In France, the Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV, is one of the fastest ways to travel. Today, Nice Price or Crack Pipe has a Citroën that, while not so Grande Vitesse, is still a great way to get around.
While a five-figure 500E piques the interest of many an enthusiast, there was a little too much that was hinky with yesterday's broke-back Benz, and a wary 74% of you sent its busted-ass a crackin'. Those uber sedans are a rare sight on the road, and despite that car's obvious liabilities, it was at the very least worth considering. Rarer still, and without serious body damage, is today's candidate which trades physique for freak, and Octoberfest for Bastille Day.
Big Citroën's have a long history of being both fantastic and fanatically weird. In the 1930s, when most cars were rear-wheel drive, the Traction Avant was not only a front-driver, but celebrated that fact in its name. The DS, when first introduced at the 1955 Paris Auto Show, wasn't just avant garde, it was a tour de force of advanced engineering and design that made the jet-age fins of the contemporary American cars look like they were off the Wright Flyer. That car's successor, the CX, was more evolutionary than revolutionary, but continued Citroën's penchant for the dramatic and provocative.
Citroën had surrendered the US market by the time of the CX's introduction, and the car was never officially imported here. A couple of companies, sensing a dearth of freakiness in the U.S., bought up cars in Europe and undertook the federalization themselves, with varying results. But for the purest of Citroën, you need to go to the source
Today's 1981 CX Reflex estate has not been federalized, but it has now reached a ripe old age where you could potentially license it without bothering Uncle Sam at all. Designed by SM-penner Robert Opron, the wagon rides on the longest wheelbase offered for the CX. Its limo-like length provides room for three rows of seats and a turning circle that would make the QE2's captain wince. Unlike yesterday's Benz, the body appears to be straight and none of the trim seems missing, which is good because they don't sell that stuff at Pep Boys and you probably don't speak frog.
Inside, there's room for you and seven of your mime friends who will silently marvel at the spaciousness of the car. The blue interior shows well, as does the ubiquitous single-spoke steering wheel and rolling drum instrument panel. Look down below both of those and your heart will skip a beat at the sight of three pedals to greet your feet. Well, two pedals and a pudendum, as Citroën brakes are unlike any other car's. That nub sprouting from the floor offers but one inch of travel and stamping on it at speed will clamp the four-pot front, two-piston rear, brakes shut with enough force to leave your eyeballs dangling on your cheeks.
The gearbox in this CX is a five speed, and part of the actuation involves you moving your right arm in a sort of forward-backward motion whilst gripping the leather-wrapped knob next to your knee. Bolted to the side of that five cogger is the best part of this car, which is the 75-bhp 2.5-litre diesel four. You may not win any races with this CX, but you'll get decent mileage, and its leisurely pace will allow more people to see you let your freak flag fly.
That diesel doesn't just drive your forward momentum - that would be too mundane, and insufficiently French. No, along with the tire turning, it also runs the hydraulic pump that keeps those brakes a brakin', the suspension a suspendin' and the steering a self centerin'. Popping the hood, you might start humming God didn't make Little Green Apples, but those tasty-looking spheres that seem randomly strewn about the engine compartment are really the devices that keep this car afloat- and the steering and brakes functioning. The Hydropneumatic system is more complicated than French conjugations, and the suspending function is shared with the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow so you can probably enjoy some Gray Poupon on your brie if you need to get it fixed. But that need may be a ways off, and, at $13,000, you may have some cash left over for a baguette and a nice Bordeaux.
So, would you go $13,000 for this long on the road but not long in the tooth Citroën wagon? Or, for that price, would you rather take the train?