Citroen XM – oooh, rust!

The Citroen XM has a pretty good rust reputation. That means it gets really quite rusty after 20 years rather than 10. Mine is almost 20. I bought it knowing it’d need some tickling with a welder but here’s the thing I stupidly still haven’t learnt. If you spot a bit of rust on inspection, you’ll find a lot more once you start prodding!

The rear of the offside sill I knew about when I bought the car, as I put my finger through it. The rot around the offside strut top I discovered when fitting new tyres. Just as picking at a bit of wallpaper in your lounge can suddenly turn into a complete redecorating job, so it follows that picking at a bit of loose underseal will result in a major welding session.

Floor rot

Yikes! Cleaning the underseal off reveals issues.

As Pete of Sparrow Automotive desperately tried to weld up the XM, I was rushing ahead to clean up the sections that we’d found to be a bit soft. The XM is very well protected by underseal – thick rubbery stuff that does a very good job of keeping it solid. The problem comes if that gets breached. Then, water soaks in behind it and rots out the metal completely out of sight. Any flaky underseal I saw got removed and thankfully, most of it hid only solid metal. That was certainly the case in the nearside front wheelarch, where all I found was surface rust. I’d acted just in time. I should thank Pete really though – he thought it’d be a good idea to strip the wheelarch liner out on the nearside and have a look. After all, the nearside is usually worse than the offside. Not on this car!

Surprisingly solid! Cleaned up, primed and undersealed

Surprisingly solid! Cleaned up, primed and undersealed

It was apparently that I’d caught quite a lot of rot just in the nick of time. How brilliant it was to be doing this job with a two-post lift though! Some of the repairs were properly tricky, with Pete having to form carefully shaped repair pieces. It’s amazing what a time-thief this sort of work is. Even when the welding was completed, we then had to wait for the zinc primer to dry before being able to underseal the repaired and cleaned sections.

That's better! Welded, seam-sealed, primed and undersealed

That’s better! Welded, seam-sealed, primed and undersealed

While Pete went off for a well deserved dinner, I slopped Waxoyl over any other vulnerable looking bits – like the front subframe and rear suspension. The underseal took ages to dry, but we were then finally able to refit plastic trim and ducts – as visible above – for the hydraulic pipes. They were also treated to a coat of grease while we were at it.

Somehow, this all managed to take 11 hours! It was a long day, and then I had to drive another 1hr 45 minutes to get home. I slept soundly last night!

I’m glad to have got this work done though. I like the XM very much, so I can now use it through the winter with a lot more confidence. There are still jobs to do though – the sills still need stonechipping and then painting. We never did find time to change the strut top either – necessary as the rubber has delaminated quite badly. Again, on the offside.

A tough day, but a day well spent. Many thanks to Sparrow Automotive.

XM – 1000 miles in

Almost four weeks after purchase, and the XM has already covered over 1000 miles in my ownership. So, how’s it going?

XM boot space

XM is very good at timber hauling

I have to say, really rather well. I did have some concerns about the car, as it had only covered 1500 miles since passing its MOT in January, and had been sitting unused for at least two months. I needn’t have worried though, as the XM has proved really rather wonderful.

Not perfect though. I’m finding the lack of lumbar support an issue – well, when I spend 11 hours in two days at the wheel – and the heavy clutch is a bit of a pain. Yet even despite this discomfort, I still marvel at the way it eats up miles. Even though the spheres aren’t at their best, I also marvel at the ride comfort. Tired spheres are still better than the coil springs fitted to many cars it seems.

In fact, the only real downside seems to be that I’ve run out of cassettes and need to create some new ones. Which means trying to remember how you do that.

But, let’s briefly consider the To Do list. The most urgent one is to get the offside sill welded up. This hasn’t happened yet and I really need to get on top of it. I also need to rebond the sunroof glass, as I think this is the source of the occasional water leak. The suspension spheres do need replacing or regassing, but a lack of funds is preventing this at the moment. Thankfully it isn’t too bad so it isn’t particularly urgent. I’ve no idea when the timing belt was last replaced though, so this may need to be considered. I suspect it’s ages off in mileage terms, as the car has only been covering around 4000 miles a year. There’s a strong chance it was much longer ago than the five-year recommended interval though.

