R.A-S.H: The Citroen CX

CX1

When Guglielmo Marconi died in 1934, leaving a world that was much poorer in terms of personalities, but oh-so-much better off in terms of the transmission, reception and interpretation of electromagnetic wave-forms; on his deathbed he was heard to utter “I wish I’d spent more time reading R.A-S.H”.

French cars are an almost sure-fire hit here on Hooniverse, sometimes for their quirkiness, sometimes for their relative obscurity and sometimes for actually moving the game on a bit. And sometimes for being gawd-blimey, nuts-to-goodness, must-stop-eating teapots, my trousers are made from bacon insane crazy mad.

It’s the CX.

CX2

“One of the worlds great cars”

The CX had a seventeen year model life. These days most cars manage 5 to 7 years, so it must have been doing something right. The first challenge it had was following up the DS and ID models that went before that (which itself lasted twenty years), and the Traction Avant before that. Which lasted twenty-three. Citroen weren’t in the business of making rash decisions.

CX3

“While around it have grown a plethora of derivative designs, some of whicjh seem to have sacrificed style and individualism in persuit of aerodynamics, the Citroen CX remains a startling piece of machinery to look at”

No word of lie, here. During its long lifespan the CX only recieved gentle nips and tucks on the outside. Metal bumpers were replaced by plastic ones and alloy wheels were, inevitably, in attendance which meant the unfortunate demise of the big chrome dustbin lids with a hole in which added to the visual party. Magical features like the convex rear windscreen, the long, curvaceous bonnet, the concave rear screen and the teardrop shape, all in the name of aerodynamics.

This is all great, worthy, necessary stuff, but it does make for a slightly boring brochure. Everything written here is, basically, true. It reads more as a dissertation or a thesis than an inspirational appetite-whetter. It speaks of the CXs achievements, its actual benefits.  It explains how turbocharging works to enhance power and efficiency, and how intercooling helps still further. It offers very, very little to dicuss from the perspective of hyperbolics, and even less to straight take the piss out of. Until you get to this bit:

“With experience, Citroen have developed still further the ergonomic layout of the detailed controls and instrumentation.”

CX4

Yes, ergonomics, the study of how to best adapt a system or environment to most efficiently be interacted with by a human. The same series of studies that should have, in the first few hours of day one, told them not to install the radio vertically between the front seats in such a way as the read-out was upside down to the co-pilot.

This 1987 brochure is for the final evolution of the CX. During the ’80s the previous gauges, which each took the form of a drum of numbers revolving behind a magnifying glass, and which would scurry indecipherably to-and-fro in a useless blur under heavy acceleration or should something break, had been replaced with ones with actual hands on, like everybody else used.

But Citroen took great pains to stress that, though the CX had moved with the times, some things were sacrosanct and would resist alteration come hell or high water

“The direction indicator, thoughtfully placed within instant reach of the steering wheel, is still not self cancelling”

Where everybody else was using a lever on the steering column that you would flick in the direction of travel by extending one finger from the wheel, the CX had a big black rocker-switch you had to make a concerted effort to both deploy and remember to defeat. That said, it was a set-up that motorcyclists would probably rapidly become familiar with, and there was a lot of sound thinking in the fact that literally all the controls surrounded the steering wheel.

CX5

(Whoa; exposure fail. Sorry!)

The CX 25GTi Turbo 2 had an amazing name. Equally awesome, though, was the performance:

“Acceleration from 0-60mph takes just 7.7 seconds. Top speed is 138mph”

Designed for a compact rotary engine that never made it into the CX, the car was hamstrung by not having a great deal of space for engine under that long, shapely snout. The four-cylinder lumps all hung way forwards in the overhang and, though size crept up gradually to 2500cc, bigger engines just weren’t to be. Fortunately, with the turbocharging and intercooling they were so proud of they could eke 168hp from that mill. Not an amazing figure by todays’ standards, but allied to those aerodynamics every one of those ponies was converted into forward momentum.

CX6

CX 25DTR Turbo 2 Safari is also a fantastic name. And an incredible looking machine. From a technical standpoint there is some justification in Citroens’ proud prose:

“Arguably the CX is the only large estate designed for the job from the ground up”

By virtue of the legendary and much-vaunted Hydropneumatic suspension and all the various tricks it brought with it (variable ride height, self levelling, anti-dive under braking, anti-lift under acceleration),  the longroof variants of CX could manage a full payload up to 720kg. This was, in fact,  “a greater payload than any other estate in Europe” could cope with.

The Familiale version which measured in at the same five-metre length, squeezed an extra row of seats in by changing the pitch between rows, economy-class style. All CX estates were enormous and able to carry massive volumes of stuff at up to 120mph, with pillowy, feather-soft ride, just don’t let the self-centring steering catch you out.

