It’s Time to Buy a Citroen CX

Citroen CX limousine

The DS was never going to be an easy act to follow. The public immediately fell in love with the weird, wonderful car and over time, it also developed an energetic cult following which is still extremely active. Because of this, today the DS is not a cheap car to buy, not a good example of it anyway. However, if a funky hydropneumatic Citroen is your kind of thing – it certainly is for us – you may want to take a closer look at the DS’s successor: the CX. Again, replacing the DS was no walk in the park and when Citroen came out with the CX, it didn’t cause as much of a visceral reaction with the public as the spaceship-like DS did. Over time however the CX kept improving and it grew on people. As a result it ended up being in production for (just about) 17 years and almost 1.2 million of them rolled off the assembly line, a pretty solid number compared to the DS which was produced for 20 years and sold a little under 1.5 million.

Citroen CX Limousine

As far as design, the CX is much more restrained than its predecessor but it’s not a boring looking thing by any means. The lines are fluid, smooth and harmonious. Aerodynamic efficiency was obviously a big concern pre production and even the name “CX” comes from the symbol for drag coefficient. The car was penned by Robert Opron, the genius responsible for turning the slightly fish-eyed DS into the glorious streamlined perfection it became for the Series 3 production. Opron was also the creator of the stunning SM, another towering icon of automotive design. At first you’d be fooled to think the CX is a simple shape, but the more you study it the deeper it pulls you in to its complexity. The long, wide front contrasts with the seemingly narrow rear, cut off dramatically in a k-tail style. Not being exactly tiny, the whole car actually ends up feeling much bigger than is, especially when the suspension is down and the CX is slammed. But that’s not a bad thing, big Citroens should be imposing and head turners. Plus, their size never made them look clunky or exaggerated in any way; in fact, in profile the CX looks about every bit as sleek and futuristic as the DS. Strictly from a design standpoint, the Series 1 CX is without a doubt the one to have. With the 80’s came more power, but the car became more angular and less voluptuous, edging towards what would be essential styling cues in the – then – upcoming BX and XM. Late CXs are not ugly cars and as 80’s products they really look the part, but the purity of the Series 1 lines was gone.

Citroen CX Limousine

Inside, the CX was as dramatic as you’d expect a big Citroen to be. Again, the Series 1 is the one to go with if you appreciate Citroen eccentricity and whimsy at its finest. The dashboard is a functional (most times) work art, with a mesmerizing speedometer which uses a rotating drum, stalkless controls (for turn signals, lights, horn, etc) and an evenly distributed array of lights throughout the top of the dash for that sweet, vintage sci fi look. As far as comfort, the CX’s seats are the kind of thing you’d expect to find in grandma’s living room: big and soft, with the rear sitting on the Prestige (long wheel base) version being probably the most comfortable place on earth.

Citroen CX dashboard

Mechanically, the CX picked up exactly where the DS left off. The suspension was the same, a self level hydropneumatic system which pretty much erases any bumps off the surface of the road and makes potholes feel utterly nonexistent. In fact, this setup is so smooth that Rolls Royce adapted it to Silver Shadows and Silver Spirits. As far as power units, the CX had a fairly decent range, but nothing too crazy in terms of power (4 cylinder engines) and that’s alright because it was never meant to be a high revving, power sliding demon, but a comfortable cruiser instead. Varying between 2.0 and 2.5L, petrol and diesel versions, the hot variants of the CX were the GTi Turbo and Turbo 2 and collectors seems to prefer them, but the CX is something which should definitely prime for comfort and not speed.

If you could use a bit more space in your classic, there’s the option of going for the station wagon/estate version of the CX. Even if that’s not a concern, you can go for one on looks alone because CX estates are one of the most successful adaptations of the concept; charming and charismatic to no end. Tissier also made unbelievable adaptations of CX breaks called “loadrunners”, but we’ll get into that another time on a dedicated article.

Citroen CX Break

We’ve established the CX is a pretty nice car with plenty of appeal, but why is it time to get one? Well, right now the CX is at a classic car market sweet spot which can pass fairly quickly. The car is old enough to be fully appreciated, especially the Series 1 variants, but not yet celebrated enough to demand very high prices. This creates a window of opportunity to get something unique and beautiful for not a whole lot of money. Plus, most bad examples of the CX died out by now, probably disintegrated into rust, so what’s left is usually in ok shape because the people who actually bothered to keep them from turning to dust, safeguarded them in various ways. Of course this doesn’t mean that every functioning CX out there will be a properly usable car at the first turn of the key. These are precise pieces of machinery, and – like with the DS – they don’t respond well to being mucked about. A big part of the unreliability fame the DS picked up came from people messing with the hydropneumatic without a real clue of what they were doing and that trend continued with the CX and subsequent models (although there’s something to be said for the electronic blunders of the XM as well). However, the system needs attention and maintenance which rarely gets in cars that have been mainly parked up for years. In any case, although there are precautions to be taken, the point is that a beautiful CX can be bought today for a low amount of money and once prices start to go up, it’s unlikely they’ll come back down significantly again.

In Europe, a great example of an early CX will usually cost around 5.000€, often less than that. The GTi (non turbo) versions will set you back a bit more, but those can be found in pretty good condition for anything from 7500€ up in some countries. Prices will however vary widely from region to region and are of course affected by the trim level, engine size, etc, with the GTi Turbo 1 being the most expensive and desirable example for hardcore enthusiasts. Turbo 2s can still be had at a very reasonable price. In any case, a base CX is a cheap classic to buy and you are getting a whole lot of car for your money. But will be cheap to maintain?

Citroen CX GTi Turbo

Citroen CX GTi Turbo

That’s a question that only time can answer, but there are a few things you can be on the lookout for when considering a CX that might save you some headaches down the road. The main issue with these is, unsurprisingly, rust. The first CXs are notorious for rolling off to factory with little to no rust proofing. In the long run, also unsurprisingly, this hasn’t done the CX any favors. Rust in the subframe of a CX is a headache you won’t want to deal with, so that’s concern number one, but a thorough search everywhere else is a must. Suspension issues on hydropneumatic Citroens are scary, but surprisingly they’re not that tremendously horrible to deal with. Parts prices are pretty okay and the system is reliable, just as long as it wasn’t messed with by clueless mechanics. Originality is a must with these. Steering and breaks are also controlled by the hydropneumatic system, so if something feels wrong it may be a symptom of some significant repairs on the horizon. This being said, neither the CX nor its predecessor are the fragile, finicky things most people assume them to be; they may pose a few additional challenges with the hydropneumatic every few years, but as long as they’re worked on by people who know what they’re doing, the hassle should be minimal.

Being the last car made by Citroen before the Peugeot takeover, the CX is the company’s final hurrah of unrestrained originality and it really became an all-round homerun for the manufacturer; stylish, charismatic, comfortable and beautiful, the CX is one of the last great classics you can pick up inexpensively, so now is definitely the time to buy one.

Image credits:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s