Project 2CV – body is back!

Yesterday was the day I’ve been waiting a long time for. Various distractions about paint, and Alan’s need to get a few more jobs out of the way meant it’s taken a while for Elly’s body to be painted. The welding was all finished back in June, but finding a big slot to prepare and paint the body has taken a while.

Firstly, the underside and the floors insider were treated with U-Pol Raptor. This is the stuff used for pick-up bed liners, but it is increasingly common to use it during car restorations. After all, the 2CV has a lot of bare, painted surfaces, and so the floors and inner rear wings have a tough time of it. The Raptor should protect the underside too, effectively acting like a stonechip. Outside, it has been left white, but Alan has covered it in a top coat inside to keep it the same colour as the bodyshell. U-Pol’s Sean Lewis came up to Bradford to demonstrate the process to Alan, though it seems it just sprays on much like any normal paint.

U-Pol Raptor gets applied to the 2CV's underside.

U-Pol Raptor gets applied to the 2CV’s underside.

Then there was a discussion about final paint finish. I’d wanted cellulose, as that’s what it would have been original. However, Alan talked me into giving two-pack another go. I wasn’t very happy with the two-pack used last time, as it seemed to crack very easily on every body seam. Given how flimsy a 2CV bodyshell is, I thought that perhaps this was not the ideal paint.

However, I’ve been talked into giving it another go, so we’ll see how that stacks up long term. One downside is that the car was only painted on Friday, so I really need to wait a few more days for it to harden properly. I should point out, this isn’t the normal way of doing things. Alan would far prefer to let the paint harden, then spend several days giving it a good polish. I’m going to have to do that part myself, as part of my need to keep costs down.

Anyway, to the journey itself. I managed to borrow a lovely car trailer from a friend, so the RAV was tasked with firstly dragging the chassis up to Bradford and Citwins HQ. I must say, the RAV really did surprise me, taking the task in its stride. I mean sure, it struggled a bit up the M62 (the highest motorway summit in the UK), but that only meant dropping to fourth gear. I’d estimate the total weight to have been something like 1200kg hanging off the back of it, so it did really well (towing capacity 1500kg). It certainly felt very stable at all times, so much for looks! I will concede that the RAV doesn’t look up to it at all, with a mere 88″ (2200mm) wheelbase, you’d expect it to be horribly unstable. That said, a Land Rover 90 only has another four inches of wheelbase, and that can tow more than twice as much…

I set off, enjoying the RAV’s abilities, and only slightly infuriated by some pillock in a Range Rover Sport, who pulled straight out in front of me while I was doing my legal top speed of 50mph. Thankfully, the trailer sports rather good brakes. I was not amused. The cockwomble then proceeded to faff about in front of me before making a last-minute decision to turn right. Cheers mate!

If he's really a spy, he's a rubbish one.

If he’s really a spy, he’s a rubbish one.

The route up to Bradford became problematic around Llangollen, because the A483 was closed for a section. This diverted everyone down a small road, with parked cars blocking the flow. I lost over half an hour here. Once past that, the journey was fine though, and I arrived at Citwins at around 2pm, with a brief stop for a fantastic chicken burger at Keelham Farm Shop.  I shall miss those chicken burgers!

A pause at Keelham Farm Shop, Thornton-le-Dale. Recommended!

A pause at Keelham Farm Shop, Thornton-le-Dale. Recommended!

On arrival, we pulled the chassis off the trailer, and then pulled the engine out. That’s going to Ernie Larton for a rebuild, which should extract a few more horses from it. We spotted a missing clutch finger, so it’ll be having a new clutch too. I bought this engine in 1999 out of a scrapyard, and fitted it to my Acadiane at the time (on my 21st birthday!). When the Acad came off the road later that year, the engine found itself in my aunt’s shed for a decade. I’ve no idea what state the clutch is in really, but the engine has done many thousands of miles in the 2CV now with no bother.

With that done, it was time to get the bodyshell ready. That largely meant fitting the doors, which meant fitting the door furniture. With such a tiny tow car, I had no room in the RAV for all of these panels, so the doors were fitted (sans seals) and the bonnet carefully stashed inside the body. Alan also kindly fitted the windscreen for me. Again, the easiest way to transport it was fitted in place. I just then hoped I didn’t kick up any stones on the way back…

Windscreen safely fitted.

