Featured: Citroën CX was Inspired By, Named For, and Shaped by Aerodynamics

Citroën CX was Inspired By, Named For, and Shaped by Aerodynamics

By Benjamin Shahrabani
August 13, 2014

Photography by Rémi Dargegen for Artcurial Motorcars

Launched at the Paris Salon in 1974 to much fanfare, the CX was a replacement for the groundbreaking and innovative, but by then aged DS. It was a tough act to follow. The DS was manufactured from 1955 to 1975, but when it debuted it had been such a leap forward in technology and design, that as a complete package it had been almost untouchable. The CX would continue in that tradition, offering comparable levels of luxury, and engineering, but in an even more aerodynamic form.

Indeed, to many Citroën enthusiasts the CX is the last true Citroën. It would be the last car designed entirely in-house, as Peugeot would purchase the company shortly after its introduction. The French Government, concerned at the potential job losses after Citroën overextended itself, merged the two brands in 1976. Let’s examine.

The CX would be one of the most modern designs, even though quite a bit was passed down–its engine initially, use of plastics, and the hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension system that gave the DS its magic carpet ride quality, which had even played a part in saving French President Charles De Gaulle from an assassination attempt. The CX also inherited the DS’s “weirdness” and spun it off in a new direction. The CX would introduce a touch-sensitive brake pedal, a single spoke steering wheel that was self-centering, and turn signals that were not self-cancelling. Traditional dials would no longer suffice, as the CX would utilize rotating drum instruments. So unlike the revolutionary leap forward the DS made over the Traction Avant, and almost everything else, the CX would be merely evolutionary, but with added oddity.

Where the CX really stood out however, and made a true leap forward, was in the area of packaging and aerodynamic styling. The CX would utilize a transverse engine, in contrast to the longitudinal layout of the Traction Avant and the DS. This saved valuable space that would ordinarily be unavailable to the car’s occupants, and meant the CX was eight inches shorter than the DS, yet still with a similar amount of interior room. The CX’s flowing lines and “Kamm” tail were wind tunnel tested, something that was slowly coming into practice at the time, and were conceived by Mr. Robert Opron, drawing upon the DS again. Covers would again appear over the rear wheels, and helped to manage airflow at the back, but in another leap forward Citroën created ducts under the car to channel sufficient airflow over the brake discs to keep them safely cooled. Today, refining underbody aerodynamics is standard practice. The rear hatch glass was concave and aerodynamics allowed water to be swept clear without the use of a rear wiper. The CX would have a CD of 0.29 (lower is better) when the typical American cars of the time would be in the range of 0.45-0.50. Indeed, its moniker “CX” is the French acronym for coefficient of air resistance.

The CX won the European auto journalists’ Car Of The Year Award in January 1975. By the time production ended in 1991, Citroën had sold over one million CXs as sedan-fastback, wagon, and long wheelbase variants. The CX was continually developed and improved every year it was in production, and today is still relatively modern and comfortable.

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Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson(@paul_robinson)
3 years ago

Okay, most of the comments in this article are absolutely wrong. To quote: “The CX would introduce a touch-sensitive brake pedal, a single spoke steering wheel that was self-centering, and turn signals that were not self-cancelling.” WRONG!

All Citroens had self-cancelling turn signals, the DS and the SM especially. The DS introduced the single spoke steering wheel and the SM introduced DIRAVI steering with self-centering, at 2 turns lock-to-lock. The “touch-sensitive brake pedal” was the same braking as on the DS and SM, but without the flexible rubber mushroom making it more responsive, but still the same brakes.

Additionally: “but in another leap forward Citroën created ducts under the car to channel sufficient airflow over the brake discs to keep them safely cooled. Today, refining underbody aerodynamics is standard practice. ” NO! First, the CX brakes were actually a bit less advanced than the DS since they were no longer in-board, so add to the unsprung weight of the wheels. The DS has ducts to the brakes that are likely more effective! Also, the DS underbody is very smooth, but the CX is not refined at all.

Don’t get me wrong, the CX is fantastic and is more useable every day than the DS. I’ve owned two DSs, but my father had many more. My last was a ’75 in West Germany. I bought my first CX in W. Germany too, and have had several over the years, still do in fact. The CX is my choice over DS or SM (the SM gives it a very good run though, we have two of them) because:

The CX is quieter, more comfortable because the seats are more supportive, more fuel efficient, better visibility (the DS wipers are terrible), faster and easier to maintain (esp. the fuel injected models).

