By Peter Kristensen….
While conducting research for my book about the GS and GSAs of North America, I was told a Dutch guy in California had a few of them. When I finally tracked him down, it turned out he had none, but he has a CX – and as it turns out, a very special one.
This December, I had a chance to catch up with Hein Gysen from Los Angeles, California. This is the story about Hein and his 1979 Citroën CX Prestige, with a whopping 1,350,000 km (~840,000 miles) on the odometer!
Hein was born and raised in Loenersloot, the Netherlands. Growing up, he was fascinated by the Citroëns’ innovations and simplicity, and maybe also a bit by their quirkiness. After completing elementary school Hein went to trade school in Amsterdam focusing on mechanics. Diploma in hand and 16 years old, he was hired by Citroën Amsterdam and offered four days per week of work and one day of automotive schooling.
In 1968, Hein bought his first Citroën, a 2CV AZAM, which was the top of the line Deux Chevaux with hydraulic shocks, no friction damper, and a larger suspension pot, all from the stronger-built Citroën Ami 6. While working for Citroën, he also had several Citroën Dyane, which Citroën offered to staff in an arrangement whereby they could drive a car and replace it with a new car after six months for a small fee. He had two orange Dyanes, a green, and then a blue one. He then switched to a Citroën GS 1220 CLUB. However, the luxurious CX was his dream car, and preferably the one with automatic transmission to match the hydropneumatic suspension to attain the smooth Citroën driving experience.
The high miles CX
The chance for Hein to get a CX came in 1982 when a 1979 CX Prestige C-Matic Injection was for sale at a Citroën dealer. It had been a leased car with a bit over 100,000 km on the odometer. At the time, this was the most expensive and prestigious version of the Citroën CX.
The Citroën C-Matic has a 3-speed manual gearbox with a torque converter instead of a traditional mechanical clutch. There is no clutch pedal but you still manually shift between the three forward gears and reverse through a traditional gear lever. Touching the gear lever activates a microswitch that controls the oil flow through the torque converter. You can start in any gear, albeit starting from third gear will be very slow. The idea is that for most city driving, you can just leave it in second gear and focus on only the accelerator pedal and brake pedal. The system was developed by Verto (later taken over by Valeo) and initially offered as the “Convertisseur” option on the GS. It was standard on the GS Birotor, and finally it was offered as an option on the CX at which time the system was renamed “C-Matic”. On the CX, the C-Matic system was eventually succeded by a traditional 3-speed ZF automatic gearbox, whereas C-Matic continued being offered on the GS and GSA.
Hein’s CX Prestige with C-Matic has the agile Bosch L-Jet fuel injected 2400 cc engine with 126 HP and a top speed of 192 km/h (119 mph), which supposedly has faster acceleration than the 5-speed version.
As distances in the Netherlands are short, Hein did not put many miles on the car – but that would soon change.
In 1985, Hein was offered a job at Jerry Hathaway’s Citroën SM World in Van Nuys, CA. The CX Prestige followed him a year later. However, before shipping it to the United States some preventative maintenance was in order as parts for the CX would not be readily available in California – because Citroën never exported the Citroën CX to the United States.
Hein’s CX had issues with the C-Matic gear shifting, especially when the engine was warm. To fix this problem, the engine had to come out in order to replace the solenoids and torque converter in the transmission. A new head gasket was also fitted.
Before shipping the car, the CX went to André Pol of Citroën André for the required U.S. Dept. of Transportation conversions, which included collision reinforcement that required installing beams in the doors and front and rear bumper reinforcements. Upon arrival in Orange County, CA, the car was fitted with a catalytic converter and oxygen sensor to meet the California smog requirements.
The CX Prestige has been Hein’s daily driver since 1986 – for 37 years! The majority of the miles were put on the car after 1993 when he took a job at B&C Foreign Cars in Ventura, CA. His new daily commute of 100 km (62 miles) in each direction added 1,000 km per week. On weekends, Hein would do house calls in the Los Angeles area for Citroën repairs, adding additional miles given the distances between the San Fernando Valley where he lives and the locations of his clients.