Windscreen safely fitted.

Dropping the body onto the chassis was a nice moment. I had something looking like a 2CV again! With that done, and the RAV filled with what 2CV bits I could get into it (vent panels, bumpers and quite a bit of glass), we could roll the body/chassis onto the trailer, strap it down and I could finally head home. Well, after a cup of tea. It was gone five by now, no point in rushing into rush hour traffic.

Getting ready to lift the body.

Getting ready to lift the body.

The tea strategy worked well. I grabbed a sausage roll at the farm shop (too late for cooked food sadly) and headed home, encountering very little traffic. Apart from poor lane discipline (all the more frustrating when you cannot use the third lane), the motorway section was pretty stress free too. Fog threatened to make life annoying once back onto Welsh roads, but it mostly cleared.

By Welshpool, I needed to fill up again. This is a thirsty little tow car! I calculated that it was doing about 24mpg towing, which perhaps isn’t that bad. It was certainly having to work hard on hills, but it never really felt like it was struggling. I also grabbed some much-needed fruit. Healthy eating can be a struggle on the road.

Welshpool achieved.

Welshpool achieved.

The final hour was hard going, but I finally arrived home just after 10pm, a mere 11 hours after I’d set off. I barely managed to stagger into the house, so the 2CV had to spend the night on the trailer. It was removed this morning and installed in the garage, where I set about trying to dry it off with a dry microfibre cloth. I won’t be rushing to get it back on the road though. The engine is now many miles away, and the paint needs a chance to harden up a bit. Rushing makes one rather clumsy, so I’ll take my time. Not too much though, as Elly should be on display at the NEC Restoration Show in March. Cannot wait!

Many, MANY thanks to all those who’ve contributed to this project so far, whether actual donations, parts, advice or just the support from knowing people are actually interested! Great to meet complete strangers at shows who ask how the car is coming along. I appreciate every bit of it. I’m still planning how to say thank you to everyone, but first of all, I need to get it finished!

RAV4: Flaws, more flaws, but CUTE!

On Thursday evening, I felt the need to celebrate some serious graft during the working week. So, I took the RAV4 greenlaning – the first time I’d done so for months. After all, what’s the point in having a 4×4 if you’re not prepared to use the extra ability such a transmission gives you?

All too soon, the limitations of the RAV were coming to the fore as the underside began scraping. I had entered only mild ruts, but the exhaust system hangs very low, right down the middle of the car. You’ve also go the spindly little lower control arms to each wheel. They seem horribly vulnerable. I tried to keep the speed down as much as possible, but that revealed another limitation – the lack of a low-ratio gearbox. First gear is lower than in a normal car, but I’d say it’s only as low as third or fourth in a proper 4×4’s low range gearbox. That’s fine for pootling along, but just does not allow enough control when you want to crawl, or descend steep hills.

It can go greenlaning, but it's not very good.

It can go greenlaning, but it’s not very good.

I wasn’t enjoying this as much as I’d hoped, but things were to get worse before they got better. As the ground became more uneven, I started to lose traction. This was no fault of the Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, as I discovered when I stopped. I got out of the car, and realised I could rock it and lift one of the rear wheels off the ground! The lack of suspension travel was the issue here. The RAV just isn’t flexible enough. I was forced to engage the diff lock to keep me moving. This locks the front and rear axles together, so even if one of the four wheels starts spinning, the two at the opposite end should be able to keep you moving. They did.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn't a deep rut.

Oh dear. Exhaust is rather vulnerable. This isn’t a deep rut.

I progressed steadily along the lane, getting better at spotting where traction and/or ground clearance might be an issue, and adjusting my speed to suit. I was a bit concerned about a tricky section of this lane known as The Steps. However, as I continued on, I began to realise that I must have already driven up it! The little RAV had clambered up it so easily that I had not even noticed. The Steps don’t have ruts, so ground clearance wasn’t an issue. Brilliant!

RAV4 greenlane

This shot neatly demonstrates the maximum suspension travel. Not much.

