25-Year-Rule French Delicacies: 1995 Citroën C15 vs 1995 Peugeot 306

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Good morning, Autopians, and happy Friday to you all! Today we’re lifting our price cap so we can take a look at a couple of French cuties that were once forbidden fruit, but are now old enough for us to enjoy. (That could so easily be misconstrued… You know what I mean.) But before we do, let’s see which one of our survivors lives to fight another day:

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Oldsmobile it is. And when you take ‘er in for service, ask for Shep Proudfoot. I hear he does good work.

Now, it has probably not escaped your attention that we here at the Autopian are fans of some pretty weird cars. And I think it’s safe to say that none of us are fans of the Federal ban on importing cars that are less than 25 years old. We miss out on a whole lot of cool cars because of that ban, but at least a whole new “graduating class” becomes eligible for import each year.

A lot of attention has been focused on Japanese imports, due to the near-mythological status of some of them among gearheads, the lauded Japanese build quality and reliability, and the fact that they’re just plain cool. But a lot of other parts of the world build cars that are worth considering, and are now old enough to enter the US legally. Today we’re going to look at two such cars, both French, and both just as cute as a button (though admittedly not as cute as a Renault Twingo). Let’s take a look.

1995 Citroën C15 – $7,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter diesel inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: In transit, ultimately bound for Lake Oswego, OR

Odometer reading: 91,000 km

Runs/drives? We assume

It seems like most of the attention paid to potential imports focuses on performance cars, and they’re fine, I suppose. But I’ve always been fascinated by the everyday vehicles used in other parts of the world, especially work vehicles, and the tiny vans of Europe are some of the best. These little wonders can be seen zipping around any European city, picking up this, delivering that, doing the day-to-day legwork that makes a city go.

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The Citroën C15 is based on the Visa city car, a tiny 5 door hatchback, in much the same way that the old 2CV Fourgonnette was based on a standard 2CV: hack it off behind the front doors, and stick a big box on the back. It’s an easy way to make a commercial vehicle on the cheap, and it worked for decades: the C15 was produced from 1984-2005.

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This C15 is on its way to the US from Spain, where it only racked up the equivalent of about 60,000 miles. It’s powered by a naturally-aspirated version of the PSA Group’s XUD diesel engine, displacing 1.8 liters. The French seem to know their diesels, so I expect this engine has lots of life left in it. The rest of this little van looks well-kept too, and although you might have to import parts for it, the sheer numbers of these built (1.2 million over the years) should mean spares are available.

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The use cases for a little box-on-wheels that gets 40 miles to the gallon are nearly endless: delivery van, tiny camper, or, hell, just drive it as your car. You could make some epic Costco runs in this thing.


1995 Peugeot 306 – $5,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.9 liter diesel inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Lake Oswego, OR

Odometer reading: 139,000 km

Runs/drives? Yep

Small hatchbacks never caught on in America, but they’ve been the default family car in Europe for decades. We only got the VW Golf over here, with a smattering of Ford Fiestas and an occasional Focus thrown in for seasoning. But Peugeot was well-known for small family hatchbacks for a long time. We heard the legends of fire-breathing Group B rally cars, but the humble little diesels like this one are what made those rally monsters possible, and great.

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Did I say diesel? Yep, this one too. It’s a slightly larger (1.9 liter) and more powerful (70 horsepower) version of the same XUD-series engine. This car should get awesome fuel economy, though it will seem a little pokey to American drivers. Peugeot hatchbacks are renowned for their good handling, however, so it should be a reasonably fun little car to drive.

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It looks like it’s in great condition, and has the equivalent of around 80,000 miles on it. This car is actually in the country already, too, so you can go look at it and test drive it. You won’t win any drag races in it, but you’d be the talk of pretty much any Cars & Coffee. (“Sure, there’s three Gallardos in a row, but is that really a Peugeot 306?“)

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On paper, this car makes no sense, especially for nearly six grand. It’s a 27-year-old economy car that is dirt-common on its home turf. But lots of cars don’t make any sense. That’s no reason not to check them out. It’s going to take exactly the right person to buy this, but that person won’t be able to imagine driving anything else.

Keen eyes will have noticed that these two cars appear to have been imported by the same person. Both were brought over from Spain, and probably bought there for a song. Both say “Oregon license pending,” and I’m not sure exactly what that means. Oregon’s DMV website says that a vehicle from a foreign country can be titled here, as long as US Customs has inspected and cleared it. I would guess that the seller has submitted that paperwork and is waiting for it to come through.

