2CV – Tin (and rust) Snail update

My poor 2CV. Elly got rather neglected last year as I mucked about with a Peugeot 309, a Ford Maverick, a Nissan Bluebird and a pair of Citroen BXs. She only clocked up 3000 miles and spent a lot of the time sitting outside. I’m now paying for that neglect.

This afternoon though, once my deadlines had been met and enough tea had been consumed, I headed out to the garage. My aim was to finally get the exhaust fume-tight. The crossbox – which collects gases from each cylinder and which sits beneath the gearbox – broke on the 1st January. I fitted a new one, but the next link in the system – the swan neck – then failed on the 13th January. Two journeys conducted, both ended rather noisily. Yesterday, after doing battle with rusty clamps and mountings, I finally got the exhaust fitted again. It was blowing badly so I gave up.

This afternoon, I used a bunch of freshly purchased items to improve things. PTFE tape was applied to the swan neck as this sits inside the next part of the exhaust – the ‘torpedo’ silencer. Hopefully the PTFE tape will stop the two items becoming one, which is what normally happens. Then, I used some actual exhaust paste and some careful rejigging to cure the crossbox-to-swan neck leak. This worked! The torpedo sadly still has a leak. Some bodgery will take place before too long. It’s not bad.

Having reached this stage and with bits of bodywork removed, I decided it was an ideal time to set about a proper service. The oil was drained and refilled, and I fitted a new oil filter. I even took the rocker covers off, gave them a good clean out, retorqued the cylinder heads and checked the valve clearances. Then it was a case of checking the points, which means removing the fan. Not a problem to the seasoned 2CVer – a 14mm socket on a 3/8″ drive, a jiggle with a 1/2″ ratchet handle and the fan was off. At this stage I started realising just how scarily rusty the engine bay is…

Moody night shot in the garage. Engine access is superb!

Moody night shot in the garage. Engine access is superb!

The fan shroud and cowling are in a dreadful state and the headlamp bar is getting very iffy.

Rust is becoming a real problem here.

Rust is becoming a real problem here.

Nonetheless, I continued, giving the points a clean up and re-setting the gap for the first time in five years. I love points-assisted ignition. It takes the strain off the points and it’s a credit to the simple, transistor-based system I use that the points have lasted so well.

Whenever the fan is off, it makes sense to check the oil cooler. All was well here.

New spark plugs were fitted, making sure not to over-tighten them. The ham-fisted find it very easy to strip a thread. Then I set about replacing a broken engine mounting. You can just see it below the cowling in the above photo. That explained why the engine seemed fairly mobile! It was rocking around more than it should. I also pulled out one of the brake pads – they’re down to about 3mm of material, so replacements won’t be too far away. They were fitted at the same time as the ignition upgrade back in 2008.

That leaves me with greasing still to do – kingpins, knife-edges and steering rack – and it’s about time I checked the rear drum brakes over as well. The air filter might get a clean if it’s really lucky.

I then took more pictures of rust. I really need to get on top of this. However, my main objective is to get Elly roadworthy again (I need to sort out a few wiring issues) before going to see top 2CV tinkerer Rick Pembro who can hopefully sort out a wobbly kingpin. Something I’ve been meaning to get sorted for about three years now…

Here’s some more rusty pics. Until next time…

Close up of the rust.

Close up of the rust.

I haven't been parking it in the sea, honest!

I haven’t been parking it in the sea, honest!



2CV – fun in the sun

It’s been a while since the 2CV has appeared on this blog and I apologise for that massive oversight. I’ve been rather busy with other vehicles and work, but that’s not to say that I haven’t been using the 2CV. In fact, the little Tin Snail has been very busy recently, reminding me why I love it.

When it comes to bombing around the roads of rural Wales, I honestly think there isn’t another car I would rather be in.

Citroen 2CV Dolly

For hurtling around Wales, few things can match a 2CV

That may seem a bold statement, but there’s a reason for it. For a start, much as I love TVRs, it would be left for dead by the 2CV on some of the twisty, trecherous mountain roads around here. It simply doesn’t have the ground clearance and with bends coming at you like a herd of demented cattle, there are few opportunities to exploit the power. You might as well have a mere 29bhp that allows you to keep your foot down.

So, with undulating roads, perhaps a 4×4 would be useful? Well, not really. 4x4s are big, bulky and generally don’t handle as well as smaller cars. If I was in one of those, I’d have to be seriously worried about meeting another car. The 2CV is skinny enough to nip past most things.