I made it to the end of the lane, disengaged the diff lock and hurtled home, enjoying the excellent handling that the RAV4 offers – certainly not something most ‘proper’ 4x4s can match.

The next day, I had to help a friend remove a dead Delica from a car trailer. This spares vehicle had no front axle, so the plan was to pull the front end off the trailer, put it on blocks and then pull the trailer out. Simple, though things were complicated when his own working Delica refused to play ball due to a charging issue – ie no alternator! It wasn’t happy to work.

So, the RAV was called into action. Again, I would have loved a low ratio gearbox, as I was having to work the clutch quite hard to control the pace. We didn’t want to do this quickly! Also, the driveway was very uneven, with the front offside wheel of the RAV heading up a steep bank due to the limited room we had to manoeuvre. This neatly took the weight off one of the other wheels, and so the difflock was called into action once more. It did the job, but there was quite a whiff of clutch!

RAV4 towing

Not ideal for towing projects, but it did do it!

This has highlighted some difficulties with this car. It isn’t very good as a 4×4. Now, I don’t need the ability of a 4×4 very often, so it does make it difficult to justify owning one. The RAV can just about cope with what a throw at it, so perhaps it justifies itself?

But, it’s not a great car to cover distance in. The seats are particularly poor, and the ride isn’t what you’d call comfortable. Despite that, I think I’ll be taking it on a mini-roadtrip next week, before probably taking it to France.

I must conclude though, despite its flaws, the thing that keeps saving this car from a fleet cull is the fact it’s so bloody cute! I absolutely adore the styling, front and rear. How dull and dreary the RAV4 would become in later forms. It would never have this much character again. It may not be very good at all the things I ask of it, but the fact is that it can and has done them. The lack of off-road ability makes it more challenging for the driver. Isn’t that a good thing? It may have struggled with the towing task, but it did manage it in a way a two-wheel drive car would not have. Doesn’t that make it good? After all, it tows the caravan rather more comfortably than the XM, which I truly did not expect (they have the same stated maximum towing weight of 1500kg).

Maybe I should give this little soft-roader a bit more credit. Sure, it’s a master of absolutely nothing at all, but it can turn its hand to many different activities. That sort of requirement is exactly why I love the Citroen 2CV. Maybe my little inferior 4×4 will be the steed for our upcoming trip to France after all.

Now with video!

Caravanning Experiences


It’s probably about time that I wrote up my caravanning experiences to date. I’m sure you’ve all been desperately* waiting for an update.

RAV4 shortie towing

Caravanning – better than you think. This was a test tug before our big trip.

Easter was the first big outing, when I still owned the XM. In theory, the XM should have been the perfect tow car. In reality, the weight of the caravan made it utterly frustrating to drive. Normally, the XM could be kept on-boost very easily, right down to just 1500rpm. Sadly, the legal maximum of 50mph (single carriageway) co-incided with around this engine speed. It meant that the slightest loss of speed caused a loss of boost, and therefore a downchange was needed. May not sound much, but it made the XM much more of a pain to drive, and much louder.

Frustrated, I put the caravan up for sale, though it didn’t attract much interest. So I sold the XM instead!

We didn’t go caravanning again until the last weekend in June, when we hitched up the caravan to my new Toyota RAV4 3-door and prepared to drag it all the way to Buckingham for Shitefest.

To be honest, I was nervous. After all, the RAV is much, much shorter than the XM, even though it has the same plated towing weight (1500kg braked). In a tow vehicle, length is your friend. It makes the tow car more stable. Mind you, the RAV at least has no rear overhang, so the tow bar is practically between the rear wheels. This is a good thing as there’s then no pendulum effect.

We set off, with me being very cagey at first. As the miles built up though, I began to realise that the little RAV is excellent for towing. The gearing is that much lower than the XM, to make up for the lack of torque at lower engine speeds. On the flat though, it really wasn’t bad, and while downchanges were needed to climb hills, the sound of a revving petrol engine is much kinder on the ears than an dirty diesel.

The only real struggle was climbing the very steep Fish Hill, near Broadway in The Cotswolds. I had to drop down to second gear, and the engine was working very hard indeed. It stank as old engine oil and muck began to cook on the hot engine. Thankfully, the temperature gauge stayed resolutely in the land of sensible.

