven in it for a long enough distance to develop a front wheel puncture and subsequent two mile walk to school. Pre-deflation distance was approximately 150 feet.

If left neglected a Visa would, unfortunately, disintegrate like rice paper in a shower, and most of them did. I can’t remember the last time I saw one; it may well have been that summer when Maureen’s Michelin Made her Miserable.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. The muddy footprint visible in shot is from venturing out to feed the Rabbit, Willow. She’s a Lop, about 18 months old. Just thought you might like to know. Image copyright of Citroën etc. etc. etc.)

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