A modern supermini then. They’re nippy things aren’t they? Well, no. They’re heavy with city-friendly and therefore lifeless steering. Oh, and huge blind spots. I’m here to appreciate the view, so it’s roof back in the 2CV, which makes it easier to keep an eye on kites and the like. Well, until I got too cold…

Mix in the 2CV’s keen steering, sharp brakes and fabulous all-independent suspension and you’ve got an exceedingly entertaining machine that’s also very comfortable. Also, it took in a forestry commission lane (to a legit car park, don’t just go heading off down random lanes) and transported a household door. The 2CV may not be brilliant at everything, but it’s bloody good at a lot of things.

One of those days. Again

Read through my Blogs and you’ll see that there are days that really test those who like older cars. For some reason, my cars do often seem to conspire to play up all at the same time. Today was one of those days.

Before I start, I shall exonerate the BX. It coped with a 320 mile day recently, despite still being far from entirely healthy. Perhaps I used up all of my car luck on that journey…

Anyway, I got up this morning and headed in to town for some totally unexciting shopping. Things didn’t start well – or at all – when the 2CV’s ignition barrel resolutely refused to take the key. I do have a spare barrel kicking about because the one fitted has played up before, but I was in a hurry to get to Morrisons before the Aberystwyth masses arrived. So, into the Maverick I hopped and off I went.

It was a horrible morning, with mist and rain conspiring to make me very glad of the variable intermittent wipers. Well, until they just suddenly started going continuously all of their own accord. I tried turning them off. They just kept on going. Ok. One of those delightful electrical quirks eh? Switching to fast and then off did make them behave, but then I needed the intermittent setting again – which lasted for precisely two wipes. Gah!

I bought an oil filter for the Mini and  then went supermarket shopping, ensuring that I also filled my trolley with some cheap 15w40 oil for the 2CV and BX. They never get fancy stuff, especially as the BX soon leaks most of it back out. I tried not to get too upset with the wipers on the drive back and thankfully, for the most part, they did behave themselves. It’s either a relay or an earthing issue – probably not a duff wiper stalk as I first suspected.

After lunch, and far too much time spent reading the third instalment of the superb Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, I eventually got myself outside to tackle an oil change on the Mini. The usual cursing and scraped knuckles ensued, and I had to park the car on pieces of wood to enable me to get my oil catch can beneath the sump. The oil filter is also horrible to get at unless you remove the grille, which involves removing and subsequently losing far too many screws. Ugh.

My mood was not enhanced when after refilling the engine with lovely, fresh 20w50 oil, a distinct dripping sound could be heard. I gawped underneath and watched lots of lovely new oil pour from somewhere at the rear of the engine. What?! It wasn’t from the sump plug or the filter. I was entirely baffled. Also, very, very anxious as the Mini is meant to be tackling a 300 mile drive to Cornwall in the morning – probably the furthest it’s ever travelled in a day in our ownership. I was starting to wonder if I should have just left it, but Minis rely on good engine oil, as it’s also the gearbox oil. And it’s well over a year since it was last changed… (to be fair, only about 2000 miles ago).

I decided to bravely attempt a test drive, as no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to repeat the random oil dumping. It seemed to be behaving.

My conclusion is that the rocker cover gasket is shot. I think I poured so much oil in via the filler that the rocker cover actually filled up with fresh oil. I suspect (by the stains out the back of the rocker cover) that a fair dollop of the fresh oil bypassed the engine and flooded straight down the back of the engine. I hope it’ll be ok…

I try not to get too disheartened as mechanical issues are never far away when you’re dealing with older cars that have plenty of miles on them. Yet weeks can go by with no problems at all! Well, they  did until I bought the BX…

At least none of these issues required a laptop to sort them out, or special tools. And as bad as a Mini is to work on, it’s a lot better than some moderns. Plus, I’d feel really, REALLY annoyed if I experienced mechanical trauma with a car that cost tens of thousands to buy. Ignoring restoration and running costs (of probably £10,000 across the entire fleet) the purchase costs of the fleet are £450 (2cv, 12 years ago), £741 (Mini, 6 years ago), £250 (BX, six months ago) and £500 (Maverick, last month). They may cause me woes at times, but financially, they still make a lot of sense!


Sweet Music?

Owning a selection of cars is a lot like managing a rock band. Probably.