It felt remarkably stable though, with caravan yaw (that wagging sensation) only apparent if you braked hard from speed, and even then only until the caravan brakes kicked in. Another benefit is that sitting higher up means I could see right through the caravan, to back up the towing mirrors. It’s so much nicer knowing what’s behind you. Amazingly few cars was what I saw. Far from creating huge tailbacks, there was only the occasional car. I had visions of irritating everyone as a mobile road block, but this never seemed to be the case. Nice.

On arrival in Buckinghamshire, the RAV had to drag the caravan into a very damp field. It did this with no trouble at all. In fact, when a friend got stuck in his Xantia trying to tow his caravan in, the RAV was able to take over with barely any wheelspin. I’m sure the Michelin Latitude Cross tyres helped – they’re brand new and have lots of lovely, semi-aggressive tread.

On-site. Pretty. Or something.

On-site. Pretty. Or something.

It also managed to drag his caravan back out again, by which time things had got seriously churned up. I really do like the RAV a lot. Which is good, as I’ve just had to pay £282.50 for a new timing belt, tensioners and water pump after the original pump came seriously close to failing (and taking the old timing belt with it). Oh well! At least it feels worth it.

I haven’t actually brought the caravan home yet. It’s still in a field in Buckinghamshire, where I’ll be sleeping in it for a night or two very soon. The following weekend, we’ll be collecting it and taking it to a 2CV camp in Warwickshire, before finally bringing it home.

That’ll be nice, because the caravan offers dry space to sit during poor weather, decent cooking facilities and a very comfortable bed. It feels like outrageous luxury to be honest, compared to a tent at least. I can certainly see the appeal of the ‘wobble box,’ and the downsides seem much reduced with a decent tow car. I am very surprised that a hydropneumatic, diesel Citroen has seemingly been out-performed by a tiny, Japanese soft-roader with a petrol engine, but there you go. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Certainly, I must concede that this is true of caravanning. Sure, I wouldn’t fancy going to a regimented site and calling that a holiday – I already live somewhere beautiful and peaceful, so I don’t need to sleep in a flimsy box to escape from modern life. But as an upgrade from a tent, it feels infinitely preferable. There’s only one problem really. There’s no way my 2CV is going to be able to tow it…

Project RAV4: First video

Life is exceedingly busy at the moment, which is why my first June blog is ten days into the month! Where does all the time go? Suffice it to say, I’m still loving the RAV4, even if I’ve had to sort out a few foibles. More details on that soon but in the meantime, here’s a video of my new steed. For extra laughs, put the subtitles on. They’re automatic, courtesy of YouTube, and rubbish!

Project RAV4: Greenlaning!

There’s not much point in owning a 4×4 unless you’re going to test its ability, so it should be no surprise that within days, I’d taken the RAV4 to explore some local lanes.

Originally, I was just planning to go for a drive. I’d discovered that you can remove the roof panels and store them on the inside of the rear door and fancied a roof-off blast. Wales didn’t disappoint.


Roof panels removed. All the better to enjoy the scenery.

But this road, in the area known as Nant-y-Moch, leads to a few greenlanes. Well, it is a 4×4 after all. Perhaps a quick exploration was in order!

I opted for a lane I know quite well, though the problem is, these lanes change all of the time. Vehicles can change the terrain but to be honest, it’s water damage that can really destroy the lanes. You never know quite what you’re going to be driving into.

First off, let’s talk a bit about the RAV4’s off-road kit. It has permanent four-wheel drive, which is pretty unusual for a Japanese 4×4. Most have a part-time system, as do later RAVs. Happily, there is a lockable centre differential, like on 1980s Land Rovers. This prevents you losing all your power through one spinning wheel. If the wheel is spinning at one end with a locked diff, equal power will still be sent to the other axle. Not that axle is the right word to use here, because the RAV4 doesn’t have any. It has fixed differentials with halfshafts and independent springing at each corner. That does leave things like wishbones looking a bit vulnerable, though ground clearance really isn’t too bad.

