In this series, we examine a persistent bit of car lore involving French President Charles de Gaulle and two beautiful, yet flawed cars: the Lancia Gamma and Citroën CX.
As a kid, a teenager and, later on, young adult, I had very little interest in sports, and my artistic talents were pretty much non-existent. So, I looked to car publications for a source of inspiration. Impressed as I was by the detailed reviews and technical columns that contained a wealth of information that would be considered taboo today, I confess I took pretty much everything written there at face value. This applied not only to the reviews themselves, but to other sections of those magazines – from the ones that dabbled in automotive history to the ones where the contributors unfolded their political wisdom.
This exposed me to a non-trivial amount of rather dubious narratives that were (and some still are) presented as some sort of indisputable truth. For instance, in my teens I genuinely believed the major car publications’ narrative about a leftist conspiracy led by evil trade unionists and the hard-left populists of PASOK‘ and aided by the ‘unpatriotic communists that aimed to destroy Greece’s entire industrial sector, starting with Teokar and Biamax. An entire generation of readers (yours truly included) bought it hook, line, and sinker.
These narratives, of course, extended to the international automobile industry as well. Among these was the one concerning a supposed joint venture between Citroën and Lancia for the development of a large family car platform which, equipped with a Lancia flat-four engine and Citroën’s hydropneumatic suspension, would replace the venerable DS and the well-engineered, but slow-selling Flavia. But, alas, this wasn’t meant to be: according to car lore, Charles de Gaulle threw a nationalist fit and said ‘non’, throwing a spanner in the works and forcing Citroën to resort to the inline-four from the DS, and Lancia to not use the hydropneumatic suspension.
As I grew up and started putting car lore side-by-side with political and industrial history, I realized that these narratives that are still presented as truth by the automotive Press should be taken with a Panamax of kosher salt. Eventually, the time came for me to question the alleged Citroën-Lancia JV.
Could Have Been
A Citroën-Lancia JV focusing on the CX and the Gamma is a fascinating thought experiment for classic car aficionados, so much so that it is often presented as a historical fact. Both cars on their own were remarkable and charming for their own reasons, and both were flawed – the Gamma more so.
At launch, the CX was criticized mostly for its underpowered base engine, which also wasn’t exactly the last word in smoothness. The Gamma, on the other hand, was saddled with reliability issues caused by errors in engineering judgement that ruined its reputation. Finally, both cars lacked a six-cylinder option, which limited them to a maximum displacement of 2.4 (CX) and 2.5 litres (Gamma). This was deemed too large and uncivilized for a four-cylinder engine, especially a flat-four, and too small to compete with the biggest engines offered in what came from Cologne (Ford Granada), Munich (BMW 5-series E12), Rüsselsheim (Opel Commodore and Senator) and Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz W114/115 and W123).
If we’re to believe automotive lore, Citroën’s Projet L, which eventually became the CX we know and love, and Lancia’s Ammiraglia (i.e. range-topping) Tipo 830 project, which eventually became the Gamma, started out as a joint venture, and were separated quite late in their development, with the Gamma suffering the most for it. Veteran car journalist Peter ‘Robbo’ Robinson writes: “Three prototypes were built, using Citroen suspension adapted to the Lancia floorpan. The irresistible Lancia inclination to be different led to the birth of a new water-cooled flat-four engine of either 2.0 or 2.4-litres. Camuffo still maintained that this engine layout brings a lower centre of gravity and permits a lower bonnet line. Then, when it seemed the Fiat-Citroen deal would come off, the merger was cancelled, some say because French President, Charles De Gaulle, opposed the use of French technology in an Italian car.”
Robinson’s narrative conjures an image of a magnificent future doomed to never happen: two strikingly beautiful and innovative cars, both equipped with hydropneumatic suspensions and, perhaps, both equipped with adequately powerful 2.0- and 2.5-liter SOHC flat-fours developed by Lancia. This would certainly give the guys in the Bundesrepublik reason enough to pause and take notice – at the very least. But, if we’re to believe automotive lore, Charles de Gaulle famously said ‘non’ and put paid to all of this, denying two iconic and pioneering manufacturers an opportunity to collaborate and compete on equal terms against what became today’s main premium brands.
A Veto From The Grave?
It’s true that de Gaulle didn’t shy away from vetoing things whenever he felt he had to. However, as attractive and useful to the “government is bad” free-market propagandists the whole “old nationalist killjoy de Gaulle vetoed the CX/Gamma JV” narrative might be, it quickly falls apart when one starts examining things chronologically.
Robinson writes that development work on the Gamma, with Citroën’s suspensions in mind and on the three prototypes he wrote about, started in 1972 – month not specified. That’s roughly two years after de Gaulle died (9 November, 1970). Don’t you think it’s a little hard to believe he somehow took a break from his sessions with the choir invisible to come back to the realm of the living and veto the whole thing? Then again, it’s de Gaulle we’re talking about, so who knows? Perhaps he did.
