500 miles in a knackered BX

The wedding of two very lovely friends saw us travelling to Cambridgeshire last weekend. An ideal first trip for the BX that has recently returned to the fleet. We decided to catch up with friends in Lincolnshire on the way, so with pre-flight checks completed, we headed east.

It took a staggering five hours to get to Lincolnshire, thanks to little more than heavy traffic and the odd burst of heavy rain. It’s a credit to the BX that after five straight hours at the wheel, I felt fine! Which is more than can be said for a night in the bed of our B&B…

We did almost run out of fuel. The gauge got stuck due to a faulty sender and it took me a while to notice. I decided that a full tank should easily get us 400 miles. I hadn’t filled up before we left but had shortly before, and reset the trip. Then I remembered that due to a leaking filler neck (now repaired) I’d short-filled last time! Oh dear!

We then got stuck in Stamford. Horrible traffic ruining a beautiful town. We eventually got through and found a fuel station where I squeezed 47 litres into the 52 litre tank. Pretty close, especially given that I don’t like to let the car go below quarter of a tank normally!

With wedding joy completed, we headed back home on the Sunday – a much better run.

Citroen BX estate

The Green Tiger rests in Lincolnshire after a 200 mile drive

The BX wasn’t exactly problem free, but given how it had been pretty badly neglected for the previous 30,000 miles, it did remarkably well. The niggles were just that really. An iffy fuel gauge, a rattly gearknob, a squeaky steering wheel and intermittent power steering.

Ok, that last one wasn’t much fun at all truth be told. However, I’ve cured that today with little more than a dose of spring cleaning. How nice it is to dispel the myth that BXs are horribly complicated! While intermittent power steering could be a knackered pump, a knackered steering rack or aged LHM (the lifeblood of the Citroen hydraulics) it actually turned out to be nothing more than clogged filters. The LHM must be exceptionally clean. The filters protect the system but like any filter, if they get clogged, the flow gets affected. The steering is one of the systems that requires most pressure, so if flow problems occur, it’s usually the first thing to go wrong.

I pulled the filters out of the reservoir, soaked them in petrol and wiped them down with clean rags. They weren’t in a horrific state but what a difference it has made! The steering is now as light as it should be – and at all times. All thanks to a job that took less than ten minutes. I should have changed the fluid – it’s been a good 40,000 miles since that was last done – but having had to put quite a lot of LHM in when I got the car, I’ve opted to leave it a while longer yet. I’ll see how quickly the filters clog up again.

The BX is very likely to find itself clocking up more miles over the summer. We’ve got a lot on and it’s so good – especially now the steering problems are overcome. It’s smooth, relatively quiet and does 50mpg. What more could you want from a car? The only slight concern is the clutch. The pedal is heavy and the bite is not particularly strong. My suspicion is that it is worn out. I’ve not done a clutch change on a BX yet. Perhaps it won’t be too long until I do…

Buying a car back

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A superb bodge, I’m sure you’ll agree

I didn’t really think whether buying the BX Mk2 back was a wise idea. I’ve never bought a car back before – plenty have gone over the years, and one have returned. In theory, it was a bloody stupid idea – and it still might be in practice…

But if you strip all of the emotion out of car ownership, it would be a very sad, boring and unfulfilling experience. For me at least. Yes, it’s stupid to feel a bond with a lump of metal and plastic but I’m incredibly attached to my 2CV – just as I have a favourite T-Shirt. And my current toothbrush is nowhere near as satisfying as the previous one, which sadly wore out. Perhaps I gave it too much love.

Anyway, the point is, buying the BX back made no sense at all but was driven by my memory of what a satisfying car it is to own. Supreme comfort, 50mph, a massive boot, self-levelling suspension and an entertaining driving experience. You might well ask why I sold it in the first place. A valid question.

Naturally, I overlooked such things as the crap single-wiper design with its equally crap washer spray bar. One wiper is half the number I normally like. The more the merrier when you live in Wales. The washer packed up so I was forced to fit a scuttle-mounted (with cable ties) washer to get an MOT. There is also no flick-wipe. This irritates me.

I also forgot that when it’s really cold, the doors freeze shut. I neglected to remember that the heater is stuck in the Hot position. I overlooked the fact that 187,000 miles is really quite a lot, especially when the car has been utterly neglected for the past 30,000 miles without any servicing at all really. Impressive that it stood up to that.

I also used my rose-tinted spectacles to ignore the fact that it’s really quite rusty in places. The rear crossmember is sufficiently soft for my MOT tester to give me an official advisory, the left hand rear wing has a great ruddy hole in it and the sills are not going to get through another test.

The first few weeks have been tough as well. The brakes have been playing up, I replaced the wrong wheel bearing (and then had to replace the correct one), the clutch feels like failure is imminent and the height controller linkage is very stiff. That means that getting the car to raise or lower is not very easy at all.

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Back, but was it a good idea?