Of course, then you need to get it registered, which here in Oregon requires an emissions test, unless you can convince them that it qualifies for “Specialty Vehicle” plates, which are permanent and don’t need renewal, but limit the vehicle’s use to special occasions. But as a member of my MG club once said, “Every time I drive this car, it’s a special occasion.”

The point is that a 25-year-exemption car isn’t for everyone, even one that is already in the US. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and a lot of red tape to cut. To make it worthwhile, you have to really like the car you’re trying to title and register. Given these two choices, which one will it be?



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70 Responses

  1. If we end up in a Mad Max like posapocalyptic scenario, I’d expect to see people rolling on these Citroëns, they are unkillable. In Europe they are portrayed on several memes, and featured in several videos, from being drifted (‘not really since it’s fwd) to being turned into a proper 4wd.

  2. After a quick bit of internetting I find the average price for these in their native habitat to be $1800 for the van and $0 for the Peugeot. Yes there are several 306 diesels to be had for free!

    1. Not a surprise. As a local that’s about what I would put in either.

      – the C15 is not the metal sheet back model ( read : it has windows ), that’s an hindrance when you want to load with lots of stuff as the glass window will always be more fragile than a single sheet of metal.
      – the C15 has a bench, that’s something specific tied to the fact that it has windows, it was sold as a familly car and not an utility vehicle.

      – everything has been said by rootwyrm on the 306.

      last both cars are basically banned in many city centers now ( due to being diesel and their age they would rank a Crit’Air 5 sticker, which bans them in many places )

      The Renault version of the C15 was called the Express and was R5 based…. as at that time it was not possible for a PSA car to not have it’s Renault counterpart.

    2. Nah, you gotta check the mileage. The low money vans have 300k+ kilometers on them, trashed interiors, and completely worn out drivelines.
      Extremely low mileage examples like this one with no dents, an immaculate interior, and no rust are easily fetching $5k+. Because they’re still excellent work vans. Buyers know they can make money from them.

  3. I was all about the 306 until I heard it was a diesel. And not the good one.

    “Wait, the good one?” Yep. Peugeot built the 306 D-Turbo warm hatch. Took the 306 XS (petrol warm hatch) chassis and suspension, and gave it a diesel with an additional 30HP and 50ft/lbs, roughly. Doesn’t sound like a half bad package at all, does it? Especially considering the 306 is a spritely 2500lbs. “Woah, that does sound… pretty not bad.” No my friends, no it does not.
    But the 306’s you want to hold out for are the S16 and GTi-6. All come with the Peugeot BE3/6 close-ratio manual gearbox, and pack quite a punch. The S16 fits a warmed XU10 making 155HP, and the GTi-6 doesn’t have a 6 cylinder but a 167HP version of the XU10 along with some superb chassis tweaks.
    But this car? This is neither of those. This is a 306, probably an XL. It has an XUD9 making 64HP, as found in the Talbot Horizon, to give you some idea of the misery level. Know how much this car sells for in Europe? About $2000-2500 for an example like this. Because it’s just a basic, zero power, minimal amenity econobox.

    That Citroen C15 would be massively overpriced too then, right? Not so much! Good C15’s are good work trucks, particularly for in-city work. With just 91,000 kilometers on the clock and no rot, that C15 could easily fetch $5000+ in the old world. No, seriously! This C15’s in excellent condition, most buyers would be putting an advertising wrap on it anyway, and customers can’t tell if it’s a 1985 or a 2005 – they didn’t change a thing. They’re the European equivalent of commercial cargo vans.
    I certainly wouldn’t recommend regular highway driving in one. But if you plunk down $7500 for this one, throw a wrap advertising your business on it, and drive it around town? People will notice it, and you will get business from it.

    The double chevron gets my vote today.

    1. I wouldn’t disagree with anything you said here about the hot and warm hatch 306s, especially the D-Turbo, but the “better” models are all collectable classics in their original markets so they’re likely not profitable to sell in a market with such a small group of buyers.
      I can find half a dozen 306s for sale locally to me that are broadly equivalent to the featured car for between £1000 and £2000 (they’re RHD, obvs). Le Bon Coin reveals LOADS of LHD examples for a thousand Euro or so.
      If the marked up price on a fifteen hundred Euro car by the time it’s for sale in the US is nearly six grand USD then a half decent S16 or Rallye would be close to twenty grand retailing it in dollars.
      Going for an S16 or D-Turbo also misses the joy that’s still present in a lower spec, non-performance French hatchback. Ask Chris Harris, he’s got a few Pug 205s and none are the GTi.