The author does get that the CX was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but how many revolutions can one company create? The CX design became the basis for many car designs through the ’90s and 2000’s as well, it’s that good!

But it lacks some of the safety characteristics of the DS, such as the fuel tank in the center of the car where it’s less prone to damage in an accident. The DS tank is under the rear seat in a box in the frame, the CX hangs under the trunk, exposed (just ask CXA about crash testing in the US!).

The CX was a very advanced design compared to the competition. The shape of the exterior was prescient and the interior design, in particular the dashboard and switch ergonomics were far ahead of the times. Even today that design is superior IMO. The 24 inch windshield wiper was way ahead of everyone else, to the point Mercedes felt it necessary to copy it! Just try and find a 24 inch wiper blade in the parts stores of the ’80s in the U.S.! That was fun. There’s more wrong with the article, but I’ll leave it at this.

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Robinson

You have your fact wrong – especially someone who claims to have long association with Citroens.
Citroen stuck with non-self-cancelling indicator well into ’80s, I believe either series 2 BX or AX. Until GSA PRN-lunule style control, they had conventional stalk system which did not self-cancel. (The PRN-lunule is worth an article devoted to it on its own).

4 years ago

This Prestige was a longer version from the factory. But the limousine maker nilsson.se made two for president Honecker who was even longer. Google citroen cx nilsson.

Harmand François
Harmand François(@fb_1633373453564315)
6 years ago

Je suis le Gendre de Michel HARMAND, et je suis ravi de parcourir votre page sur la CX

Je confirme pour avoir roulé de nombreuses années avec la CX de Beau-Papa, que cette magnifique voiture est très agréable, confortable (surtout pour les longues distances), un vrai vaisseau “Amiral”.
Citroën à eu la “bonne” …l’excellente idée, dirais-je, de proposer à sa clientèle ce véhicule…et à permis à Michel de dessiner la Lunule, les satellites et une planche de bord originale, voire copiés par certains ( satellites).

un grand merci à vous pour cet article.

Bien cordialement

Ib Erik Soderblom
Ib Erik Soderblom(@kaiserpingo)
6 years ago

Beautiful and intelligent car !

Even as a lifetime non-smoker, I have to admit, that i just love that spherical ashtray.
It’s so French, and today it’s wonderfully politically incorrect ! :- D

Mads Gravers Nielsen
Mads Gravers Nielsen(@madsgravers)
7 years ago

Remember being a kid and drooling over one of these parked in my neighborhood. Guess I’m getting middle aged…;) Beautiful anyway, the car. Nice, crisp photographs, almost sensuously textured…sigh!:p

Rayton Fingal Fissore
Rayton Fingal Fissore(@fb_100004104278259)
7 years ago

10 years ago I owned a CX GTi and we were going for a trip from Stockholm to Malmö in Sweden, aprox 600 km. When we had done half distance the car suddenly started to float upon the surface of the highway. Me and my wife looked at each other and we both yield; Wow! What a car! It felt like it had taken of just 20 mm as if we suddenly are air born!
By the time when I bought the car, my wife was mad because it was so weird. But when I sold it, she was mad because she would miss it so much. It really has a personality!

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
7 years ago

citroen always made the best big french cars.

7 years ago

No interior shots?

Anne Kromhout
Anne Kromhout(@fb_530191805)
7 years ago
Reply to  M.I.

For a car with such an amazing interior it’s a indeed bit weird not to include them.

TJ Martin
TJ Martin
7 years ago

As much as Citroen marketed the CX as the logical successor to the much loved DS … most historians now feel it was in fact the user friendly 4dr family version of the SM as well as its little sister .

Unfortunately …. the CX also spelled the beginning of the end of of Citroen innovation and creativity … with the company then going down the Rabbit Hole of trying to compete head to head with everyone else rather than carry on with their iconoclast and forward thinking designs

Ahhh back in the day when a French car was … dare I say it … FRENCH ! Quirks , foibles and all … but very very Freeeeench .. as well as desirable … for those of us with a streak of iconoclast running underneath