There is no low-ratio gearbox though – the transverse engine layout really doesn’t allow it. That’s what really defines this as a soft-roader. A low-ratio gearbox gives much lower gears, which give greater control off-road. It means you can crawl along at less than walking pace – very handy if inching your way over tricky rocks. The RAV4 has a very low first gear compared to a normal car, which gives reasonable control of pace when climbing. I soon found it offered very little control at all when descending. With a proper low box, you can put it in low first, take your feet of the pedals and the vehicle will slowly crawl down a hill (grip permitting). All nice and safe. Not so the Toyota…

Greenlaning Toyota RAV4

Lack of low box compromises RAV4’s abilities.

Descents always look far less dramatic through the lens, but this was eye-opening stuff. I couldn’t just remove my feet from the pedals, because it just can’t crawl downhill. I had to start using the brakes – a big no-no really as this can (and indeed did) induce skids. The lack of ABS didn’t help, and nor did the road-bias tyres. That are quite worn. I was having to constantly adjust the brake pedal pressure to suit the grip, but certainly did not feel entirely in control. I also found I had to jump out and survey the land ahead more often than I would in a ‘proper’ 4×4. I’m not yet used to where the RAV will scrape and catch. Which it did, a few times, despite my efforts. Thankfully, it has solid bash plates underneath.

RAV4 off-road

Carefully does it! Accuracy required here to avoid slipping.

It does feel rather vulnerable, but in a way, that makes it more of a challenge, and therefore more fun. I see lots of 4x4s in these parts that have a ridiculous amount of kit – most of which is unnecessary. The diff lock works well though and it successfully completed a couple of tricky climbs with only minor scrabbling – that despite a perilous lack of grip. I’ll certainly be looking to take it greenlaning again once I’ve got some decent tyres sorted out.

The odd thing is returning to surfaced roads and being behind the wheel of something that feels nimble and keen in a way most 4x4s do not! The bias is definitely more towards road than off-road, but the RAV4’s off-road ability should not be ignored.

Oh and don’t worry. I have a new driver’s wiper arm on the way, so I can ditch the single-wiper look!

Project Rav4: The Collection

The task of replacing the XM is complete. For now. Yes, I have purchased another quality motor vehicle.

As I’ve already reported, I was having real trouble finding my next steed. At one point, I was eyeing up a £250 Toyota Previa. In Stockton-on-Tees. Then, some degree of sanity kicked back in. I really don’t need a people carrier! The products of Lexus, Honda and Subaru came in for scrutiny, because no matter what, it had to be Japanese. I like to practice what I preach and as I’m editing Retro Japanese magazine, I needed to have something Retro. And Japanese. (I’m borrowing a Jaguar while I edit Classic Jaguar magazine as I’m too poor to buy an actual Jag!).

One of the biggest issues with living in Wales is that car buying means big travel. The chances of finding something suitable on my doorstep were slim, though a Toyota Carina E almost made it. Really, that’s just a bit too bland isn’t it? I mean, an editorship is a prestige position. It requires a vehicle with commanding road presence. Something that shouts quality and power.

So I bought a Rav4.

I spotted it on Ebay, and also found a Gumtree ad almost a month old. There, it had been advertised at £900, though this had dropped to £700 on Ebay. Had to be worth a look. Especially as it had a towbar. It was up the road in Conwy, North Wales and the description made it seem pretty good. No rot, mechanically sound. Well, ads can always make bold claims so for once, I decided to view before handing over the readies. I contacted the owner who said he wouldn’t take less than £650 for it. Blimey. £50 off already and I hadn’t left the house!

We currently have a variety of vehicles on the fleet, some of which are ideal for such a long-distance mission. So, we took the Perodua Nippa. Rachel doesn’t like big cars, so that ruled the XM and Jag out!

RAV4 swb

New motor! Can this truly replace the XM?

Just nipping up the road to North Wales took a good couple of hours, even with my driving. The Nippa doesn’t often get treated with such a heavy foot, but we did have to get a shift on. Its tiny 847cc, three-cylinder engine had to work hard, especially up the hills of Snowdonia. In terms of torque, it has none. Fortunately, there is no rev counter fitted.

We arrived in Conwy and were treated to a distinct lack of rain. This was nice as I needed to crawl underneath the RAV4 and have a good look at the underside. Rot is a killer, especially around the rear suspension mounts. Bits were prodded and as not very much fell off, I decided all was well enough.

