Citroën AX GT: La boîte de grenouilles

Major Waffle 80s cars Citroën
A Citroen AX GT arrives as PetrolBlog's latest long termer.

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