Citroen CX 25 TRD Turbo

One of the biggest general whinges of motoring consumers over the past 20 years, now that cars are reliable and practical and (American cars aside) economical, is that they're boring. It's not an entirely fair comment, considering all the hard work that goes into the modern commitee-designed motors you see trundling around towns these days, but I can also see the flipside. What happened to those cars that were the sordid, twisted passion of one man? Those concepts of really pushing the envelope, daring to be different, trying it upside down to see if its better; where did they go?

An ex-bomb site-turned-car-park in the middle of Warsaw's business district would be the answer to that question; an unfitting grave for that most outre and flamboyant of car manufacturers, Citroen. For a certain period between the '50s and '70s, Citroen could be relied upon to warp your mind in terms of what cars could provide, following that engineeering train of thought that the French are sometimes capable of, and that the rest of us find incomprehensible.

Released in 1974, the Citroen CX was a cornucopia of trinkets and pleasures, wrapped into a sultry sleek lozenge of swooshing curves and smooth flanks. Turning its prodigious nose up at accountancy, target markets and customer purchase profiles, the first series came not just with that famed Citroen suspension (no barbaric springs, just a plumbed network of hydraulic fluid chambers that bulge out to compensate for the wheel bouncing), but power disc brakes and the world's most impressive speedometer - a rotating barrel that lined up your speed with a fixed marker. Clutching your single spoke steering wheel, you could devour the heavy miles of a French motorway as effortlessly as eating your morning croissant.

That's not to suggest that this sumptuous comfort and quirky form came at the expense of performance. If you peer through the grime smeared over the rear of this CX, you'll see a sequence of letters and numbers that, in another tongue, declare this to be the fastest diesel of 1985. Combine that with variable speed-dependant steering and you get a large comfortable saloon which is great on the straights and not unstable on the corners either.

Even the arse end of this languid monster received techno
-logical excellence. Based on the patent of a guy called Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld (who, you must admit, had one of the coolest names in the business) who worked in the field of aerodynamic developments, the CX has something called a Kamm tail - a slipstream feature named after the German professor who developed the Baron's ideas further. The basic principle is that, once body designers had worked out that a horizontal teardrop shape was the slipperiest, sleekest shape for a car, cost-cutting stepped in and found out that lopping off the bulb end of the drop didn't affect air turbulence at all, and saved materials and manufacturing costs into the bargain. Kamm tails are not that uncommon these days (look at the Ford Focus or Honda Civic, for example) but for a saloon spawned in 1974, it was daring, bold, cheekily rakish.

Now, as with all gimmicks, you again hear the usual tirade; "more gadgets, more things to go wrong." Not so with the CX, which featured as an example a concave rear window; the airstream moving over it created an airwave that auto-cleaned the glass, removing the need for a rear wiper. How cool is that? Well, alright, not very cool in the smoking-Gualloise-on-Champs-Elysees sense, but I'll admit that it impressed me when I heard it.

The demise of Citroen was an unsurprising one; a combination of far too much cash spent on research projects (Wankel engine, anyone?) and not enough cash coming in from regular car sales. Quite simply, Citroen couldn't have made a regular car if they'd tried - it just wasn't in them, in the same way it's just not in a Frenchman's blood to be teetotal. They'd pumped so much money into these projects that, even though the CX itself was an excellently selling car in its class, its class wasn't the type of car people post-oil-crisis wanted to buy. And with little cash left over to develop more models, Citroen went bankrupt.

Which is a shame. Citroen fanatics rate the CX as the last "true" Citroen, as if it were the last bottle of absinthe to contain actual wormwood, before Peugeot came along and took all the fun out of it with their platform-sharing and economy-drives and bloody Talbots, rebranding Citroen as the "budget brand" and churning out the CX, relatively unchanged, until 1991. Tack on Peugeot's slapdash approach to build quality, and all the turbodiesels and GTI badges couldn't save the CX from the reputation that "it looks better with the bonnet up."

There's no fun in seeing one of the last great quirks of European motoring laid up on its haunches in a snow-covered car park; even more so when this particular car park is earmarked for development and should be cleared by the end of the year. Hopefully they'll place something here as innovative and eye-catching as its current tenant. It would be a shame to see another practical but boring apartment block replace a true momument.