As a person with a strongly archival temperament, it was disturbing for me to read Citroën’s announcement that the firm intended to auction part of its historic collection.
You can see the catalogue here. It took me about a week to gather the courage to take a look. Sure enough, I found a few cars I’d really like to have and can’t actually afford. The GS with its perfectly intact interior must be museum quality. Some of the others are peculiar: not that cheap and not that special. Once out in the open they will quickly resemble the merely well-kept examples of their type. Citroën should have held on to those for another decade.
A few XMs are included. Though the XMs are the less desirable series 2 cars, they still have a lot going for them such a being still essentially box-fresh and, to my mind, undervalued. I don’t doubt there are at least five people with a) some spare euros and b) the wish to have a mint XM. So these cars will be sold. Interestingly Citroën have retained their Series 1 XMs and this is a clear indication that the Series 2 cars lack the coherence of the Series 1’s even if they are more refined.
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking through the list so you may find some more interesting items for sale. The reason I didn’t feel too enthusiastic is because the idea of dispersing collections disturbs me. I had the same sinking feeling when Bertone’s collection got auctioned. GM also sold off a fair number of cars not too long ago. You could say it doesn’t really matter as the chances of seeing the cars are nearly zero. I respond by saying that my sense of order is unsettled.
Even if I don’t get to see these cars it’s nice to know they are there to be seen. The collections’ existence fits in with my sense of “ought”. From another point of view, if the car companies aren’t going to cherish their heritage, who will? These collections also have the potential to be used to reinforce a brand’s marketing objectives – if one is going to be instrumental about it.
Mercedes have a huge museum containing almost their entire back-catalogue. That Citroën and GM don’t a) respect their own achievements and b) can’t even see the marketing potential reflects rather badly on them. Both companies are characterised by a diminished sense of their past though.
Having written that, I ask myself why would that be and where does it come from? If GM and Citroën were countries they would be countries without a past, places where the present perpetually over-write the past. As far as I can tell, GM seldom nods to its previous products and Citroën doesn’t, not unless they are truly ancient. You could even say the use of the DS label is actually anti-historical (as we have here).
My analogy with the historical countries isn’t even that good. To live now we sometimes need to make room for change by deleting or replacing signs of the past. I am thinking of the way cities change over time or how customs are discarded. You can’t retain 100% of a nation’s physical history. Car companies don’t have to live up to that standard. To respect the past they only have to file away examples of their products and store them in a museum their customers can visit. I am pretty sure this is not an onerous cost relative to the huge turnover of such concerns.
Money then is not the reason GM, Peugeot, Citroen (or Ford?) neglect their heritage. It’s possibly because the companies are impersonal means to an end. It’s not a surprise these companies have patchy records if it is true that their key staff or management culture sees the entities in instrumental terms. I don’t propose these businesses should be there solely for the noble goals of providing employment and stimulating our senses through engineering.
However, I do suggest that if a firm (or anyone) views themselves in strictly mechanistic terms they will lack the motivation to go the extra mile, to do that which is a bit hard, a bit daring. My guess is that a nation that has some abstract sense of self will fare better than a nation lost and without a cohesive vision. And a car firm that is only a means to make money will not, actually, make money or is less likely to have the strength to overcome challenges.
The wish to archive one’s life (or one’s catalogue of products) indicates one has a sense of posterity. It indicates pride in an achievement. That requires the companies’ leaders to see their work not as a means to personal enrichment directly but that by serving the firm well, serving the idea of the firm, they can be rewarded. Success comes by indirection. To think like that one has to have the idea that to serve oneself one must serve others. Selling off the firm’s heritage for a quick buck or just because there is a bit of a shortage of space demonstrates that Citroën does not take itself seriously. And if they don’t, why should anyone else?
Post-script: “A 2000 XM V6 exclusive phase 2 from 2000, estimated at €4,000 – €6,000, was sold for €33,600”
The full results of the auction are here.
The catalogue is here.