There were issues though. The rear tyres were right on the limit of legality, if not slightly the other side of legal. Also, the spring was missing on the driver’s wiper arm, so it wasn’t doing a great job of clearing the screen. However, it drove well on the test drive, with good clutch bite and no alarming noises – other than a similar amount of road noise racket to the Nippa. Which means LOADS. There’s not much trim in the back.

The price was adjusted down to £580 and we quickly retreated to a hotel for a rather late dinner. The hotelier made the mistake of suggesting we might like to sit at a different table. Here’s a thought. Don’t try and make my wife do something she does not want to do, especially when she’s hungry! It was amusing as the dining room was enormous and had two other people in it. The food was good though and well worth the expense given that Rachel had agreed to accompany me on this silly car caper.

We set off in convoy, hoping it wouldn’t rain. A few hundred yards later, it started to rain. I suspect the owner had tried to do something about the poor wiping by applying Rain-X or similar to the windscreen. Certainly, the water was beading up nicely and the wiper would clear the screen as it travelled up. On the way down, it would lift several inches off the windscreen before banging back onto the screen at the bottom. I filed this under annoying, but I could at least see where I was going. Until it got foggy.

In all the excitement, I had rather forgotten the question of fuel. On the way up, I had even noticed a likely petrol station, yet, somehow, completely missed it on the way back. I was probably distracted by the comedy wiper, that seemed to be waving to cars as we passed them.

By the time I realised that we were rather short of a sensible amount of fuel, we were in to Snowdonia. Fortunately, the rain stopped, which allowed me to focus on the fuel gauge all the more. I knew there was a petrol station in Dolgellau. Surely we could make it there? I began to hypermile. Quite easy when any serious pressure on the throttle pedal simply resulted in the disappearance of the Nippa.

Of course, I hadn’t bargained on petrol stations not being open late at night. It was shut. DRAT! Or words to that effect. Sat Nav reckoned there was another station close by but, not for the first time in recent weeks, it then seemed to get horribly confused about where said station might be. Sod it. I would push on for Machynlleth, some 13 miles away. I reckoned this would be ok, because the route was mostly downhill from where we were. There may have been some coasting, which as a MiDAS minibus instructor, I know is a bad thing. This is putting the car in neutral and letting it roll. I left the Nippa behind at this point, as one steep hill allowed me to get up to the dizzy heights of 60mph. In neutral. The gauge was starting to point some way below empty though. Was I actually going to make it?

Fuel gauge empty

Cripes! That’s low! Less than empty apparently.

Thankfully, I did make it. I pulled up at the pump half expecting the engine to cut out there and then. Happily, it didn’t. In fact, I got 48 litres in, which is apparently about ten litres less than the tank capacity. Hmmm. The Nippa also does this trick. False empty?

Rav4 rear

Full of fuel. Nippa (and Proton Jumbuck) wait in the background.

With a known amount of fuel on board, ie a full tank, and close enough to home that Rachel could find her own way (she’d had enough of following the RAV by this stage), I got a proper shift on – albeit knowing the rear tyres weren’t very clever.

And I became very surprised. The RAV is a very easy car to drive quickly. It stays remarkably flat in the corners, turns in nicely and doesn’t have that nose-heavy feeling that I get in the XM. The engine pulls well, and you can maintain decent pace without having to take it beyond 4000rpm. The chunk gearlever is a pleasure to use too. I was liking this a lot.

I’d been warned that the ride would be rubbish, but it really isn’t – albeit I was directly comparing with a bouncy Perodua. Sure, it’s not XM comfy, but it’s really not bad. I was suffering some backache, but then I’d driven a minibus for a couple of hours, then leapt into the Nippa for a few hours (hardly the last word in comfort and the furthest I’d drive it since I bought it 14 months ago) and then into the Rav. It’s hard to say whether the ache was due to one of those vehicle, or all of them!

The only real downside is the super-smooth steering wheel. It’s like polished glass, so I may need to chuck a cover on for some actual grip.

There’s plenty to do with the new arrival, but I think that’s enough words for now. Stay tuned to see how I get on with it. I mean, can it actually tow stuff? We’re going to find out…