Citroën CX "Loadrunner"

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I like vehicles that are focused.

For people, focus is important. It keeps you working, it keeps you on track, it keeps you honest. For vehicles, it's important for a different reason—focus is what helps to keep out unnecessary crap and nix bad design and engineering decisions before they're committed to production.

Vehicles with a lack of purpose are generally awful—GMC Envoy XUV, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Acura ZDX…you get the picture. Swiss Army knives work well in small scale—and less so on four wheels.

Focus can also help adapt vehicles for certain purposes. Camera cars, taxis, airport shuttle busses, hunting rigs, limousines… the list goes on. It can help make a vehicle more than it was originally designed for.

And so you're in Europe. It's the early 1980s. You own a large publishing house and need to deliver a 1000 lbs. of newspaper across the country—and fast. Commercial air travel is fast but expensive, and both commercial vans and big semi trucks are simply too slow. 

If you lived in France, you'd call Tissier. Germany, Mike's Garage. Belgium, Pijpops. (What?!)

"Hello, I'd like to order a Citroën CX Loadrunner, please."

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Designed to effortlessly carry heavy loads across long distances safely—be it vehicles, newspapers, or injured people—the Loadrunner was primarily the French company Tissier's idea, but since these vehicles are customized for the task at hand, there's a lot of variation. Loadrunner owner Phil Collins (no relation) had this to say about an encounter with a Financial Times-branded example:

"Typically they loaded up late at night with 1 ton (900kg) or more of newspapers (hence the need for the extra pair of rear wheels) and sped at over 100mph (160 km/h) from one European capital to another, or to the provincial towns of France, to distribute their load in time for the morning paper-round.

"They were driven hard, and worked long hours; some worked on a regular nightly trip, others weekly, and not many have survived."

Why use the CX? See, without heavy modification, a conventional modern mid-sized sedan would simply not be able to be modified into a Loadrunner—its suspension would collapse and its frame would not be strong enough.

With Citroën's high-pressure hydropneumatic suspension, however, a vehicle like the Loadrunner becomes viable—simply attach an H-shaped subframe behind the rear wheels, attach hydraulic suspension spheres, and strengthen the load floor.

That's it. 

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Designs are modified slightly depending on the application—a fiberglass shell or alloy panels for the huge enclosed space, or fit a long vehicle loading ramp if a customer wanted a car carrier. These were all unique conversions for businesses. Do a quick Google search and you'll see all manner of Loadrunner. 

You may be thinking, "Wait, I thought Citroën made unreliable cars? I thought they were difficult to maintain… Why would you use one for a business?"

Citroëns seem to be fine with heavy use, as long as regular maintenance is performed. High repair bills don't matter as much to a large corporation, as many of the Loadrunners were owned by companies who could afford to keep the car on the road. Some sources online say there are commercial Loadrunners still travelling Europe at high speed—now with odometers into seven digits.

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Some readers have been asking for a little more technical geekery, so here are some bullet points on the Loadrunner—keep in mind that specs will vary depending on its configuration, but for a low-roof version:

  • Four seats
  • 5.6 metres / 18ft, 5" long
  • Turning circle of 13.2 meters / 44 feet
  • Load space of 1.78 meters long / 5ft, 10" with the seats up; 2.6 metres / 8ft, 8" with the seats down
  • Fully independent front and rear suspension
  • Hydropneumatic spheres for all six wheels, plus an accumulator sphere and brake sphere
  • The car will always ride at the same height, regardless of load
  • ABS on the front four wheels
  • Fuel economy between 13.4 L/100km (17.4 US MPG) for the gasoline engine and 7 L/100km (33 US MPG) for a turbodiesel
  • Cruising speed of between 150 km/h (93 mph) and 200 km/h (124 mph)
  • Most were equipped with a turbo diesel engine and five-speed manual, too!

My personal favourites are the Loadrunners with a low roof and largely stock appearance—I don't need to look like Rodimus Prime from Transformers: The Movie. (If you're geeky enough to know what I'm talking about, 59 extra bonus points for you!) And yes, someone did a "camper" concept called—of course—Penthouse.

That said, Loadrunner-type vehicles didn't have as many wheels as a few other special Citroëns did. But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading