I am from a long line of Citroenistas. My grandfather had a Light 15 Traction Avant, his brother a DS. My father a GS, BX, Ami 8 Super (the one with the GS engine), a Visa, nearly a Mehari once. Me, I’ve had a 2CV, that GS, that BX, a Berlingo (I know!).
Other French cars, the odd German and (currently) a Swede have parked outside as they drive into and out of my life, but it’s always those chevrons that I’ve been most drawn to.
I drew them everywhere as a kid, even have some on the wall in the garden, they’re etched into my soul.
My first proper kiss was in a Citroen. I learned to drive in one, passed my test in it. My first car crash was in a Citroen. I first saw Italy and France and Germany and Belgium and Switzerland and Luxembourg and Austria and Holland from a Citroen. Actually, Belgium was a Peugeot, but… I threw my favourite teddy bears out of the window of a Citroen a long way from home. I have been dumped and done the ditching in Citroens. I realised I was in love for the first time driving a Citroen. I took my wife to be on the road trips that were to light the spark when we were just friends, in a Citroen. I changed my first wheel on a Citroen. It is fair to say they have been there my whole life in one shape or another. They can drive you mad, they can make no sense. They can use the only sized socket you didn’t bring home from the garage to fit a routine part that the entire industry has standardised. They can be so French it’s infuriating. And they can be so french it’s intoxicating. There aren’t enough cars you can say that of really, but these things are special. Beautiful. Awkward. Annoying. Costly. Comfortable, so comfortable. And they’re my kind of wonderful.
A bit like a Raleigh bike in England to a cyclist, every Citroenista has their own era. Well, for most people with a tricolour sensibility Citroen hero worship begins and ends with the DS La Deesse (goddess). Understandably so too. Achingly beautiful, ridiculously futuristic, engineered to the point of chaos and simplicity in the same chassis, it is in most circles the Citroen. The later SM is generally regarded as a pretty close second, and to be honest, a little cooler for being off the mainstream radar perhaps. Designed as one of the last of the pre Peugeot Cits before the bean counters moved in and rationalised the wayward cousin spoiling all their dreams of conservative plutocrat limos with lion bonnet badges. Killed off by Peugeot in ’76, they remain rare and rarer. And they are stunning. Really something else. From every angle they offer up something that just doesn’t quite make sense when you piece it all together, but not in a bad way. Similar to a late nineties Fiat Coupe that to me is a series of luscious details flying in close formation, but somehow doesn’t quite work as a finished design. I’ve always loved big Citroens, probably more than most cars, even though they somehow just don’t quite fit together aesthetically as coherently as I want them to. I think it is partly this that draws me to them, I want them to make sense and yet, they don’t quite and I end up with an open conversation. A paradox yes, and a cliche, but somehow the slight awkwardness of not quite being perfect is the perfect ending – there is a question left by an indicator shape, or a wider front track, or a huge headlight counter sunk below the bonnet line spoiling the aerodynamics and then a flush, tiny rear light cluster at the other end, that keeps the emotion open. You just don’t get that from a 7 series no matter how hard Chris Bangle tried (and I like them too).
If I won the lottery I’d probably end up with a fleet of cars from Land Rovers and Transporters, to original Fiat Pandas and Topolinos. Porsche 911 964RSs and 993 C4Ss would figure highly but whatever came and went, there would always be a few Citroens. And those would definitely include a Citroen CX. Probably a few. A safari Familiale, in gold (my worst colour, but somehow right), a Pallas with the chrome bumpers and hub caps and without doubt, a late eighties GTI Turbo 2 in grey, black or white.
For me the zenith of Citroen-ism is the CX. It’s not as simple or as elegant as the DS, nor as futuristic or rare as the SM, or as rational (ish) as the XM, but somehow, in my eyes, it is the most pulled together big daft lunar vehicle from planet Citroen. Their headlamps are pure Citroen, as is the way they don’t sit flush like they look like they should. So are the circular scallops under the door handles and the handles themselves that are a third across at the join in a confident asymmetrical statement. Even the typeface Citroen used all through the seventies and into the eighties was something else too, it made even car engine denotation badges pieces of graphic art. And then there are the touches of lunacy… the gyroscopic instrument dials, the lined sectioned leather seats, the concave rear window, the one spoked steering wheel, the radio being in the wrong place but making you feel like a pilot, the hydropneumatic suspension that used an intricate web of pipework to share hydraulic fluid for the steering, brakes and suspension – great when it works, catastrophic when it doesn’t. I have been at the business end of that situation and needed a complete re-plumb and it was horrible. I have also witnessed a friend’s CX die and it quite literally lay down and passed away in front of us, bleeding green liquid out from underneath until the lights faded and it went to sleep for good. That was a great car too. It even had a ‘vehicules exceptionnels’ sticker for the back of it we picked up in some backwater French filling station in the mid eighties because it was a ‘long vehicle’. The original 7 seater no less.
A couple of years ago, through an extended set of third party hicups, we ended up with a week to go to the annual south of France ‘ride cols and drink wine’ pilgrimage and no house to stay in. Long story short we found a place in a new valley and headed south. Generally the done thing when renting in the Sud de France is get a house off a German or a Dutch person – the quality is always turned up to 11 But this was an English and here we were and we were grateful. As we pulled up, a warm smiling man standing by a Citroen Ami 6 greeted us. Our first words were about a car. Our second meeting was about mutual friends and relatives in the Ballet world. Our third get together was a party in the square amazingly with people I had known when I was a child, now resident here. Our fourth hang out was a trip in a Maserati engined Citroen SM to a french market by the coast. These new best friends it turned out had a collection of cars. Saabs, Renaults, Tatras, Panhards, Fiats and 21 Citroens. SMs, DSs, Ami, 2CV, Mehari, Traction Avants, LNA, GS, and of course, CX. 3 CX. And they nearly all get used regularly. Just like they should, for picking up bread and dropping off building supplies. I don’t like to see classic cars pristine, I like it when they’re dusty and have worn leather seats and a European road atlas ripped and torn and surviving on the rear parcel shelf. That’s how they should be. A living soul.
So, from a chance meeting to a life plan in two years. These friends are already standing the test of time and distance. We will remain close, I can see that. We will move to this valley too and other friends will come. They already are. Two wheeled friends will come and share my cols and we will eat and drink local wine. And I will get to borrow a gold Citroen CX whenever I want to pick them up from the airport, or some bread from the village or pop to the builders merchants. It was always meant to be. I was always a kid from generation CX.
Citroen car club ahoy! http://www.citroencarclub.org.uk/drupal/node/24
You want this, don’t you? http://www.classiccarsforsale.co.uk/search/type-motors/subtype-classic+cars/make-citroen said The Emperor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWEM5T67jA8
They used to have a DS for hire and even though they don’t seem to now I promise you’ll still be tempted http://www.classiccarclub.co.uk/fleet/
Good old Wikipedia has a nice DS page to keep you occupied https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citroën_DS