Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën.

As Pininfarina explained however, this was a deliberate course of action: “It entailed adapting the characteristic features of Citroën to a completely atypical concept that was far from the stereotypes of the brand and its history, without betraying them, but enhancing them to the extreme”. There was also no beating around the bush concerning the motivation behind the Osée: “A very particular project, through which Pininfarina aims to demonstrate its strategic interest in being considered as a potential all-round partner by PSA”.

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Three seminal Citroëns, the DS, SM and CX, served as inspiration for the appearance of the Osée. According to Pininfarina, common themes shared by all three were:

    • Extreme volume ratios linked to the engineering structure, with a large bonnet/front wing and the passenger compartment pushed backwards
    • Smooth, simple(1), streamlined surfaces animated by clearly legible guidelines
    • A pointed section at the centre of the bonnet
    • Lines that descend towards the rear
    • A continuous front with air intakes half hidden in the lower part.

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Whether the end result succesfully integrated and displayed these themes in its appearance is a matter of personal opinion: it does have commendably smooth and uncluttered surfaces and the bonnet centre peak is present, but apart from that (and provided the large double chevrons are mentally blanked out for a moment) it would be a stretch to detect any more clear Citroën DNA in the Osée.

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Having gained access via the hydraulically activated cabin superstructure, one found an interior with three-abreast seating that recalled the McLaren F1 but also, of course, the very French Matra-Simca Bagheera and its successor, the Murena. Credited to Carlo Bonzanigo, the Osée cabin displayed lots of exposed aluminium. Apart from the seats, the only ‘soft’ surfacing was the fabric stretched across the top of the dashboard, so the interior ambience was distinctly different from that normally associated with the marque. Only the single-spoke steering wheel with control satellites left and right could trace their origins back to the double-chevron.

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On the technical front, as mentioned earlier the Osée was rear-wheel driven, through a sequential-change ZF five-speed automatic transmission, and was powered by the 2,946cc ES/L 24-valve V6 engine used in some production Citroën models. The suspension used was the Hydractive III system so, at least in this respect, the Osée did not deviate from the high-end Citroën playbook.

Even though the Osée was awarded the ‘Best of Show’ prize in the concept car category for the 2001 Geneva Motor Show, it did not lead to any further involvement from Pininfarina with Citroën, so remains a one-off in more than one sense.

(1) Examine the deceptively complex shape of an SM’s bonnet closely and say that again.

Author: brrrruno

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

24 thoughts on “Talk to the Hand”

  1. Could we suppose that Citroen borrowed the combined Chevron/grille design for the C6? The rest of the car is pretty pointless. It might have turned heads but it offered almost nothing Citroen could use. They´d have been better off designing a car in a format Citroen were interested in like small and medium-sized hatches and MPVs. Or maybe a cross-over or Berlingo-kind of thing.

  2. I see a lot of the future DS brand elements.
    It makes me certain that the very essence of Citroën is not easy to understand.

  3. I think Pininfarina missed an open goal here: a reimagined DS ( the car, not the woeful sub-brand) might have gained far more traction with Citroën’s senior management and would have aligned nicely with the development timeline for the 2005 C6, Citroën’s own de-facto replacement. That said, it’s a moot point as to whether or not they could have bettered the production C6.

    1. Pininfarina certainly participated in C6’s development with a proposal heavily inspired by the DS rear end treatment. It looks very much like a product for the 90s and i am glad they didn’t go for that one.

    2. Most of these proposals are ugly with Bertone’s and ItalDesign’s being particularly bad.
      The one from DRA looks like a Nissan Primera Mk2 (P12).
      The one labeled ‘Citroen 1999’ also exists as drawings from 1998.

      What did they do in the seven years between these nearly ready designs and the presentation of the car?

    3. John: it´s customary to warn readers when posting visually disturbing images. That is a frightening collection of remarkably immature and unworkable ideas. Several of them look like the kinds of bad drawings I did in my first year of my car design course. That bad.

    4. The one labeled ‘Heuliez 1998’ could have been reused for the C5 Mk1.
      The one that became reality is something like the one eyed man in the land of the blind.

    5. That’s the Pininfarina standard door handle, used on all kinds of cars from Ferrari 365 GTC/4 to Alfa Spider 2000 (spiders with smaller engines had different door handles, at least initially).

    6. Sweet baby Jesus, and I always thought the carrozzieri’s Jaguar XJ40 proposals were bad…

    7. Wow John, those proposals really are…something. Is a ‘new millennium’ DS really that difficult of a concept to grasp? Of these eight, to my eyes the closest in approximating that ideal would be the Pininfarina proposal, though it leaves something to be desired with its MK2 Laguna nose.

      As others have mentioned, the Heuliez just looks like a massive Mk1 C5 (not good), the DRA has overtones of 350Z in the rear (very odd for a Citroen) and does resemble a P12 Primera, and the Italdesign and Bertone cars just look oddly cheap and impure. The 1998 Citroen proposal seems to have a similarly shovel-shaped nose to the Osee concept show above, and the 1999 proposal in the lower right corner seems weirdly gauche and caricatured with its massive grille and exaggerated arches. It’s almost a relief that the production C6 used the Lignage’s shape, but again, what were they thinking? Usually there are at least a few ‘what if’ proposals, but these are all just, ‘whew, we sure dodged a bullet!’

