Every week Jeff Glucker of this parish is privileged to drive shiny new deep-waxed cars of significance; he undoubtedly has Hooniverse’s headline gig.
As soon as the keys are handed over the maker knows they have nowhere to hide. Reputations are forged based on the reviewers opinions, and often their instincts. How many of us rushed straight down to the Chevy Dealer with wheelbarrows full of benjamins as soon as we read Jeff ZL1 review? Yes, all of us. And that was based on the opinion of one guy who likes cars and knows a reasonable amount about them. Chevrolet are grinning all the way to the bank.
It’s always interesting to see exactly what the firms had to say about their own products when they were hawking them. We obviously remember what we choose to, but what did they want us to think? We start the ball rolling with the enigmatic Citroën XM, and a launch brochure from 1989.
EVERYBODY KNOWS AND LOVES THE XM. Phaqt. You’re all “car people”, so you all know about the XM, even though the Big Frenchie was never a common sight on American roads unless you lived next door to CXAuto. When launched in ’89 the XM was a bit of an alien in an obese European “Executive” sector. Here was a somewhat stagnant marketplace where individual thought was a somewhat thinly-spread commodity.
At a time where Germany was starting to get the upper hand as more and more E34s and W124s were hitting the road, normal executive cars were in ready supply from Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Rover et al, and there was even a violently charismatic Alfa 164 or a nice turbo-boosted Saab 9000 to thrust you along, it took considerable balls or sheer recklessness to pump your thirty grand into a Citroën.
But what a car. Citroën had a well-deserved reputation for eccentricity and that was in full effect in the XM, which looked decidedly as if it had arrived early from the near future. It had dramatic styling, dramatic engineering (and dramatic depreciation as the dozens of owners would later discover) and at the top of the list of technical wonders was the latest evolution of the Citroën hydropneumatic suspension system. It was famed and feared for its complexity, but delivered terrific ride quality and addressed many of the stability questions raised by its CX predecessor.
Citroën went much further, though, in enbiggening their wondrous technology, taking things into full-scale fantasy:
“…It’s not simply the XM’s ability to switch from limousine to Sports Car that puts it way ahead of any other car on the road. It’s the way in which this is achieved: instantly, with no ‘transitional’ mode. The driver experiences an extraordinary sensation of control, unaware of the changes taking place.”
What we have there is a half-truth. It would be a misled man who could possibly think that his XM was a 944-beater. But never mind that, in Citroëns determination to pursue this expensive and unconventional technology, there is much to admire. Unfortunately, before very long rivals were able to achieve comparable levels of smoothness without straying too far from bendy bits of metal in the age-approved way, and this XM trump-card became irrelevant when people convinced themselves that they wanted Nurburgring handling rather than hovercraft smoothness.
Almost as brave was the styling. A paper dart profile developed from the same schematics as the BX several years ago, XM looked like nothing else on the road with its flush glazing, multiple-quarterlights and glazed panel between the taillights.
“…But perhaps the most striking feature of the XM’s style is designer Nuncio Bertone’s dramatic ‘Belt of light’.”
Well said. In a dark colour the XM looked terrific in the right lighting conditions and many of my schoolboy sketches were influenced by it in no small part. I would like to also give special mention to those original alloy wheels seen on early V6 models, which score a solid 8.6/10 on my peculiar design-o-meter.
At launch many a respected journo commented ruefully on how conventional the interior was. Well, yes; compared to the “must drive under influence of LSD in order to understand what’s going on” cockpit of the CX, the XM certainly seemed to be playing by the rules. But in hindsight a big, black edifice with green liquid-crystal displays either side of the wheel, a profusion of buttons and a one-spoke steering wheel, was still trippy as hell for anyone weaned on Teutonism.
And still there was cleverness in the mix:
“…Citroën’s innovative designers have also overcome one of the inherent problems of a five-door car: that of keeping occupants in a warm and quiet environment when the rear hatch is opened. On Si and SEi models, Citroen have introduced a full-width glass screen between the rear seat and the hatchback which keeps out unpleasant draughts and noise when the hatch is opened”
This is one of my favourite features of the XM, and one that survived the gradual de-loonification that the car suffered over its eleven year production run, by the end of which sales had virtually dried up and the world was left with absolutely no hatstand French offering until the surrealist C6 arrived in 2004.
As is the case with most of my brochures, the paper promotional item has outlived most of the actual cars it was supposed to publicise. XMs are a rare sight these days, though survivors tend to be well kept by enthusiasts. Having never been seen as particularly aspirational they never suffered the fate that BMWs tend to, where the third or fourth owners tend to run them on a budget and end up killing them.
And if I never own one, well, at least I have the brochure.
<Disclaimer:- All photos taken by the author are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the posession of the manufacturer, whether they want them or not>