Ah oui, le French and big saloons or hatchbacks: a fantastique genre that’s never quite managed to make it to the big boy’s table, but not through lack of trying. Over the years, Citroen, Peugeot and Renault have all had entrants in the large executive/luxury sedan market. Some were brilliant, some terrible, some perfect, some flawed; some were interesting combinations of all the above! Some raised quirkiness to an art form and some are so aesthetically interesting that seeing them is worthy of stopping for photos. The September 2007 Citroen C6 above was definitely worth stopping for! I’ve seen it around town sporadically for a few months, so when I found it in the local supermarket carpark on Christmas Eve, I just had to stop and take my photos to share with my CC brethren. I think it’s a future classic, but what say you? To help decide, let’s compare it with quirky large Citroens of decades past.
The ethos of Citroen quirkiness really began back in 1933, when Frenchman André Lefèbvre and Italian Flaminio Bertoni designed the ‘Traction Avant’, known as the Light 15 (or Big 15) in New Zealand. Low-slung, with vestigial running boards and wheel-at-each-corner proportions, the Traction broke ground by being the first front-wheel-drive unitary body car in the world. Robert Kim wrote an excellent article on the Traction Avant here.
Unfortunately for Citroen, the price paid for such an advanced design was bankruptcy in 1934, just eight months after the Traction Avant was launched. Tyre manufacturer Michelin was the company’s biggest creditor and found themselves the surprised new owners of Citroen. Luckily for Michelin, the Traction’s quirkiness was appreciated by the public, and aside from some unpleasantness between 1939 and 1945, sales trundled along quite nicely – with nearly 760,000 sold over the next 21 years.
Although ground-breaking in 1934, the Traction Avant looked a bit old hat by 1955, so Lefèbvre and Flaminio’s next design, the DS/ID, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. With its streamlined shape, hidden rear wheels, hydropneumatic suspension and rear indicators up by the roof, the DS wasn’t just quirky, it was King Quirk, on the throne of Quirkdom, quirkiest in all the land! Roger Carr has a great article here on the development of King Quirk.
Nowadays the DS/IS is frequently at or near the top of the most beautiful or influential car designs in the world, but as a kid in the ’80s, I thought they were gob-smackingly ugly. When parked and sitting down on their hydropneumatic suspension, I thought DS/IDs looked like hideous slugs, just waiting to ooze over the road and swallow me whole. My parents would threaten to make me look at a DS picture if I didn’t eat my vegetables… I may have made that last bit up. Of course now that I’m an adult, I do eat my vegies, and have grown to understand and love the DS/ID styling, as presumably did the almost 1.5 million people who bought one between 1955 and 1975.
After the DS/ID went full-quirk and then some, designer Robert Opron dialled the quirkometer back for 1974’s CX. It was the reduced fat of the Quirk Kingdom – full-flavoured panache with only half the quirk. I’ve always found the CX to be quite beautiful, with some wonderful detailing. CC’s own Perry Shoar described the CX as “Modernism’s Last Stand“, and I find his description to sum the styling up quite perfectly:
“Rather than looking like a 1950s sci-fi relic, the CX was a design mere earthlings could relate to; its uniqueness was a matter of being fashion forward, subtly detailed and beautifully proportioned, not necessarily imaginative. It simply is one of the cleanest, most compelling sedan shapes put into production and imparts a sense of capacity in addition to mere efficiency; a real jet-age express.”
As well as a beautiful exterior, the CX brought an interior that no-one understood at first glance. “Mon dieu! You want stationary instruments with moving needles? Non!” shouted Citroen, “They bark like – how you say? – a derg? Sacre bleu!! We make l’instruments rotate instead! Now, où est mon vin?” And of course the CX looked like a hatchback but wasn’t, so I award Citroen top marks in Quirkdom’s WTF awards.
Unfortunately for Citroen, the price paid for such an advanced design was bankruptcy in
1934 uh 1974. I’m experiencing a sense of deja vu here. Once again, Quirkiness qame at a qost… So in December 1974, at French government insistence, Citroen was taken over by Peugeot. Although this gave Citroen stability, a lot of the quirkiness was locked up in the basement. Yet, despite other Citroen models becoming more mainstream, the beautiful CX was left virtually alone, aside from a minor facelift in 1985 (au revoir weird instruments, bonjour conventional gauges), and nearly 1.2 million were sold before it was put out to pasture in 1991.
