Not sure what sparked my interest to the CX. It always had been a fascinating car of course with a fantastic design, but far out of my comfort (!) zone which was anything old and British. I would admire a CX from a distance, curious how it would be to drive such a machine. I was lucky to live in Europe, where cars like this were frequently seen on the road. There was a school teacher who had an old CX GTi which was parked and very rotten (only 6 years old), but I admired that car. It was never a normal car, it was always special and seen as a bit out of line (which would suit me fine).
There is a clear distinction between two generations of the CX. From 1974 until 1985, they had (stainless) steel bumpers and the famous weird “moving scale” speedo and tachometer. The facelift in 1985 comprised of bigger plastic bumpers and a dashboard with round gauges. You could say Citroen gave in and made the CX a bit more normal.
By the late nineties, the “steel bumper” CX had become an old car, over 10 years old. They were still around but becoming a rare sight. Most were scrapped, failed the yearly test because of rust. I had a habit of checking old car ads in the local newspaper, you never knew what might come up. This was in the days before the internet, so the view to cars for sale was much more narrow.
Like before, it was the case of arguing why I would want another car. There was no real need. Why could I not live with the cars I had? Most classic car owners only have one car. They would invest time and money into the car which would become better and better. I knew, and admired, the folks that owned a car for decades.
But I always wanted to try something different, new. Not new in the meaning of really new cars because these did not attract me at all. When I lived with two other students in a flat, one bought a Citroen DS. It was 15 years old or so, not in a good condition but it ran and I admired him for buying a car he liked.
The Dark Grey Pallas
So, while checking out the ads one day (late nineties), I noticed an photo advertisement for a beautiful 1983 CX Pallas in the next town. It just had its yearly test done, so it would be in a good condition, right?
This Pallas looked really good, a classy dark metallic grey exterior, beige cloth interior and a steel sunroof. The dark paint went well with the chrome bumpers and big chrome wheel trims. Yes, I did not really need a car. But my faithful old Triumph 2000 Mk2 was gone, in my mind there was space for another classic car. A CX would be a fresh experience, something completely different and out of my car bubble. It was not too expensive, so why not?
Modern, even futuristic instruments in a small dashboard. The dash itself with the strange speedo and rev counter always is a joy to look at, as is the single spoke steering wheel. Seats are very soft, often seen as a disadvantage but I found them supremely comfortable and never had experienced back problems.
There is a lever to lower or raise the car, in its highest position it is unfit to drive as there is no suspension left. At speed, the car is very stable on the motorway but also in the corners.
Talking of speed, that is something my Pallas lacked somewhat. I came out of a Triumph 2000 which was no speed demon, but that car never gave the feeling of being slow whereas this CX gave the impression that it could use a bit more power.
After a few months I learned what other CX models there were and found out there were versions who used a larger engine with fuel injection. These were markedly faster. So when I found one I sold the Pallas.
The Silver GTi
Through a garage I heard of a first owner car. This car has had a respray 4 years before, then the owner died and the car has been standing since. This meant it had no yearly test, but there were genuine maintenance bills for many years.
It looked fantastic in Silver with a grey cloth interior. It was one of the last steel bumpered cars, a GTi with the 2.5 injection engine. As a bonus it had the rare air conditioning option. A minor thing was that I could not hear it running (flat battery), but I was assured this was never a problem before and there were no engine problems. It needed gone fast, by the next week really because the house was sold. Because of this the car was offered below market value. I decided to take the risk, and trailered it home a few days later.
At my garage at home I found out it had been cheap for a reason. There was quite extensive rust to the underside. I got someone to repair the worst parts and it got through the yearly test. Apart from the rust, which was not visible from the outside, the car looked great. Paint flawless and interior very good. The bigger engine was nice, this was a much faster car compared to the Pallas.
We used this car to tow our classic Constructam caravan to France for a summer holiday. It was perfect for that, towing a caravan over great distances. The hydraulic suspension kept the car level, no matter how heavy the car was with all holiday stuff and the caravan.