There’s also another problem with the narrative: it tells us that de Gaulle vetoed this alleged JV because he didn’t want an Italian car (or, more likely, any foreign car) to incorporate French technology. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but hadn’t Rolls-Royce acquired a license to use the hydropneumatic suspension on the 1965 Silver Shadow, while de Gaulle was still very much alive? In licensing Rolls-Royce to use its technology, wasn’t Citroën handing out advanced French technology to a foreign country and poo-poo’ing ‘the Great Asparagus’?
And not just any foreign country, mind you; we’re talking about the very one whose entry into the European Economic Community de Gaulle had vetoed in 1963, and proceeded to do again in 1967; the very one that had been France’s fiercest rival for centuries. Clearly, this doesn’t do much to strengthen the narrative about de Gaulle torpedoing the CX/Gamma JV narrative, especially in its “he did it because he didn’t want the Italians to gain French tech” guise. The narrative is further weakened if we remember that Citroën owned Maserati from 1968 to 1972, a partnership entailing an extensive technological exchange between the two companies that flew right in the face of the hypothetical “thou shalt not give French technology to foreigners” commandment.
But did de Gaulle veto anything? As a matter of fact, yes. But what he so vehemently objected to wasn’t what the majority of car pundits, Robinson included, think and/ or say it was, and the reasoning behind his veto was nowhere near as shallow as we have been led to think it was. To understand what he vetoed and why, we need to delve a bit into the individual histories of Citroën and Lancia, with the period in question being our main focus. This is precisely what we’ll do in the upcoming segments of this story.
Sources, quotations, and acknowledgements:
 PASOK is Greece’s once-socialist party, which started out as a Labour/SPD wannabe. Gradually, it devolved into a cross between a cut-price New Labour and a bargain basement-grade Freie Demokratische Partei. Eventually, under the burden of debts that are, at the time of writing, higher than €300 million, it rebranded itself as “KINAL” (Kinima Allagis – Movement for Change) to keep the lights on and offload its debts on the plebs.
 In Greece, “mainstream” political pundits still push a Red Scare of sorts, whose subtlety (or lack thereof) depends on the interests and/or obsessions of the publication’s owner.
 Teokar imported Nissans back then and assembled a few models from CKDs for the Greek market. The narrative was that it could evolve to become a major factory and research and development centre that would export cars to all of Europe, were it not for the trade unionists and the Left. Truth is, it was rendered redundant as Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK came in full swing. Now it focuses on solar power.
 Biamax was a Greek vehicle manufacturer, whose main activity was coachbuilding, mostly on Mercedes-Benz underpinnings. When Greece’s market opened up to used bus and truck imports from other EEC countries, it found it harder and harder to survive. It ceased its coachbuilding activities in 1986 and focused on acting as a car dealership. It closed its doors for good in 1998. Certain Greek classic bus aficionados claim the company was even more technically advanced than Mercedes-Benz.
 Peter Robinson – Lancia’s Camuffo; Australian Motor Heritage Foundation
 One of de Gaulle’s nicknames, given to him at the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, for his stature, high forehead, and nose. Source: Jonathan Fenby – The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved New York, Simon & Schuster, 2010 (p. 301)
 Carlo Pesenti – Wikipedia (Italian Edition)
 Antonio Fessia – Wikipedia (Italian Edition)
 CEMSA Caproni F.11 – Wikipedia (Italian Edition)
 Everything to the Front – Eóin Doyle : Driven To Write, 30 January, 2021
 Enzo Altorio – Lancia fulvia HF e tutte le altre Fulvia, Giorgio Nada Editore, 1992.
 Andrew James Jacobs – The Automotive Industry and European Integration: The Divergent Paths of Belgium and Spain, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019 (p. 346)
 Comotor – Wikipedia
 A. J. Jacobs – The Automotive Industry and European Integration: The Divergent Paths of Belgium and Spain, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019 (p. 348)
 A. J. Jacobs – The Automotive Industry and European Integration: The Divergent Paths of Belgium and Spain, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019 (p. 347)
 Signs and Portents – Eóin Doyle : Driven To Write, 8 August 2019
 Blues for Ceaușescu – Eóin Doyle : Driven To Write, 17 Sep 2020
 Oltcit Club/Citroën Axel development story : AROnline, 7 November 2021
 Franco Amatori, Storia della Lancia. Impresa Tecnologia e Mercati, 1906-1969, Milano, Fabbri, 1992 (pp. 107-111)
 William Rust, “Transitioning into CIA: The Strategic Services Unit in Indonesia” (PDF). cia.gov. Retrieved July 22, 2016
 Jan P. Norbye, Citroën SM, Automobilia, 1991 (p.13)
 Projet L : Citroënët, retrieved 2 January 2022
 Carrozzeria designs : Pininfarina 1800 : AROnline, 6 March 2017
 Deserving Beta (Part One) – Daniel O’Callaghan : Driven To Write, 27 Sep 2021
 Marc Sonnery, Maserati – the Citroën Years 1968-1975, Eau Rouge Publishing 2012 (p. 109/169)