The sight of this Citroen CX Safari on the Cohort, posted by Nathan Williams, reminds me of an arguably irrefutable fact. That for the European buyer from the late 1970s to the very early 1990s, the best estate car available was the Citroen CX Safari, also known as the Break.
Based, as you’d expect on the saloon CX, it was more than just a larger rear bodyshell. Like the Peugeot 404 and 504 that Paul Niedermeyer discussed last week, there were extensive alterations, and some features that were a direct consequence of the CX saloon origins. Indeed, the Peugeots were the only cars to get close to the CX in capacity and ability, and also outscored it in toughness and durability.
The CX first came to this planet in 1974; the estate in 1975. This was almost a foot longer that the saloon, nudging 5m/196 inches long, on a wheelbase of 121 inches. The load bay was over 2m/78 inches long; with the Familiale’s second row of seats up the load bay was still over 4 feet long. By any criteria of load bay length, area or volume, it was the largest available in Europe.
And probably the lowest to the ground as well. Even in the suspension’s neutral position, the flat floor was only 18 inches above the ground, and the suspension could be lowered further if you wished. “The suspension with automatic level compensation” and “drive like God in France” says the advert
Perhaps the suspension was the secret ingredient. Not only did its hydropeneuamtic nature permit the raising (as seen here) and lowering so much associated with the big Citroens, but the layout also kept any space intrusion to a minimum. Add the raised roof, and the carrying capacity and access were in a class of their own. Something over 75 cuft and the ability to tow 1.25 tons.
The drive was good too, with superb comfort from the hydropenumatic suspension. This was not a stiffened up installation to cope with heavy loads, and had self levelling as well. Unique to Citroen and in the class in the 1970s.The car came as the Break (or Safari in the UK) with 2 rows/5seats or as the 3 rows/7 seats Familiale version. The latter could handle a group of 5 with luggage as well as almost any estate car could two plus luggage, or support a full size multi-generational outing, just as a minivan does. The 5 seat version could offer options matched only by an expensive car and a compact panel van, potentially at the same time. Heck, you can get even motorcycles in the back – that may be less novel in North America but in Europe no one else could.
Power came from 2.0, 2.2, 2.3 or 2.5 litre petrol and diesel options, of varying types over the years. The power was not immense, but with the easy cruising gait common to larger French cars and the suspension’s ability to cope with curves and damaged surface, a surprising average speed could be obtained across country or on the autoroute. The engines were not the greatest part of the CX though, until the Douvrin V6 was fitted. The Safari was probably best when fitted with a turbo diesel.
This example is a 1983 car, with the 2.3 litre four cylinder petrol engine. That means it has the stainless bumpers, that to me add so much to CX’s character, and the original interior with the striking instrument pod. Not just a comfortable and spacious interior, but perhaps the most striking saloon interior you’ve ever seen.
And here’s one satisfied return customer. If you’ve ever watched horse racing on British television, you may have seen the camera car chasing alongside the rails, and it was almost always a DS or CX. The long wheelbase Safari platform was used for the Prestige limousine version of the CX, as used by French presidents, and for many aftermarket conversions, typically as an ambulance.The styling of the CX was by Robert Opron, a man with a great resumé, not just with Citroen but also with Renault, Simca and Fiat. Opron, seen below in a Citroen SM, was responsible for the style of Ami, Dyane, GS, CX and the immortal SM, It was as I researched this piece that I found that, sadly, he died earlier this year, aged 89. But he left a pretty solid portfolio for us to appreciate for many years.
Best Estate Car? Yes, agreed.
Although I never drove an Estate I did own a 84 CX 2400 IE saloon for a couple of years. Always regretted selling it. What a wonderful car.
Too much large even for European streets . There was also in catalog a 6 Wheels special Citroen CX Wagon for Ambulance purpose only . Hydropneumatic suspension can be advanced, but if they were using a conventional suspension given from house`s Peugeot 504 Station Wagon this would be a very dependable car .
Most reliable Estate car of the Seventies ? Again : Peugeot 504 Familiale , it had nothing to envy the more attractive Mercedes Benzes Transporter wagons . Nowadays most Citroen CXs Wagons are stranded , they look pieces of artillery for maniac`s collectors . But the complicated spheres of suspension are their Achilles` toe issue
Nothing complicated about the spheres you get them tested and replaced as required, most get stranded due to incompetent mechanics.
Another fine example of just how much poorer the American car market is once Citroen decided to pull up its tent and return to France. Not that the American buyer, in general, ever had the ability to appreciate their cars.
You can even do this with them! 1980 CX2400 Pallas transporter for sale in Norway now, rebuilt in Sweden and approved for road. Yours for only approx 50k$.
One word answer – YES!
And, BTW, it is quicker and easier to replace the spheres than change shocks and dampers on a conventional suspension system….
I have to say that the ability to jack up the suspension that high is pretty compelling to me, for certain obvious reasons.
Yes service height on my C5 means the need for a jack or pit at oilchange time is eliminated, you can drive it like that but there is no suspension its solid extra ride height is almost instantly available at the press of a button for rough ground though the suspension computer does it anyway, pull off the motorway and stop at the first traffic light the car knows and lifts itself from cruising height, and all that stuff still works just as intended after 18 years on the road.
Knowing nothing about it other than the design on paper and its looks, it’s a fantastic car. The tall roof reminds me of my old Corolla All-Trac wagon, or of a friend’s old Lakewood wagon.
Were any smuggled into the US when new? I guess they’re legal now.
“This was not a stiffened up installation to cope with heavy loads, and had self levelling as well.”
I think you stubbed your Achilles’ toe here.
