Through the late ’90s and early ’00s, a new breed of wild looking, wilder sounding, and absolutely spectacular to watch WRC rally machines emerged. The established 4WD order was threatened, if only for a fleeting moment, by a slew of front-wheel drive rally weapons.
On dry European tarmac, the might of Toyota, Subaru, Ford and Mitsubishi were blown into oblivion by a seemingly exclusive French onslaught. They wore Maxi and Kit Car within their names, and helped cement the iconic stature of a very specific era of the sport.
The category was F2, and the players were all legendary. The Peugeot 306 in the hands of Gilles Panizzi and François Delecour, banging the gloriously unique wooden gear knob in the constant battle to find grip and traction. Renault had the Megane and Clio, Citroën with the ZX and Xsara, while Seat campaigned the Ibiza. This bygone era is one I adore.
These cars stirred up passions and ruffled feathers. Works drivers were left perturbed as they sat off rally leads, instead playing second fiddle to these spell-binding Formula 2 cars. Panizzi may arguably have won Corsica 1997 in a 306 Maxi had it not been for a poor tyre choice in the rain, yet two years later Philippe Bugalski claimed back-to-back WRC victories in Catalunya and Corsica. It was behind the wheel of a Citroën, this time the Xsara Kit Car, and the starting point of what would eventually become a decade-long dominance of world rallying.
Buoyed by the excitement of the 2-litre cars, regulations emerged in 2000 detailing an exciting new entry-level series for the WRC. Super 1600 (S1600) was to be the stepping stone for a whole new generation of talent, all learning their craft from behind the wheels of high-revving FWD rockets.
To understand the significance of the Citroën Saxo in S1600, it pays to look at how the French team operated in 2001. Already with WRC event victories in 1999 in the F2 Xsara, and watching on as sister company Peugeot battled towards claiming the 2000 driver and manufacturer titles, the development of a second PSA Group World Rally Car stalled.
In mid-2000, it seemed the Xsara WRC concept was destined to languish in a French carpark as a reminder of unfulfilled promise, yet a year later the team made its tentative first competitive appearances. Like the FWD version before it, the new car won nearly straight out of the box, but the real interest in 2001 was in the S1600 class.
Catalunya played host to the Junior WRC opener, and 23 brand new buzzing Super 1600s crossed the start ramp. With number 53 upon his door, a young French man by the name of Sébastien Loeb blitzed the field. Truth be told, he blitzed the whole season – from six events, he won five. The one dropped score? He was busy finishing second overall in his first event in the Xsara WRC.
The Rebuild Of Chassis #514
Loeb and Citroën went on to rewrite the record books, not only claiming nine driver titles and eight manufacturer titles, but adding five JWRC victories too. For all that though, there was a second works-entered Citroën Saxo S1600 in Catalunya.
Cyril Henny and Aurore Brand wheeled chassis #514 out onto the start line the same weekend in 2001, and it was the subsequent 19-year history, of both huge lows and massive highs, that recently led me through the shutter door of Red Hill Motorsport.
As you’ve likely sussed from the first look around the workshop, Dave Hunt does not do things by half, and he most definitely loves French machinery. The tale of the fall and subsequent rise of his Saxo is one of the most involved builds I think may ever have been documented through a build thread. The lengths to get to this point are nothing short of spectacular.
After Cyril Henny sold the car following a couple of non-finishes in 2001, the Saxo passed through a few more owners. It spent a time in Italy, Belgium and France, before making its way to Ireland in 2004.
Over the next few years, the car made sporadic appearances, before a huge accident in 2008 saw it stripped of its parts and the bare shell sat atop some racking. It was going to take someone properly mad to take on this project. You remember Dave, right?
In mid-2015, upon discovering the dusty remains of the sorry-looking Saxo, the project began in earnest.
The initial stages were devoted solely to the tedious task of essentially rebuilding and replacing large sections of bent metal. The complete front end was skilfully cutout and replaced; chassis legs, front scuttles and panels all required attention too. Then there were the rear quarters, which were previously damaged on on the 2003 Targa Florio when the car hit a cliff face. The mediocre repair work from that accident definitely needed rectification.
By late 2015, things took an exciting turn for Dave. The search for parts led to the owners of the Saxo that had received many of the salvageable pieces from chassis #514, and an initial call about body panels and an engine ended in a full car and van-load of spares arriving back to the Red Hill workshop.
What an incredible opportunity to not only rebuild the chassis, but to reunite many of the original components exactly as they left Citroën Sport in 2001.
Sat here now, five years later, the Saxo is fully restored to original specification. The swollen arches and big spoiler grabbed my attention first, but under the skin a potent-but-subtle Citroën Saxo VTS base car has been beefed up to become a full works-built terrier.
Presented in tarmac specification, the 17-inch Citroën Sport wheels from OZ Racing fill nearly the entirety of the arches. Designed to cope with nearly 240bhp being sent through the front wheels, everything here is bespoke parts developed internally within PSA.
The massive amount of R&D invested into the design is clear. As an example, the front driveshafts are replaced through the centre of the hub, with the main retaining nut being the same diameter as the wheel studs. No need for precious time to be used up in service changing spanners or impact gun.
The huge brakes, 330mm in diameter on the front end, are again one-off Citroën Sport items developed with Alcon. Given the speed that this 240bhp/950kg car can bang up through its Sadev 6-speed sequential transmission, it’s essential that the stopping power suffices.
Under the bonnet, things are dominated by the stunning TU5J race engine. Peak torque from this naturally aspirated 1,587cc unit comes at 7,000rpm, while peak power arrives 8,500rpm. A set of Jenvey throttle bodies keep air flowing at these ferocious speeds and are fed by a Red Hill Motorsport carbon air box designed as an exact recreation of the factory unit. The level of detail extends to the affixed label, an exact replica of the one fitted when the car was brand new.
Inside, things are naturally like a race car, but it’s only when you get up close to a factory-designed machine that you get a chance to see the smaller touches.
The standard dash has been embellished with exquisite carbon panels that slot into gaps that would likely have been crudely redesigned by others. The handle-like gear lever is rather unique, but it would feel somewhat less French without it.
For all the massive effort to complete the restoration to day one spec, this is still an active competition car in Dave’s hands. As such, small sacrifices are needed, such as modern seats and harnesses, but naturally only a pair of Citroën Sport items from ATech and some red Sabelt belts are employed for the job.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the Saxo is complete. It’s been returned to its true glory, and is available to be taken out and enjoyed as the other projects, namely Dave’s Peugeot 106 Maxi and Renault 5 Turbo, take shape.
But, as is the case, things are always being evolved. Spare parts supply for such a rare machine is naturally difficult, so the latest departure is the re-engineering of critical components, including driveshafts, to allow for the almost self-creation of a spares package.
Citroën Saxo VTS S1600 chassis #514 has definitely lived one hell of a life – from factory race car to collecting dust on a shelf – but in the hands of Dave Hunt it has been given another chance. All old rally cars deserve this chance.
As values begin to soar and deals get done, it’s pretty clear to see that a whole generation of special stage machinery are being afforded the massive amount of effort and time required to preserve them for the future. I absolutely love it.
And, for anyone who wants to see every single detail of the rebuild, set aside quite a while and enjoy. Also, don’t forget to check out dieseldave_ on Instagram for all the latest on his crazy projects.