      1. Yeah, that’s what I found as well. You got into the €2000 bracket on one of these only because of the mileage and overall condition. It’s just that much better than most of the listed ones on the mainland markets.
        However, don’t do normal logistics math, it doesn’t apply. This is a military member importing their car. Totally different math involved, and orders of magnitude cheaper. Plus shipping cars does NOT cost anywhere near what you think it does. I can do RoRo DtD under $1750 still. So you’d be talking around $1.5-2k profit on this one.

        The problem is also that the 306 isn’t the 205. It isn’t the 305. The 306 really was a piss-poor example of what Peugeot can build except in the S16 and GTi-6 forms, both of which required significant suspension changes. And the GTi-6 even required chassis modifications. If you want the experience of a real French hatchback, the 306 just has never felt like one.
        Besides, from that era? True hot hatch or a 605 for me. Or maybe a US market 505 wagon.

    2. Your reliable technical knowledge aside, I really like your term “warm hatch”…needs to be an autopian standard.

      I guess since we don’t get enough proper hatchbacks here in the states (not counting SUVs I mean), we only know regular and hot varieties of these things.

      Too bad, as there’s something to be said for “I want something more fun beyond basic transportation, but I don’t need to pretend I’m an extra in a Fast and Furious installment.”

        1. More or less nailed it, though I didn’t necessarily read them at the time of release. I thought I coined the term initially and then I was like “… oh. Yeah, it is that kind of obvious isn’t it?” Like the Escort GT (North American one, the Mazda with the BP) is definitely warm hatch at it’s most optimistic. (Fight me. I get to bring a built CVH. Yeah. I thought not.)

          But yeah, the shit the British insurance industry pulled paled in comparison even to the way the chavs drove the things. I mean seriously. You cannot get into half the trouble in these hot hatches that you think you can. Seriously.
          The absolute top speed of the Peugeot 206GTi is a whole 130MPH, which is 7MPH lower than a stock 1985 Dodge Daytona and 27MPH off a Dodge Spirit R/T. But hey, the 206RC made it to… 137MPH with a 7.4s 0-60. On par with a 10 year older Daytona Turbo II and over a second slower than a 10+ year older IROC R/T.
          “Yeah, but what about the 205?! It was way better!!” Er, no. The absolute hottest 205GTi was the 1.9L with a whole 120HP. No, what made these cars hot hatches was that they had truly fantastic handling and braking thanks to light weight, low center of gravity, and excellent design work. That’s why models like the 205STDT (a diesel with the 205GTi’s luxury features and suspension) worked, despite a 0-60 time of over 12 seconds. No, I’m not kidding.

  4. I owned a 1985 Peugeot 505 for a while and it was lovely. Underpowered for sure, but it had style, baby. The seats were some of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced and even though it was beige with brown interior, it turned heads everywhere. The lion rampant (said with a French accent) gets my vote.

    1. Yeah, but the 306 was always a bad car. It didn’t have the comfortable seats. The normal models had extremely poor handling for a Peugeot. It sold well, but ranked near the absolute bottom of every customer satisfaction survey. Even the Daihatsu Charade, Daewoo Lanos, and Hyundai Atoz had better reviews from owners.

  5. “we can take a look at a couple of French cuties that were once forbidden fruit, but are now old enough for us to enjoy”
    … I got into your head with my Wednesday comment, didn’t I? As long as you don’t start referring to one car as the step-sibling of another car, we’re good.

    306 for me, please. I don’t need an ugly van

    1. I think that for the weird import shopper, capability is not always the main concern. I own a Toyota Caldina Wagon and a Honda Today Associe. The Caldina is a great 4WD family hauler, sleek, spacious, and good for interstate travel. The Today is excruciatingly small, has an entirely useless trunk (not even a hatchback – it’s a fold-down opening like on a classic Mini), and does not really enjoy being driven above 65mph with its 48hp. I am sure you can guess which one is used more, which one gets invited to car shows, and which one constantly prompts interactions with other people on the street. It’s not the “good” car…

  6. I’ve owned several Citroens (Ami8, Ami6, 2CV) and more Peugeots (105, 206, 504 and on) and I’d take either, those small non-turbo diesels just run and run, but I’d love a box to shove a bike/dog/camping gear into so the Citroen takes it.

  7. 306. If only for that interior – I really miss fun seat fabrics in basic cars.

    VW was a master at this, but so was GM back in day.

    Mr. Gossin’s rescued Pontiac Sunfire from a little while ago was made so much better by the insane multicolored triangles on the seat fabrics. Pontiac’s advertising at the time claimed “inspired by hang gliding harnesses.” Sure Pontiac, but still, I appreciate the effort.