XM rear lights

Best rear lights ever. Towing electrics broken though

Rather more minor is sorting out an annoying rattle caused by the upper trim on the driver’s door coming adrift. I have plans here. I do now also have a spare set of rims, so plan to get winter tyres fitted to those. Perhaps soon as it seems to have gone rather cold. I also need to get the towing electrics working. It loses practicality points because of that!

I still smile a lot when driving this car though. I’m fully aware that something could go horribly wrong at any moment, but it feels so special to drive, and that 12-valve turbo diesel engine pulls so well. It’s nice to be happy with an automotive purchase for a change!

STILL loving the XM

Yeah, I know. It’s far from unusual for me to still be telling you how marvellous a car is after just ten days. Yes, there’s a chance that after a month or two I’ll hate it. As dangerous as it may be to type these words though, I’m not sure this time. I really do like the XM an awful lot.

Citroen XM stately home

Just the thing for a stately home – Newstead Abbey in Notts in this case

Yet I’m finding it hard to get across just why I like it so much. It just ‘feels’ right. It’s a large barge, but it’s not baggy in the bends. It’s has a huge boot and loads of rear passenger space, but is actually smaller than a current Ford Mondeo. Or Citroen C5. The steering may be a little numb, but I love the weighting of it. Shame we never got the fully-blown DIRAVI steering set-up from the CX, but again, perhaps that’s a bit to over-the-top anyway, with it’s super-direct feel and powered self-centring.

The driving position is lovely, the wipers are far better than the BX (two of them and a ‘mist’ function), build quality is pretty good (not perfect) it has a sunroof (which has required two attempts at preventing from leaking) and I love the way it looks.

The only flies in the ointment are that stupid handbrake (prone to occasionally making me look like a drunk riverdancer as I battle with the four pedals) and a clutch which is creaky and heavy – the latter being something that’s very common.

As for To Do list, the most urgent is to get the offside sill welded up. I’m hoping to get that done next week. I also need to trace an annoying rattle in the driver’s door – I fear it’s a piece of trim fouling the door aperture so I’m not sure how to cure it. By turning the really rather good cassette player up I think!

There’s going to be more opportunity to put miles on this car before too long. I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime, here’s a video with my first thoughts on this car.

The XM’s first long trip

I’m quite used to undertaking lengthy trips in cheap motor cars, but even I was a touch nervous about tackling a 450-mile journey in a car which cost £375 and which has a rather dubious reputation. Even Citroen folk were quite vocal in recommending that I didn’t even buy a cheap XM, let alone attempt to use one for long journeys. I’m very good at ignoring advice.

My new XM had already impressed in its first few days of ownership. It drove well, sipped fuel and provided comfort and enjoyment. I headed to Newtown and filled up the tank. Well, ok, I wimped out at £76 worth of diesel – turns out the tank was very nearly full though. I then aimed the XM towards Derbyshire, and steadily fell in love.

Even though this XM is not a prime example – I suspect the spheres need re-gassing or replacing – it provides great ride comfort. But when the fast, straight roads ran out and things got twisty, it displayed its Jekkyl-and-Hide character. It’s great fun on the bends too! It turns in with alacrity and body roll is wonderfully minimal.

Citroen XM white RHD

XM is well suited to winding rural roads, which is a surprise

Certainly, the more I drive this car, the more I seem to like it. Apart from the handbrake. I still haven’t quite got into the habit of using it as it’s too much faff! Oh, ok. And the clutch is too heavy. I’m wondering if a new cable might cure that issue. It certainly creaks a lot.

