When your name is Citroën, you can’t help but risk the bizarre, as its history shows. Entering the fold of Peugeot in 1976, the Chevrons have nevertheless tried to stay in line and for 25 years, they have almost succeeded, with cars sometimes without form like the C5.
But when we chase the natural, it comes back galloping horses that hide under the hood. The result appeared in 2003, with an extraterrestrial device: the C3 Pluriel. Finally, the brand had rediscovered the never-before-seen taste, a taste it had for designing its icons, from the Traction to the SM and the DS.
Five cars in one
Is comparing the C3 Pluriel to such masterpieces a tad provocative? She risks, of course, seeing the door of the Pantheon of the automobile close violently on its hood. On the other hand, the beautiful idea that guided its design was unprecedented at that time, and it has remained unique to this day, because this Pluriel, as its name suggests, combines five cars in one: a four-seater convertible. , a spider for two, a pick-up, a coupe and a convertible, based on the city car C3.
This funny idea for a funny car was born at the end of the nineties when all the manufacturers are going crazy for small convertibles that are not too expensive. Peugeot is working on the 206 CC and Citroën, the other brand in the group, would also like to have a funny little car.
Donato Coco, designer of the house, takes the matter in hand. And not with just anyone: Giorgietto Giugiaro. However, the boss of Ital Design does not supervise the project from start to finish and acts more as a consultant. Matra is also interested in the case, with the aim of manufacturing the machine, as he did at the time with the Renault Espace. This choral design led, in 1999, to the presentation of a concept car and, in 2003, to the production model, manufactured at Citroën in Spain, and not at Matra.
Did this multitude of fairies who bent over their cradle harm the C3 Pluriel? In any case, none of them seemed to consider the practical aspects of the machine. As long as you just open the canvas roof of the car slightly, no worries. You can even lower the top to the level of the trunk without too much trouble, provided you agree to lose a large part of the trunk. We drive in a car of the “discoverable” type, as Fiat offers with its 500, or Porsche with its 911 Targa, all proportions and large price difference kept. But it gets complicated when you want to discover it fully.
In convertible mode, the shower is guaranteed
Its designers had a brilliant idea, or rather a false good idea: to make the arches, on each side of the car when it is discovered, completely removable. They attach to the front on the edge of the windshield and to the rear above the lights and can be removed in a jiffy … or almost. This is because they measure nearly 1.70 m and weigh 14 kg each. It was therefore impossible to fit them into the car. The result: the two rooms stay at home and the driver and his passengers enjoy the good weather and the convertible without them. Until the first downpour. Because in this case, everyone is trapped: without arches, impossible to take shelter under the hood, since without them, there is no question of closing it and the shower is guaranteed.
In addition, the interior of the Pluriel is not that of the Citroën Mehari which is plastic, fully washable and designed for rain, with a water drain, like a sink. The C3, on the other hand, has the classic interior of the sedan from which it is derived, with its cloth seats and electronics. So many elements that hate to be soaked.
This nasty flaw, the brand’s managers obviously had in mind when inviting journalists to the tests of the machine, in this spring of 2003. The course is set for Andalusia, one of the driest regions of ‘Europe, just to avoid disappointment. But there are days when the sky is not on the side of the French auto industry and strings have fallen on a group of journalists who, on returning from testing, were soaked like soup, or rather, like a gazpacho.
A discoverable without the rigidity of the discoverables
To prevent the occupants from showering, and to prevent the convertible car from turning into an infinity pool, we can keep the hoops and transform the car into a convertible, make it a false convertible in short, and close the top at the first grain.
Except that a real discoverable car has a big advantage: its arches contribute to its rigidity. Not the arches of the Plural, since they are removable. Designed like a convertible, its chassis is reinforced, like its doors, heavy as anvils. The car, a little less livable than a C3 sedan, gained 130kg. A stiffening which nevertheless remains imperfect. By adding its increased mass, the car is not the most agile, especially with its engines (gasoline and diesel) of 70 small horses. You have to go through the 1.6 l petrol version of 110 hp to have a minimum of dynamism.
Despite all its major flaws, the C3 Pluriel has enjoyed an honorable career. In 7 years of marketing, from 2003 to 2010, it has sold nearly 110,000 copies. Obviously, compared to the 206 CC and its 700,000 copies, it is not really a success, and it will not experience any descendants. But we are far from the announced flop.
Beauty is imperfect
Despite its arches which we do not know what to do with, despite its safe weight, despite its rather anemic engines, the curious Swiss Army knife has seduced, and continues to seduce on occasion. But which fly has stung its buyers? Are they nostalgic for the Meccano toys of their childhood and are they eager to dismantle and reassemble the heavy and cumbersome arches? Unless, and this is much more likely, these Pluriel enthusiasts appreciate one of Citroën’s latest real stylistic and technical innovations. A perfectly useless car, and all the more charming, as no one dares to produce any more. Does she have any flaws? So what. These are the ages that we know that beauty is never synonymous with perfection.