Citroën AX GT: La boîte de grenouilles

The Box of Frogs is dead. Long live La Boîte de Grenouilles. The manic and crazy Avanazto has only been gone two weeks and already a new toy has springed into the vacant space left in the garage. With the cash made from the sale of the Avanazto, the brief was simple. Maximum budget would be £2k, ideally the car should be German and rear wheel drive would be a bonus. It will therefore come as no surprise that the car now occupying space in the garage cost less than half the available budget, is as French as the Eiffel Tower and is very much front wheel drive. But hey, when you’re a petrolhead any sense of rationalism goes out of the window.

But just how and why did I end up with an original 1989 Citroën AX GT? Being honest, it wasn’t a car that appeared on my shortlist. In fact, the nearest cars to an AX GT would have been the MKII Golf or Peugeot 205 GTi. In many ways, these two cars represent the default choice for those looking for an 80s hot hatch and let’s face it, they fully deserve their classic status and cult following.

But the little AX GT has been overlooked, largely unloved and as a result is well on the way to extinction. This is no exaggeration – most AX GTs have either rotted away or have been modified to the point where they’re no longer recognisable. This makes me sad, so when a totally original and unmodified example came up for sale, I was immediately interested.

If PetrolBlog can stop at least one AX GT spiralling into oblivion, or at least into the accessories section at Halfords, then it is job done. But this is more than just an attempt to rescue a small French hatchback from a lifetime of aftermarket alloys, subwoofers and an ill-fitting bodykit. The AX GT is also an absolute hoot to drive.

Citroen AX GT side

The original AX GT was every bit as fun and involving as its more illustrious rivals from Volkswagen and Peugeot. Don’t confuse the GT with the lukewarm and frankly disappointing GTi that eventually replaced it, this was the real deal. Although it seems laughable in 2010, the GT’s carburetted 1.4 engine generates just 85bhp. Crucially though, the car weighs just 710kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio that enables it to genuinely punch above its weight.

You could never say the GT was fast, but in true go-kart style, you always get the impression that you’re going faster than you actually are. Show it a tight and twisty B-road and the AX GT will reward you with an engaging and genuinely exciting drive. Indeed, it is on a series of bends that the little Citroën feels truly at home. The steering is unassisted and it provides feedback that shames all but the most focused of modern drivers’ cars. Citroën also injected driving involvement almost by accident.

I once built a paper aeroplane from the motoring section of the Daily Telegraph. If I rode this paper aeroplane the wrong way around the M25 at 5pm on a Friday night, I think I’d feel safer than if I was in the AX. The build quality isn’t great. But it doesn’t matter because the result is that the AX is a rare thing; A hot hatch totally devoid of unnecessary weight and baggage. If the AX GT were a modern car, it would be badged as a ‘Cup’ and we’d be applauding it for being a true drivers’ car.

Styling wise it could never be classed as being a great looker. But the chunky four-spoke alloys, roofline spoiler and discreet bodywork gives it an 80s look which in my opinion has aged very well. This is helped by G962 THW’s black paint which seems to pull the small and boxy design together very well.

Citroen AX GT sunset

G962 THW seems to be one of the great survivors. This has been achieved in part by the fact the original owner kept the car until 2008. The extensive history reveals that within this time it wanted for nothing, was serviced on time with every small problem sorted out as soon as it arose. It then passed on to another enthusiast who, to his credit, ensured it continued to survive as Citroën originally intended, even down to retaining the original dealer sticker on the rear window and front number plate. Nice touches.

Being French and 21 years old, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the AX GT would be beginning to show its age and to a certain extent you’d be right. But surprisingly, it feels no less ‘worn’ than Volkswagen’s I’ve owned of a similar heritage. There are places where the bodywork is going to need attention soon, but I’m delighted to say that all the body panels, glass and lights are original. In fact, the car’s number plate is etched into every available piece of glass on the car. Remember when that was the norm? If you don’t, you’re a lot younger than me.

Mechanically it feels good too. I sense that a couple of horses have bolted the stable over the years and the gate on the gearbox is so wide, you’d be able to fit 33 Chilean miners in with no chance of claustrophobia. But all the electrics still work, right down to the original Blaupunkt stereo. Sadly I can’t seem to find anything other than live commentary of Paris St Germain’s home match with Monaco at the moment, but that’s fine. I’ll also be changing the mid-range tyres to new Michelin winter rubber in the next week or so which will hopefully improve the levels of grip during the colder weather. But otherwise we’ll see what pans out. I’m under no illusions with the AX GT, I know that at some point soon, something will fall off or I’ll be stranded at the roadside. It is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

The AX GT is so very French. If you blindfolded somebody and sat them down in the front seat, they’d know instantly they were in a French car. Within seconds of me starting the journey home in it last night, I felt like I was competing in special rally stage in Corsica. I wouldn’t win the rally of course. In fact, I may not even finish it. But during the time the AX kept running, it would be frantic, fun and an absolute riot to drive. I’m actually half tempted to give the front fogs a yellow tint and add period Michelin, Elf and Cibie stickers on the rear wings. I said half tempted…

Shouldn’t cars be fun? I think so, which is why I chose to bring this little AX GT home. Vive la grenouilles!

