XM: Sphere unchanging

I found myself visiting family in Devon this week – another 400 miles for the XM – and on the way home, decided it was about time I visited Tony Weston’s Citroen garage in Gloucestershire. Perhaps he could free the stuck rear centre sphere. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit anyway – and rightly so! Check out the works van.

Cripes! A Citroen GSA Service van! Exceedingly rare.

Cripes! A Citroen GSA Service van! Exceedingly rare.

The XM was lifted on the ramp and special tools were deployed. This seems to consist of a centre punch to try and break any corrosion on the threads (I presume) and a massive pair of pliers – the sort that look like you’d use them for removing teeth from a T-Rex. And? Success! They got a firm grip and sure enough, with a bit of effort from Andrew Weston, the sphere moved. Then he could depressurise the system to enable full removal. Good job I’d brought the replacement sphere with me. Oh. I hadn’t. I’d actually brought the old outer rear spheres that I’d replaced already! Idiot.

XM gets its spheres fettled. Almost.

XM gets its spheres fettled. Almost.

However, I now know that I’ll be able to remove that iffy sphere – we did confirm it was very dead. I’m just waiting for dry weather before I crawl under the XM again. I’m looking forward to seeing what difference it makes to the ride.

I’m a bit frustrated at my own stupidity, but hey, I should be used to it by now. Here’s a video of my day.

Video: The Eco Car Con

The government is working hard to encourage us to buy brand new, environmentally friendly cars. But is it actually better for the environment than just keeping our existing cars going? Inspired by a question by one of my followers, I decided to investigate.

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Now, this is not that easy to get to the bottom of, because there are an awful lot of variables. Certainly, my XM doing 10,000 miles a year kicks out about the same amount of pollution as a brand new Land Rover Freelander diesel auto doing the same mileage, or better than an electric car doing 25,000 miles a year. Yes, electric has a dirty footprint too – in the UK at least. Paraguay is actually leading the way with renewables while we still rely on dirty gas and coal. Encouragingly though, this summer apparently renewables were more productive than coal. A step in the right direction?

But it’s manufacturing that still generates most emissions. Now, this will vary dramatically from car to car, but as far as I could find out, building a car the size and specification of my Citroen XM today probably produces about 20 tons of CO2, whereas driving it for a year generates 2.5-3.0 tons. I do more investigation in my latest video.

XM: The car that changed me

Today is a historic occasion. It is 12 months since I drove home in my new Citroen XM. The strange bit is that I still own it! Happy anniversary!

XM and BX

One year ago today – the XM joins my fleet (seen here with my former BX)

I’ve spent a fair chunk of the past 12 months wondering what’s happened to me. A few weeks after getting the XM home, I realised that I wasn’t frantically scouring the classifieds anymore. I’d barely been anywhere near Ebay. I came out of the house to go for a drive, and smiled as I jumped behind the wheel. A few months later, this was still happening! The absolute constant in my life – the search for the Goldilocks car – seemed to have come to an end.

Some cars have got very close to this, and most have been PSA diesels. The first was a Peugeot 306 DTurbo that I owned for more than two years, and in which I clocked up over 40,000 miles. That remains an all-time record – bar my 2CV (15 years and over 110,000 miles). A Daewoo Matiz, the only car I ever bought brand new, managed 18 months and 18,000 miles. A BX non-turbo diesel estate managed two bursts of my ownership and I’ve therefore lost count of how many months and miles I clocked up in it – a significant amount, but it managed 30,000 miles while it was away from me.

Aside from an Acadiane that spend most of its time with me off the road, that’s it. Over 60 vehicles owned, and only three have endured until now. So, have I changed or is the XM actually that remarkable that I don’t want to replace it?

I’m not entirely sure myself. Certainly, I was getting increasingly fed up with the sheer ballache of changing cars. Buying and collecting is huge fun – I love it – but then there’s the increasing despondency that it isn’t quite right, and the utter pain of trying to sell it. Then my insurance company charges me £15.75 every time I change cars. That was a lot in 2014. It cost me a fortune.

Certainly, it’s true that every time I clap eyes on the XM, it fills me with joy. I love the concept-car-style looks, especially the tail end. I love the driving position too. It feels just right. The Citroen BX got very close to being the perfect car for me, but was let down by two surprisingly minor problems. Not enough wipers (I hate single wipers) and no flick-wipe. Doesn’t sound like a big thing, but I live in Wales. I find a flick-wipe very, very useful. And that’s another point. The column stalks in the XM feel much nicer than the horrible Peugeot items in the BX – and the earlier Mk1 dashboard is no better, despite its wackiness. The actual feel of the switches is properly grim. Nothing like a CX.

XM rear lights

Rear styling in particular does impress me. 

