O, to be in sunny England, on a bright and breezy summer’s day… with the clattering cacophony of flat-twins whirring up hills and sleek aerodynamic shapes resting on the grass? Welcome to Harrogate, in Yorkshire, where the 15th International Citroën Car Club Rally (ICCCR) took place in August 2012. This part will only focus on “normal” production Citroën cars – weirder and older cars will come in Part 2. There are a lot of photos, but I will start from the beginning: getting there.
‘Twas A Ferry Nice Trip
The ICCCR takes place every four years in a different country, usually in Europe. I had been to the Rome and Interlaken meets (2008 and 2004, respectively) prior to this British edition. I was going there with my brother in his unrestored 1954 Traction 11B (above), from our rendezvous in Lyon all the way up to Belgium. That trip took two days: pre-1955 11s have a less powerful 2-litre engine, plus this B model uses the bigger, wider and heavier monocoque, so the effective top speed is just over 100 kph. After having visited a bit of Brussels and Bruges, we drove to Zeebrugge to take the car-ferry to Hull, which is an overnighter (about 14 hrs).
By the time we were queuing for the ferry, the traffic was thick with classic Citroëns, mostly from France, Benelux, Switzerland and Germany. Some folks like to haul a lot of camping gear and perhaps enough bits to keep the car going no matter what. Cool trailer, though.
However, nothing beats a DS wagon for long-haul holiday traveling. Except maybe a long-wheelbase CX?
Oh yeah… that’s the ultimate road Citroën in many ways. The CX Prestige gave supreme comfort and much better reliability than the SM; the ancient (yet fuel-injected) 2.4 litre pushrod four it received from the DS was still able to get this big car to a 180 kph cruising speed, with its leather lounge chairs floating on a cloud. To drive, ride in front or in the rear, this is probably the pinnacle of the big Citroëns. And this is a series 1 (1978-84), which means it also looks damn good. A bit late in the game, but a most honourable mention, I should think, in the Euro-Brougham category.
There is always a bit of a jam when entering the UK by ferry in a smaller port like Hull. Interesting traffic that day…
Tractions and Flat-Twins
The main ICCCR event took place over three days, though some folks do come earlier and make it a camping trip. My brother and I were keener to experience an English B&B. It seems a number of the 750,000 Tractions made from 1934 to 1957 are still very much in action. Post-war 4-cyl. saloons are of course the most common.
The 2CV (1949-1990) was Citroën’s idiosyncratic solution to the problem of the low-cost car. A bizarre mix of equal part highly advanced engineering and retrograde / cheapskate mentality. All the bits exist – you can even buy a completely new chassis, if need be.
The 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only featured a famous Rémi Julienne car chase with Roger Moore piloting a (GS-powered) yellow 2CV 6 Club successfully escaping from a pair of Peugeots. Citroën jumped at the idea and issued a limited run “007” 2CV, complete with bullet-hole stickers. Peugeot, on the other hand, soon retired the 504 from the European and US markets. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Displayed indoors by the British Citroën Car Club, this 1959 2CV pick-up was made by Citroën’s UK branch in Slough. The 2CV was an abysmal failure throughout the ‘50s in the British market. Sales were halted and Slough was eventually closed down; the 2CV made a comeback on British roads in the ’70s and ’80s, but those were imported from France. Slough-built survivors are extremely rare, especially utes.
But perhaps not quite as rare as this, the 1959-64 Citroën Bijou. Based on a 2CV chassis but clad with a novel fiberglass coupé body. Citroën UK were desperate to get rid of their flat-twin stocks. 2CV sales were so bad that they tried selling this instead. It was a total failure (210 units made), but had the distinction of being a UK-only model – an original British Citroën creation.
But in terms of weird, the Bijou soon met its master in the 1961-69 Ami 6. This is a late model, one of the last saloons made with this rather jarring reverse-canted rear window that graced a few cars on either side of the Atlantic in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The much more conventional-looking wagon, which debuted in 1965, was Robert Opron’s first design job for Citroën.
Soon after, Opron was asked to touch up the Ami and make it a bit less outlandish. Thus the Ami 8 (1969-1978) was created, to carry the torch of the “3CV” into the ‘70s. The Ami’s 600cc twin soon migrated to the whole range of small Citroëns, including some pretty bad ones.
