Why you’d want a Citroën CX
The sensational CX initially came with warmed-over DS pushrod engines instead of the triple-rotor Wankel or the twin-cam flat-four planned in cahoots with NSU, but it would eventually come alive with the GTi.
Ultimately, the late-’80s 168bhp Turbo could propel the car’s highly streamlined bodyshell to a heady 138mph. The mainstream models are not so performance orientated, although they all have many desirable features – not least that Citroën trademark fluid cushion ride that manufacturers today (even Citroën) seem unable to replicate.
For supreme refinement, on the CX the entire running gear was mounted in subframes linked by locating members, joined to the body by 16 flexible mountings.
If this all sounds appealing, now is the time to buy a CX – before they rot or the world wakes up to their exceptional qualities. There are already fewer CXs on the road than DSs, and they are costlier to rebuild. Major panels such as wings are welded on and the more complex pressings mean that fabricating repair panels may well be beyond the resources of the DiY restorer.
The last big Citroën designed without external influence is only now starting to attract attention in its home country. Quite a few left-hand-drive examples are spreading across Europe from France due to greater interest in the UK.
Those distinctive looks are almost all derived from good aerodynamic practice – the concave rear screen, spatted narrow-track back wheels, flat underfloor and many other details went towards a Cd of 0.36; 0.34 on later models.
Equally unconventional were the interior controls. The fingertip switchgear was well received by testers, though the revolving-drum speedo and rev counter were not considered such a good idea. Later cars had conventional instruments. Equipment was comprehensive, including electric windows on most models, but the heating and ventilation were criticised.
The small bootlid as opposed to a full hatch may have been better for structural integrity, but tempered practicality. If you want space, of course, there’s the Safari or seven-seater Familiale with raised roof, plus longer wheelbase and body.
A vast range of options and specifications was offered, so decide which you’d prefer before diving in; build quality peaked in 1983-’86. And never go under a car that’s raised on its suspension without stands: people have been killed.
Images: Tony Baker
Citroën CX: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
The DS-derived pushrod engine is durable, lasting 250,000 miles with basic servicing (c£3000 for a rebuild). Usual checks for wear apply, such as death rattles, excessive smoke and oil leaks. The Douvrin 2-litre gave much better economy and refinement with similar performance to the old CX2000, but was ultimately not quite as durable.
If the rear suspension-arm bearings fail, the wheels lean in at the top and parts may creak when driving. Long-wheelbase versions have more robust bearings.
Handbrake on front with separate pads can seize if not used. 185x14 Michelin XVSs used at first, then MXV 195/70, then two sizes of expensive metric TRXs.
LHM hydraulic fluid is a light oil that does not deteriorate or absorb water, but it needs to be changed if it becomes dirty. It should be a bright fluorescent green.
Check manuals for smooth shifting and healthy synchros. C-Matic semi-auto is quaint but sluggish on initial acceleration, better higher up. ZF auto is bulletproof.
Make sure all the electrics work: repairs can be costly. A faulty speedometer sender has a knock-on effect with the speed-sensitive power steering.
Cloth was used on most cars and is tricky to source for reupholstering; hide easy in comparison. Trim quality was not high, notably door cards that warp and crack.
Citroën CX: on the road
All engines run happily on unleaded, but some need super. Check for overheating, coolant cleanliness, black gunge or emulsion in the oil filler and signs of water leaks, especially on all-alloy Douvrin ‘fours’, which need regular timing-belt changes. Poor running on injection units may just be induction leaks.
A batch of faulty 2.5 diesel blocks cracked internally at the base of the head studs, but the weak ones should have been weeded out (inspect history). Early diesels were slow, though the final 2473cc turbo managed 0-60mph in 10.1 secs and 112mph.
The C-Matic semi-auto with torque converter and electric clutch operated by the gearstick uses unique (NLA) Fluid T, but the club has a huge stock donated by Total GB and, once exhausted, alternatives will be found. It lasts well, given clean fluid and a correctly adjusted set-up.
Suspension spheres need replacement roughly every five years. If a severe bounce test shows the suspension is going hard, or the ride is firm, they need attention. The car should rise to its normal level within 30 seconds of starting and has two higher settings (see that they work) plus one ‘slammed’ on the bump-stops. The pressure regulator should click every 20-30 seconds.
The super-sensitive powered brakes rarely give trouble, though rears can seize – drive in reverse and hit the brakes; if the tail rises, they are working. The powered steering is precise and heavily assisted when manoeuvring, firming up at higher speeds, but has strong self-centring and occasional hissing noises are normal. If it pulls to one side, the self-centring needs adjustment.
