I was preparing for this week’s Carchive post and, unlike the chaotic bookcase landslide that led me to contemplate which stylish production car had the most disappointing interior, The Carchive remained neat and tidy and I found my target Citroen Pluriel brochure with very little fuss and bother.
But before I filleted, scrutinised and chronicled the publicity matter I had been looking for, my train of thought was derailed by the realisation that this was a car the likes of which could never conceivably make it into production today. In fact, that it was offered for sale in actual showrooms is still one of the more implausible notions of the 21st century motoring scene so far.
And it begs the question: Of all the cars that have been green-lit for production since roads were a thing, what’s the most baffling?
Just to get y’all in the mood, a little back story on the Pluriel. We’ll go into more detail when we all sit around the Hooniverse campfire and sing songs from the brochure this time next week. For now, all you need to know is that 1999 brought a concept car called the Pluriel, and 2003 brought a production car…. called the Pluriel.
It’s fair to say that, in 1999, Citroen was rather struggling for an identity. The cars it sold at the time — the Citroen Saxo (close cousin to the Peugeot 106), the Citroen Xsara (pretty much a Peugeot 306 under the skin) and the Xsara Picasso (a hideous extension of the Xsara that almost had two planes of symmetry) were perfectly alright, but didn’t exactly shout “Spirit of Citroen”. To be fair, the Xantia and XM were still around, but appealed on something of an intellectual level, as opposed to appealing in a way that actually sold cars.
What Citroen needed was a return to its ‘fun, expressive’ routes, and a versatile convertible for fun in the sun would be just the ticket. In fact, giving it a roll-back canvas roof could channel the bare-bones, essential nature of the Citroen 2CV and its marginally less puritanical sister, Dyane. So, a concept was concocted, as was the name Pluriel — a portmanteau of the words Plural, for the multiplicity of ways the car could be used, and Muriel, for my Aunt who lives in a retirement apartment in Frinton-on-Sea.
Perhaps Citroen was really panicked by the appearance of youth-magnets like the ‘New’ Beetle and the ‘New’ MINI. At some point between ’99 and ’01, somebody in the boardroom sighed, exhaled and muttered “I suppose we could build the Pluriel”. The old concept sketches were fished out of a filing cabinet and the most insane of its details trimmed off — we lost the bizarre ribbed surface that disfigured one side and the roofline was made considerably more sensible. It was deflated for production, too: while the concept had bits of Citroen Berlingo van underpinning it, the production model would act as a prelude to the far smaller Citroen C3 that was lined up to replace the Saxo.
What did make it to production, though, is the overall concept of a four-seat car with a roll-back canvas roof, which could be made into a fully open-top car (or even a ‘spider pickup’ when the rear seats were folded down) by removing the longitudinal rails and rearmost pillars — without recourse to the hydraulic jaws of life. Yes, plein air motoring was a Pluriel speciality, but only among those truly confident in the day’s forecast: take those rails and pillars away and car ain’t got no roof at all.
So there we have it. As I say, there’ll be a more regimented critique on the Pluriel in a Carchive post soon. Right now we’re just concentrating on the fact that the thing existed at all. But that was my choice in the Parthenon of cars that happened but probably shouldn’t have.
(Press images courtesy Citroen)