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Mère Peugeot’s Citroen

Citroen’s gap-filling international Visa described
By Michael Scarlett

Autocar w/e 30 September 1978

Above: the lines of the Visa are unmistakably Gallic, with a short, steeply sloping bonnet. This is the flat twin Citroen-engined version

NO OTHER European nation buys so few of its competitors' cars, which is as it should be for the country which originated the word chauvinist. European Economic Community or no, France remains the most individual of the voices of Europe. In more than merely official and l’Académie française circles the French resist the pollution of their tongue by other languages especially English and American to the point perhaps of appearing sometimes to be unaware of English.

Right: The front, third crankshaft bearing is cantilevered ahead of the camshaft drive gear. The pistons run direct in the aluminium cylinder barrels which are plastic coated. One ignition triggering "slug" can be seen in the cutaway section at the top of the flywheel

Below: on the Citroen-engined Visa the engine is cantilvered ahead of the transmission, with the steering rack placed well back behind the suspension arm. The fuel tank is located beneath the luggage area floor.

That seemed to be confirmed back in May when the first leaks about the new Citroen occurred; was it really to be called the VD? We gather that there was genuine embarrassment on the quai André Citroen when the difficulty was explained. French jokes may be French, but never coarse. The designation was simply an internal factory/design office one - like ADO 88 or W123 or C7 perhaps, esoteric code names which are bandied about only by the company - and every industry and technical journalist? Well yes - but the more acceptable word Visa was quickly put about as the car's suitably international name.
For, perhaps contrary in some ways to both French chauvinism and Citroen individualism, the Citroen Visa is intended to be an international car and it continues the apparent trend in Citroen babies towards less dominance by the Citroen parent. It still looks like its Citroen father - it couldn't help that with such a papa - but mère Peugeot shows up when you look at the children's legs and feet and indeed heart in the case of the elder brother. There are essentially two cars based on an air-cooled twin which is very much a Citroen unit and a four which is Peugeot’s water-cooled 104 engine. The twin powers two models, the 4CV Visa Special and Club, and the four the top version the 5CV Visa Super.
The French taxation horsepower figures mark the Visa's place in the Citroen range, filling the considerable gap between the 2CV/Dyane and the much larger GS. From tyre contact patches to floor pan it is virtually a Peugeot 104, with very nearly the same wheelbases - the plural will be explained later - and track and 5in. extra length. That puts its nominally 97 1/2in. wheelbase 1 1/4in. bigger than the 2CV and 1 1/4in. shorter than the GS and its 12ft 2 1/4in. overall length very much shorter than both – 5 1/2in. less than the sprawly 2CV and nearly 17in. less than the considerable 13ft 6in. of the GS. Dimensionally the Visa is something of a revolution in Citroens since it is the only four-door car they make which even distantly follows Issigonis' precepts of compactness as Peugeot had done before with the 104. Forgetting the curious little LN which is really a two-door Peugeot again Citroens have always sprawled, even the 2CV.
To put it into international perspective, the Visa has near enough the same wheelbase as the Austin Allegro and the Fiat 128 but is roughly 6in. shorter than both. No details of interior space were to hand as this was written but since Citroen who have never been anything like as niggardly about space inside as most other makers (again, lssigonis/BL honourably excepted), say that the car is "exceptionally spacious for a car of its class" one can assume that the job has been done properly with regard for all occupants.

New air-cooled twin

The smaller of the two front-wheel-drive engines marks the appearance of what may be the largest possible stretch of the 2CV power unit. It is of course a flat twin horizontally opposed with pushrod operated "overhead" valves but there are several interesting differences.
The capacity has been increased from the 2CV6's 602 c.c. (74 x 70mm bore and stroke) to 652 c.c. by increasing the bore to 77 mm; that is done by doing away with the usual cast iron liner and cutting each bore directly in its aluminium alloy barrel. The bores are coated with a silicon-based compound called "nicasil" originally developed for the Citroen Comotor Wankel engine as a wear-resistant lining for the trochoid surface. Like several other questions arising from the limited information so far available from France we hope to learn how the coating is applied during a coming chance to drive the Visa abroad. The compression ratio is higher at 9-to-1 so that power goes up by a no doubt useful 38 per cent from 26 to 36 bhp at the same 5500 rpm. This represents noticeably higher tuning; the 2CV6 unit is delivering only a modest 43 bhp/litre while the Visa 4CV is working at 55 bhp/litre. Torque increases from 305 lb. ft. to 38 lb. ft. at the same 3500 rpm a 24 per cent increase; cam profiles are special designed to ensure good low speed torque. To cope with the extra power it would seem that the crankcase must have been changed since the crankshaft now sits in three instead of two bearings which is claimed to reduce noise and vibration greatly. Most interesting of the twin's features is its genuine entirely electronic ignition developed by the French electronic company Thomson in collaboration with Citroen.

