Rare Estate: 1988 Citroen CX Break

We’ve literally seen and written about thousands of different classic cars over the years here at Barn Finds, but a search through our database shows that this is only the second Citroën CX 25 Break (Estate) that we have ever seen. This is probably easy to understand because it is a model that was never officially imported into the US. This is a shame because it is a large, practical, and technically advanced vehicle that offers an almost eerie level of ride comfort and refinement. This 1988 model appears to be an extremely tidy example, and it is ready to find a new home. If a quirky classic is on your shopping list, then you will find the Citroën located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and has listed for sale here on Facebook. The asking price has been set at $12,000.

The Citroën is finished in Rouge Florentin, which is one of the most attractive colors available in 1988. For a European vehicle, these are surprisingly large. By the time that the final CX Break rolled off the production line, it was one of the largest passenger vehicles offered by any European manufacturer at a touch over 16′ in overall length. It was also a long-lived model. The CX Break remained in production from 1975 until 1991. During those years, it only ever underwent minor evolutionary changes. Early examples had some potential rust issues, but Citroën worked hard to eliminate the worst of these by the time this vehicle appeared. This is a tidy looking vehicle with no visible body issues. The seller isn’t forthcoming with a lot of information, but there is no visible rust or evidence of prior accident damage. The paint on the upper section of the rear bumper looks like it might be faded and sun-damaged, but the presentation of the rest of the vehicle appears to be close to perfect. The original alloy wheels seem to be free from staining or damage, while there are no apparent problems with the glass.

The interior of the Citroën presents nearly as nicely as the exterior and is definitely on the quirky side. Firstly, we need to breathe a sigh of relief that the seats are upholstered in leather. The alternative was a cloth material that was prone to deteriorating. That cloth is also rare today, making a retrim something of a headache. The leather on the seats generally looks to be in reasonable condition, although it is showing a bit of age cracking and dryness. This is nothing that a good leather conditioner can’t fix. The door trims are in good condition, and, once again, this is a relief. The door cards themselves can be prone to warping over time. The fact that these are intact is a fair indication that the Break has been well cared for. The wheel features a single spoke, which is a hallmark of Citroën interior design. The dash looks nice, with no apparent signs of any problems. Some of the unique features of a CX interior include turning signals that don’t self-cancel. This was not a fault, but an intentional design feature introduced by the company. They felt that every action performed by a driver should be a conscious one, including the act of turning off the turn signals. You can gauge the success of this feature by how prominently it features on modern vehicles. To the best of my knowledge, it is a standard feature to be found on precisely no new cars today. I guess that it proves that some innovative ideas should remain as ideas. Another interesting feature is the location of the radio/cassette player between the front seats. Citroën persisted with this idea for several decades, but I don’t see any design benefits in it myself. In fact, it makes the internal workings of the cassette player susceptible to cookie crumbs and other foreign bodies (or spilled liquids). That can spell death to a cassette player, and even a swap to a CD player doesn’t alter than scenario much. Still, it wouldn’t be Citroën if it wasn’t at least slightly mad in design.

There are no engine photos supplied by the owner and no information on the Citroën’s mechanical condition. Under the hood, we should find a 2,499cc 4-cylinder engine, producing 121hp. This power finds its way to the front wheels via a 3-speed ZF automatic transmission. Power steering and 4-wheel power disc brakes are also part of the package. It shouldn’t be surprising to find that the Break features Citroën’s innovative self-leveling suspension, which makes it a practical vehicle for carrying heavy loads. That self-leveling suspension also marked the feature that killed Citroën CX (and SM) sales in the US. From 1974, this was a feature that was banned in America. However, it was such an integral design feature of the CX that re-engineering the vehicle was not financially viable. As a result, Citroën was unable to introduce the CX to the American market. Given the sophisticated equipment that hides below the surface, it is incredible that the CXs of this vintage are not particularly prone to mechanical issues. These are generally let down by mundane problems such as failed electrical connectors. Given the vehicle’s inherent sophistication, those sorts of electrical gremlins can cause more significant issues. For instance, a failed speedometer sender can adversely impact the speed-sensitive power steering. Otherwise, the CX is no more or less reliable than any equivalent front-wheel-drive wagon.