    Modern boring fabric seats are the equivalent of buying your small economy car in black b/c you think it shows you’re serious. It doesn’t, and you’re just depriving yourself of a little bit of everyday automotive joy.

      1. Yeah, but they have to be careful not to go too far.

        I passed on buying a Kia Soul as my in-town car because I don’t like the name… I would’ve happily debadged the outside, but the seat inserts were made with fabric that said “Soul Soul Soul Soul Soul Soul Soul Soul” from top to bottom. I just can’t get past that, and I wasn’t going to reupholster a brand new car’s seats.

  8. The little Cit kinda grabs me, but I’d feel like a delivery guy for a boulangerie in it. The Pug, on the other hand, would be practical on a couple of counts — size and economy — and I have good memories of driving a couple — a 205 and 306 — while in Europe.

    In any case, either would be much more fun than my current snoozemobile wheels, and if I didn’t have it in my driveway already, I would be tempted to make offers on either.

    It’s a bit of a long haul to my nearest Citroen or Peugeot dealer, though. Or even the closest Foreign Auto Parts store (remember those?). It’d take a minimum of a 205 GTi or equivalent to take the plunge.

  9. I have been hoping to have enough extra money to import a C15 for quite some time. This one is a good spec, as it has a rear seat, windows, and full interior, and comes from largely rust-free Spain. 90% of C15s are just naked vans with panelled sides. They did build a few petrol-engined ones, I think only with the 55-60hp 1124cc engine, but any TU engine should make an easy swap.
    $7,500 includes approximately $2,500 profit for the importer, so you could do this yourself if you don’t mind the hassle and waiting until early next year to drive it.

  10. Why is the 306 doing so well? Where I’m from it’s probably the most popular French car from the 90s I think it out sold the golf. Its a good looking little car. But you don’t want the 1.9 diesel. There were better engines. You could find a nicer cheaper newer one and import it I’m sure. That little van is cool! It’s interesting. It’s different and yes I’m sure it’s extraordinarily slow.

  11. I’d love to putter around in that Citroën. I have seen those little vans being beaten and abused and they just keep going – obviously not as indestructible as a Hilux, but the vast majority I saw were trade vans for Frenchmen who couldn’t give deux caca about a bump, scratch or crater sized dent here and there. The fact that this one has straight bodywork and windows instead of panel sides suggests to me it has lived a much gentler life so far.

    Growing up riding in my uncles 205 GTi, I always felt like the 106, 206, and 306 pugs were a bit disappointing on every front – styling went a bit blah, motors went a bit blah, little old ladies snapped them up in their droves so any ‘cool factor’ went rapidly downhill.

  12. French speaking guy here, the better traduction for shitbox would be “bac à merde”.
    The C15 have got kind of a cult following in France, it’s really the car of the countryside.

  13. C15 all the way baby. The 306 is a good car (my GF has one, it does its job), but the C15 is iconic! It’s THE French rural vehicle (along with the Renault Express).

    These are the shitboxes your farmer uncle has been driving for 25 years, barely changed the oil and the fucker just keeps on trucking. You Americans “need” an F250 to buy some mulch? You’d be blown away by what you see C15s loaded up with. 2×4, furniture, bricks and mortar, live fucking animals… I have even seen people use them as support vehicles at the track, complete with air compressor, spare tires and toolbox!

    So again: go C15 and experience the crazy life from Trifouilly-les-Oies.

    1. In fairness, you hear a lot about the F250s and such, but they’re outnumbered by beat-up old 4 cylinder Ford Rangers and Toyota Tacomas by a large margin when it comes to trucks being used for actual work.

  14. A C15 for me, almost had one as my first car but, especially in van form, my 1m95 (6’3) wouldn’t fit. But still love the simplicity and practicality and especially the high ground clearance. Belgian companies also loved them, the one I was looking to buy was property of Stella Artois. But in France and Spain, it truly is the countryside car of choice, I saw one in 2019 in Spain going through a desert like landscape on a rocky road riddled with so many deep holes and so many sharp stones, even my VW Caddy (although it has some clearance too) and especially the wider tires wouldn’t survive. The C15 just plodded on merrily. The 306 is a fine driving car, but would rather like a 106 (fun !) or a 406 from that period.

