The Car That Could Have Been Citroën’s Answer To Ford’s Bestselling Capri Sports Coupe
Images: Makarand Baokar
Carrozzeria Bertone had established a fine relationship with Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Innocenti, Iso and Lamborghini in Italy by the beginning of the 1970s. Similarly, the automobile company was on good terms with Audi and BMW in Germany, and Simca in France.
As Peugeot had a well-publicised ongoing arrangement with Pininfarina, and cozying up to the French automobile giant would have been futile, Bertone decided to concentrate on building a relationship with the other French automobile heavyweight, Citroën.
Citroën was grabbing headlines with its newest mid-sized car, the GS, a model that it had launched at the 1970 Paris Motor Show. Not only was the GS’s sweeping, aerodynamic styling a talking point, the car was a veritable technological tour de force. With an advanced front-wheel drive, like all Citroens had had since the Traction Avant, the GS was powered by an innovative air-cooled flat-four engine that kept the center of gravity low.
More impressive was the fact that the GS was equipped with disc brakes (with hydraulic power assistance) at both the front and the rear, which was rare in the early 1970s—even for cars a category above.
The technical icing on the cake, though, was the (simplified) hydro-pneumatic suspension derived from the flagship Citroen DS, which made the GS as smooth as a magic carpet ride.
With such technological density and creativity, the Citroen GS was soon voted the European Car of the Year for 1971, setting the sales charts afire. Since the car was a hit in the marketplace too, Nuccio Bertone saw considerable potential in looking at developing a niche derivative, specifically, a 2+2 coupe.
Bertone’s chief designer Marcello Gandini being busy with several other projects, new recruit Marc Deschamps developed a coupe version, based on the floorpan of the GS. Even the length remained similar to that of the donor car.
The main differences were in the width and the height of the car: the Bertone proposal was wider at 1.68 meters (66 inches) than the GS’s 1.61 meters (63 inches), and markedly lower by 20 centimetres (8 inches), at 1.15 meters (45 inches), making it low, wide and sleek.
Retaining Citroën’s trademark stance of a more pronounced overhang in the front than at the rear, Deschamps’ design, with significant input and overall guidance from Gandini, for the coupe version of the GS, further extended Citroen’s typically more pronounced front overhang.
The rear section’s dynamicity was accentuated by the Citroenesque wheel arch cut-off which was not dissimilar to the evolving ‘Gandini/Bertone signature’: an asymmetric wheel arch, with the front a beautifully pointed wedge that was sporty, without being aggressive.
Painted metallic champagne, the coupe was christened Camargue, a reference to the marshy wasteland in the southeast of France famous for its pink flamingos and wild horses. Unveiled in March 1972 at the Geneva Motor Show on the Bertone stand, the Camargue was received with much excitement by both the press and the public.
France’s leading car magazine, l’Automobile, put the Citroen Camargue on the cover of its August issue, which was a preview special of the Paris Salon from that year. Citroen also displayed the Camargue at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, on June 10 and 11 of the same year, which indicates that Citroën was, in all probability, seriously evaluating the car for production possibilities.
By 1972 though Citroen was hemorrhaging badly, which eventually led to a merger between Citroën and Peugeot in December 1974. The Camargue sadly became a casualty of this merger, and the car in the Bertone Collection remains the lone reminder of a ‘what-could-have-been’.
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