Name Lost in Translation

Sorry, it’s a what? 

Image: The author

Although comfort-oriented big Citroëns such as the DS and CX would seem to be very suitable cars for the North American driving environment, the French manufacturer has never really been able to achieve any sustained or economically viable market penetration there. A too-thin dealer network, quality and durability levels unsuited to American driving conditions (in certain aspects), the idiosyncrasies inherent in their design concept and construction and a high price tag were the main impediments to their sales success.[1]

Citroën officially pulled out of the American market in 1972, but after their departure several enterprising souls attempted to keep putting Citroëns on American roads, sometimes without the manufacturer’s consent. CXA was one of these.

Dutchman, André Pol and Malcolm K. Langman established CXautomotive, later renamed CXA, in the nineteen eighties. Their aim was – as the name of their venture suggests – to import, market and sell the Citroën CX in the USA. Citroën would have none of it however and refused to cooperate with CXA in any way; CXA also being forbidden to have either the double chevrons or the Citroën name anywhere on their cars.

That is why in these brochure photographs you will look for the Citroën name and logo in vain; the only place where the name Citroën is briefly mentioned is in the legal credit for the French firm as owners of the patent rights to the hydropneumatic suspension system.

Since CXA was unable to acquire CXs directly from Citroën in Paris, they purchased them from dealers in Belgium and Germany. In order to be allowed to sell the cars in the USA several changes had to be made to make them comply with United States emissions and safety standards. This meant that CXA had to sacrifice two cars to be submitted for crash tests; these were performed in The Netherlands at the TNO Institute in Delft.

At the CXA workshop in Oisterwijk, new CXs were de-badged and all the necessary modifications for compliance with US federal regulations were performed; unsurprisingly only the 2.5 litre engined versions of the CX (GTi, Prestige and 25 Break/Familiale) were offered.

CXA customers were able to specify equipment and colours that were not normally available through the official Citroën dealer network: one could order a Prestige in white or red for example, and have a sliding sunroof fitted to it. The brochure also shows a Familiale with leather upholstery.

The showroom of CXA in Manhattan; larger than the erstwhile official New York Citroën showroom, managed to get roughly 2000 CXAs sold over a period of five years. Among its customers were famous names such as Carlos Santana, Francis Ford Coppola and Whitney Houston.

The second brochure is a Japanese-market item, also from the late eighties. Here too only 2.5 litre versions are presented, among which a Prestige in an unusual specification: no vinyl roof and no light alloy wheels but hubcaps from the entry-level 2.2 litre and Diesel models as sold in Europe.

In Japan too the CX, here imported by the SEIBU Group that carried some other European makes as well, would always remain a specialty car for a specific kind of customer. Even though the CX was sold only in modest numbers, it today enjoys the attention of active clubs both in the USA and Japan.

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Both these brochures are not that easy to locate; neither was printed in any significant numbers, certainly nothing approaching regular CX brochures. For the CXA brochure, your best bet would be at a swap meet or classic car show in The Netherlands due to the Dutch origins of CXA, in addition to the considerable popularity of the Citroën make in The Netherlands.

[1] Another factor being that Citroën’s oleopneumatic suspended offerings fell foul of US bumper/light height regulations. (ED)

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

33 thoughts on “Name Lost in Translation”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. I had no idea about the CXA venture. Shame on me as I live in the Netherlands. I also assumed the CX never made it to Japan. I reckon these brochures must be one of the highlights of your collection.

    I did spot a CX in NYC back in 2013. Much happier times.

    I’ll throw in a GS for free too. It’s pretty rough, though.

    1. Hello Freerk,
      They certainly stood out amongst the run of the mill vehicles around them- thank you for posting these great “car-spots”!

    2. A GS, possibly the same one, has been in that neighborhood since at least 1994. I first saw it that summer, the first time I had visited Penn South. I had always assumed the complex to be low income public housing and I was pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant middle class community. I asked about the apartment’s resident about the Citroen but he only knew that it must belong to a fellow tenant. I last saw it in 2005, parked on Eighth Ave in front of the tennis club at the southeast corner of the development. There was also an early Jensen Interceptor regularly parked around the complex.

    3. Lovely article, Bruno. I notice that both cars seem to have “European” headlamps (see discussion below). I wonder: were they somehow allowed in the US that way in the seventies (when I presume these would have been sold since the CX is an earlier model with logo), would they be later imports of would they be converted once headlamp regulations had been relaxed?

    4. Tom V: Rest of the World type headlights are illegal in the US so you’d think that the lights on the CX and GS would prohibit their begin in America, but… once a car is more than 25 years old it can be brought in even though not originally legal. By some strange alchemy a car that has been deemed to be too dangerous and dirty to appear on American roads suddenly becomes both clean and safe at that age.

  2. Thanks for showing these brochures, Bruno.
    I was aware of the CXA venture, and might have seen scans of this brochure before, but still nice o be reminded of it.
    Regarding the hubcaps on the Prestige, I think I have seen them on European ones as well. I imagine that the Prestige was positioned to be without sporting ambitions, so alloy wheels were not the first choice. This went well as long as the alternative were the full-wheel stainless steel covers. But these plastic items really lok too basic.

    Freerk: these are great finds! I spent four months in and around NYC (and Connecticut) in 1996, where I spotted a lot of Peugeots, but only ever saw one single 2CV driving by in the City. No other Citroëns. Same for my two later (shorter) US visits.

    1. Thanks, Simon. The GS and CX were parked in Manhattan, 28 Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. Probably the same owner, There are only 3 cars between the GS and the CX. You can just make out the CX in the second photo.