“This must be the ultimate diesel estate. Such, at first sight, apparently conflicting requirements as utility and luxury, speed and economy, have been resolved in this model”.

I can imagine the Paris branch of Ghostbusters squealing around the Peripherique  in a red and white CX estate. And, spoofed paranormal activity aside, I’d quite like to do that, too. CX is one of those cars I’d love one of my friends to own, so I could get some enjoyment out of it without being affected by the ownership costs. And if that never happens, well, at least I own the brochure.

(Disclaimer:- All images are of original publicity material and were taken by the author, in his kitchen this time. All copyright remains property of Citroen, who need to go crazy again just one last time. Lets finish on the commercial starring Grace Jones. She’s mad, too)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULB2EoYdE38[/youtube]

 

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

21 Comments

  1. I have the french version of this brochure. A beautiful car that I always thought of as a poor man's SM.

  2. The facelift CX is my favorite car in the whole wide world. I have never driven one, but I love it dearly. With leather and in a suitable colour, I can't imagine anything that tugs my heartstrings quite like it.

      1. You're not the only one. But I'd guess my avatar didn't disguise my obsession with this car.
        I was at a junk yard that only has French cars, yesterday. I did see a few (rusted) CXs. It made me quite sad.

  3. "Where everybody else was using a lever on the steering column that you would flick in the direction of travel…."
    Not everybody else. At least one French marque used a dash-mounted three-position toggle switch up through the mid-'80s:
    <img src="http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5297/5556227829_95760f727b.jpg&quot; width="500">
    (To the left, between the ignition switch and the horn button. Mounted sideways so left equals left and right equals right.)

    1. There is something to be said for being able to source major switchgear from a hardware store.

  4. i love the CX. it retains the special sauce of the DS's and SM's of yore but starts to look like more modern cars to which i can relate.
    it may not have LeGeNd StAtUs like the DS and the SM, but rocking the CX would hardly be settling for a compromise.

  5. I'd love to have a CX Familiale just to show the SUV and minivan drivers how to carry 7 people in real style. It's not totally unreasonable in the US either since there are still some CX Auto grey imports around plus used ones from Europe.

  6. They don't really look like the sister car of the Lancia Gamma. But apparently that's how they started out, before De Gaulle himself intervened and vetoed the whole joint ventur,. Citroen suspension knowledge being a State Treasure-not that this is apparent in some of the Citroens coming out nowadays!

  7. Is it just me or is the CX now actually cooler and more delightful than even the DS? Time has aged it well. Vive Robert Opron!

  8. In case anyone wondered, the single biggest reason for the turbocharged CX'es is the fact that there isn't enough room in the engine bay for a V6. They had to do something to stay competitive with the V6 offerings from Ford, Peugeot, Volvo and so forth.
    The reason for the cramped engine bay is that the car originally was designed for a tri-rotor wankel. Of course, everyone except Mazda realized early on that rotary power wasn't a particularly good idea. The plans were dropped, and cash-strapped Citroën had to make do with what they could fit in there.
    A failed engineering project is also the reason why the DS has a pre-war four-cylinder placed in the drivers lap – the car was designed for a flat six (think three 2CV engines welded together) before reality caught up to them. The tooling was already made, so every DS has an unused spare wheel well in the back. The actual wheel is neatly tucked away in front of the engine.

  9. We had a 1981 CX "Athena" 2L Chrome bumpers, hubcaps and rotary dials. We always wondered what the dials went up to. Dad never went past 110mph. Which was probably all the car could do. Horrifically unreliable, but the most beautiful and interesting car on the street. His sister had a CX Famille (7 seater, needed for the big family), His brother, a GSA, and Brother-in law, a Dyane. We grew up loving these cars, and almost accepting the chronic unreliability. But the ride quality…. Sublime.

  10. I love my GTi and find it to be a rational replacement for my much-missed SM. Like the DS and SM, it's a bit ponderous on tight twisties but is in a league of its own on the interstate. A drive from Seattle to San Francisco last fall was effortless. I don't have the turbo but 135hp (or whatever mine really is) was just fine and allowed me to top Siskiyou Pass in 5th. Citroen was of the opinion that the buyer of something as expensive and complex as an automobile should learn to master the controls and embrace design solutions created by the experts. ( A French perspective) They didn't pander to lazy owners by making things idiot proof. ( An American perspective) Some of this works, the controls around the steering wheel are brilliant. But some of it doesn't work, the drum instruments are a novelty at best. The suspension, steering and brakes are fantastic, the shift linkage, not so much.
    More gushing here: http://www.classicandsportscar.com/blogs/james-el

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