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New Basic Citroen

A source of some embarrassment, not only to Citroen but also to Peugeot on whose 104 it is based, the new LN is the sort of mix of components that they said would not happen . The Technical Editor describes its features and wonders where it fits in.

Taking Peugeot’s smallest car and replacing its engine with the famous Citroen flat-twin may not seem the most logical way of beefing up one’s challenge at the bottom end of the market. Yet the Citroen LN, apparently intended for France only, could teach a valuable lesson.

Small size of Peugeot 104 Coupe, and therefore of Citroen LN as seen here, comes about by derivation from Peugeot 104 saloon. Coupe is 6.5in. shorter in wheelbase and 11 in. shorter overall, thanks to abbreviated tail

THE FULL story of the Citroen LN is not easy to run to earth. Peugeot disclaim all knowledge, because it is a Citroen: yet from the outside, the LN is to all intents and purposes a Peugeot 104 Coupe with Citroen badges. Citroen themselves took the unique step of introducing the LN by way of a story in their excellent and widely-read house magazine, and have little to add when pressed for details.
The stance is defensive. When Peugeot and Citroen merged, great stress was laid on the continuing product independence of the two names. Yet here we have a Peugeot with a Citroen engine, the very sort of cocktail we were told not to expect.

Citroen-prepared cutaway shows how much of Peugeot running gear has been retained. Only the engine and gearbox come from Citroen - the engine from the Dyane 6 and the gearbox from the GS, with a floor gearchange rather than the facia handle of the other small cars. Engine is installed ahead of the front axle line: a good deal of space is taken up by trunking for cooling air

According to the Citroen story, the LN is unique in the way it has been put together. It was something of a panic programme, the result of (I quote) “the need to supply customers and the network with a model to strengthen Citroen’s position at the lower end of the market."
On the face of it, this is not convincing logic. Citroen already had three models with flat-twin, 602 c.c. engines: the 2CV6, the Dyane 6 and the Ami 8. Did they really need yet another – unless sales of these earlier models were failing? Such a conclusion comes as a surprise to those who thought Citroen’s weak point was and always had been a yawning gap between their lower and upper models, the lack of a 1_6-litre competitor for the Renault 16.
The LN can in no way be considered a replacement for the 2CV, Ami or Dyane. It is much too small. The Peugeot 104 Coupe whose body it uses is a truncated little beast with scant legroom in the back. It is a neat and nippy driver’s car, as anyone will know who has tried to complete with a well-driven Peugeot ZS, in Paris traffic. But the same car with the Peugeot four-cylinder engine replaced by Citroen’s famous air-cooled flat twin? In a way, it might have made more sense as a base car for the Peugeot range, since the existing 104s tend to be undercut by the Renault 5. None the less, it is to be a Citroen, assembled at Citroen’s Aulnay factory alongside the CX. One can question the logic of it and the motives behind it, but in the end the LN will prove itself - or fail – in the market place. If it wins extra sales for Citroen, if it weans buyers from the VW Polo, the Fiat 127 or the Mini, one imagines its makers will be well pleased.

Bonnet-open view shows little of the new engine installation, emphasing how low down the engine is mounted. As in Peugeot 104, spare wheel lives under bonnet to make more room at back. Note the new headlamps, grille and Citroen badge
Facia design is a hybrid of Peugeot and Citroen parts, with the instrument binnacle borrowed from the 104 saloons. Gearchange and centre console are typically Citroen. Centre panel contains thrid fresh air inlet. Single-spoke steering wheel is ultimate Citroen trademark.

The grafting process

One of the avowed aims of the LN programme was to produce a new model within two years, for a minimum investment. Thus the design team elected to use the well-tried 104 chassis and body and to transplant into it the legendary flat-twin in its most powerful (32 bhp) form. Such a transplant must have been easy enough although there would not have been as much room to spare as you might imagine. The Citroen engine is mechanically compact, but one has to take into account its massive cooling fan and ducting. In the LN the engine is mounted low and well forward, ahead of the front axle line. As in the original Peugeot 104, the spare wheel is tucked in beneath the bonnet.
The Citroen GS gearbox is used, rather than that from the 2CV/Ami series. Its higher internal ratios compensate for the smaller wheels (13in. rather than 15in.) and enable a sensible final drive ratio of 4.375 to be used. Overall gearing works out at 12.7 mph per 1,000 rpm in top, compared with the 13.2 of the Dyane 6. It would seem, therefore, that the LN has been deliberately undergeared - until one compares weights and finds it is 230lb heavier than the Dyane. On the other hand it is much lower geared than the Peugeot 104, as well as being nearly a hundredweight lighter. Where acceleration is concerned, this should go some way to making up the power deficit which is, in any case, not too bad: the LN has 32 bhp, the 1977-standard 104 has 44.5 bhp.
Although the all-alloy Peugeot engine is very light, the little Citroen power unit is lighter still and one might expect the LN to handle better than the 104, since it will have less of a front-end weight bias. However, the principal appeal of the LN is bound to be its economy. The claimed figure of 47.8 mpg at a steady 56 mph (90 kph) gives some clue as to what may be expected. Like the other flat-twin Citroens, it should give an overall 40 mpg with any reasonable kind of driving, and 50 mpg to anyone with a light right foot.
The Peugeot 104 Coupe (like the saloons from the coming model year) is a hatchback design, so the LN inherits a good sales point with which to match its “mini” rivals. Citroen’s pictures show the back seat divided in two, each half folding individually. To judge by the pictures, the upholstery is on the thin side, though well shaped except that the back seat is too upright. What the pictures carefully avoid showing is the cramped kneeroom in the back. Even so, there is plenty of space for two children (or even three, since despite its division, the back seat forms a routine-looking bench) with the advantage of the hatchback and the convertible load space.
It is quite clear even from a first look at the LN that it moves some way from the Citroen tradition. If it succeeds, we (and Citroen) may take it to mean that the market is moving away from the strictly utilitarian - the ZCV and its roomy but singular derivatives – towards the smart, the compact, still versatile but in the modern idiom. Presumably the dealer network will be at pains to avoid any suggestion of a sales war between the LN and the 2CV/Dyane, but the outcome will be interesting and not just for Citroen/Peugeot. Much will of course depend on the price which has yet to be announced: the LN will not be shown in public until the Paris Show early in October.
One advantage of the LN concept is that, since investment has been kept to a minimum, the model can be quietly phased out if it does not achieve its targets. There can be no doubt that Citroen does have (and indeed, had in 1974) a direct replacement for the 2CV/Dyane/Ami on the stocks, which we might well see in 1978. Since the LN is to be built at Aulnay rather than one of the older Citroen plants, its production in no way cuts across the traditional models. On the other hand the Peugeot half of the organization would like to see it succeed, because it promises greatly to reduce the unit cost of the 104 by increasing demand for the body shell, suspension, brakes and steering.
From a marketing point of view, the LN may well be a puzzling car, perhaps almost deliberately so. But its progress in the next year or two should hold lessons not only for the top ranks of Peugeot/Citroen management, but for many others.

©1976 Autocar/ 2011 Citroënët