At the next yearly inspection I got the remark that something thorough would need to be done before the next inspection. Not wanting to go through that again I put it up for sale after it got the yearly ticket, explained the rust situation in the ad. Because it looked so good it was sold quite quickly, although for less than I wanted. I made a loss on that car but this was entirely my fault. I promised myself I would never ever again buying a car gambling on the rust situation. I should have known, a Citroen CX had a bad reputation for rust and it was my fault not checking this before.
The Red Automatic
A couple of years passed by without a CX. I needed to travel a lot to and from work, and was using a modern(ish) car for this. One day I tried to avoid a traffic jam on the motorway by using a different route.
I passed a car dealer and through a barbed wire fence I saw a red CX. By now these were seldom to be seen so I turned to have a look. Wow!
The Silver CX was a really nice car but I would have liked a bit more chrome (window frames for example). If I would ever have a CX again it should be something like the Pallas but with a bigger engine.
Not all was positive. The paint was flat, the body had a few small dents here and there, and at the bottom of the doors rust was showing. The car dealer said the underside was almost rust free, and offered to have the car on a lift for me to inspect. He was right, no rust to be found! Just on the doors. The car was sold with a fresh yearly inspection certificate.
Top Tip: if you are ever in South Wales, go and use the Newport Transporter Bridge. A fascinating solution to the question on to how to cross a river by car without obstructing sailing boats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJggKdbMAqk
Mechanically the red CX was excellent. The CX has a complicated suspension system, but once it is in good order it is reliable. All three CX I had were very reliable. There have been some annoying troubles with the electric windows, central locking system and a burned out headlamp switch, but never on brakes, suspension, engine or gearbox.
After a few years I was about to rebuild and extend my garage and house, and for the foreseeable future had no time for the car hobby. The end of the red one was near. The doors still needed repairs, some thinking was needed to get in a LPG system – I had heard of a successful installation from another owner.
My regret is that I actually sold the red CX. It had its faults but was a fantastic car to drive and had good bones. I sold the car for far too little money, I should have stored it in the shed.
My car was for sale again a couple of years later. It looked very good, having had a repaint and a new interior. The seller asked a lot of money but it was worth it. When I check the registration now it cannot be found. This means the car is scrapped or, probably more plausible, has been exported.
I have been glad to have experienced CX driving. They are very addictive…
Curbside Classic: 1982 Citroën CX Pallas IE – Hydropneumatifragilistic Pallasialidocious
Curbside Classic: 1984 Citroën CX Prestige – Stealth Spaceship
Cohort Classic: 1981 Citroen CX Pallas D – Modernism’s Last Stand
Alas, we cannot also mention legendary long term reliability, excellent factory air conditioning and effective rust prevention.
Chrchrchr – You’re so right, you’re so right !
I like the way you think! I, too, always kind of envied those people with a long-term focus on the care and feeding of a single classic car. But I have never been able to manage it – the world is too full of possibilities for something new and different. Automotive ADHD, I suppose.
I also recognize how once you experience a new model, you now know what to look for in other examples and can find better ones when you really start looking.
We never had many Citroens on our side of the Atlantic, but I can understand the attraction. Normal is OK for most people, but not for all of us.
The “flying bridge” is very cool, thanks for the video link. And a lovely trifecta of CXs you’ve owned there as well. I like looking at a DS as much as the next guy, but I find the CX just as fascinating if not even more so given that the rest of the market was more and more contemporarily styled at its time and even more so as time went on.
The DS is probably even more fascinating – although I think it is unfair to compare different generations. But for me the DS was not a practical car at that moment.
When China opened to West, there were quite few of this model imported into Canton, Beijing and Shanghai. Most of them were used to car service along with Toyota Crown and Datsun Cedric. On paper, it was more advanced, front wheel drive, feul injection, turbo, self leveling suspension and avant-garde shape, but it had few vital faults, poor reliability, very low back seat positions (few of my friends felt sicks after riding on one), most of lack of air conditioning often found in Japanese cars back then, and it designed by designer not for user and passenger in mind. The company went on to set up joint ventures in China to produce some low end models with not much success. Recently rumor says it will completely withdraw from China market.
