The French hot hatchback isn’t long for this world. The country that has so consistently entertained us with rorty engines and lift-off oversteer is turning its back on the category, suffocated by taxation.
Hot hatches, by virtue of their giant-killing performance, are not the most frugal of small cars. The French tax system penalises cars with high CO2 emissions with hefty taxes at the point of sale, in amounts far greater than the few hundred quid you might pay with the UK’s VED system. And adding thousands to the cost of cars designed to be affordable makes them no longer viable.
Citroën’s past offerings are often overlooked in favour of Renaults and Peugeots. Perhaps it’s because it went out with a whimper when peppy versions of the C2 shuffled off into the sunset. They never quite reached the success of the Saxo VTR and VTS, nor the brio of the AX GT and GTi before them.
There’s a Citroën hatch that is often forgotten though, and that’s the Visa. Citroën’s equivalent to the 205 offered nearly as many hot models as its Peugeot cousin, including the GT, the GTi, 1981’s Trophée homologation special, the barmy four-wheel drive Mille Pistes, and the car you see here: the Visa Chrono.
Another homologation special designed to satisfy Group B regulations, the Chrono followed the Trophée in 1982, but swapped its 1219cc engine for a 1360cc XY motor from the GT – similar to that used in early 205 XS models. In the Chrono it also received a pair of two-barrel Solex carbs, for a useful 92bhp.
As you can see, they were also hard to miss. Chronos were defined by their riveted extended wheel arches, Cibie foglamps and those vivid decals. The latter were specially colour-coded to the markets in which the car was sold, which marks out this Chrono for sale through Leboncoin as a prodigal Italian car.
The €17,800 price made us spurt tea all over our keyboard, but it likely reflects the Chrono’s rarity; there can’t be many left of the 3760 examples produced for the European market. Plus, this one looks to be in pretty good condition, with just over 45,000km (28,000 miles) on the clock and apparently pristine bodywork.
The interior is quite something too; the Chrono’s dash, carpets, special bucket seats and rear bench are all blue, and a three-spoke steering wheel was standard too. The car also packed more instruments in its gauge cluster than cooking Visas, making your weekly jaunt to Carrefour feel like a stage of the Monte Carlo Rally.
No doubt everything rattles a bit – Visas were not known for their timeless construction – but that’s part of the charm, and justified in part by a 850kg kerbweight. Citroën has in recent years returned to its old tenets of passenger comfort and quirky features, but we suspect it’ll never return to the joy of a flyweight hot hatch like the Citroën Visa Chrono.