1973 Citroen GS Birotor

Never one to back down from a challenge, Citroen decided that they were going to follow NSU’s lead and created a sedan powered by a Wankel rotary engine, which at the time seemed like the right thing to do. That was the genesis of the 1973 Citroen GS Birotor; the engineering department drove millions of miles in testing and development, and  to their credit, did not produce an engine with faulty seals that crapped out after 15,000 miles, like NSU did (and it helped bankrupt them). There were subtle visual differences between the Wankel version and the regular GS, including fatter tires, flaring fenders and on the inside, fancier seats and better carpeting. Critics and customers agreed that the car drove really well, performed admirably and was reliable. So what’s the problem? Try to guess.

1973 Citroen GS Birotor
1973 Citroen GS Birotor

OK, suspense over. The car was introduced in 1973, which coincidentally is also the year of the first major oil crisis, and like all Wankel engines, it had a thirst for gas that could not be quenched, at least not until reaching a consumption figure of AT LEAST 18 mpg, or 16 liters/100 km. Seriously. You can get a full-size, four-wheel drive pickup truck that gets better gas mileage than that. Citroen was so shamed by the situation that they gamely offered to buy back the cars they had sold and scrap them, which means that out of the 847 units built, fewer than 200 survive today, which is a shame because it really was a nice car.

For the record, the bi-rotor Wankel engine in the GS Birotor produced 106 horsepower, and was paired to a three-speed, clutch-less automatic transmission. It was good for a 110 miles per hour top speed, and a 0-60 acceleration in 14 seconds. Unsurprisingly, the 1973 Citroen GS Birotor was the french manufacturer’s last foray in the unforgiving land of the Wankel engine.

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