Let’s Sort This Out, Shall We?

Recently we have been discussing the origins of the Citroën XM.

1989 Citroen XM
1989 Citroen XM

Here are as many of the influences I can find, not counting the aspects of the car that draw on Citroen’s own general heritage. The roll call is long and not exclusive. However, it begins with the 1974 Lotus Eclat which has a similar dropped window line, one of the XM’s signature features. Deschamp’s drawing looks like a saloon Eclat, if you compare the two. The 1979 Bertone Tundra offers the angular surface treatment which characterises the XM. The 1980 Lancia Medusa has a long wheel base and a very similar raked window screen and bonnet, another Citroen XM feature. The glazing is conventional though.

Two cars provide inspiration for the way the windscreen wraps to the side glass. First, the 1980 Ferrari Pinin shows the wraparound effect and, second, the 1982 GM Aero shows the small triangular glass panels needed to allow the side glass to wind down (later used on Buick and Oldsmobile C-platform models in 1991). In between is the overlooked 1981 Opel Tech concept car which has a floating roof which depends on glazed A, B and C-D pillars.

In the same year Bertone’s Mazda MX-81 (by Marc Deschamps) shows the same surface treatment as the Tundra and particularly the distinctive groove down the body side as it relates to the wheel arches. Marc Deschamp’s XM sketch is from October 1984. The 1985 Subaru XT appeared in February 1985 and it may only be a coincidence but it has many of the same elements as the XM. Its authorship is not clear: I suggest an uncredited Bertone project for an XM coupe, finalised in 1982. I have shown a 1986 car.

I am not aware of a car that has so many clear influences in its final form as the XM. The 1982 Citroen BX must be noted as direct influence in that it was this car the XM had to relate to in the Citroen portfolio. The BX is credited to Gandini. An abbreviated chain of influences runs from Bertone (the Tundra and MX-81), to Gandini (BX) and on to Deschamps at Bertone again. The final car was then polished by Olson and Abrahamson.

Perhaps the 1981 Talbot Tagora, on which Art Blakeslee worked might even be included?

1989 Citroen XM influences
1989 Citroen XM influences

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Image credits:

1974 Lotus Eclat

1979 Bertone Tundra

1980 Lancia Medusa by ItalDesign.

1980 Ferrari Pinin

1981 Opel Tech.

1981 Mazda MX-81

1982 GM Aero concept car

1984 Citroen XM sketch by Marc Deschamps in Martinez, A., and Sauzay, M (1989) Citroen XM. EPA, Paris.

1985 Subaru XT

1989 Citroen XM grey side view.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

43 thoughts on “Let’s Sort This Out, Shall We?”

  1. Lest I give the impression that the XM is simply a pastiche, I would call it a good synthesis.
    The MX-81 influence can also be seen in the XM’s chisel-like front end and other sketches of the XM by Deschamps show a clearer affinity to the MX-81.

    1. The XM is a design I both like and dislike in equal measure. I’m not really sure I can articulate why. I think its the detailing that bothers me slightly and the knowledge that it looked a lot better in conceptual form – a little like the C6 which followed. But there’s no use crying over spilled styling concepts is there? Another irritant at the time of its introduction was the knowledge that former styling chief, Carl Olsen is said to have resigned over his more avant garde design being passed over in favour of Deschamps’ creation.

      As an aside Richard, surely Opron was at Renault by the time the XM was being schemed?

    2. An interesting article, well done. At the time the XM was introduced I also felt that it looked like a more rakish and pointy Skoda Favorit. The Favorit was introduced in 1987, so two years before the XM appeared. Skoda also developed a coupe version (“783”) which never got past the prototype stage. If you look at that one especially the similarities with the XM are unmistakable. Unfortunately I can not upload the photos I have of both Skodas but I’m sure you can look them up yourself. What do you think? Should the Favorit/Favorit Coupe be added to the XM influencers?

    3. Thanks, Bruno. It took a good deal of rummaging around to get those images.
      While I agree the Skoda Favorit looks Citroenesque and that the coupe concept has an XM style about it, I can’t wholly endorse your suggestion about the direction of influence.
      Off-hand, I think the styling for the XM was frozen in 1985 or 1986 at the latest. Thus the Skodas are either a) Bertone selling proposals for Citroen cars that PSA rejected or b) proposals done in a Citroen style by accident. (a) strikes me as the more plausible of the two.
      We have discussed here how the Favorit, by Bertone, was probably intended as a Visa-type car. I ought to run up a sheet showing the features that are peculiarly Citroenesque at some point.
      The coupe probably draws from the same well of themes as the XM but as I expect it was supposed to fit in (as a Citroen) with the XM it got the cheap blacked out a-pillar and dropped window line.

