Forty years on, the CX still looks futuristic. But how does it stack up as a classic buy? Here’s what to look for when purchasing this French fancy
How much to pay
• Project £400-800 • Good £1200-2000 • Concours £2500-4000
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
The Citroën CX claimed title as the 1975 Car of the Year, and it’s easy to see why. The judges were bowled over by the Gallic great, with its space-ship styling, advanced hydraulic suspension, diverse equipment, and dynamics that belied the model’s generous proportions. The very name summed up the car; CX is derived from the French for ‘drag co-efficient’, on account of the Citroën’s ultra-slippery shape.
However, while collectors fawn over the iconic DS, its successor is largely forgotten despite being a more capable machine. By the time the classic car world cottons on to the CX, there may be few good ones left – which is why you need to find yours while there are still some superb examples available at eminently affordable prices. Here’s what to look for.
Your AutoClassics Citroën CX inspection checklist
Three types of engine powered the CX. First were Citroën’s petrol powerplants carried over from the DS, which encompassed 1985cc, 2175cc and 2347cc units. The last in this list was later increased to 2473cc. Properly maintained, these engines are amazingly durable; they’ll easily outlast the bodywork of any car, racking up 300,000 miles.
The second type of motor is the all-alloy, overhead-cam Douvrin family, introduced in 1995cc form in 1979, and 2165cc guise in 1985. They’re more powerful and more economical than the earlier units, if not as durable – but they’ll still outlast most CX bodyshells as long as the rubber timing belt is replaced every 40,000 miles or five years.
The final engine family is the diesels, starting with the now-extinct 2.2-litre unit that lasted until 1978. You’re more likely to find the later 2.5-litre unit, which typically lasts at least 150,000 miles as long as the oil has been changed every 5000 miles or so.
However, by far the most common oil-burner is the turbodiesel; more specifically, the Turbo 1 and Turbo 2 editions. The first offers 95bhp, while the intercooled later version offers a healthy 120bhp amid mountains of torque. Both units can suffer from a cracked cylinder head, so look for signs of fractures.
The later unit, known as the DTR Turbo 2 and current between 1987 and 1990, can suffer from a porous block. The symptom is the excessive use of water, but it’s hard to check for this from a one-off inspection. Also, water can be used through a leaking radiator, perished coolant hose or blown head gasket, all of which must be checked for.
Various types of gearbox were fitted to the CX, ranging from four- and five-speed manuals to a semi-automatic unit called the C-Matic. This was available until 1980, when a conventional ZF three-speed auto superseded it.
None of the manual boxes give trouble, aside from synchromesh wearing out at inter-galactic mileages. It’s an easy check; just see if there’s any crunching as you go up and down through the ratios. The C-Matic is best avoided, as it’s unreliable at high mileages and parts are hard to find. That leaves the ZF auto, which is tough but costly to fix if things do go wrong.
The rest of the transmission is equally long-lived – but be wary of a slipping clutch, unless you’re handy with the spanners. The problem is that, on earlier cars, the engine has to be removed to facilitate clutch replacement; at least the powerplant can be left in place if the car has a Douvrin engine.
Suspension and brakes
The hydropneumatic suspension is perceived as being fiendishly complex, but it’s actually a very simple set-up that’s effective and reliable if maintained. The system is based around six gas-filled spheres (two for each end of the car, plus two high-pressure accumulator units in the engine bay). These lose pressure over time, but can be recharged easily on the cheap.
Switch on the engine and ensure the car’s ride height lifts to the normal position within 15 seconds; if it takes much longer, the fluid needs replacing (an hour’s work). Even if all seems well, check the colour of the fluid; it should be bright green and replaced every few years. The hydraulic pump is very durable but they do fail occasionally.
Listen out for continuous clicking from the belt-driven pump that maintains pressure in the system; this indicates that the main accumulator sphere needs replacing. Do a ‘bounce test’ at each end; the suspension may need recharging or replacement spheres. With two-thirds of the car’s weight in the nose, the front spheres need renewing most frequently.
