We would gladly imagine Uncle Sam far from these hydropneumatic considerations, not only is this not the case, but above all the cult of US collectors for the brand created by André Citroën goes beyond anything we could have imagined before going there. .
We are in October 1977, at the Paris headquarters of the Citroën brand. René France, head of the American offices of the brand, has just been summoned urgently to Paris. After years of presence on American soil, the French manufacturer Citroën decided to throw in the towel and withdraw from the country.
For years, the manufacturer has tried everything to impose its French cars on the average American. But nothing helps. Despite a good thousand Méhari, and above all 3,500 top-of-the-range SMs sold on site since 1972, the Ami 6 did not enjoy success.
The Americans do not want to homologate the CX
Citroën’s only chance lies with the CX, but it is almost impossible to sell it in the United States without major modifications to pass the homologation. Coup de grace, Peugeot has just bought Citroën and intends to market its 604 in the United States.
Suffice to say that the lion would take a dim view of a French competitor in this market. René France returns to the United States with a heavy heart, to dismiss all the staff of the New York, Los Angeles and Montreal offices. But American employees of Citroën are not the only ones to feel abandoned.
Parallel import and resistance
For the several thousand Citroën owners in the United States, the withdrawal of the brand from the American market is obviously a big problem.
Not only will it be more complicated and expensive to find parts, but the brand’s dealers were the only ones able to maintain the sophisticated hydraulic technology of the brand’s cars.
At first, some are trying to continue importing French models. This is the case of the CXA company which will import CX and XM despite strong opposition from Citroën.
A real community
Since 1978, customers have also tried to organize themselves to help each other. At the beginning, it was for a few enthusiasts to unite around a brand that had just officially disappeared from the American market.
At the time, there was no internet, so how did you find parts, have a hydropneumatic suspension repaired or simply share your passion? The first gatherings are of 80 cars, quickly joined by Canadians, but also owners from all over the continent.
Since then, every year, hundreds of Citroëns 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 gleaming 2CV van parked in front of a bar, a weathered DS at a red light, a magnificent American SM in a parking lot, we’ve come to the right place.
If the city is famous for its famous healing springs, once a year the attraction is elsewhere. About 150 French cars invade the streets of the city, under the dumbfounded gaze of the Americans.
Arriving in the hotel car park, we chat with our first enthusiast. Gary Magwood, weathered face, rocker look, former racing driver very well known in Canada, came here in Citroën Traction, after a journey of 3000 kilometers!
A quality board
Hour after hour, we come across more and more French cars in the streets of the city, even if the start of hostilities is scheduled for the next day. For Hervé Katz, Citroën specialist in the United States, this is only 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 out of the factory. The 2CVs are not to be outdone, like the CXs present in large numbers in the midst of the rarer XMs, or GSs.
At the end of the car park, a space is reserved for Peugeots, imported for a time on American soil. But it is the SMs that impress the most, they are found here by the dozens, in absolutely impeccable condition.
A Panhard forgotten for 40 years in a barn
The atmosphere is relaxed and the presence of French people on site intrigues these owners of old French women. They do not understand that we cross the Atlantic to see Citroëns when we have them at home…
However, some encounters alone would be worth the ticket, such as Paul Brown, music producer and owner of a magnificent Panhard PL17. This almost Citroën had been bought new in Texas in 1960, at a time when a few hundred cars of the brand were imported each year.
The first owner drove 35,000 kilometers before breaking down. Faced with the inability to repair it, he abandoned 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 American roads.
Driving with a Visa in New York is possible
Another enthusiast, Kim is a regular at Rendez Vous Citroën. During a vacation in France, he visited a collector from Bayeux, Eric Lenoir. For sentimental reasons, the American is looking for a 1979 Citroen. Eric finds him a Visa with the correct vintage and returns to New York with it.
“It was clean, with original paint. It was the perfect gift for my 50th birthday, so I didn’t hesitate long. The seats were perfect, I figured the rest must be good too.” The car will run for years in New York before moving to Arizona by road after a 3436 kilometer journey.
To ensure the maintenance of his French, Kim claims to be able to count on a few garages in the New York region capable of maintaining cars of the brand.
Would Americans buy a new Citroen?
After a few days spent at Rendezvous Citroën, we say to 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” answer our American enthusiasts.
“Citroëns are simply not suitable. Americans want big pickups, big V8s. When they buy a foreign one, it’s a Japanese one, for its reliability. There is no place for a brand like Citroën”.
An opinion that Michaela Hellman, the organizer of the rally, does not share: “I dream of a Citroën Cactus! If I can send a message to Carlos Tavares (CEO of Stellantis, a group to which Citroën belongs), it would be to come back with their new models, they are original and have a real personality. For a few hundred Americans, the trauma of the disappearance of the brand in the United States has not yet healed.