    4. Thank you for your reply, Richard.
      I agree that option “a” (the Favorit being a Bertone proposal for a Citroën Visa replacement that PSA rejected) seems the most plausible, especially if you look at the stillborn Favorit 783 Coupe. We ended up with the ZX which strikes me as a lot less distinctive than the “mini-XM’s” in which these Bertone proposals would have resulted.
      If you ever get around to it, I certainly look forward to seeing your views on the Citroenesque themes of the Skoda Favorit!

  2. Eoin: if you might be wary of certain other marque enthusiasts then extra caution is needed with the Citroen XM fans. Is it not the best Italian-designed, large French front-wheel-drive, hydropneumatically suspended hatch-back ever? The Dulwich Post called it “very good” and the Abercairn Herald considered it “of much merit”.
    In all seriousness (I own one, so it’s serious), none of the proposals looks believable. I don’t think Olsen’s ideas were going to work in 1989 like it was 1975 all over again.
    The topmost hated details are the side-glass, door-handles and allegedly featureless frontal aspect. What’s your pick?

    1. Richard: Treading softly in WB Yeats fashion, I would probably concur with the first two, but in XM’s defence, I can’t really see what else they could have done with the glazing. The door handles are clumsy. Otherwise, I’m in the woods. It’s a very striking shape and on first glance I’m impressed, but as I absorb the details I’m less convinced. Now I’ve never even sat in one so I’m viewing it from afar, which possibly isn’t fair. I recently made a similar faux pas with a C6 owner. He took it remarkably well considering…

    2. For me, it’s really the fromt part that bothers me. Not because of ‘featurelessness’ (whatever this is supposed to mean, I can do without flashy adornments, and I enjoy the subtle asymmetry). No, it’s the nose cone that cuts off the bonnet in a graceless way and never seems to want to match the pressing of the front wing. Other than that, I’m quite happy with the car as is, except for the clumsy rear spoiler they added on all but the very basic 2l carb versions. The glasshouse is one of the distinctive features of the car, and although I generally like simpler designs with fewer features, like Eóin I don’t see how you could do the floating roof in a different way without having huge areas of black painted metal (like on some of the most recent Citroëns).

      Oh yes, there was another thing. When the XM was new, I mourned the death of the half-covered rear wheel. However, I became used to it, and I even think that with the rising window line, there would have been too much metal on the side with this feature.

    3. Thinking more on my ambivalence for the XM, I think the root for me was my huge regard for the CX, a car the XM was always going to fall short against. I just had such high expectations at the time and while I thought it was a good effort, it never made my heart flutter as its predecessor did. But I really should know better. The XM is probably at least as good a car as the C6 – and that’s a very impressive car indeed. Mark you, my prejudice against both models was based upon matters of their appearance, not how they drove.

      I recall being desperate to drive one when they first came out, but sadly, while our lease clients showed interest, the numbers were always prohibitive. We never got past the brochure phase. Despite their eminent suitability to the road conditions, hydropneumatic Citroen’s were toxic in the Irish Republic during the ’80s.

  3. I’d say the Robert Opron heritage still layed heavily on the Citroen design studio, in spite of Peugeot ousting him in the early 80’s. The XM:s most distinct feature is the kick up at the rear door to the sail panel, and the car really looks like what a five door SM had done ten-fifteen years after the fact. I’d say there’s a straight but somewhat fuzzy line going from the SM to the XM.

  4. I always thought the XM had the nicest and most interesting range of wheel trim designs at launch of any car.

    One thing I’ve not seen discussed on DTW is the trend (that the XM embraced) of moving away from flush or nearly flush door handles to the more traditional pull-type handles. Ford did it as well for the original Focus. Why did it happen?

    One theory is that the perceived quality of the handle feels higher than a hinged flap. Or maybe there’s a safety-related reason?

    1. The CX’s door handles were something of a half way house in that they were of traditional style but semi-flush owing to the circular recess in the door skin. They were operated by a push button if memory serves. Those on the XM stand out more despite living in the recess of the body crease. They look more like the pull-out type.

