The Citroën BX 4TC Is The Group B Homologation Special That Its Maker Tried To Erase From History
Photography by Jonathan Harper
It’s a cool, misty autumn evening on a horse farm in central New Jersey. We’re about halfway through photographing this box-fendered French four-door hatchback when a bright light shines up the long driveway and into our faces, followed by the unmistakable red and blue strobes of a police car.
After establishing that the owner of the car and I had permission to be there and were not committing any crimes, the cops swung their Maglite beams onto the Citroën. “So, what is this thing anyway?”
Without wanting to draw too much attention to the fact that this import sat with only a dubious French license plate on the back and no US registration to speak of, owner Chris Allen kept the conversation light to avoid further questioning. Those guys didn’t need to know about our odd duck’s odd history, but you definitely do.
Introduced in the early 1980s as the latest in a long line of family haulers, the Citroën BX in its more pedestrian forms enjoyed over a decade of production from 1982 to 1994, while this, the 4TC variant, is by far the least pedestrian version of the BX—it was meant to race against the titans of rally sport. The glory days of the unrestricted Group B-governed WRC were in full effect in the mid 1980s, and Citroën wanted in on the action.
Beyond the high-flying, flame-throwing antics of some of our favorite Group B rally cars, this short-lived and infamous era of the sport seeped into the streets as well. In order to enter the competition, a certain number of road-going versions of the race cars were required to be produced and offered to the public. There are plenty of stories about the “creative” counting done by the companies building these homologation specials, and in this case Citroën was required to build 200 street-legal BX 4TCs. This is one of them.
Compared to the base model BX, the BX 4TC race car had a longer nose than the standard body in order to accommodate a longitudinally mounted overhead cam four-cylinder motor derived from Chrysler Simca lineage. In the fashion of the day, the car also had a wider track with bumped out, boxy bodywork to match—note the deep recess allowing access to the rear door handles.
And because this is a Citroën, of course it wafted along on a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension. That sounds like a lot of good things to add to a street car, but even in full race trim it unfortunately did not add up to a very potent competitor in the WRC, primarily due to the car being overweight in comparison to some of the more lithe and nimble machines like the Peugeot 205 T16. With a best result of sixth place in the 1986 Swedish Rally, and the ultimate demise of Group B as a series later that year, the 4TC was quickly deemed obsolete.
This is where the story gets a bit murky. It has been widely reported that Citroën was so embarrassed by the poor showing of the 4TC that they attempted to buy back and destroy every remaining example. After all, it was a car that really never had a chance of winning in a series that was banned for excessive loss of life. In other words, it was not the best approach to developing a positive brand image.
In an attempt to verify this information, I reached out to Citroën’s PR department and was met with, predictably, no results. It is telling, though, that neither the 4TC nor any Group B involvement is mentioned anywhere on the official racing history section of Citroën’s website. Yet despite what seem to be the company’s best efforts to stamp these cars out of existence, as of 2009 there were said to be six surviving examples in private ownership according to Jay Auger, editor of Rally Group B Shrine.
But let’s get back to this example in front of us. After the cops let us be, I put Chris on the spot to answer some questions about what it’s like owning and driving one of the weirdest rally cars from one of the best eras of racing the world has ever seen.
Have you always been interested in Citroëns?
I really had very little interest in Citroën cars until I saw a diesel CX in person. Seeing and experiencing firsthand the insane styling and hydropneumatic suspension really piqued my interest.
Besides the 4TC, have you owned any other Citroën cars?
Yes, I currently own a ’91 XM and an ’88 BX 16-valve.
And what led you to the BX 4TC in particular?
The BX 4TC gets very little love in the rally world. I’ve always been drawn to underdog cars, and especially competition cars. Everybody knows the Audi Sport Quattro, the Ford RS200, the Peugeot 205 T16, the 037, the Delta S4. You see them in practically every Group B highlight reel. When I discovered that Citroën made a Group B car that was so awful and uncompetitive that they tried to buy them back to crush them? I knew I had to have one.
What’s been your favorite experience with the car so far?
I took it out for some mad skids in the snow just after delivery. How could I resist? It may not have been a stage winner, but it still pirouettes around in a snowy parking lot just fine.
What are your favorite aspects of the performance of this car?
Performance isn’t exactly the strong point of this car. At the end of the day it’s a nose-heavy, front-wheel drive pig until you engage the archaic 4WD system, and then it really bucks around and starts fighting with itself. That’s why I love it. It’s charming and interesting in the exact opposite way that a new performance car is.
How do other people react to it?
I brought the car to Radwood Philly last year and it was a real showstopper. The factory rally lights in the grill, coupled with the fender flares, graphics, and the low stance make it a big hit with the 1980s crowd. And even if it’s among people that don’t care for such things, it will still induce its fair share of questions.
Do you ever autocross or track it? If not, would you consider it?
I’ve never been much of an auto-crosser, and I don’t think the car would be particularly good at it anyway, so I doubt it will be attacking any parking lot cone courses while I own it. I’ve certainly taken it out for a burn in the snow a few times during the winter, though. Its 4WD system doesn’t have a center diff so it really only functions well on a loose surface when it there isn’t enough friction for the axles to fight each other. It wouldn’t make a great track car, but if the lakes in New York freeze this winter I will strongly consider ice racing it at least once.
Do you have any plans to modify the car?
No, I am trying to keep it as stock as possible. It’s pretty modded from the factory I would say.
Has anyone else in your family owned Citroën cars?
I was raised hearing nothing but bad things about French cars. My father especially spoke very poorly of them, and during my childhood I was in total agreement until that day seeing the CX. Eventually I bought my first XM, really just to see the look of disapproval on my father’s face!
How does this car make you feel?
Like I wish I was Sébastien Loeb…
Can you talk a little bit about the history of this car? What makes it special?
As you know, Citroën was very late to the game of Group B. They took a standard BX and threw most of it away. A Simca engine and a modified gearbox from an SM were fitted. The nose is significantly longer than a standard BX, and the engine is mounted quite high up. To qualify for Group B they were required to build 200 road-going homologation cars, and from what I’ve read they built somewhere around 110 cars, of which only about 80 were ever sold. After only participating in three WRC events and managing a best finish of sixth in Sweden, the car never did much else of note, and then the FIA pulled the plug on Group B later that year.
Citroën was not happy with the car’s performance, and they attempted to purchase back as many of these street examples as possible. Numbers vary depending on the source, but somewhere between 30 and 60 cars were left afterwards, of which three are in the USA, including mine, serial number 69. It makes me happy to have something this unique that also in a way defies its maker.
The provenance of this car is incredibly unique. It’s far from a champion, but how many other cars are like this one? It’s a sort of “parts bin special” from one of the most interesting and innovative car brands in the world, and it was built to compete in the wildest era of rallying that we’re likely to ever see.