The engine is a major plus too. My conclusion with BXs is that the petrol carb engines are a faff, while the non-turbo diesel is too sluggish, and the turbo diesel too peaky. The 12v, 2.1-litre XM turbo diesel, with its Mitsubishi turbocharger, is a delight. It pulls strongly from 1500rpm. In many ways, it behaves like a BX non-turbo diesel, but goes much more quickly! Not all that sprightly by the standards of today, but more than enough for me.

Of course, it’s also hugely practical. The boot is enormous and on our recent trip to France, it swallowed up most (but not quite all) of our belongings, including a bass guitar in a case, an amplifier and two ukuleles. I did have to concede defeat and park our suitcase on the backseat.

XM boot space

This is a very practical machine. Spacious and fully self-levelling.

I love how it corners too. The steering is assisted, but not too assisted. It turns in with relish and then doesn’t wobble around when you crank up the G-force. It still then rides very well, albeit not as well as my Dyane. I reckon it still needs those centre spheres changing. I’ve been saying that for 11,000 miles now.

So, are there any downsides to this £375 wonder car? Well, yes. The clutch is heavy and the gearchange is horrible – sadly all too common on PSA diesels. I had the same issue with my Peugeot 306. There are a few interior rattles that I just can’t banish either. Also, the nose is a bit too long and a bit too low. It’s very hard to place. And rear visibility is appalling. And the tiny door mirrors hardly help. And the foot-operated handbrake is bloody awful to use. But I don’t care. As I well know, no car is perfect. Yet, it seems the XM is closer than most. It seems I really did manage to buy a good car for once. I think it probably deserves a wash.

I’m a user and an abuser – deal with it

I’ve come to a bit of a shocking realisation. I’m utterly dreadful at saving cars.

The evidence speaks for itself. The vast majority of cars I’ve owned have been scrapped. Only a few by me – my first and second (half of which lived in in various other cars) but the point remains that when they’ve left my hands, they’ve generally been pretty close to death – or no more than a few years away. Sure, I still own my much-loved 2CV, but she’s rotten as a very rotten thing indeed and not able to come out to play anymore.

Floor rot

Holey floors Batman! This has now been repaired, but rot always finds a way…

The problem here is that preservation is a costly business. Or, it generally means not clocking up thousands of miles a year in all weathers. That’s what I do. I use my cars. My enjoyment comes from driving them. Like anyone owning a modern car, I just want to get from A to B – it’s just that I choose to do it in cars that aren’t very new.

They generally are very cheap, which is usually with good reason. The cars I buy tend to be hovering somewhere in the chasm between huge depreciation and classic status. I call it Bangerdom. Very few cars escape Bangerdom. It’s where values are rock bottom, and the cost of one repair might be more than the vehicle is worth. The XM is a case in point. I paid £375 for it, then spent over £400 getting it welded up. Now, that may look like preservation, and it is to a point. The problem is, that one bit of welding (well, two actually) is not enough to keep rot at bay. I’ve extended the life of the vehicle, but I doubt very much that my XM will be a survivor. Rot will creep into hidden crevices and seams, despite my efforts to spray anti-corrosion wax about the place.

Crashing is not pretty

Most cars come to a scrappy end eventually.

Eventually, that rot will be discovered and that’ll probably be the end of the road. Or perhaps there will be some exceedingly costly mechanical repair needed. There comes a point where restoration/daily running just becomes prohibitively expensive. Especially for someone living a frugal lifestyle. I’ve been asking myself recently whether I can live with that. I think I can. The XM is already well catered for by preservationists. They aren’t going to all die out. I doubt mine will ever have a following anyway. It’s a cheapo, bottom of the range model – and a diesel manual at that. V6 Autos and top range toy-laden versions are where the interest lies.

So, I’ll certainly keep the XM going as long as I can, but I won’t hate myself if it one day reaches the end of the road. Cars are made to be used, and the vast majority of cars will not make their 30th birthday. When you think about it, mine is already doing well to have passed it’s 20th.

I’ll certainly have many happy memories of the time I ran one of those lovely old hydropneumatic Citroens as my daily driver. I look forward to that, when I’m whizzing around the UK in my ‘bangerdom’ electric car.

Enjoy driving? Head to Wales

Things have been quiet on here lately, because I’ve been having a holiday type thing. After a week in France, we spent another six days in Sussex with more kindly family folk. For two entire days, I didn’t drive anywhere at all. The horror of the drive up from the ferry port at Newhaven was still large in my mind. Roads that congested are just no fun at all.

Stupidly, I then decided to go and have a nose around Brighton. I don’t recommend this. Endless jams eventually overcame my desire to see the sea and I bolted for it. I was planning to head back to base when I was contacted by the man behind Fu’gutty Cars. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s his story to tell, but it involved spending an afternoon tinkering with an elderly Citroen to try and ensure it could make it 500 miles back to Scotland.

Citroen barges, both with a long way to go.