Again only general details are to hand. Referring to the illustration of the components of the system two proximity detectors (2) (perhaps Hall effect transistor type) arranged at 10 and 45 deg before top dead centre detect the passing of a metallic slug (1) fixed in the flywheel delivering timing pulses to a computer (4). A vacuum-sensing transducer (3) attached to the inlet manifold side of the carburettor supplies the computer with an indication of engine load. The circuit is completed by the coil (5) ignition switch (7) and battery (8).
The two proximity detector positions correspond to the extremes of the ignition timing required - static advance (10deg) and maximum advance (45deg). Taking engine load and speed into consideration the computer works out when the spark impulse should be delivered for all conditions between these two extremes to the coil which does its usual job of amplifying the primary current to the necessary l5 or so kV secondary output.
Besides the obvious advantages of no mechanical ignition parts to wear and therefore no need for any adjustments Citroen point out that this system provides a constant shape advance curve throughout the engine’s life and one which is ideally suited to the engine so that it has improved fuel consumption exhaust pollution low speed torque and acceleration. They also claim that the higher plug voltage improves cold starting even with a partly discharged battery. The minimum cranking speed needed for successful ignition is 20 rpm. It is said that plug life is improved too. For the transmission Citroen borrow from the GS rather than from the 2CV presumably in search of the more modern box's greater torque/weight capacity better refinement and more conventional gearchange - although the linkage to the remote control looks rather 2CV-ish. Ratios are specially chosen to suit the new application with overall gearing set at 13.16 mph per lOOO rpm which corresponds to 72 mph at peak power speed.

Peugeot 104 four-cylinder engine

The Visa Super uses the four-cylinder light-alloy single ohc transverse engine and transmission of the Peugeot 104 which is produced at Douvrin by the Société Française de Mecanique with modifications to gear ratios and cooling to suit the Visa. There appear to be no surprises here - no electronic ignition and no mention of any measures to improve the unit's now well-known failing of unacceptably high gear noise. With one size larger wheels than the Special and Club - 145-13in. instead of 135-13in. - and a higher overall ratio the Super is geared at 1728 mph per 1000 rpm giving 108 mph at the engine's peak power. Citroen claim a top speed of only 89 mph which indicates that fourth gear is a true overdrive.
It is the more compact proportions of the 104 transverse arrangement compared with the longitudinal spread of the traditional Citroen fore-and-aft twin layout that account for the fact that there is a difference of 1/2in in the wheelbases of the two basic cars. The 4CV Special and Club models have the longer wheelbase to avoid the intrusion of the transmission into the passenger compartment.

Suspension and steering

Another Citroen-versus-Peugeot confrontation occurs in the steering of the two types. Both are rack and pinion - a Citroen feature since prewar days of traction avant Light 15 and so on - but that on the Super is a slightly higher-ratio'd Peugeot arrangement where the smaller-engined cars have a Citroen-designed set-up. The narrower section tyres on the 4CV allow it a slightly tighter turning circle -for a front-wheel drive car an excellent 3Oft 6in. is claimed between kerbs (6in. larger for the 5CV). Suspension is Peugeot 104 sorry Citroen LN suitably adapted in rates and so on to the new application - MacPherson strut in front with an anti-roll bar and trailing arm behind. Brakes use LN drums at the back and a new Citroen-designed disc type in front.