Citroën CX price guide
- Show: £6000
- Average: £2500
- Restoration: £500
Prestige & Turbo 2
- Show: £12,000
- Average: £5000
- Restoration: £1000
Citroën CX history
1974 Aug CX 2000/2200 petrol and 2400 diesel launched, with Super or Confort trim
1975 Jul LWB Prestige added
1975 Oct LWB estate
1976 Jan C-Matic three-speed semi-auto option and 2200 diesel saloon/estate added
1976 Jul 2400 petrol Oct seven-seat Familiale
1977 May 2400 GTi added: 5-speed, 128bhp, matt black detail, alloy wheels and two-tone trim
1978 Jan 2500 diesel added (5sp option from Jul)
1979 Jul New PRV ‘Douvrin’ ohc 1998cc engine in Reflex (base model, 4sp) and Athena (5sp)
1980 Jul 2.4 power up 5bhp, 5sp manual gearbox Sep C-Matic replaced by ZF 3-speed auto
1983 Apr CX25 DTR Turbodiesel added
1983 Jul 2500 engine replaces 2400 for injected models
1984 Oct 2500 GTi Turbo (ABS option Mar ’85)
1985 Jul CX2: plastic bumpers, new interior, round dials; intercooled CX25 GTi Turbo 2 and diesel DTR Turbo 2; Douvrin CX22 added
1989 Saloons replaced by XM
The owner’s view
“I owned a string of CXs in the ’90s, before buying and restoring a DS Safari,” recalls owner Marc Newborough. “I purchased this CX three years ago – it’s the ultimate Turbo 2 and I’ve been using it every day in the summer.
“It has done 144,000 miles, which is nothing. My previous one did 210,000 without problems. I change the oil every 6000. The engine was so well proven, millions were made from the DS on. I know someone who got 480bhp from one, with 33psi boost (normal is 15psi) – it broke gearboxes, but the engine was fine!
“I appreciate the performance – it’s got loads of low-down torque – and especially the comfort. The suspension is engineered incredibly well and the steering ensures it goes dead straight: you can take your hands off the wheel on the motorway.”
The hatchback SD1 scored on practicality, but wasn’t as roomy as the CX. It offered similar performance from its straight-six and V8, plus an Italian diesel ‘four’. Good spares availability.
Sold 1976-’86 • No. built 303,345 • Mpg 18-28 • 0-60mph 12.4-7.1 secs • Top speed 103-132mph • Price new £12,114 (V8 S, 1980) • Price now £2500-10k
Decent performance from the 2.5-litre flat-four didn’t help sales for the Gamma, which appeals for its rarity and styling. Few remain in the UK, but rot-free examples still turn up in Italy.
Sold 1976-’84 • No. built 15,296 • Mpg 17-25 • 0-60mph 9.6 secs • Top speed 118mph • Price new £7950 (1980) • Price now £4-8000
Citroën CX: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Distinctively different and always attracting a staunch following, the unconventional Citroën ethos makes the CX an appealing classic that is supremely practical, provided every effort is made to prevent rot taking hold.
With few left and parts availability tricky, finding a good one rather than taking on a project is advised. Scarcity can only increase their appeal.
- Inexpensive to buy
- Exceptionally comfortable
- Still ideal as everyday transport
- Distinctive, stylish and eye-catching
- Limited parts availability in UK
- Rot-prone and expensive to restore
- Sluggish performance from early diesel models and C-Matic semi-autos
Citroën CX specifications
Sold/number built 1974-’91/1,170,645
Construction steel monocoque
Engine iron-block, alloy-head ohv 1985/2175/ 2347/2473cc or all-alloy ohc 1995/2165cc ‘four’, twin-choke Solex/Weber carb or Bosch L-Jetronic, plus turbo (also 2175/2500cc ohv diesels); 102bhp @ 5500rpm-168bhp @ 5000rpm; 112lb ft @ 3000rpm-217lb ft @ 3250rpm
Transmission 4/5-speed manual or 3-speed semi-auto or auto, FWD Suspension: front parallel transverse links rear trailing arms; hydro-pneumatic self-levelling, gas springs, anti-roll bars f/r
Steering powered DIRAVI rack and pinion (except earliest cars), 2.5 turns lock-lock (4.5 manual)
Brakes powered discs, vented front, 260/225mm f/r, ABS on Turbo 2 & Prestige, opt on other 2.5s
Length 15ft 2in-16ft 6in (4666-5030mm)
Width 5ft 8in (1730mm)
Height 4ft 51/2-4ft 10in (1360-1468mm)
Wheelbase 9ft 4in/10ft 11/2in (2845/3085mm)
Weight 2704-3351lb (1229-1520kg) Mpg 20-28
0-60mph 15.1-7.6 secs Top speed 103-138mph
Price new £6179-11,594 (Reflex-Prestige, 1980)
BUY A CLASSIC CITROËN CX