You need the right ingredients. After selling my Citroen BX, the ‘band’ that is my fleet felt out of balance. It was like the drummer had stopped mid-track and dropped his sticks. Don’t get me wrong though – the BX was no Keith Moon. Rather it was a bit of a Ringo Starr. Didn’t do anything spectacular really, but kept everything together (most of the time), though I don’t think the BX would be any good at narrating Thomas the Tank Engine. Sure, the stripey nature of the car and the trick suspension was perhaps a bit of an Octopus’s Garden, but generally, it provided the rhythm to fleet harmony. With the car gone, harmony departed with it and the fleet was unable to continue its career in any meaningful way. There was only one thing to do. Scout about for a new drummer. The Saab was chosen to fit that role, and while there have been some teething troubles (always tricky when a new musician joins an outfit) it’s poised to take on the Ringo role. Maybe a bit more jazzy like John Densmore of The Doors.

I did try a V8 Land Rover in the role of bassist, but it proved lacking in the thundering bass department, despite 3528cc of American-bred, aluminium engine. Perhaps that was the problem because the Scimitar fits the role rather well. The heavy V6 Essex engine bellow a strident bassline at the world. It isn’t the most exciting of bassists perhaps, lacking the zaniness of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or sheer oddness of Roger Waters from the mighty Floyd, but it adds that all important lower level noise with plenty of style, while looking good in Seventies vinyl. Suzi Quatro it is then.

The colourful guitar stylings are naturally the home of the Citroen 2CV. It may only pack 602cc but crikey does that light-weight engine sing and scream! It’ll hurt your ears with its force, but don’t let the bark fool you – it’s all cuddly and nice really. Only one band fits the bill for me, being the only force of music that I’ve ever seen that left my ears ringing two days after the concert. After the final song, the lead singer/guitarist just stayed at the microphone and pleasantly asked whether everyone was having a nice time. Aw, he did seem nice. That man is Robb Flynn of Machine Head.

All this leaves the Mini a bit like Linda McCartney in Wings. Pointless and not really necessary. She needs to go, so if you can offer Betsy the Mini a new life, perhaps launching a range of vegetarian food and guest-starring in The Simpsons, please feel free to come and visit with your chequebook open.

So, what is the perfect car?

I’m always asked what my favourite car is, which is silly. I can’t possibly have a favourite. In thinking about this, I reckon it’s because the perfect car just doesn’t exist.

Those who know me will know that the Citroen 2CV is a car I regard very fondly. I’ve owned over 15 since I was 18 and would never be without one. Nothing else matches them for grin factor on a hoon – even more powerful sports cars. They’re enormously practical, very well supported, easy to work on and owned by a wonderfully varied bunch of people. Yet there are downsides. Driving one on a windy day is horrific, they’re not the best on motorways – even though you can drive them flat out for hours – and parts are getting pricier.

On the other hand, a TVR Chimaera looks beautiful and makes a noise that can bring a fully grown man to tears, but they’re rubbish if you want to get a 210l water butt home, or carry more than one passenger.

I once owned a 1991 Honda Civic 1.4GL and that managed to be both rev-happy, practical and fun and economical, despite having twin carburettors. That was ruined by hideously over-assisted steering and rot. It was also a bit buzzy at motorway speeds.

Ah, so if we’re after motorway cruising ability, how about the Volvo 740? I once bought an estate with the 2.3-litre engine and slushbox. It cost me £150, mainly because the cold-start system was knackered and the interior was falling apart. On motorways, it was truly superb. It was doing just over 2000rpm at 70mph which was delivered both supreme comfort and a surprisingly easy 30mpg for such a big car. The luggage space was truly enormous and it could entertain in ways you just didn’t expect if you fancied teasing the back end out – a bit like discovering  your gran having a knees-up in a night club.

I can’t really rule that the Volvo 740 is the perfect car though.

What about the Reliant Scimitar? Practicality and a thoroughly sporty driving experience! Er, no. Now I’ve got one, I seem to spend all of my time discovering the downsides of Tamworth’s plastic pretender. The footwell is hideously cramped, the steering is hideously heavy and the ride is hideously firm. It also gets through fuel rather too quickly.

Maybe the perfect car is a Land Rover – something you can take pretty much anywhere. Gawd no. It feels more like a really fast tractor.

I did think I’d found perfection this week. An Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD Sportwagon. Practical, beautiful, economical, powerful and – dare I say it – reliable and rot free. The five-cylinder diesel engine is a delight, with punchy power and 45mpg, the interior has a delicious crafted feel and it was less than £1000. Apparently though, it isn’t perfection at all. It has been pointed out that the Alfa effect has utterly taken me over (again) and that it’s too complicated, not much fun to change a cambelt on and likely to ruin me.