Citroen barges, both with a long way to go.

It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, and I got to have a drive in a CX again. Always an incredible experience. I was glad I hadn’t forgotten how to drive one. They really are like nothing else.

After a couple more family-filled days, it was actually time to head back to Wales. It was a Sunday and we’d hoped to get the jump on the worst of the traffic. I was amazed at how busy the roads were though, and things got very slow at the meeting of the M23 and M25, where queue-jumpers conspired to balls things up for everyone else. Idiots.

The M25 itself wasn’t too bad apart from the people who still have no idea about lane discipline. Idiots. I mean, how hard is it to keep left unless overtaking? And what was the point of constructing five lanes if people will only use three of them? As luck would have it, we nipped off at the M4 junction just before everything ground to a halt. Phew.

Things got better from there as traffic levels continued to drop. Getting away from the frenetic madness of the South East is always a pleasure. In fact, we reached Crickhowell in just under three hours, which means our average speed since leaving Sussex was 67mph! Amazing. That was cruising at an indicated 75-80mph too, so hovering around the speed limit once you factor in the built-in speedometer error. The XM felt fabulous at cruising speed too. It’s remarkably refined.

From Crickhowell, things naturally slowed down a lot. No more motorway – in fact, not even so much as a dual-carriageway for the next 58 miles. There was even single-track roads as we headed over the stunningly beautiful Elan Valley Mountain Road.

The Elan Valley - wonderful driving terrain.

The Elan Valley – wonderful driving terrain.

What amazed here was how the XM was incredible fun to drive. It manages to be a comfortable barge that remains tight and entertaining in the bends. It doesn’t wallow and just grips. Furthermore, because the engine has so much torque, you find yourself driving very quickly in a very relaxing manner.Despite a boot full of shoes, bass guitar, ukuleles, bass amp, a large crockery plate, beer, wine, tools and spares (suitcases relegated to the back seat), it hurled itself over the undulating terrain with delicious composure. Perhaps not quite as fluid and controlled as a 2CV, but hey, no car is perfect.

Sure, the XM has its (minor) faults, but it really is very, very good at the things I want it to be good at. It must be. I’ve now covered nearly 11,000 miles in it and am a few weeks away from one entire year of ownership. After that enjoyable adventure, perhaps it’ll be here for even longer yet.

XM and Dyane news

Yesterday, I drove over 300 miles to Wiltshire and back. The XM shrugged off this trek, as it so often does and even though the boot was full of wheels, tyres and bits of Dyane.

Our plan was to get the Dyane in something approaching a decent enough state to pass an MOT. This we largely achieved, though I had to leave before things had been concluded.

The Dyane, not yet quite ready for an MOT.

The Dyane, not yet quite ready for an MOT.

The indicators were particularly annoying as aside from a couple of small bulbs needing replacement, the lighting was otherwise fine. The indicator units are a bit rubbish though, so we had to raid a parts stash to find decent replacements – and invoke a little bodgery to gain the desirable flashing.

Wheels and tyres from my 2CV were fitted, as the tyres on the car were horribly perished. A couple of driveshaft gaiters were replaced, the brake system completed and bled and I could actually have my first drive of my new car. Woo-hoo! The engine sounds beautiful, so it has been treated to some fresh oil and a new filter. We even chucked in a pair of new plugs. I reckon the valve clearances are probably a touch tight, but it’s running well now, so I’ll leave well alone.

After five hours, we’d achieved a lot – including loads of small jobs like fitting door check straps, replacing the fuel line and finding a way to secure the bonnet due to the hinge rotting away. I set off back home while the lads kept working, and they reckon she’s good to go! Hopefully the MOT man will agree on Thursday.

Huzzah! Will she pass an MOT?

Huzzah! Will she pass an MOT? Ignore the date stamp. Not my picture!

On the way home, the XM’s fidgety ride was starting to bother me quite a bit. Thankfully, I’d already ordered some rear spheres and a sphere tool, and they arrived while I was Dyane fettling. Today, I set about changing them.

The two main suspension spheres were a piece of cake. Suspension on high setting, crack each sphere off with the tool (gently assisted with a hammer) just to get them moving, then suspension on low, open the pressure regulator and remove the spheres by hand. Then I inserted the new seals, twisted on the new ones (like an oil filter, and hand tight is fine) and that part of the job was done.

Yuck! This is the state of one of the old suspension spheres. Mucky.

Yuck! This is the state of one of the old suspension spheres. Mucky.

Sadly, the centre sphere had other ideas. The spheres had valves on them, which suggests someone had the bright idea of fitting spheres that could be regassed. Sadly, this means they’d been sat there for an awfully long time! No matter what I tried, I could not get the centre sphere to shift. This is the key to the XM’s remarkable suspension. The centre sphere is used so three spheres give that wonderful, wafty feel as you drive along. Start hooning and the electronics lock out this centre sphere, which firms up the suspension. It’s what gives the XM such marvellous poise.

