Hail the (French) Spirit of Youth!

Cars

Strip away the guff, the fat, the decoration, the ego-toys, idiot-gadgets, marketing widgets, the extras, the unnecessary; leave only what is essential. Only then, unadulterated and pure, will you come close to a true experience, the experience of owning, of driving, of living.

I’m ‘driving’ a modern, grown-up’s car. I’m wrapped in protective acronyms: ABS, DSP, EBD, ESP… I’m cosseted by moron-technology, anesthetised by invisible safety systems, wrapped in a hidden duvet of sound-deadening. Yet my soul is seeping out through the Dual Electronic Automatic Climate Control system.

Suddenly, as I approach the local college, a flash of vibrancy darts past me: two beaming smiles from inside a silver Peugeot 106 Quiky and I watch in my Self-Dimming Rear View Mirror as it skits with flighty excitement around the roundabout I don’t recall just navigating (because of my Intelligent Heliomagnetic Dampers).

106

Before my car gets me to my home – which is pre-programmed into the MMI GPS – I pass a red Citroen Saxo VTS and watch the giddy joy of it’s occupants, enjoying the thrills of car ownership and the visceral ‘feeling’ of real driving. Feeling? Is feeling something you get from heated-seats or the pressure on your forefinger as you apply the Electromechanical Handbrake.

No it isn’t. If I recall, it was what I felt when my first car – a Vauxhall Viva 1300 GLS (with black vinyl roof) – lifted off around a corner because I had no idea how to pilot a rear-wheel drive. That was a feeling. As was the tension as you build up momentum on a downhill just to overtake a lorry a mile in the distance. Proper driving. But today, if ever there was a better car than a Saxo or 106 to enter the slipway of motoring life, I can’t think of one. When the PSA Peugeot Citroen group refreshed its 106 pocket-hatch in 1996 and launched the Saxo off the same platform, the ripples travelled far and wide crossing gender and class boundaries and leaving an indelible mark on a generation of fortunate youth.

saxo_1

Once my carputer delivered me home, fetched my slippers and put the kettle on, I hit the forums on 106owners.co.uk and saxperience.co.uk to see what I was missing out on, having never owned a Saxo or series II 106. The uber helpful and friendly folk inhabiting these two forums gave me an education:

Ari33 // Peugeot 106 1.6 GTI

“The 106 GTI in standard form is probably the best value-for-money hot hatch you can buy. Its list of accolades are huge: being voted the 2nd best handling car in the world on Top Gear by rally legend Richard Burns and touring car pro Tim Harvey in 1998 – beaten only by the Ferrari 575 Maranello! Although not particularly powerful in comparison to the modern hot hatches, its low weight (950kg) gives it a power-to-weight ratio that enables it to punch far above its status. It’s one of a very few Front Wheel Drive cars gifted with what’s been described as the perfect FWD chassis balance: you can steer it on the throttle and, in the hands of an experienced and skilled driver, use its lift-off oversteer to provoke the rear end to drift out in a perfectly controllable fashion. What a chassis!”

Well put Mr Ari33. It seems there’s a lot to be learnt from owning these cars. Where a modern car might improve your IT skills (just to find the heater controls), the brilliant featherweight French hatches seem to be rolling universities offering a bachelors degree in the school of life. Here’s the curriculum:

//PHYSICS//

Ari33 // Peugeot 106 1.6 GTI
“With a skilled driver on a twisty country road the 106 GTI can hold its own against just about anything. It’s a real drivers car. Very involving. It feels like it wants you to hustle it. Once familiar with the chassis and its abilities you always know what it’s doing, how close you are to the grip thresholds and even the power steering provides very good feedback. I’ve never driven a car in the same price range that offers as much driver involvement.”

Steviee90 // Saxo VTR
“They handle brilliantly. The VTR/VTS can really teach you how to drive as they’re sportier and you need to learn a bit more about driving if you have one.”

Jonny-R // Peugeot 106 Zest
“Affordable, raw, French fun. Handling can be improved easily giving a lightweight hot hatch that is easy and fairly predictable to chuck around with just a hint of lift off oversteer to keep you on your toes. The engines all perform well for their size, wanting to be worked hard through country lanes where it performs best.”