Body and interior design

Mergers may have trimmed Citroen's design team into continuing further along the path of group rationalisation - they themselves put it another way saying that "the Visa is an example of what can be achieved by a design office which is determined to express the true personality of its marque while using the full resources of a large industrial group." But you can't keep a Citroen draughtsman down when it comes to ideas about control ergonomics. CX philosophies reappear at the predictably single-spoke steering wheel with the familiar effort to group almost all controls needed whilst driving close to the wheel. The most striking item is a set of switches and warning lamps arranged on and in a cylinder which being set tangentially to the wheel rim lies at an angle. Not surprisingly Citroen dub it "the satellite"; its three parts carry (top) wipers and washer controls signalling and horn (middle) and lamps master switch dipswitch and flashing (lower). Heating and ventilation are controlled from the right. Other switches are provided across the middle of the control "column" and each side of the steering wheel hub - a typically Citroen layout.
Large sensible trays with easy wide-open access are there below the facia in contrast to the GS and there are what look like generous heating and ventilation outlets suggesting that one can demist side windows. The tall quite well raked square proportions of the windscreen once again permit the manufacturer to get away with one large centrally pivoted wiper arm. Unlike the GS the rear hatch opens to leave a sill whose lip is 29in. above the ground. The rear seat back is of course one that can be folded out of the way for maximum load carrying. The inconvenience of the sill when compared with the GS's beautifully clear lip-less low load floor is compensated for by the obvious saving in weight (due to the stiffening effect of the sill panel) and the very much more practical bumpering at the back. One would imagine that a rear end dent in the GS's centre bumper which is part of the door can be quite expensive; the design of the Visa's integral-with-body thermoplastic-on-metal-former bumpering looks like a reaction to GS experience especially as it is claimed to remain undamaged in parking-speed collisions at up to about 2 1/2 mph. The body shape itself looks as good aerodynamically as one could hope for on such a short tall car. Apparently Citroen engineers admit that they are not very pleased with a drag coefficient not much better than the 104 body; an improvement from around 0.44 to 0.41 is suspected.
Overall an interesting departure for this most interesting of all passenger-carrying car makers. It looks and sounds very much like the work of a precocious wilful child curbed carefully by an intelligent sensible mother the child making the best of things when showing what he has done by talking bravely of how "this approach to the creation of a new car design while allowing a considerably shorter gestation period ensures that the vehicle will be reliable from the moment of its launching." That's what mère Peugeot told him to say and the maddening thing is that the old spoilsport's probably right.

Above: Peugeot-engined versions of the Visa can be distinguished by the rubbing strake along the sides and different wheel trims

Above: the location of the switch panel can be clearly seen with the instruments in a separate cowling

Below: Despite the Visa's small size, rear seat leg room appears to be generous

The drum-shaped switch panel for indicators lamps and horn is on the left with heater controls on the other side. Figures 1 2 4 and 7 are fresh air inlets with No. 3 the control for the centre vent. Figs 6 and 8 are controls for heater flow direction and fan with ashtray (5) and a further fresh air vent (7) between
ENGINE Special/Club Super
Cylinders 2, opposed 4, in line
Cooling Air Water
Bore/stroke mm 77 / 70 72 / 69
Capacity, c.c. 652 1124
Compression ratio 9.0 9.2
Max. power/rpm (DIN) 36 / 5500 57 / 6520
Max. torque/rpm (DIN) 38 / 3500 59 / 3000

Ratio/mph per 1000 rpm
1st 4.54 / 3.32 3.88 / 4.64
2nd 2.50 / 6.04 2.29 / 7.84
3rd 1.64 / 9.19 1.50 / 11.99
4th 1.14 / 13.16 1.04 / 17.28
Reverse 4.18 / 3.61 3.56 / 5.05
Final drive ratio 4.125 to 1 3.563 to 1
TYRES 135-13 Michelin XZX 145-13 Michelin XZX
STEERING Rack & pinion Rack & pinion
Steering ratio 19.3 to 1 18.38 to 1
Turning circle (walls) 32ft 4in 32ft 5in
Turning circle (kerbs) 30ft 6in 31ft 0in

Length (in/mm) 146.5 / 3721 146.5 / 3721
Width 59.5 / 1511 60.5 / 1537
Wheelbase 95.3 / 2419 95.3 / 2419
Height 55.5 / 1410 55.8 / 1417
Track front 50.8 / 1289 50.8 / 1289
Track rear 48.8 / 1238 48.8 / 1238

Kerb 1621 1764

400m 21.9 sec 19.9 sec
1000m 41.8 sec 37.6 sec
0-62 mph 26.2 sec 16.6 sec
Maximum Speed 77 mph 89 mph
CONSUMPTION (Official figures)
Steady 56 mph 49.6 mpg 45.6 mpg
Steady 75 mph - 33.6 mpg
Urban driving 37.2 mpg 33.6 mpg
Tank capacity 8.8 gall (40 litres) 8.8 gall (40 litres)

©1978 Autocar/2011 Citroënët