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Geoff Matthews
1946 – 2015

by James Walshe

Geoff Matthews was one of Britain’s most influential and charismatic car designers. He influenced a range of the decade’s most important styling themes and was a big supporter of monobox concept. Had CitroŽn let him have his way, the AX would have been a one-box shape, rather like the Eco2000 and the Renault Twingo that followed some years later.

Geoff worked on numerous models – from the crisp looking Chrysler Alpine of 1976, intriguing Matra Rancho and the car that would become the Renault Espace. But for we CitroŽn nuts, it’s all about his work at CitroŽn, isn’t it? And what a CV! The Chief Exterior Designer during the 80s and a true CitroŽn fan (I'm told he drove a black CX GTi Turbo and a Traction) he was a bit of a maverick and so – I like to think – was the driving force behind retaining CitroŽn’s continued innovative design process, despite his somewhat conservative masters at PSA.

The game-changing EOLE project was managed by Geoff - and pioneered developments in aerodynamics and automated design. He worked on the AX, the BX and did some refinement work on the XM. But for me, his genius was most evident in his work on the refreshed CX of 1985. One of the greatest challenges for a designer is to restyle and update an existing model – especially if it’s already a harmonious and well-proportioned shape like the CX. But Geoff achieved it. With clever use of composite materials, he improved the CX, giving it further balance, svelteness and modernity. Check out the black sill covers, which make it look longer and sleeker. See how the side strips and rear wheel covers unify to tidy up the design. His genius was to skilfully make it look as if the car had been designed that way in the first place.

In an era when dreary old dullards of the car industry and clueless, unimaginative motoring journalists criticised CitroŽn for being ‘weird’ (the kind of insipid, lazy scribes who insert the word ‘quirky’ into anything CitroŽn related) Geoff was one of those who shrugged off these bores in the pursuit of true design excellence and innovation. He helped to create what we now know to be the cars of the future. From the lightweight and handsome AX to the exceptional XM, remarkably a car that looks better now than it did 25 years ago.

Speaking in 1990, Geoff observed: ‘There is less room for visionary individuals than there used to be: less room for the very people who gave us the car industry in the first place. The great old men of the car industry – the ones with the vision and power to get things done – have gone. The Ferdinand Porsches, Enzo Ferraris, William Lyonses, Henry Royces. Those men stamped their personalities on their cars’.

And now Geoff has gone too. As I glance outside my window and look at my beautiful Series 2 CX (a 22TRS - my favourite model of all), I feel sad I never had the opportunity to shake his hand. But I’m extremely proud to drive something styled by this true hero of the motoring industry. Thanks to Geoff – and all those other pioneering champions of CitroŽn past – I still drive the car of the future.

© 2015 James Walshe

James Walshe is an Assistant Editor at Practical Classics.

Julian Marsh, James Walshe and CitroŽnŽt would like to extend sincere condolences to the Matthews family on the occasion of their loss.

© 2002 Julian Marsh/CitroŽnŽt