Cars may only take you from A to B, but some are more stylish than others. Hugh Pearman reminisces about the classic Citroën CX and says the original is the best
Readers of this column know that I’m no petrol head. Cars bore me, but there’s one, which turns up in my street from time to time, which I gaze at fondly and want to pat. It’s an old, silver Citroën CX Familiale – that’s the vast, stretched, inflated station-wagon version, or ‘Break’ as the French would sometimes call it.
Designed in the early 1970s, with three rows of seats – long before the days of MPVs – this space shuttle of a vehicle was so roomy and smooth-riding that, in France, it was frequently adapted as an ambulance, though it looked more like someone’s idea of a 21st century hearse. They also made excellent mobile camera platforms, and some film equipment companies still hang on to them to this day. One was even converted into a cinema for a 1997 video-art installation.
When the Financial Times first set up a European edition in 1979, it needed vehicles to carry the ‘flongs’ – spongy paper moulds of hot-metal typeset pages, from which the curved printing plates for rotary presses were made – between London and Frankfurt. The FT wanted to appear high-speed and super-advanced, so it chose a fleet of specially-modified CXs, with six wheels instead of four. No doubt, it used those now-defunct big, noisy hovercrafts to zip across the Channel and on to the autobahns. How quaint it seems now – yesterday’s literal idea of the information superhighway.
Despite such priceless publicity, the CX has taken longer than most cars to achieve cult status. This is for two reasons. First, because it replaced the irreplaceable, uniquely loved DS, which stunned the world in the mid-1950s and went on stunning it for two decades. And, second, because CXs were over-complex, badly-built heaps of trouble, which broke down constantly and rusted almost as fast as Britain’s rival Rover SD1, which was even worse.
However, by the time production ceased in 1990, the bugs were mostly fixed. Too late for Citroën, of course, which went bankrupt, was bought up by Peugeot and was forbidden to produce any more such bonkers cars.
And this is why the CX is now attracting the attention of collectors. Citroën’s latest attempt at a big flagship car, the C6, is one of those nostalgic vehicles that harks back to a mythic past. In this rose-tinted retro vision, the CX’s faults are forgotten: it is remembered as a great, no-compromise car. Certainly, nobody ever denied that – in saloon version, at least – it looked great. So the styling cues of the C6 are very much taken from the CX period, just as Ford’s Jags and Astons like to scrabble back to the glory years of the brands.
This official sanctioning of a financially disastrous period of Citroën history cheers the hearts of collectors, who discover the hard way that old Citroëns never accrue much value. The increasingly rare survivors will then become a bit more valuable, at last.
Ho hum. Look, everyone – if the CX was so great and its shape so timeless, why not re-introduce it? This time, with durable metal, reliable mechanicals, eco-engines, and all the usual state-of-the-art gizmos?
Of course, they won’t do that – the motor industry does new, and it does retro, but it can very seldom get its head around re-issues. Which is why the out-of-pocket owners of the real thing scent a gold rush.
I should make the CX owner down the road an offer. But somehow I know I won’t.