Curbside Classic: 1984 Citroën CX Prestige – Stealth Spaceship

We’ve covered the Citroën CX pretty extensively on this website, as can be seen from the “related posts” section at the end of this piece. We’ve seen the Series 1, the Series 2, the wagon, the Diesel, the GTI, the vintage reviews, the miniatures… Heck, we’ve even featured the CX cabriolet and the pickup, two variants that were never produced in the first place. There was just one version we haven’t seen yet, so just to cover all the bases, here’s the (long) missing piece of CC’s CX jigsaw: the Prestige.

Given the abundance of riches we have on CC about his car, I won’t bother with providing too much background on the Citroën CX. If you want to read a really thoughtful and complete history of the model, I recommend Perry Shoar’s excellent post. What I’m aiming to provide here are both detailed photos of a relatively rare and desirable version of the CX, as well as some personal T87-style musings on these fascinating cars.

I know this car well: it belongs to a good friend of mine. He is a CX fanatic; he bought this one about ten years ago, after having owned a gold-coloured 1979 base-spec model (an absolute delight, but the undercarriage was too far gone) and a time-warp light brown 1976 Diesel that he sold to a Dutch guy. When he found this late 1983 (MY 1984) Prestige, though, he knew it was a keeper. So he kept it.

Just a brief word on the CX’s background, to get our bearings. The “normal” CX appeared in 1974, just as Citroën were going bust. Bankruptcy was averted thanks to Peugeot, who bought a controlling interest from Michelin (owners of Citroën since 1935). The CX was thus the final Citroën of the Michelin era, which brought us such legendary cars as the 15-Six, the 2CV, the DS, the Ami, the GS and the SM. Initially, the CX took over from the ID/DS by using the older car’s engines – a 102hp 2-litre and a 112hp 2.2 litre 4-cyl., themselves directly descended from the Traction Avant’s mill – but opting for a transverse layout. A putative tri-rotor Wankel engine, which the CX was designed for, was tested for several years, but Peugeot (and NSU’s demise) killed the project.

Some were disappointed by the CX’s lack of technological innovation and it’s true that the car did rest on its predecessors’ laurels a bit. The CX borrowed the SM’s Diravi, a self-centering, hydropneumatically-assisted variable-power steering that, once mastered, is something of a revelation. The suspension and brakes were mere evolutions of the DS’s, though better tamed. Whereas the DS also used the hydropneumatic system for its gearbox, the CX went back to a purely manual version. The CX’s 4- and 5-speed transverse manual gearbox was completely new – and apparently extremely well-executed and used on several other cars, but this meant that the only new component of the whole car was a rather modest one. A 3-speed semi-auto (the C-matic, as seen on the GS) was available on demand until a fully automatic ZF gearbox replaced it in 1981.

There was nothing truly revolutionary about the CX, then. It was just a summation of the marque’s innovative efforts, brought together into a new, somewhat tighter and tidier package. Where the CX really stood out was in its styling, its aerodynamics, its lack of major defects, its space utilization and its interior detailing. And this is where the Prestige enters the story.

The initial “flat roof” Prestige at the 1975 Paris Motor Show


One year after the CX saloon was launched, the wagon appeared, with its quirky stepped roof and its wheelbase lengthened by 25cm. Around the same time, in the summer of 1975, a LWB saloon was unveiled and later displayed at the Paris Motor Show. The Prestige used the same wheelbase as the wagon, and a few started trickling out in 1976 with the 115hp carbureted 2.4 litre engine of the DS 23.

The long CX was a direct response to certain complaints that the standard model’s rear legroom was a bit too short, especially compared to the DS. Of course, Citroën listened to their most well-heeled potential clients, particularly those in positions of power. French presidents loom large in Citroën’s post-war period, and the CX is no exception. When presented with a Prestige by Citroën sometime in 1976, President Giscard d’Estaing, quite the lanky politician, liked the extra legroom just fine, but wondered if something might be done about the headroom. And so the roof was raised by 2cm from late 1977, and the French President could ride with his Prestige intact, even though he showed a marked preference for the Peugeot 604. The production CX Prestige car kept the Giscard roof, which by default was clad in vinyl (unlike Giscard himself, or so I gather). Early model “flat roof” carbureted Prestiges are extremely rare, having been produced for about a year.