If the odometer had had sufficient digits, today it would show 1,350,000 km.
An impressive amount of maintenance
Hein has kept a log of car repairs, upgrades, and maintenance. Over the years, almost everything has been replaced or upgraded on his CX.
The graphics below shows the work that’s been done to the car.
Hein also installed the wider front track used on CXs from 1981 and onwards. This also required changing the suspension arms, tie rods, and suspension cylinders. He sourced it all from a 1988 CX Diesel.
At every chance, sound insulation was added to panels including the interior side of the front firewall, floors, fenders, and rear firewall. While this adds weight, it gives a feeling of higher-quality build, especially when closing the doors. Without decibel meter measurements, it’ss hard to tell if the road noise is less. But Hein believes it’s quieter now.
The oil filter connection has been changed to fit the bigger filter used for the CX 2500 engine. While some people do, Hein has not rerouted the oil filter lines from behind the engine to the front for easier access, because he says: “I can change the filter with my eyes closed.”
As for aesthetics, the car has been repainted three times in the original color Gris Espadon (AC 076), the vinyl roof was changed twice, the headliner has been replaced twice, front door panels once, front cloth seats have been reupholstered twice. The radio console was switched to the 1981 version so that he could put his coffee mug safely on top, where there would otherwise have been the “boule” ashtray.
When I asked Hein if there’s anything on the car that hasn’t been touched, he replied “Yes, the rear right wheel bearing…”
So what does Hein think about the CX?
In Hein’s view, the CX is the best of all Citroëns, although he recognizes that others will dispute that, and that in fact all Citroëns are great cars that are fun to drive.
But in comparison, the CX is quieter than a DS and the Diravi steering is definitely a significant upgrade from the DS. However, the CX suspension feels less comfortable than the DS, and to counter this, Hein drilled bigger bypass holes in the shock absorber valves. But he is also saying that softer tires and comfort spheres can compensate for this problem. As for comfort, the longer wheelbase of the DS even compared to the elongated CX Prestige probably adds to the feeling of a more comfortable suspension in the DS.
The CX is somewhat easier to work on than both the DS and SM because of the outboard positioning of the brakes. Like for the DS, parts for CXs are easy to get by as over 1 million CX were produced (almost 1.5 million DS/ID were produced), compared to just under 13,000 SMs. Following the CX in 1989, over 300,000 Citroën XMs were produced.
According to Hein, the secret to a CXs longevity is “maintenance, maintenance, and maintenance.” Hein changes the oil and filters every 5,000 kilometers and stays on top of issues on the car as they arise.
He still enjoys the attention he gets with the CX when people honk or pull up in the adjoining lane on LA’s 405 Freeway and give a thumbs up.
Today, Hein helps people with their Citroëns. Typically, he’ll work on cars at people’s homes, and he also helps people long distance over the phone or by providing advice on online platforms. He enjoys passing on his vast knowledge about the CX and SMs.
My take-aways after speaking with Hein: in comparison, my own 1980 CX GTi with 140,000 km is barely broken in! I have owned my CX for five years, and I agree that it’s simple to repair once one understands how the car functions. Well, I do fear leaks in the Diravi, or needing to take the engine out. After hearing Hein’s stories, I feel there’s really no mechanical problem on a CX (or any car) that can’t be overcome. That’s pretty reassuring!
Some consider the Citroën CX to be the last “real” Citroën as the company was taken over by Peugeot in 1974. To this day, the elegant lines of the CX, the top-rated instrument display with rolling speed dials, the executive aura of the car, and the demonstrated durability, indeed, makes the Citroën CX a very special car.
2024 will mark the 50-year anniversary of the launch of the Citroën CX, and certainly something worth celebrating. In France, there will be a dedicated CX Jubilé September 13-15 at the majestic Domaine de Montigny-le-Gannelon in Eure-et-Loire.
If you know of any high miles Citroën CX let me know!
This story is based on discussions and visits to Hein and his CX in Los Angeles. Thank you to Gert Bue Larsen for technical review and to Sunny Kaplan for editing.ng.