Yet this is still a special car to me and after many hours of fettling, she’s starting to come good. I can sit behind the wheel and remember driving across the south of France in the most torrential rain I’ve ever seen, or slogging up a 2000m tall mountain in horizontal snow with a coolant leak. Or helping to move our belongings from our old house to this one. Or towing my Bond Equipe (I’ll tell you about that long-departed beast one day) to a garage after it started spewing petrol everywhere. It’s a car with many memories and a car that does many things very well.

In fact, the main reason that I sold it is because I didn’t want to be the one who scrapped it. Perhaps the hardest part of having it back is that once the rust gets too much, it could be me reading the BX its rites.

Project BX: Suspension trickery

The best thing about owning a hydraulic Citroen – until they fitted Xantias with anti-sink valves – is the fact that you start the car, and it then majestically rises to driving height, rather like a hovercraft preparing for launch. I never tire of it. I do wonder why so few manufacturers went down this route though. For a glorious few decades, the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz and even Rolls-Royce licenced the technology for their own cars, though all used conventional springs with the Citroen-technology offering a smoother ride and self-levelling.

BX estate with load

Whatever the weight, the BX runs level

For an estate car, self-levelling suspension seems something that no load-lugger should be without. After all, in theory, an estate should find itself hauling heavy stuff about from time to time. It’s kind of the point. The BX makes an excellent estate, even though it’s actually a conversion carried out by coachbuilder Heuliez. The changes are restricted to an extension piece to increase the rear overhang, different rear wings and rear side windows and a plastic roof transformation piece. The seats, doors and basic bodyshell are all stock hatchback (or, confusingly saloon as it was officially called). The load space is very generous, and includes little eyelets for fixing down loads. Again, the hatchback load cover is extended, which means the estate has a hinged parcel shelf. Good for hiding stuff in the boot and much more effective than a flimsy, roll-up load cover.

But the best element is that height-adjustable, self-levelling suspension. Place a heavy object in the rear and the height corrector will notice the drop in ride height, and cause the pump to push more pressure into the suspension loop. The rear end then rises to the correct height. Simple and exceedingly effective. The really clever bit comes from the rear brakes. These are supplied with pressure from the rear suspension units. If they’re under more pressure due to a heavy load, they’ll consequently give the rear brakes more pressure to boost stopping power. Genius!

I put this technology to the test today, by loading the BX with a good quarter-ton of wood. There’s plenty of room for a builder’s sack full of wood and once the engine is started, the car easily rises up to normal height. It felt good and stable to drive as well, with little drop in performance – accelerating or stopping.

There’s certainly no way that I’m going to stop grinning like a schoolboy every time I start the BX up. Few cars deliver this level of joy before a journey has even begun, and fewer still that can be bought for so little money!

Reaching braking point

In the past 18 months, I’ve rebuilt the Mini’s front brakes, a Range Rover’s rear brakes, tried to fix a sticky caliper on a Saab 9000 and pretty much completely overhauled the Ford Maverick’s stoppers. I was hoping I could take a break from brakes, but live isn’t always fair.

The problem now is the BX. One front caliper is suffering from a sticky piston, while the other suffers from a sticky handbrake cable (handbrake is on the front wheels). The two are combining beautifully to create binding brakes. Just like we had on the Mini, Range Rover, Saab and Ford. What is it with bloomin’ brakes?!

BX brake disc

First look at the BX's brakes while recommissioning. They worked fine a few months ago! This one now suffers a sticky handbrake cable

My mood isn’t enhanced – though it probably should be – by the 2CV just sitting there looking smug. In almost 100,000 miles of motoring, and 12 years of ownership, the 2Cv has needed one set of front discs, a couple of sets of pads, a pair of new rear shoes and that’s about it. No binding issues at all, thanks apparently to the use of alloy pistons.

The problem with the others? Steel pistons. What a rubbish idea! Being steel, they inevitably corrode and then seize. The other issue is that the brakes on these cars all sit in the wheels, so get covered in road muck. The 2CV wears its front brakes on the sides of the gearbox, in the engine bay, and further away from wheel-hurled muck. Whoever was in charge of 2CV brakes deserves a medal. Especially as they’re so powerful as well!

I’ve now got the decision with the BX about whether to rebuild the front caliper or just buy a replacement (as I did on the Maverick). £40 for a complete caliper, but not sure how much a rebuild kit would be. Probably a fair bit as the piston is gunked up enough to need replacing. Hopefully pay day will allow me the luxury of the expensive option! In the meantime, yet another hero on the BX forum is sending me another handbrake cable, so I can sure that issue pretty easily.

I hope that this will bring an end to brake-fettling for some considerable time. I can dream can’t I?

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!

 

Project BX: Good and then bad

As you may recall from an earlier post, the BX had gamely struggled to Derbyshire and back to collect some seats and doors – none of which have got even close to being actually fitted to the car yet. That’s ok. I”ve been enjoying the fact that the BX works and have actually been using it for driving about. Well, I was…

BX in the sun

Sitting pretty, but not actually working!