Citroen AX GT

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

20 comments

  1. October 16, 2010
    RichHL

    I remember the AX GT. I remember them sounding like a half-empty toolbox falling down a concrete stairwell. I vividly remember climbing out of one feeling like I’d been in that toolbox during its descent. I like the idea of its lightnessand va-va-voom (sorry, Thierry and Renault). I like most of all that there is at least one which has survived unmolested all these years.

    Reply
    • October 16, 2010
      MajorGav

      Rich, in a short sentence you’ve delivered one of the funniest things I’ve read, but also one of the most poignant things I’ve read in ages. Thank you.

      Reply
  2. October 17, 2010
    autos citroen » Citroën AX GT: Le boîte de grenouilles « PetrolBlog

    […] More here:  Citroën AX GT: Le boîte de grenouilles « PetrolBlog […]

    Reply
  3. December 15, 2010
    Andy

    Your car looks in fantastic condition. You don’t see many of these around at all these days. I did use my Sister in laws for a couple of weeks many years ago and I must admit I was hesitant and a bit embarrassed at first, but I loved driving it, the performance and handling was great on the little thing. It reminded me of the Metro she had before it, that thing was like a go kart with a Metro body shell on. So much fun.

    Reply
    • December 15, 2010
      MajorGav

      Thanks. Sadly I haven’t been out in it for over a month now. Either too busy with press cars or snowed in! Planning a drive and blog update this weekend. An unlikely hero as you alude to! 😉

      Reply
  4. December 18, 2010
    Barney

    I am in Ireland and owned a few AX GTs.

    Havnt had one since 2005.

    I am looking to buy one again for a bit of fun.

    If anyone knows of one for sale please let me know.

    Reply
  5. January 27, 2011
    Alex

    Hi
    Great article, thanks a lot it was fun to read and very accurate.
    I am French and lived in Germany and now in Ireland and I took the car over to Ireland.

    I had a Citroen AX GT Grey metallic with the same alloys as you have on the pictures , it was built in 1992 I had it until December 2009 when a Irish driver didn’t looked where he was going and crashed in me.

    That day we where 5 people in the car driving on the M50 around dublin and at 90km/h (55miles/h) having a accident is quite impressive and thanks to my good reaction the car “survived” with us but was considered a total because the cost of repair would be to high.

    I had it town back to the place I live and checked it , it is still drivable but the frame is bend and the front has no cooling anymore but the engine works.

    I had the original leather seats , central locking with IR remote, electric windows.

    Everything was original except of the radio.

    I bought the car in Germany in 2006 for 200€ it was standing on a outside parking for 2 years with grass on the roof but it was working.

    Just needed tires , and all the renewals , timing belt, oil , spark plugs, filters and battery and nothing else.

    After a year I had a breaking oil leak and that was the only major issue.

    I drove it for 3 years across Germany, Netherlands, Belgium , France and Ireland.
    And in 3 years I did 36000Km
    The Max speed I could achieve was 190km/h (118Miles/h).

    After the crash I took a Irish car with the very expensive insurance and tax on top but I chose a junk because such a incident makes you think if it is worth to have something you like destroyed because of others and pay a expensive new car is nothing I would ever do.
    I will go back to France find an other AX and surely because it is a great car.

    Alex

    Reply
    • January 27, 2011
      MajorGav

      Thanks for comments! You’ve certainly got some good AX-related stories to tell!

      I’m currently using mine as a daily driver and I don’t think I’d rather be driving around in anything else right now. It is so engaging to drive and economical too, which helps with the current petrol prices in the UK!

      Not sure I’d necessarily want to be hit in one though!

      Let me know when you head back to France to buy one. You know it makes sense!

      Reply
      • November 6, 2011
        Alex

        Hi

        I couldn’t remember the website that’s why I reply only now.

        Thanks for your comment.

        I am still in Ireland and since there are not many AX over here so I found a Peugeot 106 Diesel (1527cc) which looks like crap. 🙂

        Dent , scratches everywhere and dull paint, the previous owner didn’t or did took care of it.

        I say this because it has 190 000 Miles. (about 320 000 KM)

        I installed my leather seats from the AX and the front fits perfectly , the screw holes are exactly at the same placed as in the AX.
        I just have a problem with the back seats because they are different.

        In the city only traffic I use 6.3L/100km that is only 1 full tank per month for me. (40 Liters/ month)

        And since the 106 is somehow related to the AX it’s a good replacement.

        I am driving it since a few month now and had no issues.

        Once I go back to France I will look out for a good AX Diesel and I am sure the consumption will be as low as from the 106.

        Alex

        Reply
  6. April 6, 2011
    martin

    i still have an AX GT that i bought in 2001 and is my second ax, its no longer used everyday as it has been heavily modified for track use, but i miss the fun factor of just jumping in it and going for a drive on some country roads
    such an underated car

    martin

    Reply
    • April 6, 2011
      MajorGav

      Sounds good. Any pics?