No he didn’t. He meant that it did not require stiffer springs to carry heavy loads. The hydropneumatic suspension automatically adjusted for any weight up to the maximum.
So it was designed for wagon loads from the get go. I wonder how well their engineering held up in practice. A friend had an SM (briefly) with a leak that made the braking button even scarier.
The ribbed underbody panel in front of the wheel is curious.
It’s French. There is a purpose in mind, and it is a brilliant solution to the problem. It might not actually work though.
Not sure there is a maximum we towed a single axle car trailer behind a mates Xantia with a dead Xsara on the trailer engine forward when loaded the car sank to the ground with engine idling as I paid for my parts prize we watched the Xantia lift to level with over 1 tonne on the tow hitch and it rode as normal the entire way home, my C5 will do the same trick but the engine can be off it has an electric suspension pump. Very clever cars.
Those spheres were both cheap and quick to replace and would last 10 years at a time. Did them on my Xantia. Best feature was cornering at speed level the whole way.
I prefer these sculptures to the DS for looks, but I remember chatting to the local French car nut mechanic when I was about 20 in ’88 – this man had opened shop in 1934 and was STILL working – and he reckoned the CX hydraulics were never as good, and neither was the general reliability.
Wagons were very rare here, which is a pity. As I’ve said on this site before, in white, they look like the glorious Sydney Opera House itself.
A very minor point Sir Rog, I’m fairly sure the Dourvin V6 was never fitted to the CX, though the Dourvin four was.
Fantastic. I love these wagons. In hatchback or wagon form, nothing else looks like a CX.
I miss Citroen in the American market. They epitomize the French way of looking at mechanicals. The designs with roominess and comfort are superb. Quirks are to be accepted because they are FRENCH. Look at what America and so much of the auto-making world has done for clearance – Crossovers, AWD’s, 4WD’s. However, I do like the height of SUV’s for visibility but that is because for pleasure driving I enjoy seeing the view. Thanks for a terrific essay on this Citroen. Andre would have been proud of you.
Just i`d say the cheaper and smaller Citroên GS Break has a more clever structure yet sharing the same hydropneumatic suspensions. Those ones who said the CX Estate had easiest spheres to remove and to replace surely they dwell in France or Netherlands .
No contest the Citroên CX as an estate is the number one in advanced esthetics and also for space`s loading capacity ( 4,95 metres is a lot of stuff = 20 feet long ) but hardly is the best wagon in history . For a lot of less money there were better choices that didn`t require a thesis` exam for repairs but was enough to ask Tony or Clancy what to do .
1 The Koln made Ford Granada Caravan
2 The Peugeot 504 Diesel Break station
3 The Volvo 245 Wagon
4 The Mercedes Benz 300 TE
For the 5th place you can score the Citroên CX Estate altogether all big American boats of their era .
I found one of these CX breaks recently in an abandoned wrecking yard nearby the main area had been cleared and was for rent but some things hadnt been taken, Two 50s Humber Supersnipes ex demolition derby were visible from the road and a Austin A35 and Fiat 500D atop shiping containers couldnt be missed but parked in long grass nearly submerged in it is a Citroen CX break, The local Humber Hillman club know about the Snipes and its odds on the Citroen guys know about the CX so if its worth rescuing it will be, beautifull cars especially in diesel.
Absolutely, the only thing better than a CX estate might be the 3 axled CX Loadrunner, originally made for overnight newspaper delivery.
The engine space is tight since a Wankel trirotor was planned. I’ve read they managed to shoehorn the Douvrin V6 in but Peugeot vetoed it so it wouldn’t compete with the 604. Anyhow the diesels were probably the best you could buy at the time, except for the Turbo 2 porous block casting issues, a consequence of doing it on the cheap in India. The N / A diesels are pretty sedate but indestructible, the Turbo 1 almost as tough while driving like a petrol. Pre 83′ diesels had gear distribution, later they had a cambelt but even if it snaps it usually just bends the pushrods, an easy fix. All CX diesel iterations were the fastest available when they appeared.
No question the CX was beautiful and brilliant when new, but then there was the rust issue . . .
When China opened up in late 70s, this model was imported into China in sone quantities. Both estate and sedan were too avant-garde for the public, people quickly realized French and Italian cars were just a bit better than East European and Soviet cars. But Citroen stays on and still produces various models of its cars in China through joint venture with Dongfeng group, which was later majority stake holder of PSA..
I believe this model was imported in US through a company via grey market in 80s.
It’s difficult to understand the CX if you haven’t driven one for a while, it’s an alien experience, next thing you begin to wonder why all cars aren’t made like this. It rusted no more than other cars of the era, 83′ to 89′ were the best in this regard. The mechanics were bomb proof, including the hydraulics, given a minimum of maintenance.
Probably my all time favourite wagon…sorry estate.
I only ever saw these in the metal in Europe as they were never sold in Australia. They looked huge compared to the sedan I was familiar with.
I’ll have a Series 2 with the GTI Turbo engine please.
I’ve seen enough of them over the years that I suspect they were available here either on special order or through a you-pick-it-up-Europe-delivery scheme that lots of importers used to have. Back in the day, if one was a kiddie car nut – and sadly, one was – one would occasionally spy oddities like, say, a W116 Mercedes with cloth seats and manual transmission. If the buyer stayed away a year and had proof of using it on their Euro-jaunt, there was little or no import tax, a huge saving. And the types switched on to such schemes would be likely be enthusiasts more interested in specs (like manual or wagon) not available off the showroom floor here.
They do look big in the metal, but I never realized till reading this that the wheelbase is that of ’74-’79 Oz Ford LTD!