It is a shame that the Citroën CX Break was never officially imported into the US. I think that while it probably wouldn’t have sold in huge numbers, it still could have been a limited sales success. It is a large and practical classic station wagon that can swallow some impressive loads. The sophisticated suspension blessed it with a plush and compliant ride, which is a characteristic that many potential buyers would have found to be attractive. Whether the buying public would have readily accepted the relatively low engine power, the unusual styling, or the FWD configuration is something open to debate. However, for someone who is searching for an interesting and unique classic wagon, this automotive rarity might be worth a serious look.



    Hearse. :)

    Like 1
  2. redwagon

    Looks like a flower car or a hearse. Nice bit of French engineering no doubt.

    Like 2
  3. Mike

    Those front seats look sooo comfortable.

    Like 3
  4. Beyfon

    Now we are in my home court, I’ve owned at least 10 of these CX wagons of different years, models and drivetrain configurations! This one no doubt looks very nice and well maintained. The simple fact that all 3 lids for the cubbies at the top of the center console are still there is nothing short of a miracle, they are always broken off by the first ham fisted person who can’t figure out the delicate push it takes to have them glide open.

    Now to a list of comments:
    1/ I think that technically this isn’t a Citroen but a CXA as they got that identity as part of the import process.
    2/ At least the European CX25TRI has 128 hp. This doesn’t tell the full story, it’s a very torquey engine so it’s perfectly fine even for this large car. They are amazingly good for towing, I often used mine for pulling car trailers and there was nothing better available in Europe for that task.
    3/ We often pine for manual gearboxes, but this is a car that’s ideally suited for the auto. The engine and gearbox works great together and it’s a pretty bulletproof package. (The manual isn’t good, both balky and vague at the same time! Feels more like shifting an 18-wheeler than a car)
    4/ They are impossibly roomy. I remember once moving to a new house using the exact sister car, same year, specs and color. A 3-seat sofa? No problems! I could still close the hatch!
    5/ I don’t know CXA but that leather doesn’t look Citroen factory. Either CXA reupholstered their cars or it’s been done later. Someone will surely know.
    6/ The bumpers were not originally painted, should be only colored plastic that faded rapidly. If these aren’t painted the limited fading would be another sign of a very light duty for this car. Most cars got them painted within 5 years or so because the color had faded to some kind of milky white…
    7/ This car looks good, but still worth examining the most typical CX issues. Check the sub-frame for rust, and make sure the large bearings that hold the rear suspension arms are healthy. (If they are, drill holes and install grease nipples between the bearings on each side. Fill with bearing grease and they last forever)
    8/ For the buyer, do a yearly service routine taking out the optical sensor for the ignition timing and wipe it off. It’s a 2 minute task. When it gets dirty it typically shows up as random starting problems where you need to crank excessively for it to start. (It was a great way to buy cheap CX where owners got frustrated that they occasionally would refuse to start 😊)

    Buy it and enjoy owning the best car that Citroen has ever built!

    Like 28
    • Joe Conte

      It is indeed a CXA car. Beside the US mandated headlights, the side marker lights confirm that. You also see no Citroen badging anywhere on the car, not even the chevrons on the grill. CXA did add some upgrades to make the cars more appealing to US buyers, including the nice leather upholstery seen in this example. My ’88 CXA Prestige even has self cancelling turn signals. They also had to modify the bumpers slightly, so had to paint them
      Citroen’s suspension was not banned because it was self leveling, but because it was variable.

      Like 0
  5. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    A car I’ve never heard of, let alone seen. Interesting. Thanks Adam for the write-up and Beyfon for the additional information. So, I for sure “learned something every day” today.

    Like 3
  6. Spud

    Very nice write-up…

    …on what has to be one of the ugliest cars to be made in a quantity of more than 1. It looks like someone grafted the rear-end of a Yugo onto the front end of a Buick Skyhawk and filled in the middle with whatever they had laying around.

    I get the whole Citroens are an acquired taste thing, but man, this thing takes ugly to a whole other level.