      I always theorised the wholesale adoption of the free standing door handles was that they were associated with quality German cars and that buyers preferred them. Also that flush fitting pull-up handles often failed or froze in adverse weather. I could be wrong about some or all of this – it’s just a theory.

    2. I think it could easily be a perceived-quality or just as much a fashion thing, but I do seem to recall that in the mid-’90s, VW made a point of arguing that the pull-type handles were better for safety because if the car was in a crash and the body deformed to the point that the doors couldn’t open easily, they allowed a grappling hook to be mounted to yank them open.

    3. In German (ADAC?) crash testing, much was made of the advantages of pull door handles after the crash has occurred, as they can be clasped and hence more force can be exerted in order to try and open the door. Which sounds fairly reasonable to me.

  5. I’ve always loved the XM. When it first came out, I first spotted one in parked at a curb in Florence, whilst visiting that beautiful city for the first time, and left my then to-be wife standing, bemused, as I scampered across some famous old bridge to gape at it. It had not been launched in the UK at that time.

    I liked the shallow, chiselled nose with its asymmetric badge positioning, the SM-a-like rear panel with integrated rear lamps and the rear 3/4 side DLO kink. I always liked the simplicity of execution of the inner rear window to keep the chill off rear occupants when the hatch was opened. And, I liked the original interior, dash and steering wheel – in fact it was a nicer looker all round pre-facelift. They are rare these days … but still head turning!

    1. SV: I saw my first XM in Montelimar. That was a event.
      I think it did stand out at the time and still does. It’s complex and slightly flawed which may or may not be deliberate. I can see how some won’t go for it: Citroen radicalists, Audiphiles and sensible people who possibly rightly might pick some other good cars from Saab or Opel or Alfa Romeo.

  6. I’ve never seen the Mazda MX-81 before. Its similarity to the two year older Tundra is striking.

    One thing I’ve sometimes wondered: was the XM ever sold with the twin parallel line wheeltrims pictured, or were they a pre-production thing? The UK cars certainly never had them. They feature a lot in the Martinez/Sauzey book, which I can highly recommend if you’re an XM fan.

    1. I remember the comment about their not being able to get the wiper to work very well. Rightly or wrongly I thought that, if the once mighty bureau d’etudes couldn’t sort out a bloody wiper, then they had really lost it.

    2. John: I like those wheelcovers, too! They were reserved for the very basic version, 2l carburettor with no equipment. It also lacks the rear spoiler, as seen in the picture. It’s definitely the purest form of XM, and I can imagine there were many countries where it wasn’t sold. Switzerland was one of them, for example.

      For me, the definitive XM wheel is still the initial alloy. You could read it as a successor-in-spirit of the CX alloy – this had the same concept with painted lower and bright raised sections. It all went down the drain later. The shiny, mostly covered ‘wave’ alloys were still acceptable, but the later ‘Exclusive’ alloys with their clumsy, rounded spokes didn’t work at all with the XM’s edges.

  7. John: It’s hard to say now. I could take a look at some of the period reviews in Autocar and Car. Which will take a few moments. The alloys on the Series 1 cars had a nicely technical look while avoiding the problem of making the wheel covers look bad. I like the five-dot covers almost as much as Saab steel “telephone dial” covers.
    Nobody seems to have noted the Opel Tech and Aero cars which showcase the XM’s glasshouse. I really like the Opel Tech – it looks like a real car unlike so many concepts. All Opel did was to use the grille and lamps on the last Kadett.

    1. Yes they were available, at least in France. ‘Italia’ alloys were really the pick of the bunch though.

  8. I remember the Car magazine review of the Citroen XM quite well. It’s worth remembering that we were all expecting the new big Citroën to be named DX and to look like a CX for the nineties. So it was something of a shock when this fairly angular car arrived with a name and rear hip kink that evoked the SM. Car’s Gavin Green wasn’t a fan of the styling or the loss of the single windscreen wiper. A Citroën engineer confided to him that they couldn’t get a Mercedes-style Monoblade wiper to work reliably.

    The Opel Tech 1 stands up remarkably well for a 36 year old car. Certainly better than a Mk IV Ford Cortina!

    1. In other words, the radicalism paradox. If you are radical once is it radical to be radical the second and third time? Gavin Green’s opinion on car styling is reliably wrong. He liked the drive though. I think after 25 years he might revise his opinion. Simister didn’t like the front. I feel some of the reviewers were misjudging. The real “error” in the XM is the mismatch between the big radius going around the windscreen to side glass and the small radius of the bonnet to the bodyside. The Mercedes W-210 has the reverse problem. The nose of the XM lacks plan curvature. And maybe the nose cone is a distraction. Whichever way I look at it, a design with no nose cone would look quite different and may not have worked with the slim, low lamps…
      I have to stop. This is my hobby horse car (after the Astra F).

