James explains why fixing his CX means so much to him
Our love for the car would be nothing without the involvement of other humans. From the designer to the new car buyer who originally drove your classic out of the showroom… to the successive owners, mechanics and restorers responsible for its survival over the years. Cars need people to create a story for the rest of us – and for the next generation of enthusiasts to enjoy.
The story of my favourite car on the planet – the Citroën CX – began with Robert Opron. A French designer responsible for the famous shark-like nose of the post-1967 DS, he later penned the GS, SM and among other masterpieces, the 1974 CX. When it was given a facelift nine years later, it fell to Englishman Geoff Matthews to update the design.
This is the chap who, among other things, came up with the concept of the Renault Espace. Having helped to set the template for the modern family car, aged 35, Geoff landed the top designers job at Citroën and admitted he wasn’t very popular with the team of mostly older designers in an office of now Peugeot-led conservatism. ‘I was a long-haired Englishman telling 64 Frenchmen what to do!’
Geoff owned a black GTI Turbo and, on one occasion, borrowed a priceless concept vehicle he also designed. He took his family for a spin in the Cx-based ‘Eole’ – a move probably frowned upon by PSA management. Geoff wasn’t known for doing things by the book. I became aware of his work when I fell in love with the CX at a mid-eighties motor show and finally bought my dream car – a late silver 22 model – in 2013.
The next human in the history of my CX arrived in the form of an email from one John Kearsley who – remarkably – was the original owner of my car. He had spotted it in the pages of PC and felt compelled to write to tell me something of its history. ‘I walked into my local Citroën agent in Oxford in 1989 and fell in love with this ex-demo model’. John cherished the car until 2004 when
‘I now have family photos of the CX to go in the extensive history file’
he had to part with it. ‘I wanted to keep it forever but circumstances change. I have missed the car and have regularly checked with the DVLA to see if it’s still taxed!’
Talk about a full service history. Having visited John’s home near Rugby, I now have family photos of the CX that slot in perfectly with every bill, tax disc and MOT certificate. I even have the original bill of sale, signed of course by John when he bought the car in 1989.
The fortuitous meeting with John took place earlier this summer, just as I was coming to the end of my DS restoration. I used the CX to retrieve parts for her older sister and it was on the return leg, with a bootful of components, she suffered a catastrophic engine failure resulting in lots of steam and a sump full of a substance not unlike chicken soup. We poured about twelve litres of water into the expansion tank before realising it was probably finding its way into places where water really shouldn’t be. So, on the very morning my DS passed her MOT, her space inside the workshop was immediately filled with the broken hulk of my CX. As I write this, we have begun further investigation.
Citroën specialist Barry Annells will be another important link in the human chain of those responsible for the continued existence of the car – we’ll be working together to fix it. With such a human element of maintenance (and design) being slowly dialled out of the new car equation, you have to wonder if classic car ownership is about to change forever. Future classics will need less spannering. Which brings me neatly back to Citroën designer Geoff Matthews, who saw this all coming all the way back in 1990. ‘There is less room for visionary individuals than there used to be: less room for the very people who gave us the car industry in the first place. The great old men of the car industry – the ones with the vision and power to get things done – have gone. The Ferdinand Porsches, Enzo Ferraris, William Lioness, Henry Royces. Those men stamped their personalities on their cars.’ Gone too, is Geoff. He passed away recently and leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. For me and you to be a part of the story of men like him is a privilege. By preserving classic cars, whatever the make, model or era, we’re ensuring they exist for future generations. So with that, I’m off to the workshop to get my car back on the road. There’s a prospective buyer in 2067 just waiting to buy an immaculately maintained CX.
Citroën specialist Barry Annells probes James’ stricken CX
James and John with a car dear to both of them.
John Kearsley back in the driving seat of his old Citroën.
Geoff Matthews with kids Morgan and Miranda in his Eole concept.
Young Howard Kearsley in the late Eighties with James’ CX.