Doesn’t mean I’m not interested though. You can’t have pleasure without pain! The motto of the Alfa owner?

The strain is all too much

I love simple motoring. Today, the clutch cable snapped on the 2CV while we were out. It has been failing in stages for some time, with the adjustment jumping out every now and then. It just took me a while to work out why…

The last ‘jump’ today left all of about two strands of cable to operate the clutch with. I didn’t fancy my chances of making it home like that but as luck would have it, I had a clutch cable underneath the front seat as part of an emergency parts package for an overseas trip last year.

Eek! The 2CV's clutch cable doesn't quite snap

Eek! The 2CV’s clutch cable doesn’t quite snap

I didn’t have any tools, but thanks to having to frequently adjust the clutch due to the cable issue, the nuts were finger tight – so I began the operation. There’s not much to it really, the only difficulty being that your hands end up covered in gunky horrible oil. Soon, the new cable was in place and off we set! I’ll adjust it up correctly now it’s got us home and I have access to tools.

It made me glad that older cars can be so simple to work on. Instead of having to contemplate a lengthy wait for recovery, I could just swap the cable and be on my way. Lovely.

Relay frustrating

I don’t know why I bother sometimes. I mean, the 2CV is about a low-tech as cars get. There’s no distributor, no radiator, no water pump, no cambelt, no brake servo, no power assisted steering, no EBD, ABS, ESP, SIPS, no electronic brains. Simple. So why do I keep trying to make it more complicated?

The idiocy began in 2003 when I fitted 123 electronic ignition to the Tin Snail, in a bid to overcome poor running due to a worn points cam and because points are a bit of a faff really aren’t they? To be fair, it did the trick, but problems weren’t far away. First, the car developed a starting fault because 123 is more power hungry than points. I had to replace the battery to overcome that one.

Ok, so that was about all that went wrong for 40,000 miles, but then starting problems struck again. I binned the unit and fitted a DG Ignition – a rather blatant copy. That lasted even less time, causing problems when I was on a 3500 mile trip all over mainland Britain. I returned to points, aided by a box of tricks from Maplin that effectively takes the high voltage power away from the points. Lovely.

The next unnecessary modern gadgets were headlamp relays. My 2CV has had halogen headlamp bulbs fitted since I bought it (I’ve never had to replace one in almost 100,000 miles!) which can cause the headlamp switch to get warm. The wise option, according to most, is to fit headlamp relays. I did this some weeks ago, having been meaning to do it for some years. After all, taking the strain off the wiring loom and switches has to be a good move doesn’t it?

Headlamp relay

Relays - good or bad?

Apparently not. I was driving home in darkest Wales, went to put main beam on and got nothing but darkness. Quite alarming as I was doing 40mph at the time! Thankfully, the headlamps did continue to work but one of my new relays is broken already. If I’d not fitted it, I wouldn’t have had a problem.

It all leaves me wondering whether sometimes it isn’t just best to leave things as the manufacturer intended. The big test for this theory might be the electric cooling fan fitted to the Scimitar…

Civic reception

The brilliant thing about having my own blog is I can prattle on about all sorts of crap cars that magazine editors would tell me are ‘not suitable.’ A case in point is the 1991 Honda Civic I owned a few years ago. It was a 1.4GL and despite being built by the Japanese in the early 1990s, still had a manual choke and twin carburettors.

Honda Civic and 2cv friend

A much-loved Honda Civic (right) alongside a much-loved 2CV

Yet it was astonishing. For all the world, the engine felt like it was fuel injected. I loved it. In typical Honda fashion, it was a revvy little thing, not really waking up until 4000rpm. Insane fun yet I was also rewarded with 40+mpg. Now that’s my kind of car.

I bought it locally when we lived in Cambs, for all of £195. It needed new CV joints, as they clacked like a footballer’s rattle on sharp turns, and had rather serious rot in the left-hand rear wheelarch. I wasn’t going to complain at the price and I clocked up a good few thousand miles in it before flogging it while it still had MOT.

What I really liked about the Civic was that you could still feel the soul of Soichiro Honda in the very design of the thing. It was light, you sat low and the engine screamed like a starving baby. The bonnet was so low that you felt you could use it to stop a trailer rolling away on a hill – you wouldn’t sit on it because it seemed as low as the ground. Wonderful engineering shone out of every pore – from those achingly efficient carburettors to the fresh air vent on the driver’s side of the dashboard – rare to have a fresh air feed on such a modern design, but really rather good.