CX cubed. The more, the better.
That’s a car I would have liked to experience, at least once. A few of these were imported by an independent outfit that federalized them; I remember seeing one in San Francisco.
So no more CX’s on the horizon for you?
That maybe is the trouble writing these articles! I get enthusiastic once again and start looking for one 🙂
Then again I do not need another car but I will not remove it from my possibilities list.
But when did not needing a car ever stop you? 😉
Even though the instrument cluster of the second generation’s attractive, the first generation’s would not have restrained me from owning the first series of which appears to be more Citroenesque than especially the vehicles leaving the production lines within the last couple decades
Interesting to see you find the second instrument panel more attractive. I can understand that many people do not like the weird first series instruments but for me that is part of the attraction of the CX.
I find it attractive in the sense that Citroen designed the later world-standardized versions very dressy, traditional to contemporary for that era French vehicles.
That doesen’t mean that I found the later version more appealing than the earlier Exnerish one. If I was given a choice only between one or the other, I really don’t know if I could choose whatsoever
When camping (we found out that many Europeans camp to save $, as we were, not for an outdoor experience) outside Munich in Sept ’76 we were sited next to some Aussies who had been going to grad school in London and were touring the Continent in a red early CX. I instantly fell in love with it as I’ve always loved French cars, and especially Citroens. I’ve had countless cars, including Pugs and Renaults, but never a Citroen, to great regret. A ride in a DS once was totally convincing that they are the most comfortable car for travel ever. Hope the new models have preserved that outstanding characteristic. I’ve considered selling our current collector car for a CX, but where does one find a good one, or any for that matter, over here?
There are quite a few CXs for sale – but in Europe. They have become a bit more expensive though.
For the continent try Autoscout (.DE or.NL), marktplaats.nl (Netherlands) or leboncoin.fr for France.
For the UK a good start may be this: https://www.carandclassic.com/list/15/cx/
For the USA, much harder to find. Why not import one from Europe? Hope you find a good one!
After driving an Imp and a TR4 the CX must have felt like an alien space ship. Citroen’s hydropneumatic cars really were the cars of the future i their day, from the ride to the controls and the styling. A DS, CX, GS or BX is on my automotive bucket list just because they are so alien, I’d consider an SM but the engine is troublesome. Consider that the DS coexisted with cars that had sidevalve engines and 3 speed transmissions and the CX coincided with the Malaise Era.
In the late 80s a small number of CXs were grey imported to the US and subsequently there’s been some trade in used ones so I have hope although a DS is paradoxically easier to find and here on the West Coast rust is less of a concern.
That is the nice thing of a car hobby. It is possible to experience many types and kinds of cars.
I have no experience of a GS but had a BX for a while. Recommended!
That bring back some good memories, somewhere in 1986/87 I owned a very good looking CX in the color brown of the first pictures. First generation Pallas, those were cheap back in those days. Perfect car for the 6 months I owned it, did a lot of highway driving in that car, for wich it was really oerfect. I was in the Dutch army then (mandatory for all males back then) and ended up selling the car to a sergeant in my unit, who fell in love with it. Even made a small profit I think, and immediately wasted that on a Innocenti deTomaso, but thats another story.
Any pictures Pete?
Lovely automobiles and a great read! Back in the late 80’s the east coast distributor was located near my office In Middlesex, NJ. Saw more than a few fresh ones on the road and on their lot. How I lusted for one (and still do)
Love your eclectic automotive choices! The CX is on my bucket list – just loved reading this and glad to your experiences were, in the main, positive.
If you are in the position – do a road test on one for sale! If it is a good one I am sure you will be converted 🙂
One of my customers was fairly well-off financially [he invented the method for installing flush rivets in airplane fuselages, along with the aluminum canoe], and I restored or worked on all his antique cars, from a little Berkeley to a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. My customer had a villa along the southern Mediterranean coast, and one of the cars he kept there was a beautiful silver CX Prestige with black leather interior. If I remember correctly, it was a 1978 example, and it had A/C.