The next day, I left beautiful Derbyshire to attend a photo shoot in Nottinghamshire. The XM came in very handy, for transporting me and four colleagues to the shoot itself, and then also acting as a tracking car – just like the CXs the BBC used to use to capture Horse Racing action. I was glad to fill the car with people – putting some weight in a hydropneumatic Citroen makes the rear suspension work harder, and in turn makes the rear brakes work harder. It’s good for them.

HOT XM

Mile-munching is hungry work

After the photo shoot, it was a quick blat down the A1 to Stamford for the night. Next day, I dropped a colleague at his office in Peterborough before heading home – a good four-hour drive. Thank goodness then that the XM is so refined and so comfortable. It’s so nice owning a vehicle with prodigious torque again too. Even in fifth, you can put your foot down and it’ll actually accelerate. Great for safe overtaking.

Also pleasing is that during the course of this trip, I proved that I’d manage to get the sunroof to seal (the rubber on the glass had come away in one place – Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure seems to have sealed it again) and the remote central locking decided to start working properly. This car is getting better all the time. Also pleasing was that after 430 miles since fill-up, the XM still had half a tank of fuel remaining. I really do think that this is one of the best cars I’ve ever bought. It’s so good at so many things! I can forgive the flimsy interior trim, heavy clutch and stupid handbrake because it excels in so many other areas. Will it continue to prove reliable? Well, only time will tell. I certainly won’t begrudge spending a little more on it to keep it healthy. I need to get that sill welded up for a start…

I got troubles, then I didn’t

My third day of XM ownership started well. Sunshine! I contemplated my To Do list. Could I get the remote fob to operate the central locking and could I get the stereo working? It was demanding a code.

On opening the car in that old fashioned method of using a key, I discovered that the central locking wasn’t working at all. Hmmm. Rather than trying to fix existing problems, I was now trying to cure a problem that was entirely new. Fuses seemed an obvious starting point. These are ‘conveniently’ located above the passenger footwell, on the underside of the dashboard. They are helpfully numbered, but the numbers are only visible if your facing the panel directly. Which means lying pretty much upside down in the footwell. Nice.

All the fuses checked out, so I had to resort to The Internet. Try as I might via the excellent Club XM forum, I couldn’t find the exact problem I was having – no central locking or interior lights. Eventually, I gave in and resorted to disconnecting the battery and reconnecting it. I rebooted my car. Ugh.

This did the trick though. Hoorah! That was good because the Series 2 XM has deadlocks, and that meant that without the central locking operating, it was impossible to unlock the rear doors. That was a problem as we needed to collect a bottle of gas.

XM boot suspension low

XM working for its living

It really is handy being able to drop the suspension down when you’ve got a 47kg gas bottle to deal with. Sadly, my attempts to re-sync fob with car failed, but at least I could use the key to open the entire car again.

The next challenge was the stereo. It required a code as the battery had gone flat before I bought it. There are many places on the internet where kind folk will give you the code for your stereo. The codes were meant to be an anti-theft measure, but given how easy it is to get codes, they really aren’t. These days, I have to rely on the fact that most people don’t want a cassette player. To provide serial numbers etc, you have to remove the stereo. This took far longer to do than it should have as for some reason, I was struggling to get the face off – necessary to access the removal tabs. I got there in the end, sent my details over the interweb and was rewarded with a working code. Hoorah!

Citroen Philips cassette player with security code

Yay! I can listen to stereo cassettes – sounds good

This pleases me greatly. For a start, cassettes remain one of the best ways to listen to music in a car. Cassettes don’t get upset by bumps in the road (still an issue, even in a Citroen) and are much easier to change than CDs. I find it easier to grab the cassette I want listen to than scroll through a hard drive of music too. I’m now all set for a weekend roadtrip.

This is a car that still makes me grin every time I drive it. The ‘feel’ of it is just so good – so what I want in a car. I like it so much that I even started polishing it this evening. Crikey.

citroen XM

I really do like this car an awful lot. For sale in three months then?