Given the rate at which the CX sales petered out, I find it surprising that Citroen developed a follow-up model, 1989’s XM, which Paul briefly covered here. Sitting on the anti-quirky Peugeot 605 platform, the XM was based on Marcel Gandini’s “Zabrus” concept. Citroen really should have had The Great Gandini wave his magic wand over their final version of his design – which is not great looking – the nose is looooooooong, the bonnet frightfully broad and flat, and there’s far too much going on down the sides.
Out back though, Citroen finally deigned to give their hatchback-looking car an actual real live hatchback! Sacré bleu! Of course they couldn’t do a normal hatchback, as when the hatch was opened, breezes could ruffle passengers’ coiffures and haute couture. Mon dieu! So Citroen gave the XM a second, internal, rear windscreen! Naturally, this wins them another of my Quirkdom WTF awards.
Although a core of Citroen supporters bought the XM, reliability issues saw sales sink quicker than a very quick thing. Barely 330,000 were sold by the time production stopped in 2000, leaving Citroen sedan supporters sobbing into their syrah.
There was a glimmer of hope though, as at 1999’s Geneva Motor Show, Citroen showed their C6 Lignage concept car. The C6 Lignage was striking, very streamlined and smooth, and looked like a beautifully updated CX – it was almost as if the over-wrought XM had never existed! The C6 Lignage met with a mostly good response – although Citroenet described it as looking “…somewhat bulky and heavy”. Wikipedia (no, it’s never my main source!) says that the C6
Corvette Lignage was meant to go into production right after the XM was guillotined in 2001. The reality is that production was delayed until 2005, and I haven’t been able to find out why – perhaps someone in CCland knows?
When the C6 arrived, it unexpectedly and bravely retained most of the concept car’s styling, and is all the better for it. I think it’s a spectacular piece of design, even in drab silver, and Citroenista everywhere must have popped cork after cork of the finest champagne.
The champagne glasses must also be raised to Citroen for pulling off that very rare feat of an enormous proboscis that doesn’t desperately require rhinoplasty! Large overhangs have been much discussed on CC previously – in 2011 Paul described the 1961 Gregoire as the “Front Overhang Pioneer“. In the comments to that article, CCer calibrick nominated the C6 as his personal front overhang record holder, which is quite possibly true.
Debate resumed in 2013 when Paul wondered if the Lincoln Mark VI had “The Biggest Overhang Ratio Ever?” The C6 didn’t get mentioned that time, although CCer david42 nominated the Citroen CX as the only car that looked good with an enormous frontal overhang and a small rear overhang. I’d posit that the C6 can join and become class president of that club!
Of course Citroen wouldn’t be Citroen without a bizarre quirk or three, and the C6’s biggest quirk harks back to its CX grandfather: it looks like a hatchback but, mesdames et messieurs, it’s a sedan! Words escape me on that one. Actually, I lie, words never escape me, just like the need to at least try to provide decent luggage access didn’t escape Citroen’s designers either. The shape of that rear windscreen makes my head hurt when I try to picture it in 3-D, but it is a truly sublime piece of sculpture.
That the rear windscreen made it into production is one thing; that Citroen actually made it more radical than the concept version is outstanding! I’m glad the chevrons in the roof didn’t carry over though…
Something else that was more radical on the production model is the tail-light design. When I saw my first C6 in the metal a few years ago, I was unsure about the tail-lights. But they’ve grown on me now and I can’t imagine the rear end without them – they’re an integral part of the whole.
Unfortunately – actually scrub that, infuriatingly, Citroen bottled on carrying over the concept interior design! Instead of soaring consoles (which I know a bunch of you would have hated!) and a tree, Citroen gave us, well, this:
Sacrilege! Okay, the wood door pockets look great, and open quite beautifully, but as for the rest…seriously Citroen? Y’know, I could have lived with a less exciting rear windscreen shape* for a little more flair de conception inside!
*NB I couldn’t have lived with a less exciting rear windscreen shape.
Having said that, the centre navigation screen is well-located, and the digital instruments in front of the driver are quirkyish and have a very decent heads-up display. But the whole ensemble was more back street than Carnaby Street. I took a photo of the rear compartment for our intrepid readers, but it’s seriously so generic and boring that I fell asleep while posting it here. It probably ended up in one of Paul’s GM Deadly Sins articles.
However meh the C6 interior is though, I think the exterior is more than a worthy successor to the Traction Avant, DS/ID and
XM CX of old. Tragically the predicted 20,000 per year sales never eventuated (although Citroen didn’t go bankrupt this time) with just 23,384 being sold over seven years. Thankfully, Citroen New Zealand saw fit to offer the C6 here, and you can take it from me: even painted silver in a supermarket carpark, there was nothing – nothing – else there on Christmas Eve as stunning as this C6. A future classic? Ah oui, absolument!