But there was no chance it was going to come undone, so I had to give up. Not even a chisel would shift it. I’ll have to let a specialist give it a whack at some point. Pleasingly though, the ride is already much improved. It was very bouncy and firm at the back, but it has now regained that magical Citroen float – even if it is still much firmer than a CX or DS. I’m well pleased.

XM: Still soggy and a few other issues

The XM seems to have decided to throw a wobbly today. Things started badly when I clambered into it for the first time in a few days. We’ve had some pretty horrendous rain of late, with localised flooding. It seems that included the passenger footwell of the XM. Given that I’ve now resorted to sealing up the sunroof entirely, as that is a known problem due to a rusty frame, I was baffled as to where this new leak was coming from.

I reckon this is the answer.

Citroen XM roof rack bolt hole

Could these roof-rack mount holes be the new source of water leak?

These holes lurk behind the door seal and are used for mounting a roof rack. What a poor design! You can see where a bead of sealant has come away above the hole – was this the factory solution to prevent leakage? I’ve taped over the holes with my trusty friend – aluminium tape. I’ll see if that finally cures the leaks! Again, the roof lining was absolutely drenched. I’ve got a dehumidifier in the car now drying it out.

On top of that, the XM started flashing low coolant warnings at me earlier. The level is fine, but I noticed that the cooling fans are running too. There are no signs of overheating, and the temperature gauge showed no reason for the fans to be on. I think I’m going to assume that damp is causing some electrical confusion as that’s less scary than thinking the entire cooling system has failed. Once it demists, I’ll take it for another test drive but at the moment, it’s a bit steamy in there!

Steamed up windows car

Steamy windows for drenched XM – condensation overload!

So, just as I write about why old bangers make sense, this old banger decided to remind me how niggly faults can cause much frustration! I’ll get there in the end though. I still like it…

XM: Why I love it so much

I haven’t quite owned the XM for two months yet, but I have already covered 2000 miles in it. That’s hardly surprising as I’ve already driven it to Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire (twice), Herefordshire and Birmingham, as well as using it a lot locally.

XM clocks

Low-rev power the secret to the XM’s success. Rarely needs to go beyond 2000rpm!

There’s a reason for all of that use. I love it! 2CVs aside, I’m struggling to think of a car that has so exceeded my expectations – and it cost less than £400. Insanity. It just goes to show how messed up car values really are. Marvellous Italian styling, wonderful engineering – including adaptive suspension and 50mpg. Astonishing.

What I have truly come to love about the XM is how relaxing it is to drive. The reason for that lies with its 2.1-litre turbo diesel engine. It’s a 12-valve adaptation of the Peugeot XUD engine, which entered production in 1982. That’s two inlet valves and one exhaust valve per cylinder, allied to a Mitsubishi turbo charger. It’s that turbocharger that is the key to my happiness here. I’ve owned turbocharged XUDs before – a Peugeot 306 and two BXs – and what frustrates is how late the turbo cuts in. It gives a realistic power band between 2000 and 4000 rpm. You wait for it to kick in, things get blurry and then the power is gone.

XM pauses during its busy two months

YMA pauses during its busy two months, here in Digbeth, Birmingham

The XUD 11 (to give it its correct designation) behaves very differently. It pulls strongly from just 1500rpm, and doesn’t seem to suffer much lag. Even off boost, it pulls well enough, so I find that I can spend much of my time below 2000rpm. It drives in a very similar manner to a non-turbo XUD, but with the ability to accelerate uphill! I find it odd to look at press criticism of the XM when it was current. There was always a complaint that the turbo diesel wasn’t quick enough. Really? Who was finding it too sluggish?

Ok, so the competition was moving on, but really, the 2.1 has plenty of power for on-road use. Sadly, Citroen had to respond and they cobbled together a 2.5-litre turbo diesel with 136bhp. It was pretty much unique to the XM, being a development of a van engine. It has two radiators and lots of other quirks. Personally, I’ll stick to the sheer simplicity of the 2.1. Being pre-EPIC, it even has a proper, mechanical Bosch fuel pump rather than the electronically-controlled Lucas effort. In my experience, simple is often the best way. it’s also the reason I love the low spec of my XM. No climate control, no warning panel flashing up incorrect error messages. It truly is marvellous.

Of course, comfortable, composed suspension and keen handling certainly help. That means you can conserve momentum by cornering briskly. This avoids excessive braking and having to downshift. Add in comfortable seats and it is like wafting around in a comfy sofa.

This week, I hope to revisit Sparrow Automotive so we can get the sills painted following recent work, swap out a strut top and perhaps change the rear brake pads. There’s going to be quite a bill, but with this car, it feels entirely worth it.