Fidge // Saxo Desire
“Great fun to drive, easy to handle, likes going round the twisties.”

MrHouston // modified 1.0 Saxo
“It handles like a go-kart. What more could a young lad want?”

106_2

MECHANICS

Jaytee // Saxo VTR
“They’re a brilliant first car as they’re fairly easy to fix if they go wrong and you learn about the various mechanical and general maintenance jobs that go along with owning a car. Before I had one I had no mechanical knowledge at all. Now I feel I could do various jobs on my car myself.”

Jonny-R // Peugeot 106 Zest
“Working on them is reminiscent of playing with Meccano: everything is so easy to bolt on and off. The scope for setting your car up exactly how you want it to perform is endless with so many aftermarket parts. When things break, which is a given, the abundance of cheap parts means you’re not off the road for long and is all part of the fun.”

Hazmanscoop // 106 Quiksilver
The simplicity of the car is what makes it so good. I was a biker before and worked on them but I had no clue about cars. The Pug likes to break now and again which I’ve never seen as a bad thing but another chance to learn something new.”

Nij // 106 Rallye
“One of the last cars the ‘average Joe’ can tinker with.”

SOCIAL POLITICS

Goodall3518 // Saxo VTS
“The vast amount of modifications available means it’s easy to inject some individualism and make your mark. But the best reason is the fact it brings people together in such clubs as Saxperience.”

Cj_99 // Saxo Furio
“The huge amount of knowledge that is out there helped me make my decision, always knowing that someone will know what the problem is as most people will have encountered it. Only downside is the perception that people still have about the Saxo, i.e. ‘Chavs’ and the endemic Mcdonalds car park culture. I never go there in my Saxo because all I get is grief.”

ECONOMICS

Ferg // Saxo VTS
“Cheap to buy; cheap to run; cheap to repair; cheap to insure… Bang for buck, you can’t buy a lot quicker for the money.”

Adamski // Saxo VTR
“A high fun-per-pound ratio. The VTR was pretty specced out compared to other cars for the money. And InFlux was one of the best things about being insured with Adrian Flux!”
[Shucks – thanks Adamski]

saxo_21

ART & DESIGN
Djflipsaxo // Saxo Furio
“The first saxo I ever bought was a VTS simply because it looked so good (and was quick). Being a young lady I wanted a small car and this was ideal.”

Peugeot_maniac // 106 XR
What I love most about the 106 is its modesty and it’s practicality. It can be a simple stylish family car or a finely-tuned beast. In some cases it can be both.

Chris91 // Saxo Desire
“The Saxo is one of the easiest to modify. This is what young drivers look for in a car. I know people think drivers in Saxos are boyracers but it’s not about that at all. The Saxo is simply a really fun, nippy and good looking car to own.”

Shortstuff // 106 Quiksilver
“At first I was after a Renault Clio but after seeing a 106 Quiky I fell in love with them; they look so good, especially with the GTi kit.”

Nj106 // 106 Rallye
“Because one day I was walking out of the school gates and saw a Bianca White Series II 106 Rallye roll past and when my mates pointed at the car saying ‘Wow – that’s amazing!’, my mind was set. That’s enough to make anyone want a 106.”

HUMANTIES

Sax-oli // Saxo VTR
“Even old people like them as they’re easy to park!”

LVC_VTR // Saxo VTR
“Saxo = sexo! Except when you’re broken down on the M25 (dont publish that bit though)! [Don’t worry, LVC, mum’s the word.]

STR18 // 106 Rallye
“The girls have a ‘thing’ for a sexy S2 106.”

ETHICS

Mikol // Peugeot 106 XL
It’s not a Corsa!

There you have it. It’s no surprise Adrian Flux insured 14,673 Saxos and 106s last year. So assuming you had a few grand in the bank (Hah!), should you trade in a ten-year old Citroen Saxo or Peugeot 106, take up the government’s scrappage scheme offer, and swap for a brand new, hi-tech, environmentally friendly modern car? I don’t think so.

I’ll let forum bum ‘Jazz’ have the final word on these frisky French featherweights: “they simply capture the spirit of youth.”

By Rich Beach

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