  9. Please don’t ever stop, Richard.

    Design-wise I always thought the lower front bumper/fog lamp treatment was the least successful aspect of the XM. It’s just all a bit messy. And I hated it when they centred the chevrons on the series 2. It could have been worse; they might have put the series 3 into production: http://www.citroenet.org.uk/passenger-cars/psa/xm/xm-16.html – what the hell were they thinking?

    1. It took me ten years to notice the disordered layout of the bits under the front bumper. Key to this is that the horizontal rub-strip interferes with the lines running down from the bonnet shut lines. The nose cone panel gaps are also confusing. The revised version addressed the vertical flow and tidied the foglamps at the expense of the asymmetrical grille which was dumped.

    2. I’ve not seen that Series 3 before. Wow, so Blakeslee wanted to adjust the strongly single conceptual styling of the original XM down to that lowest of common denominators, the Xsara. How heinous is that?

      Oh, and I agree with Eóin about the detailing on both the XM and C6, but, as is I think a tendency with me, I am carried away by the overall impact of the grander forms and impression made by both designs. I think it’s similar with the Bangle 7 (original – not the pale, toned-down facelift, naturally!) and, on a lesser scale, the Mazda 3 …

  10. SV: the proposed series 3 may not have been a serious one but rather demonstrate the car should be left alone.
    Apart from the area under the front bumper, I think the XM is pretty well resolved. Those doorhandles don’t bother me and if they are safer that’s a plus. The nosecone has to be seen in connection to other goals; the Xantia did without it and isn’t obviously better.

  11. My problems with the XM boil down to my perception, rightly or wrongly, that it is a designer’s car, designed by designers, to be appreciated by other designers. It is the car as an industrial design exercise, with not an ounce of romanticism to be had. It reminds me of brutalist architecture: great in a drawing, but lacking humanity. And like brutalist architecture, it looks like something from the 1970s, not a product for the 1990s. I would argue (contentious statement coming) that Rover was doing this kind of thing better at the time: rectilinear, pared down, yet still warm and human.

    I could give you a laundry list of other minor gripes:

    The XM looks like it is made out of thin plastic, the shapes or radii conveying little sense of strength. Granted, the BX was much worse in that regard, looking like it was fabricated from the kind of plastic that toys come packaged in, but the later Xantia looked like a much more solid object (A-pillar notwithstanding, which has become a Citroen bête noire).

    The rising belt line is discordant and smacks of compromise. I note that the belt line in the original styling sketch was strictly horizontal.

    The frontal aspect is characterless.

    The wheels are too small (not often I say that).

    For a car of that price, the dashboard is below par. In fact, does any part of the XM strike you as looking “expensive”? I would say not.

    1. How interesting that you don’t consider it romantic. I’d say it was and also note the lack of romantic expression virtually every comparable vehicle except the XJ-6.

  12. I suppose I’ve reassessed both the the BX and the XM over time. When they were introduced I was disappointed, as they weren’t as radical as their predecessors. But compared with what came after, they now seem quite brave. I keep imagining the stolid hand of Peugeot hovering over everything and, based on that, I’m impressed they managed that much. I sat in a new saloon at the time, and remember finding the view out the back restricting (though I guess it would seen like a glorious panorama now) and I looked at a secondhand estate in a car supermarket and was appalled at the number of flimsy plastic bits that were falling apart. But I think I’d be very happy to drive a decent XM these days.

    1. That´s odd: the rear seats of the XM are a bit higher than the ones in the front and with the front headrestraints at their lowest you can see all of the base of the windscreen unobstructed. The low window line means an airy view sideways as well.

    1. Speaking of which, this was a new one on me. It’s a non-running mock-up from Heuliez intended for Presidential use.

      I wouldn’t necessarily call it an improvement…

    1. Good spot – probably more Kappa than 155. I think design around that period had much greater diversity and yet coherence.

  13. Note: the Tundra appeared in 1979 and the Tagora in 1981 so the Tagora’s arches were invented independently. Both cars’ arches resemble the XM’s slightly squared arches. The resemblance is faint: I am looking at an XM at this very moment.

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