  4. To answer Richard Herriott’s question about the combined chevrons/grille design: no, as it was already revealed with the 1999 C6 Lignage Concept Car:

    I do agree wholeheartedly with Richard and Daniel that Pininfarina could and should have chosen to present a vehicle that was closer to Citroëns core values. Like Daniel I would gravitate towards a new DS (although the C6 Lignage already doing the rounds would have been an impediment) but a new, spiritual successor to the 2cv would have been welcome as well (although a car like that is in turn not very close to Pininfarina’s usual turf).

  5. It must be an absolutely terrifying brief for any design team, to “create a new DS”. Trying to be as innovative today as that car was in its time is a daunting and probably fruitless task. Where does one even start? Where can one innovate like that today? Certainly not in aerodynamics or suspension technology any more. Powertrains? Difficult to be innovative there too. It’s all been done, or is being done elsewhere. Electronic systems? Nope, the whole industry is working feverishly in that space too. So what would tomorrow’s “groundbreaking” DS be? At best, some kind of AI-powered, self-driving, hydrogen vehicle? Ugh! At worst, a hollow retro styling/marketing exercise like all the others. Quelle horreur!

    1. You can´t use a punchline twice. The goal for Pininfarina was to come up with a credible design for the C-D class, a Xantia/C5 sort of car. Aiming to reland one of the biggest punchlines in design history would have been pointless.

  6. I can see no Citroën in there at all. I do think Pininfarina were right not to go for a type of car Citroën was already making – or at least being confident at – since that would have made it that much more difficult to make their case against established rivals. I don’t think a re-imagined DS would have worked, but a re-imagined 2CV might have, since Citroën wasn’t building such a car, but it represented (and represents) a fond memory.

    They could also have gone for the jugular and designed a convincing C-segment car, but given how the Osée turned out, that might not have succeeded. Citroën wasn’t very convincing in that segment (although that would right itself to an extent with the C4 before slipping away again).

    For me as an ‘interested bystander’ (by which I mean I don’t really theorise about design) the main characteristic of a Citroën design is that at first blush something jars in the lines and the proportions (Pininfarina did get that part right in its analysis). It is only at closer inspection that you (well, I anyway) realise that the lines and proportions do actually work. Recent Citroëns don’t really do the second part for me. Maybe, as Richard Herriott remarked a few days ago, the KIA EV6 comes closest to that currently.

    The Osée doesn’t really jar-the-turn-out-to-work. If Pininfarina had taken their own brief more seriously, the technical lay-out should have resulted in much more extreme proportions, I think.

  7. Maybe I’m showing my age by saying that for me a Citroën should have part-covered rear wheels. Consequently I rather like the Pininfarina proposal that John has shown us. (The fact that between us my parents and I had two BXs. a GS, a GSA and a Visa may also have something to do with it.)

  8. Bruno. True, Citroen didn’t commission Pininfarina to design a production car, but some would say that doesn’t mean that they didn’t design one ….

    1. Thank you for this one Bristowfuller, and doesn’t it still look lovely today amidst the often so grossly overdecorated and complex cars -both production vehicles and concepts- of today?. This one indeed was an important inspiration for the GS and CX, and also for the Lancia (Gamma Berlina) and Rover (SD1).

    2. Pininfarina did two of those concepts. The 1800 shown above and one based on the BMC 1100×278/rscb1/ng:webp/ngcb1

      CX and GS anyone?

      BMC then did one on their own which is not nearly as successful

      I remember a magazine photo of the then new CX. It showed SM, GS and CX in one row, seen from a slightly elevated perspective looking at their front ends.
      These cars were completely different yet showed clearly that they came from the same school of thought.

    3. Very nice cars indeed. Difficult to imagine there’s a Landcrab under there…

      These cars being designed for their aerodynamic efficiency, I wouldn’t completely rule out a Hyundai reimagining/hommage/reference model at some point, akin to the Ioniq 6. Not a remake, but cues here and there, as per Christopher Butt’s article Measure of Success (II) on Design Field Trip.

    4. Is that also an Alfa Romeo (Spider) door handle on the second picture, which is supposed to show a BMC design?

    5. That’s the Pininfarina standard door handle, used on all kinds of cars from Ferrari 365 GTC/4 to Alfa Spider 2000 (spiders with smaller engines had different door handles, at least initially).

  9. Many thanks for this insightful article and the wonderful responses. I find myself highly confused about the DNA “thing” in this proposal from Pininfarina. In formative language, yes. In materials, no. In taking the lines of the sublime trio (DS, SM, CX), not a lot. In technical lay-out and type/purpose/audience of/for vehicle, not at all. Still, the engine cover on Osée reminds me instantly of the same on the 1948 2cv, which is even more confusing, as these vehicles are from different solar systems…

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