I bought a £375 spaceship

All year, I’ve managed to buy cars that were convenient rather than what I actually desired. I decided that this needed to change and spent some time agonising over what I actually DID want. That’s not easy, as I’m constantly battling the need for a car to be practical, comfortable, economical, interesting, reliable and, above all else, cheap! I’d narrowed it down to a Rover 600 or a Citroen XM.

I’d already turned down one Rover 600 this year, because the folk selling it were your cartoon dodgy geezers. I’m amazed I made it out of their yard alive as I was threatening to laugh and the inanity of it all. I ended up buying the Rover 400 instead.

But the 400 wasn’t doing it for me. It just wasn’t interesting or comfortable enough. It had to go. That also left me pondering whether a 600 would actually be that much better. Both are heavily Honda-based. Both struggle to offer the comfort I desired. So, I decided it had to be an XM. I asked the good people of the internet to find me a car. Most people laughed, especially when they realised how impossible my budget was. One person did not laugh. He told me where such a vehicle was and that £400 was the asking price. Perfect!

In a rare burst of common sense, I actually went and looked at the car BEFORE buying it. That was the first time I’d done that for quite some time. I even got it on a ramp so I could properly poke about underneath. Apart from my finger going through one soft spot on the offside sill, it seemed pretty good. A deal was done at £375 and yesterday, I went to collect it.

XM and BX

Andy, a friend, kindly gave me a lift in the BX I sold him. Hydropneumatic convoy!

From the very start of my 80-mile journey home, this felt like a marvellous decision. The Rover 400 didn’t ride badly, but it did jar for someone used to Citroen-comfort. While XMs still crash and bang a little over potholes, it’s the way they just absorb all over road surfaces that is truly magical. It should do 50mpg and has only 117,000 miles on the clock. It is barely run in.

I usually refer to the XM as a scaled-up BX but that’s not really fair. It’s astonishing how much more nimble the bigger car feels! Hydractive suspension firms up when it detects that you’re getting a hoon on. You barely notice, but the result is a car with tremendous turn-in and negligible body-roll. You can corner at terrific speeds and it just grips. Yet it is also floaty and comfortable. Quite remarkable.

Of course, it isn’t all good news. That sill needs welding up and there are a few body scuffs. There is also a complete lack of service history – though I do know that it was serviced annually by a specialist in recent years, and covered only 4000 miles a year – I’ve seen his records. The ABS seems prone to throwing up a warning light too. But, if that’s the extent of the electrical maladies, then I really can’t complain.

There are some downsides to the driving experience too. My one concern about a manual is that PSA are hopeless at clutches and gearboxes. They’re always crap. That goes for Citroen BXs and Peugeot 306s in my experience. The gearchanges are always clunky and horrible, and the clutches always heavy – mainly because the cable routing works far better for LHD than it does for RHD. It’ll be interesting to see if I can cope with it. Another factor is the parking brake, which is foot AND hand operated.

XM pedals

You need to be handy with your footwork in a Citroen XM

On coming to a stop, you must brake with your right foot, use your left hand a foot to put the car into neutral, press down the parking brake with your left foot, lock it on with your right hand, then you can finally release the brake pedal. To pull away, put it into gear, find the biting point, then pull the release lever with your right hand. Ideally, you’d use a third leg to restrict the parking brake release so it occurs smoothly – as you would with a handbrake. For this reason, many people complain how rubbish it is for hill starts. I can’t say that’s a problem.

So, around town, it’s a bit of a pain – this is a large car too. But once the road opens up, the XM lopes along in such a marvellous manner that for now, while the New Car Buzz is strong, I can ignore minor issues. I don’t even find the XM’s notoriously poor headlamps an issue. Yeah, they’re not brilliant, but main beam is pretty good, and I use that a lot here in rural Wales.

XM rear

My £375 spaceship. I’m dead chuffed!

So far, my efforts with the car have mainly involved washing it and trying to get rid of the horrible smell inside. I shall provide running reports as I go. How will this pan out?