Peugeot’s takeover of Citroën in 1974-75 resulted in the end of the GS Birotor, the SM, the Ami Super and the (expected) demise of the DS. And in return, this happened. The LN (1976-79, later re-worked as the LNA) was the unfortunate bundle of misery that the shotgun wedding with Peugeot had produced. A Peugeot 104 hatchback body mated with the Ami 8’s flat-twin. And in hearing aid beige, if you please! The “Escargot Pouvoir” sticker is a nice touch.
Finally, the Visa (1978-1988), which got a revised and slightly bigger (650cc!) flat-twin (or a Peugeot water-cooled 4cyl.) and used the 104 saloon’s larger platform. But it also had looks only Stevie Wonder could love. The revised second series, on the right, managed to salvage the project and helped Citroën to transition out of the air-cooled flat-twin monoculture they had been stuck in for three decades.
The hydropneumatic cars: DS, SM, GS, CX, etc.
The first model sold to the public featuring Citroën’s revolutionary hydropneumatic (or more correctly oleopneumatic) suspension was the 1954 Traction Avant 15-Six H. Only the rear wheels had the new suspension. By October 1955, the DS came on the scene with the hydro suspension on all four wheels.
Early cars like this one (pre-1960) have a unique presence, and usually interesting colours. Plus the interior and dashboard of these is absolutely incredible.
A Slough-built example from the mid-‘60s. The mandated license plate frame could perhaps have been a bit less “on the nose.”
1967 is a particularly sought-after model year for DS cognoscenti. That year ushered a completely revised hydropneumatic system, which worked much better than the earlier one. It is possible to change an old “red liquid” DS into a 2nd gen “green liquid” one, but it’s a tedious operation. So if you want a usable DS with the original front end, your only choice is a ’67 model.
The DS remains a fixture of Citroën-mania. It’s not my personal favourite, but it does embody a lot of the Citroën spirit. And some of the special versions (which we’ll see in part 2) are also pretty unique.
Make way, peasants, for Sa Majesté la SM. The only Citroën with a Maserati heart. If it stops beating, you bank account will suffer. C’est la vie. The cute little 1939 Traction cabriolet next to it looks like a dinosaur, yet only 30-odd years separate the two.
The SM is a strong contender for the most beautiful post-war Citroën and/or best-looking ‘70s coupé. At least from the front and side. The rear end was, alas, the object of a lot of compromise.
Way too heavy-handed with the chrome, plus that stupid license plate housing just sitting there, void of purpose… The real deal for the Opron / Citroën era? Not the SM – the CX.
The CX still has a lot of Citroën DNA to it – same petrol engines as the DS (themselves descended from the Traction’s 2-litre), but also a Peugeot Diesel to live with the times. As a wagon, it was reputed to be the most capacious in Europe at the time (1975).
Early base models like this pre-1979 CX 2000 Super were made according to Robert Opron’s dictum: strictly no side trim. Pretty hard to fault the styling. Ride-wise and looks-wise, nothing beats a ‘70s CX.
Then he left to work for Renault and Citroën were free to clutter the design with plastic, rubber inserts and fog lamps… Still, this is a GTI, and with that colour, I had to include it.
Just as I couldn’t pass up this 1978 GS Basalte. Citroën threw a bunch of optional extras together (fog lamps, tinted windows, bespoke interior trim, sunroof, etc.) and added red adhesive stripes to the black car. This was the only special edition GS – 1800 were sold, rather quickly, too. This car also sports the rear widow “jalousies,” an aftermarket item also popular on other Citroëns, which fits the Basalte theme rather well.
The BX (1982-1994) is already very much in the crosshairs of Dutch Citroën collectors. But they did make over 2 million, so prices are still dirt cheap. The Diesel cars are alleged to be nigh on indestructible – not an epithet commonly associated with Citroën. The same could be said about the XM (1990-2000), which there were plenty, but these are definitely my least favourite big hydro car (on looks alone – they’re very nice cars to be in otherwise).
You know what the XM is greatest at? Hauling an extremely rare Deadly Sin-certified 1974 GS Birotor onto a ferry. Now that is the XM’s true calling, for the next couple of decades at least.
A few C6s showed up too – the car was moribund by then (production finally stopped in December 2012) and everybody knew it. The last Citroëns with the hydro suspension were made in June 2017. Big hydro Citros are no more. As is this post. Tomorrow in part 2: pre-war, special-bodied, prototype and other miscellaneous Citroëns, as well as a few non-chevroned cars.
Cohort Classic: Citroën GS – One For The Anoraks, by Perry Shoar
Curbside Classic: 2006-12 Citroën C6 – Classic French Luxury For The 21st Century, by William Stopford