Strike up a conversation about French hot hatchbacks and you’ll be waiting a while until the Citroen C2 comes up. Despite offering a few peppy variants over the years, including the VTR, VTS, and GT, the C2 never attracted the same attention as the Saxo that came before it.
And if your pub conversation turns to five-cylinder engines, how long will it be until someone mentions the Volkswagen VR5, marketed as the V5? You’ll inevitably discuss Audi’s inline fives, new and old, perhaps a Volvo or two (or the Focus ST and RS, which used a Volvo motor), and maybe Mercedes or Alfa Romeo’s old five-cylinder diesels.
There’ll always be someone who creates a project car using a forgotten car, or a forgotten engine. But to incorporate both into the same car, like this VR5-engined Citroen C2 currently for sale on eBay, with a five-grand asking price? Now that’s something special.
Volkswagen installed its 2.3-litre VR5 in a handful of cars back in the day. This was the Ferdinand Piech era of the VW Group, where seemingly anything went provided the engineers could make it work, and the engine ultimately found its way under the bonnet of the Golf, Bora, and New Beetle in transverse form, the Passat mounted longitudinally (still powering the front wheels), and also the SEAT Toledo, the Spanish firm’s equivalent of the Bora.
Early versions had two valves per cylinder, with a four-valve head (so 20 valves in total) coming later. Volkswagen badged it V5, but like the brand’s much more widely-known (and widely-used) VR6 engine, the V5 was actually a VR5 in layout, with a single-cylinder head covering the offset banks of two and three cylinders. Modest power outputs (148bh- and later 167), a relative thirst for fuel, and in the modern era its limited tuning potential compared to say, VW’s 1.8-litre 20v turbo four, have probably curtailed its appeal.
The C2 meanwhile was the difficult second album to the Saxo’s breakout hit. The Saxo didn’t have much traditional Citroen spirit to it, with unexciting styling and no real technical intrigue, but based on the Peugeot 106 it always had a great chassis to its name, and the sporty VTR and VTS models arrived at the peak of Max Power pomp, becoming the car to have in the tuning scene for a good few years.
Its successor followed in 2003 and the brand actually made more of an effort from the off, with striking styling, a much funkier interior, and a VTR model from the off. But it was heavier and a bit taller than the Saxo, so didn’t feel quite as racy to drive, and the VTR was initially hobbled by the standard fitment of an automated-manual paddleshift gearbox. In-vogue, but ultimately not that good.
A special-edition GT and then the 16v-engined VTS fixed this, but by the mid-2000s the tuning scene was changing, the competition had got tougher (better to pick up a used Clio 172 than a new C2 VTS), and the C2 just hadn’t generated the same buzz as its predecessor, despite some perfectly decent reviews.
So both engine and car have been largely ignored. But combined, they seem like the work of pure genius. A bargain, too, given how much work seems to have gone into the car. Peer under the bonnet, and details like a carbon fibre airbox or the obvious mismatch between the blue bay and silver paintwork aside, you’d not necessarily know Citroen didn’t put the 170PS variant of the VR5 engine in there itself.
The builder has kept the exterior simple, largely standard save the obvious inclusion of bonnet pins, plastic windows, and suspension lowered over Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 alloys and a set of fairly fresh Nankang NS2Rs. The interior is stripped out, with a half cage, a set of buckets, and some extra dials, but the full list of work included in the listing is as comprehensive as you’d hope.
The one off-putting element is that it’s very much a track-only car, and ultimately it’ll be a bit of a project for the buyer before you can go out on track - the seller has written a short list of bits that need fixing or upgrading too before it’s ready to go.
It’s not a combination we’d ever have thought of ourselves, but we’re glad someone has. And even if you don’t end up buying this C2 VR5 track car yourself, perhaps it’s given you an excuse to check out both the engine and the car individually - because both probably deserve a second chance with enthusiasts.