Not all CXs came with power steering, but most surviving examples have it. Driven by the same spheres that ‘power’ the suspension, and called Vari-Power, it rarely gives problems – besides the usual loss of pressure in the hydraulic spheres. If this does occur, heavy steering will be an immediate giveaway.
The CX’s brakes should provide strong, progressive, fade-free deceleration. Don’t worry about hissing from under the bonnet, as they all do that, but if you’re driving a late car with ABS, make sure the system works. The electrics on these later models were not great, with the ABS being one of the first things to pack in.
Pre-October 1980 CXs used to rust as soon as they’d been built; later cars were painted and rust-proofed far more effectively, and have a much better survival rate. Even so, you’ll be doing well to find a rust-free CX.
The welded-on wings rot, and replacement is a pain; check round the wheelarch lips, as the rears are especially rust-prone. The windscreen pillars rot and so do the door bottoms, the leading edge of the bonnet, the floorpans (especially at the front), plus the inner and outer sills. The rear subframe is riveted to the longerons towards the rear of the floorpan, and replacement is a huge job that isn’t financially viable.
Estate tailgates corrode, as does the trailing edge of the roof where the tailgate hinges are mounted. Once corrosion begins in these areas, it quickly takes hold and becomes a nightmare to eradicate – something that’s also true for the lower edge of the bootlid.
Early cars featured trim with the durability of rice paper, but Series 2 cars fare rather better – which is just as well, because tracking down any interior trim, new or used, is not easy. At least the exterior trim is durable, and there isn’t much of it. However, if anything is missing or damaged it could prove tricky to find.
Most electrical problems are caused by a lack of use; corroded terminals are likely. Some switches are also temperamental, such as those for the electric windows. The switchgear and instrumentation are reliable, and easy to find on a used basis, although new parts have now disappeared. It’s the same for the most of the exterior lighting.
- 1974: CX announced in France.
- 1975: First 2000 and 2200 editions arrive in UK.
- 1976: LWB estate launched (2000 Safari), along with 2400 (also in LWB Prestige form) and first diesels (badged 2200 D).
- 1977: All 2400 editions get five-speed ’box, and Familiale arrives (estate with three rows of seats). GTi also appears, with injected 2.4-litre engine.
- 1978: 2.5-litre diesel replaces previous 2.2 unit.
- 1979: Reflex and Athena replace 2000; Athena is posher.
- 1982: Cars now badged 20 and 25 instead of 2000 and 2500.
- 1983: 25 DTR (turbodiesel) range arrives, with five-speed gearbox. There’s also a fuel-injected 2473cc engine for 25 TRI Safari (estate), 25 IE Familiale (seven-seater estate) and 25 GTi – long-wheelbase CX.
- 1984: 25 GTi Turbo brings 168bhp 2473cc engine with a five-speed ’box.
- 1985: Series 2 on sale, with colour-coded bumpers, redesigned interior with conventional instruments and electronically adjustable ride height.
- 1986: GTi Turbo 2 debuts with air-to-air intercooler and 168bhp.
- 1987: DTR succeeded by 25 DTR 2 in saloon or Safari guises, with intercooled version of 2.5-litre diesel. 22 RS Safari and Familiale replace 20 estates, powered by 115bhp 2175cc engine. All 2.5-litre cars get ABS as standard.
- 1989: Estate range rationalised and saloon killed off to make way for XM.
- 1990: All CXs to special order only, with final car being built in 1991.
It’s a familiar story; while the CX is ultra-desirable and cheap, you’ll have to look hard to find a good one. Despite a 16-year production run, and with over one million examples built, there aren’t many CXs left. Series 1 cars, built from 1975 until 1985, are now virtually extinct. As a result, you’re more likely to find a Series 2 car, produced between 1985 and 1991.
There was a bewildering array of variants over the years; you can forget trying to track down a specific derivative, as you have to buy on condition rather than specification. If you can find a long-wheelbase Prestige you’ll have a proper limousine for peanuts.
Similarly, track down a Safari and you’ll have one of the most capacious and comfortable load-luggers ever made; find a Familiale and you can add a third row of seats to the mix. With 72 cubic feet or 750kg of carrying capacity on offer, it’s amazing what you can get inside; even better, once fully loaded, the suspension keeps everything on the level.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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