The first problem is water ingress. It’s absolutely pouring in somewhere in the back (well, the front too to a lesser extent) and is pooling in the rear footwell. Sadly I discovered this after the rear seat had been folded for several weeks – the rear seat base then acted like a sponge and soaked up the icky water. Mould is everywhere and I’m feeling a bit disheartened. I shall have to go leak checking and I urgently desire the return of my garage! (still full of building materials although much less so than it was).

I’m sort of used  to leaky vehicles though. The Mini and 2CV are both as water-tight as a tea bag. Thing is, it’s easy to remove the carpet/mat in that pair so the water isn’t held against the floor. Not so the BX, though the carpet is so full of holes that it ideally needs replacing anyway.

The second and rather more serious issue is that the BX isn’t currently working at all. For some time I’ve felt that there’s probably an air leak in the fuel system as it feels down on power. Now though, it’s so bad that there’s no chance of starting it unless you do a LOT of priming beforehand. After a struggle lasting the best part of an hour, I eventually got it to run the other day. Most people would consider this less than ideal.

I need to rig up some fuel pipe to allow me to gradually bypass different bits of the fuel system. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages, but I guess my hand has been forced now. Thankfully my back injury is easing after wrenching it while fixing the Maverick’s brakes. It’s a good job that my flexible working hours allow plenty of tinkering time and hopefully I’ll get the garage back soon, so I can tinker whatever the weather.

Project BX: Roadtrip 2

Enough with all this 4×4 talk. It has distracted me from the shed of dread. The BX hasn’t had an awful lot of use over the winter. It started running really badly, and the power steering became all intermittent with its assisting. Believe me, this makes cornering far more interesting than it should be!

The running issues seem to have resolved themselves, though she’s still down on power. The power steering seems to have been remedied by changing the LHM and cleaning the filters. This is the lifeblood of the BX, so this is rather like refreshing the blood and clearing out the arteries. Seems to have done the trick, though some minor hydraulic issues remain.

Citroen BX mk1 estate 19RD

The shambolic BX visits the car that donated its doors

I needed to get to Derbyshire to collect some replacement doors and seats for the BX. I was worried about how I’d get there, but a long run the weekend before departure renewed my faith in the BX. Yes, it has its issues, but surely it wouldn’t let me down?

Come the morning of departure and she let me down. The driver’s door latch froze open, so I couldn’t close the door. I didn’t really fancy trying to strip the mechanism down if it was cold enough to do that, so I decided to take my Ford Maverick. Mistake. While this at least got me off the driveway, after a few miles, it began misfiring and the brakes started making horrible noises. Back home I went.

By now, the BX lock had unfrozen, so I decided to go in this after all, albeit now 2hrs later than planned. That was largely due to the need to de-ice the inside. Once free of ice, I was away. The power thing isn’t too much of a problem. Sure, acceleration is laughably slow, but then even a healthy 1.9 diesel BX can be embarrassed by modern turbo diesels. It didn’t want to pull beyond 3000rpm really, but that’s ok, as there’s a good spread of torque beneath this. Progress was still swift (or as swift as it can be on truck and tractor-heavy trunk roads in Wales) and when we eventually reached Shrewsbury and the novelty of dual carriageway, the BX just about managed to clock 70mph.

I was bloody freezing though and a quick under-bonnet inspection revealed a top hose that was very much not warm. Looks like a new thermostat is needed then. At least the big climb out of Shrewsbury on the A5 got some heat into the engine – and the interior! My chilly state was not aided by door and window seals which are absolutely knackered. Ventilation was not an issue.

Yet despite being far from healthy, the BX plodded on. The ride was still comfortable, the handling still excellent and the brakes absolutely superb. Few things stop like a hydraulic Citroen. Sadly, the impressive brakes were also creating a rather irritating chirrup at speed. I suspect one of the front calipers is binding, just enough to cause a squeak, but happily not enough to cause massive heat build up. Seized calipers can be dangerous.

I arrived in Derbyshire at 2pm, five hours after I first attempted to leave the house. The capacious rear of the BX easily swallowed up a rear seat, two front seats and three doors gifted by a kindly fellow BX Club member. He’ll be putting better doors on his own Mk1 project. After (non)quality nosh from a greasy spoon (which was perfect to be honest!) I set off homeward at about half-past four. The next three hours were pretty tedious, and dark. The only dashboard illumination that actually works on the BX is, usefully, the speedometer – a rotating drum that makes me smile every time I look at it. How Citroen to have the numbers move! The main beam is operated by clicking the left-hand ‘pod’ at the side of the steering wheel. Seems odd, but works very well.

So, the shambolic BX managed another 260 miles and now has more parts to help further its own revival. There’s talk of a trip to Cornwall at some point in the next few months. Wonder if the BX will be the tool for the job…