Naturally, the electric windows and sunroof worked perfectly and the only negative point about the driving experience was over-light, feel-less power steering. Once I fitted budget tyres, this lack of feel became quite an issue on wet roundabouts. It had all the directional stability of a shopping trolley full of bricks. Lesson learnt – don’t buy cheap rubber!

It all went a bit downhill from here for Honda. The Civic gained weight until it became the monstrosity that wears the badge today – relying on quirky looks rather than clever engineering, and a form-before-function mentality that poor Soichiro would never have been able to relate to.

PS – before you ask – yes, I did put the bonnet stripes on it. Me and my wife were the only people in the world (apart from the chav who bought it from me) who thought it looked cool. And don’t ask why I have a picture of it in a car park in Peterborough alongside my 2CV. I’m still struggling to recall exactly how I took two cars to work that day.

Addicted to dreadful motoring

Yeah, I might as well admit it. I LOVE crap cars.

Skoda Estelle and  Rapid

Hmmm. A sight to make our ClassicHub journo go weak at the knees

I realised that I had a problem when a ten-year old me was reading a copy of Auto Express in 1988. I still have the copy now. In it is a budget car group test between the Citroën 2CV, Fiat Panda 750, Yugo 55 and Skoda Estelle. So far, I’ve owned two of the four and deeply want to own the Fiat and Yugo that I haven’t yet sampled.

In a way, I find it frustrating that the Citroën 2CV now has an established classic car following. I think I preferred it when everyone derided them. That was one reason I got into them in the first place. I’ve never paid much heed to the opinions of others – I always have to try things for myself.

And I have too. In fact, my first Skoda really was quite crap. The starter ring gear was worn, so I’d often have to bump start it. In fact, I had to do that having handed over my £150 to buy the thing. The ignition timing was so retarded that sparks would come out of the exhaust at motorway speeds. Exciting! As I wasn’t much of a mechanic at the time, and couldn’t afford to pay for the labour involved in replacing the ring gear, I scrapped it. I still wish I hadn’t. Not only because I only got £30 back for it. I will own another.

I realised that I still had a problem when someone on the Autoshite forum saved an FSO Polonez from being scrapped. Most people would ask “why” but I thought this was brilliant. I’d love to try an FSO Polonez. Were they really so awful? Yes, they probably were but I still want one anyway.

So, why do I like shite? Well, cost is a large part of it. People’s snobby attitudes cost them a lot of money. I rarely if ever pay more than £2000 for a car, and most often, quite a bit less than £1000.  There are a lot of really quite good cars available for less than a grand, and some awful ones too. It doesn’t matter, they’re all an experience.

This is why I need to sell my Land Rover. It’s getting in the way of me continuing to own shite cars. Wonder what I’ll end up with next…


Best sounding classic?

No, not which one has the best sounding engine – I’d argue strongly for the Triumph Stag there – but which one has the best name?

Is this the best sounding classic? Or is he blogging about something different?

Triumph Stag is certainly a contender – a successful and aggressive beast is what the name suggests. Much better than Maserati Bora for sure. Some are a bit more functional – the Bond Minicar was just that, the Triumph Roadster likewise. Not very exciting though eh?

I recently drove a Bentley Brooklands Turbo R Mulliner, but that’s all a bit of an unnecessary mouthful. It’s like they were trying to chuck in every English thing they could think of. They might as well have called it the Bentley Royal Family Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’m quite pleased they didn’t though…

The Gordon-Keeble GK1 starts well, but they clearly ran out of inspiration. Others just lie. The Morris Minor 1000 ended up with 1098cc, the Citroën 2CV actually had 3CV by the 1970s. Mercedes-Benz on the other hand just confuse. A 220SE has 2.2-litres, a 300SE has 3-litres. But you can also get a 300SE with a monstrous 6.3-litre V8! They called this the 300SE 6.3. Obviously.

The French were never much into names. Renaults were generally numbers after the Fregate/Dauphine/Caravelle era, Peugeots stick with the number-0-number and Citroën at most pulled a few letters together. The Traction Avant merely started life as 7A and only the Ami, Mehari and Dyane broke theme right up to the Xantia of 1993. That’s the French out for a refusal.

I guess it’s hard to decide, so I’m going to pick two Rovers with identical engines – something that gave the Solihull fellows a few sleepless nights. I therefore crown the winners of this non-competition the Rover Three-Point-Five and Rover Three Thousand Five.

This is a Rover Three Point Five...

...whereas this is a Rover Three Thousand Five. Very different (in engineering if not name!)