    Like 1
  7. John Corey Member

    What is this about “Banning” the self-adjusting suspension??? My 67 Eldo had self-levelling and does my 96 Roadmaster wagon. And air suspension was fitted to ’58 Eldorados and just about every current top-of-the line car from Jeeps to Caddies. I never heard of this ban. Can anyone clarify?

    Like 1
    • Spud

      Yeah, that’s certainly misinformation. The Tesla Model 3 has an air suspension option, as do a number of high end luxury cars.

      Like 1
      • DS21Fan

        It’s correct. This was due to the the 5-mile-per-hour bumper standard in effect from 1973 to 1982. It banned variable height cars, which is why Citroën pulled out of the North American market.

        Like 0
      • John Corey Member

        Banning variable-height cars would not have prohibited the CX – all Citroen had to do was set the height at one level – a trivial adaptation far simpler than conforming to the SAE lighting standards, other bumper standards, windshield retention rules various buzzers and bells rules, etc., etc. etc. that they already had done. No, it’s just that they weren’t selling enough cars and just called it quits on any further investment for the US.

        Like 0
      • Carlie M.

        My father had a string of early-70s Cits all the way till 2014 or so when he couldn’t maintain it any more. Incredibly comfy, and incredibly gallic!

        The bumper rules required the bumper to be between x and y inches off the ground. Not a problem for a Cit when driving, but the car settles to its lowest (and then too low) level when parked.
        Nothing much you can do to engineer around this. Cits were never big sellers in the US, so not worth the cost to fix this nor the emissions stuff.

        Note that Citroën’s suspension is ‘hydropneumatic” – the up/down and shock absorbing is hydraulic. The springiness is via a sphere with high-pressure gas on one side of a diaphragm. While generally reliable, the hydropneumatic suspension is complex and not servicable by the average mechanic; you need a trunk-full of parts and manuals to keep it running.

        Like 0
  8. Sandy Lea

    I am IN LUST for this car! I LOVE Citroens and this one, in particular, just checks all my boxes!

    Then, again, I own 4 Renaults….

    Like 4
  9. Dave Rhodes

    hopefully there isn’t a 3rd !

    Like 1
  10. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    I think I may have known this car since it was new, as the car is the same color and in the same area as me. If it’s the same car, it was privately imported by a close friend who owned a large commercial machine shop. He was vacationing in France for several months, using the car as a rental. He loved the car so much he brought it back to the USA, not realizing the problems involved in getting it approved for use in the USA.

    Again, if it’s indeed the same car, he spent a fortune and a lot of time working to make it pass DOT and EPA requirements, including time I spent working on it. I Love old Citroens, and I’ve worked on numerous versions from the old Traction Avant to the DS21. I must say that this CX rode like no other, floating like on a cloud.

    Like 4
  11. Maestro1 Member

    French style, avant-garde, bizarre and wonderful cars. Someone near a Cit Mechanic should buy this and very much enjoy it.

    Like 1
  12. Jasper

    I give this a Cool x 10 score. I think I had a blue Matchbox CX break.

    Like 2
    • davidricheh Member

      I have that same Matchbox, got it new when I was a kid in the 70s.

      Like 0
  13. Mr.BZ

    Interesting car for sure, but the exterior of this thing makes my Moms 61 Plymouth wagon (the Queen Mary) look sophisticated and well thought out.

    Like 0
  14. Stan Marks

    IMHO, worth every penny.
    Yes, it’s an acquired taste alright. But once you sit in one & take it for a spin, you’ll become a big fan. This beauty will never lose it’s style.

    When I worked at Universal Studios, during the 70s, I would see Jack Webb leaving his office & getting into his white Citroen, at lunch time. Jack loved that car.

    Like 1
  15. michael kelly

    A limited sales success? Not a chance. The more conservative-looking Renault Sportwagen was a flop, despite an already-established dealer network in AMC/Jeep.

    Like 0
  16. N.Newton

    Is this still for sale? I’ve had loads of these in europe but this looks like a nice one. jnewtonpostbox@gmail.com

    Like 0

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