      Mine decided to have a hissy fit last night. Lost all drive despite the engine ticking over. Will investigate at the weekend…

      Reply
  7. June 17, 2011
    MajorGav

    Excellent Mike! This can now officially be classed as a meet!

    Reply
  8. June 18, 2011
    Andrew Elphick

    Major Gav, I’ve had three AX’s and only destroyed two of them. Your right, try not crash in them!

    The first one (M299UHJ) I bought new aged 19 – a spree diesel in tropical violet no less , I *may* have subsequently shoved under 40 tonnes of stationary 8 wheeler. Even more annoyingly, the surgical stainless steel content of my right knee NEVER sets off airport metal detectors anymore. I distinctly remember the gear stick wedged against the heater controls. It was in fourth. Anyway they gave me a new vert one (M919XHJ) as a replacement, and months later I got to drive it!

    A few years later a pleasant member of saga took the entire passenger side out, apparently he never knew it was a one way street….. so apart from a flirtation with an XM, I kept Citroën-less until about ten years later when a friend of mine sold me an AX GT in silver, which surprisingly I never destroyed. I sold it back to him last year, never really mentioning quite how many times I got all four wheels airborne over a local hump back bridge . I believe it has celebrity owner now (I forget who, but he certainly isn’t a PR for Ferrari).

    If your feet are small enough (this does explain the lack of “panda” liveried ones I suppose) get one while you can, a fabulous little rocket; Major Gav enjoy yours in good health!

    Reply
    • June 18, 2011
      MajorGav

      Thanks for commenting Andrew. All in all you have rather bittersweet memories of the AX. In truth, it is probably quite amazing that you’re still around to tell the tale. We should be thankful for that.

      As for the silver GT, that’s now on it’s second celebrity owner. You must have sold it to Mr Keith Adams?!

      Sadly, my feet are a little too big for the pedals, but it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment. I love mine and assuming I can keep the rot and some kind of catastrophic failure at bay, it will be a ‘keeper’.

      Reply
      • June 18, 2011
        Andrew Elphick

        Yep that’s right, bought it off him, sold it back to him. I presume the new owner knows this is the AX “boomerang” law?

        Reply
        • June 18, 2011
          MajorGav

          Ha! Be interesting to see what ‘the new owner’ does with it. Slightly different to his usual choice of motors.

          Reply
  9. December 19, 2011
    joe hurrell

    Gav, my names Joe (ruperts pal) and fellow Ax Gt fanatic!! After recieving his text alerting me to a few pictures and the story, ‘days like these’ i had to log on and take a peep. I can not understand how i never knew about this site previously its so good and i am hooked.

    As for your Ax it is looking good and i am proud to see those alloys are still going strong, i did a painstaking hand refurb on them years ago. Then when i sold my last Ax Gt in 2005 i retained them and passed them on to Rupert 3 years later, we had owned several and knew all the tricks of the trade to make them look right. I would imagine you have seen it but just incase it has passed you by check my video which is on you tube called ‘Joe ax gt’ It was made by a friend in 2006 and features one of my best examples which sadly like so many has been written off now.

    Keep up the great work and its so good to know there are still many chaps out there flying the flag for the rare 80’s hatchbacks!! Joe

    Reply
    • December 19, 2011
      MajorGav

      Thanks for stopping by, Joe. What kept you so long!?

      Seriously, of course I’ve seen your YouTube video – it’s just about the only decent AX GT video on there!

      You’ve done an amazing job on the alloys – they’re forever being commented on. Excellent work sir.

      Although the AX is currently locked away for the winter, look out for fresh content in the new year. Hopefully she’ll be better than ever.

      Reply
  10. December 21, 2011
    Rupert McDonald

    I’m so glad the AX GT is still in your fleet Gav, perfect partner for that Saab! Joe- we gotta get another and whip out that drill attachment again… I’ve still got a shabby set of wheels in my shed (from G962THW)!

    Reply
  11. August 26, 2012
    roadwax

    Your article and this thread says so much about the AX GT. It was the last of the ‘old-school’ super-minis. No power steering, just chubby tyres, a chic interior and an engine and chassis that said “Go!”

    The AX GT was a knowing and final salute by Citroen to the whole ‘Ajax’ range (yes – yet another Citroen pun – Ajax is pronounced “ayax” in French. Take a close look at the Asterix cartoon strip and get with the humour!). Citroen knew that the GT was as far as one could go -as close as any mainstream manufacturer could get – to offering a mass-production go-kart with a stereo.

    Your gloves-off, featherweight AX GT can be seen as marking the turning point at which the motor insurance industry declared “Enough. From now on, the future for superminis is style and safety, not BHP and biceps. This road is hereby closed down for good.”

    The AX GT was the last stripped-down city racer that grinned up at you and said: “Are You Experienced…?”

    Reply

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