We would happily imagine Uncle Sam apart from these hydropneumatic considerations, not only that, but above all the cult of American collectors of the brand created by André Citroën goes beyond anything we could have imagined before going there. .
We are in October 1977, in the Paris headquarters of the Citroën brand. René France, head of the brand’s American offices, has just been called to Paris. After years of presence on American soil, the French manufacturer Citroën decides to throw in the towel and withdraw from the country.
Over the years, the manufacturer has tried everything to force its French cars to the American average. But nothing helps. Despite a good thousand Méharis, and more than 3,500 top SMSes sold on the site since 1972, Ami 6 did not enjoy success.
Americans don’t want to homologate CX
Citroen’s only chance is for the CX, but it’s almost impossible to sell it in the US without major modifications to pass homologation. Coup de grace, Peugeot has just bought Citroën and intends to sell its 604 in the US.
Suffice it to say that the lion may take a dim view of the French competitor in this market. René France returns to the United States with a heavy heart, firing all the employees of the New York, Los Angeles and Montreal offices. But Citroën’s American employees aren’t the only ones feeling left out.
Parallel ordering and resistance
For several thousand Citroen owners in the US, the brand’s withdrawal from the US market is clearly a big deal.
Not only would it be more difficult and expensive to find parts, but brand dealers were the only ones able to maintain modern hydraulic technology for brand vehicles.
At first, some try to continue importing French models. This is the case of the CXA company which will import the CX and XM despite strong opposition from Citroën.
A true community
Since 1978, customers have also tried to organize themselves to help each other. Previously, it was for a few participants to unite around a brand that had officially disappeared from the American market.
At that time, there was no internet, so how did you find parts, have the hydropneumatic suspension repaired or just share your passion? The first collections are of 80 cars, quickly joined by Canadians, but also owners from all over the continent.
Since then, every year, hundreds of Citroën fans from all over the United States meet at the end of June for an unusual gathering in Saratoga Springs, where we went.
From our arrival in Saratoga Springs, a spa town located about 400 kilometers from New York, the reason for our trip is everywhere. A shiny 2CV is parked in front of the bar, a weather-beaten DS at a red light, an American luxury SM in the parking lot, we’ve arrived at the right place.
If the city is famous for its famous healing springs, once a year the attraction is elsewhere. About 150 French cars invaded the streets of the city under the eyes of the Americans.
Arriving in the hotel car park, we talk to our first participant. Gary Magwood, the weathered face, the look of the rock, the most famous former racing driver in Canada, came here in Citroën Traction, after a journey of 3000 km!
Hour after hour, we meet more French cars on the city streets, even if the start of hostilities is scheduled for the next day. For Hervé Katz, Citroën’s specialist in the United States, this is a very small sample of what we will see the next day.
The locals are right. We find ourselves in the middle of dozens of DS lined up as if they came from the factory. 2CVs should not be passed over, such as the abundant CXs in the midst of rare XMs, or GSs.
At the end of the car park, a space is reserved for Peugeots, temporarily imported to American soil. But it’s the SMs that are the most interesting, found here and several, in very poor condition.
A Panhard forgotten for 40 years in a barn
The atmosphere is relaxed and the French presence on the site attracts these old French women owners. They don’t understand that we cross the Atlantic to see Citroëns at home…
However, only some events would be worth a ticket, such as Paul Brown, music producer and owner of a very nice Panhard PL17. This Citroen was purchased almost new in Texas in 1960, at a time when hundreds of the brand’s cars were imported into the country each year.
The first owner drove 35,000 km before it broke down. Faced with not being able to repair it, he left it in a barn for 40 years. Paul Brown stumbles upon it by chance and buys it. Since then this Panhard has been driving on the roads of America.
Driving with a Visa in New York is possible
Another participant, Kim is a regular participant in Rendez Vous Citroën. During a vacation in France, he visited a tax collector from Bayeux, Eric Lenoir. For sentimental reasons, the American is looking for a 1979 Citroen. Eric finds him a cocktail with the right vintage and takes it back to New York.
“It was clean, with natural color. It was the perfect gift for my 50th birthday, so I didn’t hesitate for long. The chairs were nice, I figured the others must be nice too.” The car will be driven for many years in New York before moving to Arizona by road after a journey of 3436 km.
To ensure the maintenance of his French, Kim claims he can count on a few garages in the New York area capable of maintaining the brand’s cars.
Would Americans buy a new Citroen?
After a few days spent at Rendezvous Citroën, we tell ourselves that the image of the brand is still alive on American soil. To the point of making the average American want to buy a Citroën? “Impossible” to respond to our American enthusiasm.
“Citroëns are not suitable. Americans want big pickups, big V8. When they buy a foreign one, it is Japanese, for its reliability. There is no place for a brand like Citroën”.
An opinion that Michaela Hellman, the organizer of the meeting, does not share: “I dream of Citroën Cactus! If I could send a message to Carlos Tavares (CEO of Stellantis, the group in which Citroën belongs), it would be to return with their new models, they are original and they have real personality. For a few hundred Americans, the trauma of the brand’s disappearance in the United States has not yet healed.