When in the early 1990s they sold the villa but were not able to quickly sell off the CX, and because his wife absolutely adored the CX, on a whim they decided to import the car to the USA. On it’s arrival in Baltimore, he asked me to pick the car up and give it a good clean & service before they came over to get it. When I called the freight forwarder to make arrangements to get the car, I found out it had been flagged as needing DOT and EPA certifications done, and required a bond to guarantee the work was completed.
My client posted the bond that allowed me to get the car. When he found out how much it would cost to meet both the DOT and EPA specs, he asked US Customs what alternative possibilities might be available. He was told either pay a fine [amount unknown], export the car, or have it destroyed. As I had already picked up the car and had done work to it, he asked me if I wanted the CX in exchange for my bill. YES!
I called a friend of mine with the initials ZTV, who collected vintage automotive literature. My friend just happened to be head attorney for the US DOT legal office in DC [Paul, you may know who I’m talking about], and he said my customer could declare it as abandoned to me for unpaid bills, and I could assume responsibility for the car. He also advised me that the $ fine, while the amount was still to be determined, would probably not be more than $500 to $1,000. My customer later told me he had been advised by his attorney that the fine could be $10k or more.
So I took a gamble and accepted the transfer of the importation paperwork . I flied to have DOT grant me the importation upon paying the fine, which ended up being $300. I still needed the EPA approval to get a US title in my name. By this time the car was about 15 years old, and I figured if I kept the car another few years, I could file for the “over 20 year old exemption” for EPA pollution requirements.
As the car still had it’s French license plates, and I had a commercial automotive repair shop insurance policy that covered any vehicle I was driving, I simply drove the CX on the French tags, the longest trip was to the Carlisle Import car show. I used to keep the CX in my storage building between my ’32 Rolls-Royce 20-25 and my SAAB 850 GT Monte Carlo rally car, taking it out for exercise a couple of times a year.
At 11:32 pm on Saturday May 6, 1995, my storage building was hit by a massive lightning strike, and everything was destroyed in the resulting fire. I took the VIN plate off the CX, and probably still have the car’s paperwork if someone needs it for a CX here in the USA.
And just a little aside for the suspension on the CX: I also owned several ’55 & ’56 Packards with the Torsion-Level system, and one day some friends and I decided to see which car could rise up to the full extended height; the CX or the Packard. The CX was almost twice as fast, but the back bumper of the Packard rose up much higher.
Fantastic story Bill. I suppose no pictures exist?
Your CX paperwork might come in handy for someone wanting to import a car – although over 25 years old the rules will probably not be as strict anymore.
Did you enjoy driving the car in the USA?
When did Citroen start building transverse engine/transmission cars? Does anyone know the last of the Citroen inline transmission-axle-engine layout designs?
Citroen’s first transverse engine was the LNA, derived from the Peugeot 104 in 1978. The last inline front wheel drive cars were the DS and the GS, to 1975 and 1986, unless you include the twin cylinder 2CV to 1990
Not really Roger.
Don’t forget the LN from 1976, preceding the LNA. Plus of course all CXes had transverse engines as well!
Thank you Roger and Dion for your replies. I realized that I had conflated Renault’s use of the (front to back) transmission/gearbox, axle, engine with Citroen. The proof was the DS and the SM, but I did not realize that was the heyday of that expression of auto technology at Citroen. Per Wikipedia it seemed that after Peugeot took over Citroen, the air cooled opposed twin of 360? or 652 cc was used in the LN and LNA, until 1982? when the Douvrin transverse four cylinder was offered in that same body. The air cooled twin is of inline orientation (versus the transverse Douvrin). A pity that Citroen could not produce new designs more rapidly.
An all time great, and to many the last real big Citroen Citroen. And you had 3 of them!