Nothing is ever 100% sure in this world, particularly nowadays as regards intercontinental travel, but by the time this is published, I should be in Europe (France and Switzerland, to be precise) for a couple weeks to visit family. So to celebrate that homecoming with the requisite sense of occasion and Gallic enthusiasm (not an oxymoron, just the absence of shrug), here’s the latest French car I found in Tokyo.
There aren’t too many older French vehicles around here – compared to the literal tons of classic Mercedes-Benzes, VWs, Minis, Lancias and Chevrolets I’m encountering on a regular basis, I fear that the French national automotive reputation for fragility (certain Peugeots excepted) may have reached the shores of the Asian archipelago where I found this CX.
It must take a certain amount of commitment to drive a classic big Citroën in Japan. I know many in France who would never attempt anything so daring. I also know and wrote about at least one die-hard CX fanboi, so the intricacies and quirks associated with the upkeep of these vehicles are somewhat familiar.
This renders the ownership of this exceptionally well-preserved and fortuitously parked Gallic land spaceship all the more extraordinary. Series 1 cars like this one, i.e. built between 1974 and 1984, were already scarce on French roads when I moved to Asia a decade ago. The better-preserved and oldest ones had already migrated to the Netherlands, the most Citroën-obsessed country in the world, just like the nicest DSs had done back in the ‘90s.
The question is: was this late-model Series 1 Pallas IE extracted from France (or Holland?) recently, or did some thoroughly Francophile local citizen purchase this car new back in the early ‘80s?
It’s not impossible, and there are a few oddities that do point to this being a Japanese-market CX from birth. Certainly now this one is owned by a genuine Citroëniste, given that lovely faded “Citroën Club du Japon” sticker. As to the oddities mentioned, I would point to the turn signal repeaters on the front wings as exhibit 1. Oh, and it’s an automatic too, which was not a commonly ordered option on the French market back in 1982, but was already very prevalent on higher trim cars in Japan by that point in time.
Here’s what the cabin looks like – the plot thickens. Most higher-trim CXs like this Pallas would have been clad in leather in Europe. This gray fabric is not seen very often, but Japanese car buyers are famously adverse to cowhide, so this and the slush box makes for a very unusual combination of options for a big Cit. This may also be a reupholstered example, as it does look suspiciously spick-and-span for a vehicle this age (and from this carmaker), although in Japan, you never know. The ashtray overflowing with unfiltered cigarette butts, on the other hand, looks about as French as a baguette stuffed with snails, cheese and frogs’ legs dipped in red wine.
Even though this is supposed to be a higher trim car, rear power windows were still an extra-cost option. Compared to the Prestige I wrote up last year, the rear legroom, though decent, is nowhere near as compelling. The same can be said when comparing the standard wheelbase CX to its venerable predecessors, the DS and the 15-Six – and indeed, many contemporary observers thought Citroën had short-changed their clientele on the rear legroom front, only to then launch the expensive Prestige to make up for it.
Going back to the automatic transmission, that option was rather belatedly added to the CX’s options list. The late model DSs could be ordered with either a 4-speed hydro semiautomatic, a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed Borg-Warner automatic. When the CX arrived in 1974, only the 4-speed manual was on the menu. In 1976, the 3-speed C-Matic was introduced. It was an electrically-operated semiautomatic box and torque converter that had been developed in-house to be mated with the Wankel engine briefly used on the GS. It wasn’t related to the DS’s hydro box, being closer to the Saxomat found on the NSU Ro80.
Being Citroën’s proprietary design, the C-Matic was heavily promoted as a great solution, getting rid of the clutch pedal but keeping the driver in control of gear shifting, blah blah. The usual arguments for the alleged superiority of the semiautomatic box – all true in theory. In the real world though, the compromise left automatic aficionados wanting and folks who wanted to shift their gears themselves just… bought a manual, and could get an excellent 5-speed from 1977. The C-Matic was nixed after MY 1980 and replaced by a fully automatic ZF 3-speed unit, available only for the larger non-turbo (and non-Diesel) engines.
Our CC has one of the last evolutions of the venerable Citroën OHV 4-cyl. that first appeared in the 11CV Traction Avant back in 1934. Throughout the years, almost every component was gradually changed: the crankshaft got five main bearings, heads turned to alloy, carbs were replaced by EFI, the engine’s orientation and rotation were switched, and the displacement kept growing until it reached 2500cc by MY 1983, and so on. In this Pallas IE (Injection Électronique), the 2347cc develops 130hp, pretty much as it did in the DS23 IE of the mid-‘70s.
The 2.5 litre GTI Turbo, which arrived in 1984, provided 168hp, making the CX the most powerful French saloon of the day, taking that oh-so-coveted crown from the infamous Talbot Tagora SX. Not too shabby for a prewar relic, but pretty sad that the CX had to wait a decade for that engine. Speaking of which, our feature car said GTI on its C-pillars, which looked mighty fishy to me. Besides, “GTI automatic” is a contradiction in terms. Guess the owner likes the look of the GTI logo – and there’s no arguing that it’s ice-cool.
But then, so are many aspects of the CX. The concave rear window, for instance. I’m not sure it serves any real purpose aside from looking awesome. Aerodynamics perhaps, but that must be pretty marginal. And the shape prevents the fitting of a rear wiper or a hatchback, so it’s not exactly a practical feature. But it still looks great, and the CX would be a lesser design without it.
Here’s another example. The door handles on the DS were, for the longest time, common sticky-out items found on any 1955 car. In 1971, they switched to flat types à la 1957 Chrysler. Messy details like that were absent from the CX: Robert Opron and his team decided to design the door handles carefully and properly, not just use whatever Citroën happened to have in stock.
Series 2 cars, with their heavy-looking (but actually rather flimsy) body-coloured polyurethane bumpers and spoilers are a poor substitute for the original design’s more delicate and chiseled looks. A Diesel Series 2 would make for the ultimate beater though – indestructible, economical and supremely comfortable. But also noisy, slow and ugly.
On the other hand, if you’re going to go to the trouble of owning a virtually pristine CX in Tokyo, are keen on fast cruising speeds and enjoy looking at your car from time to time, then this Pallas makes a lot more sense. The automatic just makes it more city-friendly, though it does knock the fuel economy down a peg.
No doubt that I’ll have some Euro-sourced CCs to share when I get back. Doesn’t take anything from this absolute minter of a CX – these are rare in France too, especially in this condition – but the road fauna is always quite different over there. A nice change from the JDM. I’ll be stuck in quarantine for two weeks upon my return, as is the rule in Japan when flying in from dirty, disease-ridden cesspools like Europe (and most of the rest of the world, really). On the plus side, I’ll have some time on my hands to write up a few posts. In the meantime, I hope your summer is as smooth and relaxing as a ride in a CX Pallas.
Vintage Review: Citroën CX 2500 Diesel Pallas, by Yohai71
Car Show Outtake: 1982 Citroën CX 2400 GTi – Fuel Injected Flying Carpet, by Johannes Dutch