A Concept for Sunday – A Break With a Backstory

The 1986 Eole was an exploration of what would happen if one truly applied aerodynamic theory to a Citroën CX Estate. The results were somewhat mixed.

Image: oldconceptcars

Truly aerodynamic vehicles tend to be fairly uncompromising looking devices for the most part. Citroën’s Eole concept from 1986 certainly wasn’t conventionally handsome, but it contained a lot of thinking that would become more widely adopted. The work of UK car designer, Geoffrey Matthews at the PSA/Talbot facility at Whitley, Eole was sanctioned ostensibly to give Citroën something new to show at that year’s Geneva motor show; the AX model (also styled by Matthews) not being due to debut until that Autumn.

Designed entirely on computer, Eole was an exploration of a next-generation CX Break, taking its styling theme but applying a far more rigorous application of the CX principle. Similar to the production CX Safari in silhouette, the major departure, apart from an aerofoil-shaped roof profile was the enclosed front wheel treatment – the oleopneumatic ring-main being employed to move the wheelcovers clear while the car was being steered. The tapered nose was smooth, referencing Trevor Fiore’s 1980 Karin concept, with a thin band of integrated light units set within a glazed panel. The resulting drag coefficient was a spectacularly low 0.19.

Image: oldconceptcars

Eole’s interior was as advanced as one would expect from the home of the double chevron with all controls grouped around the steering wheel in a derivation of Citroën’s satellite controls. Somewhat presciently, the passenger side of the dash panel also contained an integrated video game. The seats were cantilevered off a prominent central spine which contained additional switchgear and an electrified track which allowed the in-car entertainment system to move between front and rear passengers, or be removed from the vehicle completely.

Styling was a bit of a mixed bag. Enclosed front wheels are notoriously difficult to incorporate in an aesthetically satisfying manner, which says much about our visual expectations. However the nose treatment didn’t aid matters either, the inset headlamp units lending Eole an unfortunate cross-eyed appearance from some angles. Matthews also appeared to have run out of ideas at the rear, the tail treatment seeming particularly half-hearted. Mind you, is that a pair of modified SM tail-lamp units we once more see before us?

Image: oldconceptcars

Former Citroën design chief, Carl Olsen later made the following assertion; “Marketing did not like the car because it looked too much like a Citroën; it was their goal to kill the aesthetic traditions of the marque.” A statement while difficult to prove, remains entirely believable. However, not only was Matthews et al working on the CX’s actual replacement (1989’s XM), but with the benefit of hindsight, his theme for Eole was neither sufficiently advanced (too CX-like) nor by the same token sufficiently production-capable to be anything other than motor show fare. Something for PSA’s management to dangle on a World stage to underline their credentials as guardians of the Chevron.

Geoffrey Matthews. Image: Citroenet

Regarded as something of a maverick, Geoffrey Matthews is said to have worked on many car designs over his lengthy career at Chrysler/Talbot UK, and later Citroën, having stylistic input into the Alpine, Sunbeam, Tagora, Rancho and nascent Espace projects. At Velizy, in addition to the AX, he is believed to have been associated with the BX, the facelifted 1985 CX and XM models. Post-Citroën, he set up his own consultancy, but it seems, lost heart and pursued other interests. After leaving the motor industry, he seems to have suffered something of a reversal in his personal life, losing both fortune and ultimately, his health. He passed away in 2015 and was recently the subject of a BBC4 documentary made by his family after his death.

Citroenet

Eole today is just another half-remembered Citroën concept that over-promised, but it did foresee a number of features we take as givens today. So if it can be viewed as something of a stylistic cul-de-sac now, that perhaps says more about PSA management’s creative cowardice than any slur upon its creator.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

7 thoughts on “A Concept for Sunday – A Break With a Backstory”

  1. Love the dashboard design. Tilt the right hand cluster a bit and add a sizable screen with touch controls Bob’s your uncle.
    I missed that documentary when it was first aired thanks for reminding me. I went and leeched it right away.