But there is an even less common Prestige: the gliding bank vault. In the turbulent ‘70s, there was some demand for bullet-proof cars, leading Citroën to launch the Prestige Haute Protection. It arrived in 1978, with about 500 extra kilos of armour-plating and special glass, as well as beefed up suspension, brakes and everything else – except the engine, which stayed stock. Speaking of which…

Engine-wise, the finalized MY 1978 Prestige received the best there was in Citroën’s stable: the 2.4 litre (well, 2347cc) with EFI, now producing 128hp and mated to the 5-speed manual. All that extra length, leather and gadgetry in the Prestige does make it a heavier car than the new CX GTI, which also had this engine and transmission, but it’s still a decent performer. For MY 1984, the GTI and the Prestige received the final iteration of the Citroën four-pot (2499cc and 138hp), enabling our feature car to break the 200kph barrier. Later Series 2 cars received a turbocharger, providing them with enough oomph to equal the SM. At least, the Prestige always kept the Citroën engine, whereas the lower spec 2.0 and 2.2 litre CXs switched to the more modern Peugeot-sourced “Douvrin” alloy blocks in 1980.

While we’re poking around where the sun don’t shine, let’s take a look at the trunk. The CX is a fastback, not a hatchback. Citroën’s top brass had decreed it so. It’s a wonder why they did, over a decade after the Renault 16 had made high-end hatches acceptable, but it seems some did not accept that this feature should be added to a flagship model. In Citroën’s curiously conservative view, hatches were good for wagons and city runabouts, not “proper” cars. The GS was similarly configured, but at least it got a hatch when time came for a major facelift. The CX also got a facelift – just a year after our feature car came off the Aulnay assembly line – but the hatch never came. A few coachbuilders did attempt to convert the CX to the delights of lifting its concave derriere, but the operation was apparently very complicated and thus uneconomical.

Here’s what is written on one of those period stickers in the trunk. I love that this is still with the car, that it purports to explain why the inside of the doors might look “pebbled” and that it’s in five languages. Top marks for effort, Citroën, but you really should have included Dutch — that’s where most of these cars are ending up these days.

The external appearance of the Citroën CX is one of its strong points, of course. However, there are those who prefer the interior – and they are not wrong. This starts with the door cards: four nearly identical but quite distinctive pieces of ‘70s design, in this case overlaid with leather. That is a good thing, as the non-leather kind tend to disintegrate and warp with age. The little oval plastic gizmo, just ahead of the handle, is used to open the door and is operated just like the trigger on a pistol. In the Prestige, rear passengers get a cigarette lighter and electric windows, as well as an extra speaker mounted in the door. Let’s go ahead and see what this musical smoking lounge looks like.

There are worse places to be than at the back of a CX Prestige. You can see why this car was made famous, years after production was stopped, by Jacques Chirac. He was quite tall – over 190cm (6’3’’) and therefore preferred riding in these. He ordered one as his official car when he was mayor of Paris – a 1985 gray series 2 Turbo with vinyl roof, if you please. It was still his official car when he was elected president in May 1995. TV cameras on motorbikes chased the CX as it roared through Paris on election night, with Chirac waving and grinning from the back seat. Everyone watching TV that night, including yours truly, talked about Chirac’s CX the next day. A few days later, he was on the Champs-Élysées in the ultimate presidential Citroën – one of the 1972 SM parade cars – but he was forever associated with the CX.

The front seat is quite an interesting place to sit in most cars, but it the CX, it’s something between intimidating and exhilarating. The sheer oddity of the landscape and apparent complexity of the controls does give one pause. Why is this lever sticking out here? What’s that button there? What the heck were they smoking when they designed this? Take the “lunule” concept, for instance. It’s that great big flying saucer sitting on the dash. Once you place your hands on the steering wheel, it all makes sense: the turn signals are where they should be, as are the light switches and wipers. Why must all these things be on stalks? Because we’re used to it. But if you’re Citroën, you think laterally and you put a bunch of buttons on a giant pod. And then you add a Christmas tree of 17 idiot lights and square dials, just to keep off the beaten track. Oh, and the ignition is on the left of the steering column, but that’s almost normal given the context.

It’s true that the dials themselves are a bit of an acquired taste. When you sit in the captain’s chair on this spaceship, you do feel as if one of those things is going to tell you your weight (in kilos, of course), your heart rate or you blood pressure. Still, it’s fitting that even the steering wheel, with that single spoke stuck dead centre (because Diravi) and mundane controls such as the hazard lights all look completely otherworldly. For them to have been otherwise would have been a great source of disappointment. The gear lever, for instance, is nowhere near as recherché on the CX as it was on the DS – or as cool as the SM’s chrome-lathered beauty. They should have mounted it on the ceiling or something. Opportunity missed.

