Sunday, October 05, 2008

Citroen XM: The Greatest Grey Market Import

Despite being a society defined by the automobile, America did not get everything it wanted. Euro-spec M series BMWs were always a little faster than the American-spec BMWs. Virtually no Mercedes in America has a manual transmission. And it was not until the Infiniti G35 that we finally got something resembling the Nissan Skyline.

That's where grey market cars come into play. These are cars imported by clever and eccentric entrepreneurs without the help of manufacturers. They are legally brought to this country, but barely. Car enthusiasts, for the most part, welcomed them. Gelandewagens were bought by the likes of Bill Cosby from an outfit in New Mexico long before Mercedes officially sold them to the legions of successful real estate agents in Scottsdale and Newport Coast. My neighbor when I was a child, a simple civil servant, got into the game and always had a bevy of W115 sedans with their European headlights and anemic bumpers parked in his driveway. In fact, I just saw a Euro-spec E23 745i (not to be confused with the RHD South Africa-spec 745i) parked the other day on my way back from an errand run.

But what was the greatest grey market import of them all? In my humble opinion, it is the Citroen XM. CX Automotive (CXA) of New Jersey cut through reams of red tape, took a huge gamble, and imported this quirky luxury sedan/hatchback. The incredibly high price turned many off more than its odd looks or abysmal reliability. At almost $60,000, CXA sold a little more than a dozen XMs (including one wagon). The wagon version, unfortunately, was called the XM Break. You can't make this stuff up, folks.

So what was the XM? In 1990, at its debut, it won the European Car of the Year Award. Bertone designed the ruler-inspired body and the ones imported here came with a 3 liter V6. It has a sophisticated, but failure prone, Hydractive suspension...blah, blah, blah. Rather than giving you a description, in words, of why this is the greatest grey market car ever, I will show you with this mind blowing dialogue-less ad. It captures the spirit of the car perfectly, beautifully, and dramatically.



Unknown said...

Nice to see our little project mentioned here. I worked for CXA from the late 80's through the early 90's and had my hands on every XM that we imported (I performed the conversions). We put a lot of time and money into the project...crashed a few cars and jump through lots of hoops to pass EPA and DOT regs...but success was not to be.


Anonymous said...

Jim, Your hard work is appreciated. I still drive a 1990 CXA GTI, I believe the last CXA brought to US. I bought it from Bernard. Still driving strong through Chicago's heavy traffic.


Alexander Evensen said...

That's one beautiful XM :)

I'll be testdriving my future XM today. 1992 D12 2.1 TD D12. Need an engine changed, but it's all arranged, by the end of October I'll be having it.

Maxichamp said...

@Alexander: Congrats on your pending purchase. Check this out:

I looked at your site. You are an excellent photographer. Once you have pictures of your new car, we'd love to see them!

sebasm said...

I love this car, it looks like nothing else (except maybe a Xantia, I love it too). The man in that ad... He lives like really far from his house, doesn’t he? :D

Maxichamp said...

@sebasm: Check this out, my friend.