    1. Happy to have obliged, Lua. The interior was rather good, wasn’t it? Thanks for stopping by…

  2. I was three years old when the Eole was unveiled, so I’m not feeling completely ashamed that it had escaped my attention thus far. Still, thanks for finally introducing me to another piece of the the How Citroen Broke Apart puzzle.

    Looking at it, I wonder how Michelin-era Citroen would have approached ’80s styling. Excessive use of composites, also of the visible kind (possible)? Adopting ‘soft design’ surfacing before the rest of the industry jumped on that bandwagon (unlikely, given the advanced manufacturing requirements this entailed)? Radical aero forms that would’ve put Audi’s 100 to shame, maybe even in articulated form (ooooh!)?

    Truth be told, Robert Opron’s output at Renault at the time wasn’t immensely impressive (and it was Michel Jardin, of all people, who was responsible for the Fuégo…). But I’m naive enough to believe that the old leadership would’ve done a fine job if the post-takeover sweeping-out hadn’t taken place.

    The Eole is a bit too generic to be considered a forgotten masterpiece. There’s quite a bit of Citroen spirit still present, but it’s more like a sprinkling of exotic seasoning that’s added to literally spice up a rather mundane dish.

  3. The interior is stunning as it is. I could imagine it being horribly compromised when moulded in Feasibility Grey and Practical Black, textured in elephant hide grain.
    I think it is the most promising of all those Citroen control layouts. And, consider, while the trend since the dawn of interiors has been more and more, this shows how to hang the important bits with as little extraneity as possible. I hate the cramped, obese dashboards we have now without exception. That Visa we showed here seems all the more tempting for its economy and, dare I say it, elegance.

  4. First of all, many thanks to Christopher for sending this link.

    From 1977, Xavier Karcher, a former Peugeot manager became the chairman. A cold and conservative guy who wanted to kill the Citroën DNA and eccentricity. Carl Olsen explained very well how it was challenging to restore confidence to the design team at Velizy. This concept was probably a part of this challenge to show how they could still be creative and innovative particularly thanks to the outstanding interior design work by the legendary Michel Harmand. Just an outdated and irrational view for the new owner. Obviously a lost cause and I ever wondered why Olsen “pushed” to this direction and why the management accepted to develop and show it (above all when you know they’re were working on the initial one-box AX that could also have been a good starting point for a show car).

    Many thanks Eóin for the documentary I didn’t know. I’m fond of Geoff Matthews work, especially his time at Chrysler UK.

    Sorry for my basic english, in fact really frustrating for me…
    Olivier

    PS1: A last thing, in French we write ‘Cx’ to talk about the ‘Cd’. That’s the difference with the Citroën model.
    PS2: Just to react to the Kris’ comment above: yes, today we have to reconsider Opron work. His time at Renault and then Fiat show us he was just lucky for working with very talented and less known designers who are the real authors of those Citroens icons…

    1. Olivier, thanks for your comments and insight. It’s horrifying to hear of these matters, even if long suspected. For my self, I always felt the AX was a huge let down following so soon after the innovative Eco 2000 project which promised so much.

      I think what we can say about Opron (in a similar manner to that of Claus Luthe or dare I say, Bruno Sacco perhaps?) is that he was very good at getting the best out of very talented designers, even if he, himself was not directly responsible for the actual penmanship. Judgement (and vision) is as important as talent in a stylistic director, I would contend. (To say nothing of the ability to fight for his team).

      By the way, your written English would put some native speakers to shame…

  5. A very interesting article and then exchange of information in the comments section, thank you. I rather like the exterior of this concept, but the interior really is exceptional. It furthers my disappointment at the demise of the lunules from Citroen’s (or anyone else’s) interior designs. Sad to hear about Matthews’s late life – I have fewer issues with the AX than some here, albeit that could well have its roots in the fact that I had one as my first ever ‘new’ car.

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