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this area.
    But look what I found on Google Maps:

    It seems the photo is from 2019.

    1. It seems i linked the thumbnail image… Maybe one of the editors can mend this.

    2. Hi Simon. Happy to oblige, if you could reply to my e-mail to you, attaching the photo.

    3. So happy to see it’s still there. The GS seems to swapped for a BX, though.

    4. I´ve seen that BX in the Jalopnik website. It had still attached its spanish (Málaga, I think) rear number plate under the New York state one.

  4. Good morning Bruno. What an interesting venture. 2,000 CXA sales over five years is not to be sniffed at, given the strictures placed on the company by Citroën’s non-cooperation with Pol and Langman.

    Aesthetically, the conversion was pretty well executed. The dual headlamps, with a 7″ outer and 5 3/4″ inner lamp, look very neat in their (presumably) custom-made nacelles:

    The only oddity is that the bright metal trim strip that bordered the vinyl roof on European Prestige versions is present, but without the vinyl roof:

    Even though CXA was prohibited from using the double chevron logo, they cheekily used a close approximation to it with the inverted corporal’s badge on one of the brochure images above. I wonder if they contemplated using it on the cars?

    Freerk, well spotted on those Citroëns in N.Y. I’ve seen a few Peugeot 505 models (including one yellow cab!) In the city, but never a Citroën.

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I missed all the Peugeots. I’m aware these were used as cabs a lot, but maybe they were all gone by 2o13. By the way, cassis nacrée is a lovely colour on the CX.

    2. Those twin headlamps were an aftermarket kit from Morette that was somewhat popular in France

  5. I should have asked, how did CXA overcome the headlight height issue? Did they limit the ride height adjustment?

    1. Maybe it wasn’t a problem, as the lower setting was not intended for driving? But this is just speculation.

    2. Hello Daniel,
      I ‘m afraid I don’t have the answer, but it is possible that the federal rules and regulations that created the barrier had changed by the end of the 1980s. Perhaps one of our American readers can shed some light on this.

  6. As I recall, though I am struggling to find the source now, the reason Citroën stopped sales of the SM in the USA was the same reason the CX never landed there officially: it was the 1973/’74 federal NHTSA bumper legislation that mandated a fairly stringent bumper height that could not alter, even when the vehicle was parked. This was a step too far for Citroën to engineer out of their oleo-pneumatic system so they didn’t even try.

    The same legislation was relaxed for 1983, allowing a reduced impact absorption resilience (to 2.5mph from 5 mph) at least for the front bumper, permitting more local damage as a result of low speed impact and allowing a significantly broader range of bumper heights. The CX Phase 2 with plastic bumpers met that new criteria so CXA were able to leave the suspension unaltered as far as I know.

    What’s interesting is that a large number of the CXA cars feature the quad sealed beam headlamp arrangement shown above but 1983 also saw the federal headlamps laws that had prevented the adoption of faired in/ replaceable bulb headlamps since the 1930s largely relaxed to a similar standard to European headlamp regulations. This change would have permitted, I’d imagine, the original equipment headlamps for the CXA cars. Was the change to round lamps a sop to the aesthetic for US customers only just getting used to the idea of manufacturer and model specific headlamps?

    1. Very interesting on both counts, thank you Gasquolet. 🙂

  7. I love that picture of the New York GS. I do hope it survives.

    It’s interesting that the images in the Japanese CX brochure show LHD cars. Were the actual cars sold in Japan LHD too?

    1. Hello Jonathan,
      In reply to your question about LHD and Japan: yes they were. At the time (I don’t know if this is still the case at present time) it was perceived as something extra prestigious that added to the image of owning a specially imported European vehicle.

  8. What a delightful piece. Thanks to Bruno for delivering yet another unknown gem and the responders for provoking thought. One must have been an extraordinarily American Citroën fan to take these particular plunges; 2,000 or so ain’t bad at all. I wonder if Whitney Houston belted out some of her tunes whilst driving? Even if you’re tone deaf, You’d certainly see her driving towards you – with that much glazing

    1. „oooh, I wanna float with somebodhay! with some-bodhay who looooves mehihihi!“ ?

  9. The page of the Japanese brochure where you can see the car from the quarter front view: this is how you ruin your DIRAVI!

    That certainly is no official Citroën brochure 🙂

  10. Great read, as always, Bruno. I didn´t know CXA sold so many CXs, 2000 units aren´t bad at all.
    I suppose they were rather less succesful with the XMs that they also imported to US.

    1. Hello b234r,
      Thank you for your kind words. As for the failed attempt to get the XM on the US market- that could be a nice subject for a future article; watch this space!*

      * But don’t hold your breath as it could be a while.

  11. Once upon a time, around 2005 more or less, I was -for pure curiosity- examining the engine bay of a 1990s Spanish Citroen Xantia being serviced by my mechanic.

    The engine of the Xantia had several very strong worded warnings about Citröen NOT servicing and NOT taking any responsability about any Citröen sold in the USA. It was comical…the Xantia had spent its whole life in Spain.

  12. Regarding the relaxation of USA headlights regs in 1984, it should NOT be described as “similar standard to European headlamp regulations,” as this was true only in a cosmetic sense; 1984-1996 regs allowed model-specific headlamps, but only if the low beams were designed with 1950s-style unshielded offset transverse filament low beams utilizing one of several approved bulb types, i.e. you had to design a completely unique lamp for the USA, and its performance would be no better than that of the ‘50s round sealed beam.

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