But if we look past said gear lever, just aft of where the electric window switches have elected to sprout, we find more cause for merriment. The HVAC controls are here, sandwiched between the front seats. One lever for temperature on the right, one for fan speed on the left. The middle one has a picture of a man’s head with a hat on one end and a man’s shoe on the other. That’s where you want the air to go, head or heels. Simply hilarious, if a tad sexist. Behind that lays the selector for ride height. Slide the lever to the top, where the little wheel diagram is, and your CX will rise to meet the occasion. Slide it down and the car will sink to new lows. For normal operation, the big white band in the middle is the best option.

There are some ill-informed types out there who will tell you that a CX only has one windshield wiper. This is a blatant falsehood and this photograph is the proof. They have two wipers, but they just happen to be mounted on the same arm. It seems Citroën did try the single-wiper approach and it was impossible to make it work satisfactorily. According to some CX owners, this double-wiper is still pretty easy to overwhelm in truly torrential downpours. But then having two distinct wipers like all the other cars would have been shamefully un-Citroën-like.

What is definitely very Citroën-like is to make a base model out of a higher-end one. The Prestige did not remain as the sole LWB saloon in the CX range for very long: in 1980, the CX Limousine was launched. It was a Prestige sans prestige – no fancy interior, no leather straps on the B-pillar, no trim on the bumpers – and instead of the 2.4 engine, it initially had a 75hp 2.5 Diesel. I’m not sure how many they sold, but it was billed as a family saloon, perhaps suitable for a horde of unhurried giants.

For its part, the Prestige continued floating aloof and aloft at the top of Citroën’s range until 1989, when it was pensioned off like the other CX saloons. The wagons lasted a couple seasons longer, due to the XM wagon’s tardiness. All told, Citroën built over 1.2 million CXs from 1974 to 1991, but only about 22,500 were of the Prestige variety. They were not a common sight even 30 years ago and are now highly sought after, though still affordable compared to older big Citroëns.

The 168hp Series 2 Turbos are able to reach speeds in excess of 220kph (135mph), so if performance is the only metric, those would be the best of the breed. However, the Series 2 cars, with their fat plastic bumpers and redesigned dash, look nowhere near as good as the first series. Is it worth trading all that extra horsepower for a shoe diagram on the HVAC (which disappeared in the Series 2, being replaced by an ergonomically-challenged radio), bathroom scale dials and chrome bumpers? I would like to think so. Nothing made in the ‘80s looks as good as a long, black Series 1 CX Prestige.

Time to put the toy back in its box. My friend had this car resprayed a little while back and was not impressed with the results, so this car’s rear emblems are still stashed away until he can find someone to do it over again. The roof was originally vinyl, too, but he decided to get rid of it – one less source of corrosion, and the car looks better without it anyway. The headliner, which was sagging badly last time I saw the car (“They all do that”), has been removed and a new one will be put in at some point. But mechanically and structurally, this CX is as solid a flying carpet as any I’ve ever come across. The only question is: do you want to be chauffeured, or do you want to take the wheel? Both have their merits. Not many cars worth a fraction of a Rolls-Royce present this kind of dilemma.


Related posts:


Cohort Classic: 1981 Citroen CX Pallas D – Modernism’s Last Stand, by Perry Shoar

Car Show Classic: 1985 Citroen CX 25 GTi Series 2 – Blue Is A Warmer Color Than Grey, by Nigel R. Tate

Vintage Review: Citroen CX 2500 Diesel Pallas, by Yohai71

Car Show Outtake: 1982 Citroën CX 2400 GTi – Fuel Injected Flying Carpet, by Johannes Dutch

Vintage New Car Preview: Citroen CX – The New Big Citroen, by PN

CC Capsule: 1991 Citroën CX Evasion – Last Chance Wagoon, by T87

Car Show Capsule: 1983 Citroën CX Orphée by Deslandes – Hello Strangest, by T87

CC Global Outtake: Citroen CX Pickup with Integrated Cover – CXamino, by PN

Cohort Outtake: Citroen CX Break – Pretty In Pink, by PN

Miniature Curbside Classic: Citroen CX by Playart and Nissan Juke By Tomica – An Eccentric Pair, by Tom Klockau