  15. Things I would rather import that are 25 years old (up to 1997)
    TVR Chimaera,
    Fiat Uno Turbo,
    Ford Puma (coupe) is fabulous.
    Ford Escort XR3i,
    Ford Sierra RS500,
    Vauxhall Astra GTE
    Lotus Carlton
    MG Maestro Turbo
    Peugeot 106 Rallye
    Peugeot 309 GTi
    Rover Tomcat
    MGZT 260 V8
    VW Corrado VR6
    And of course the LEGENDARY Ford Escort Cosworth

  16. This article caused me to go down a deep, dark rabbit hole. I lived in the UK for a while several years back and loved the little 306s that raced around everywhere out there. Seeing this was the first time I realized they were legal for import. That led to me looking for some stateside, I found a petrol one in Dallas, which is only 4 hours from me, but the seller wasn’t very quick to answer questions, so I started looking at ones still in Europe. I am now in the process of importing a GTI-6 from the UK. And I have you to blame, or thank, or both. I think we’ll go with both.

  17. I’ll take the ugly box thing, I guess. At least it comes with some utility and a few fun possibilities – camper, quirky gyro truck, etc. That 306 is not good for much. If I need shitty A to B transport, I’ll stick with a local model.

  18. I’d take the C15D with the XUD n/a diesel. I used to drive a Peugeot Partner (Citroen Berlingo, the successor of this van) for work, with the same engine.
    It’s very slow, true. For US drivers, it’s hard to imagine just how slow:
    It took like 5 miles and several minutes to hit 80 MPH on full throttle, unladen.
    But they are also very hard to kill.
    Myself and all my other coworkers with very little mechanical sympathy, drove it WOT pretty much all the time on the highways. It’s loud AF, but won’t really rev over 4k.
    It was also the only company truck that always started reliably.
    A typical French cargo vehicle: none of the gauges worked, barely any electronics worked, what plastic parts remained rattled all the time, but it had a comfy seat and always started.
    I loved that thing.
    The newer Partners and Berlingos that came after it with the HDI engines were a lot faster, but less reliable: high pressure pump failures, turbo issues, dual mass flywheel problems, etc.

  19. The cars from the PSA group from this period was horrible to work on. Not the wrenching, but parts.
    They randomly switched suppliers all the time, so when you ordered a part, it was the wrong one for your car. I was gifted a 306 by my sister. It had failed its eu control (tuv. in Norway) and putting that right was not fun. The car itself was great, so i voted for that. The C15 was not good when new, and not good now

  20. I voted Van Blanc because I like tiny trucks. I just wish it was an earlier Visa with the beer can controls. The 306 was a good car but it’s less interesting than a Citroën unless it’s a GTI.
    Quick notes on Oregon registration and emissions. You can register grey imports but cannot register a kei truck. Emissions testing is only in the Portland Metro area and Medford. If you register your vehicle outside those areas you don’t need a DEQ smog test.
    Lake O is a suburb of Portland so needs DEQ, I live in Bend so no DEQ but no money for small French car either. ????

    1. Citröen did actually sell a limited edition Van Rouge and Van Blanc in the U.K. (guess what the colours were) to appeal to independent off-licences and wine merchants who presumably were a significant enough target demographic. As to the cars not sure I want either – not much fun to be had in a base diesel 306 but like a French Chevy Lumina it will run badly forever – although some form of electrical malady will eventually drive you to get rid of it.

  21. You still see tons of C15’s all over France. They’re really an incredible workhorse. If they still made them, people would still buy them. It was the true successor to the 2CV and Renault 4.

  22. The box thing might be the better choice here as it would have room for a Fry Grease tanks and still enough space to gig work for Amazon. But I think the cost of parts when these old things start to really decay will eat someone alive. basically need a French Expat looking to be a delivery dude but has mechanical skills with the weird french/italian designs.

  23. I see no attraction for either. They are 2 French Shitboxes that would meet the Shitbox price in France. Stupide Americanos pay a $1 for a bottle of water and thousands of dollars extra for cars because Perrier.

  24. The C15 is cool and all, but, if memory serves, the 306 should handle with a level of precision and comfort that was a benchmark in its class. The best in town until the 1st gen Focus.
    The Pug is the best all-rounder, as long as you don’t need lots of power.

  25. Why get either of these? Neither are particularly good for anything here in the US. They aren’t all that good looking (Peugeot looks okay but not special). Slow, dirty diesel while diesel is over $6/gallon? There are so many other cheap European cars that you could bring here for this money and have something that is actually fun or at least cute.

    1. ^this. Why would I want french garbage with terrible build quality when for the same money I can buy and import a diesel VW/BMW/Merc diesel awd manual wagon in a good color? Or any number of much better forbidden fruits. these ones weren’t worth pulling out of the Spanish junk yard.

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