Dream cars tend to garner the most attention. Posters adorning bedroom walls show beautifully shot supercars, glistening in some tantalisingly exotic location. As pieces of art, the desirability is undeniable but sadly so few of us ever get the chance to experience the genuine article that our brains relegate them to idle daydreams. Attainable dream cars, on the other hand, are a far more fun prospect. Way back in 2009, having passed my test, the object of my desire was the Citroen Saxo VTR.
Back then, the Saxo hatchback was a common sight. Launched in 1996, it became a constant presence in the classifieds as a cheap and cheerful way into hot car ownership. Most were the common or garden varieties, but for me, there were only two that held my affection: the VTR and the VTS models, developing 100bhp and 120hp respectively. Pocket rockets in the truest sense, and as a newly qualified driver, they couldn’t have seemed more exciting.
My weekly habit of devouring the latest AutoTrader would turn up numerous Saxos which sounded perfect for me, but alas, there was an obstacle in my way – insurance. I was no stranger to high premiums, my bog-standard Fiat Punto costing £2,200 for the first year. The Saxo was out of my reach. The affordability of their performance and a massive aftermarket scene had pushed the price of insurance sky-high.
Skipping forward 12 years, the results on Confused.com are a lot less frightening. With the insurance hurdle now removed, I began to scour the usual places. I stumbled upon a Jaguar specialist advertising a 2001 Saxo VTR for £1,200. Completely standard and unmolested, the condition looked fantastic. At the time, it had around 110,000 miles on the clock, slightly more than I’d bargained for, but I’m no stranger to high milers.
Unfortunately, the country was still under strict lockdown measures at the time. I had a choice – purchase unseen or wait and possibly miss the opportunity. You might have gathered by now that I’m not one to pass up on a car once I’ve set my heart on it, and this was no exception.
The day soon came. I wore a groove into the pavement with my anxious pacing back and forth, eyes on stalks looking for a trailer to round the corner. Being the first time I’ve had a car delivered, coupled with having spent two months under effective house arrest, the excitement was palpable.
Much to my relief, when it arrived, it looked even better than the pictures. Once safely unloaded and parked, I began the inspection. Some paint fade on the roof, minor corrosion on the sills and a suitably throaty exhaust were the only items of note.
Insurance duly sorted and appropriately small shoes donned, I clambered inside and was instantly transported back in time to my teenage years. Everything was just as I hoped. The interior design, the fabrics, the smell and yes, even those infuriating disco lights radiating from the stereo. It was perfect.
Being the lesser VTR variety, my Saxo uses the same 1.6-litre petrol engine as the more powerful VTS, lacking in the valves department with only eight to its big brother’s 16. Thankfully their absence isn’t felt from the hot seat. Eager and animated, it feels as though the whole car is egging you on to drive that little bit faster than you really ought to. Mercifully, and much to the relief of my licence, the sense of speed is far greater than the actual road pace.
Adding to the sense of occasion is a powertrain that goes all the way to 11. Well, close anyway. Clutching the cold metal atop the gearstick and snatching the next gear milliseconds before the 7,000rpm limiter stops play is a joyful way to make progress.
Pit it against even the most lukewarm of modern hatches, and the Saxo will be trailing every time. But unlike contemporary metal, where prodding of the throttle could see you becoming the latest addition to a YouTube Fails compilation, the Saxo allows you to explore and exploit its performance. Thankfully, the chassis encourages you to throw it into the twisty sections and devours them with aplomb.
Now in the second summer of my ownership, there have been a few matters demanding attention. I substituted the budget tyres, opting for Goodyears, a job that drew attention to a niche issue; wheel balancing. The alloys fitted to the Saxo are solid centres, stumping all of my local tyre shops. The nearest place that could do it was around 40 miles away.
The dreaded MOT test threw up some more concerning issues. Rust, of course, was eating into the sills with some ferocity. The brakes were unbalanced and nearing the end of their life. An emissions test exposed a colander-like exhaust system, which had to be consigned to the tip. The headlight reflector was another fail worthy item, but thanks to my friend Dave’s skills (and his oven), it was opened and repaired. He’s also tackling the minibus project, but more on that soon.
So the Citroen Saxo: an icon of the modified car scene, and perhaps overlooked for years because of the image association, is it now the hatchback to have? It certainly embodies a youthful exuberance, delivering the fun factor in spades. The market is unquestionably waking up to its charms, and prices have begun to shoot up. Act now and you can still get a well maintained VTR for between £1,500-£2,500, a VTS costing maybe twice that. Don’t be put off by the former’s power deficit – this doesn’t stop it from being outrageous fun.
If the history of hot hatchbacks is anything to go, then a well bought Saxo should grant hours of entertainment and be effectively depreciation free. That’s the theory anyway – I’ll report back in a few years.
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