1987 Citroen CX Familiale / CXA slash pink

1987 Citroen CX Familiale / CXA slash pink

I don’t know a soul who isn’t enamoured by the thought of owning a large Citroën, even though most are usually rather inhibited to take the plunge. The CX, released in 1974 and replacing the seemingly irreplaceable DS, is one such machine. Styled by the incomparable Robert Opron for a company on the verge of bankruptcy with monumental illusions of grandeur, Citroën created the car for sale worldwide and in doing so, brought all the political ravages of the day crashing down upon its dreams.

The CX, like the GS, was developed extensively to use new rotary engine technology through a joint venture with NSU – Comotor – and this accounted for the CX’s relatively small engine bay. The partnership wasn’t profitable however, the engine was unreliable both in CX testing and in its limited production GS guise, and most notably very uneconomical during the throes of the early 1970s oil crisis. Ultimately Citroën declared bankruptcy and was salvaged by Peugeot as majority shareholder, ultimately being morphed into the new PSA empire by 1976.

1987 Citroen CX Familiale / CXA slash pink

“It was repainted by the prior steward on the west coast of Florida who adorned it with graphics and utterly bonkers front wheel trims which could have been lifted from a Gerry Anderson production set.”

Citroën had lofty ambitions for North America with the CX, despite its limited capacity by only allowing for the use of small engines. Indeed, it had been designed specifically for sale in the US, and the company had already adapted the design for the Fed’s insistence on four 5.25-inch sealed beam headlight units, which couldn’t be adjustable with the steering. This legislation, which by then was almost two decades old, resulted in major changes to the design of the ill-fated SM a few years beforehand. However, the 1974 round of NHTSA red tape sealed the CX’s demise for any hope of North American sales: bumpers front and rear which could absorb 5mph impacts, and outlawing the use of height-adjustable suspension systems as a direct consequence. Even Mercedes-Benz notably attempted to appeal against this legislation, but to no avail.

1987 Citroen CX Familiale / CXA slash pink

The height-adjustable suspension illegality was rescinded in 1981, and the 5mph impact bumper requirements relinquished by the mid-1980s, although Canada still retained its own stronger bumper mandates for many years after. This prompted several independent Citroën specialists to import the CX under their own steam, an expensive undertaking of which none were successful. The most noted was Lebanon, New Jersey outfit CX Automotive spearheaded by Malcolm and Eric Langman. Citroën opposed any connection to the undertaking; as such all Citroen badges were removed, the cars being simply branded as ‘CXA’, which also appeared on the VIN plate. The Langmans rebuilt the CX in Oisterwijk, the Netherlands with stronger, US-compliant bumper mounts, a redesigned facia, emissions legislation good for all US states except for California, and a five-year comprehensive warranty was offered.

Balls of steel were also required in commanding over $40,000 for a car which was double the amount PSA was asking for a comparably equipped Peugeot 505, pushing it firmly into Mercedes-Benz territory. After extensive crash-testing to satisfy the capriciousness of the US Government, the company sold fewer than 500 examples, with a few hundred more courtesy of Atlanta, Georgia-based Citroën Importers of North America (CINA), which received cease-and-desist letters on prescribed PSA letterheads before its CX operations ended abruptly.

CXA offered the GTi and Prestige sedans with the 150bhp 2.5-litre in-line four, as well as turbocharged versions developed another 35 horses or so. The Familiale – or as CXA branded it, the Estate Wagon – utilised the non-turbocharged unit. Which now brings me to this delightfully oddball 1987 salmon (slash pink) and white Estate Wagon example featured here. It’s easy to dismiss it out of hand as imperceptive, but hold onto your horses as this car, lovingly owned by Ivan Katz, a property realtor from Frederick, Maryland, does have an interesting backstory.

Originally a CXA car, previous owners have painstakingly restored most of its looks to its traditional European visage, even adding the distinctive double-chevron badging. It was repainted by the prior steward on the west coast of Florida who adorned it with graphics and utterly bonkers front wheel trims which could have been lifted from a Gerry Anderson production set. It carried surfboards and an archetypal Palm Beach vibe. Ivan’s car retains the standard non-turbocharged motor.

1987 Citroen CX Familiale / CXA slash pink

While the colour scheme could arguably be resigned to Florida, the quality of it is exceptional. It’s clearly been designed in a way which evokes those coachbuilt models crafted by Heuliez. Speaking of which, the unique tailgate design either emanates from the French outfitter or was inspired by it; the origin is unknown. Likewise, the all-red taillights of this example were not unique to the wagon or the sedan, as CXA imported both styles with both red and amber turn signals, but all had to comply with the US EPLLA legislation. These oddities, which can’t be conclusively answered, only add to the enigma of this survivor in the Katz collection. Indeed, to refer to his collection as left-field is a mild understatement, as it also includes a ’73 Alfa GTV which lost its roof to a tree and was transformed as a Carrozzeria Touring replica, and a Porsche 914 with a modified, extensive droop snoot front end which makes it appear like a Plymouth Superbird stuck in reverse. It's just too tempting not to revisit his collection for future Classic.Retro.Modern. reportage.

Ivan’s CXA often makes the rounds at both Citroën and Car & Coffee events in eastern Maryland and northern Virginia, and he was recently invited by the Embassy of France in nearby Washington, DC to feature the car there at an event showing off – unsurprisingly – all things French.

I’ll round off by questioning why on earth PSA was so resistant to any notion of the CX being sold in North America, even at such ludicrously uncompetitive prices. The later turbocharged examples – which CXA versions were – had the capability for hauling families in comfort across the US as generations had done before them, although that engine bay could never be adapted to carry six or eight-pot motors. Even so, the brand had legions of fans from the days of the former DS. Indeed, CX Auto managed to bring in a handful of early XMs to the US, just as the door on the old grey market days was closing, and at the same time, it federalised several BX models in Oisterwijk, which it subsequently showed off at the New York International Motor Show before disappearing altogether. So, there we are, another example of automotive opportunism wasted at the hands of avaricious corporatism.

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