End of year fleet review

2011 has been our first full year of living in Wales – and what a pleasure it has been! On paper, living so far from everywhere, with a fleet of underpowered classics that don’t like dampness is a recipe for disaster – and sure, some of the fleet are looking a bit crusty in places. However, there are no motorways nor even dual carriageways for miles around, so in fact our feeble fleet is about perfect.

2011 started with the 2CV and Mini. Here’s the 2CV undertaking a spot of green laning. The grille muff suggests it was quite early in the year and therefore cold. The fact that it’s on a green lane and has the roof rolled back suggest the balance of my mind is disturbed.

Citroen 2cv off-road in the sun

Elly basks on a Nant-y-Moch green lane, near home

Here’s the Mini sucking up some moisture to allow it to rot further.

Mini City E

Whatever the weather, the fleet gets out and about

Just before Christmas, I bought a dream car – a Land Rover 90 V8. It wasn’t quite the dream thanks to a remarkably flat V8 and a clunky transmission. Was good fun off road though and an outrageous bargain at £1600. Sold it in March for £2300. A rare profit!

Land Rover 90 V8 County Station Wagon

A rare profit turned in on this Land Rover V8

The other carry-over from 2010 was my trusty BX, but in March, this happened…

Swap time

BX goes to a new home, Scimitar joins the fleet

I sold the BX to a mate, and bought another dream car – a Reliant Scimitar GTE. With the BX gone, I decided I needed another wafty barge as I needed to be clocking up a LOT of miles over the summer. Enter the marvellous Saab.

Saab joins the fleet

A marvellous wafty barge courtesy of the now-defunct Saab

I thought the Saab was a large dose of VALUE at £595 with a brand new MOT, but attempts to sell it later in the year proved otherwise. It went for £450 though it did leave with its head held high. It had cost very little to run and was the perfect vehicle for what I needed. I also sold the Scimitar having quickly tired of the crap driving position, booming exhaust and constant dread of electrical failure/engine overheat.

There was only one way to get over the dread of electrical failure/engine overheat – yes, I bought a Range Rover with the VM diesel lump!

Rangie diesel

A potential disaster, but actually huge fun!

Had enormous fun in this thing. Incredible off-road and decent enough for tooling about in on the road. Came in useful for a spot of towing too…

Bringing home the new project

Range Rover earns its keep collecting a new project...

That was the BX on its way to mine. Still needs a LOT of work, but I’m still loving it. Bonkers. Not sure if that’s a reference to the car or to me for throwing so much money at it… (actually, I’ve spent about £250 on it so far I think, but much more wallet bashing to occur!)

Range Rover had to go as the non-working heater was becoming a bit of an issue. If I had actual money left after the BX, I might have fixed it, as I was beginning to really quite like it. Got offered a swap for this.

Rover 75

Not a typical Ian-motor, but it didn't last long... BX already being put to use carrying ladders!

Rover 75 CDT Tourer. Top spec, pretty good condition bar some clutch/gearbox issues. Again, the perfect vehicle for the moment and it clocked up 1000 miles in a matter of weeks. Money was getting very tight though and as it needed work, it had to go. The BX’s welding was not going to pay for itself. So, a little deal was arranged for Minimad5 to donate some cold, hard cash and a Peugeot 309 to tempt the Rover to the North West.

I’m a sucker for basic motoring, so obviously I agreed to the deal, waving goodbye to electric everything, heated leather seats and turbocharged performance.

Peugeot - almost a Talbot Arizona

Back to the simple life! For the better? Peugeot 309 fitted the bill

So, 2011 ends with the 2CV, Mini, a different BX diesel estate and a Peugeot 309. Place your bets for which one has been sold/traded by the end of January… (this because my New Year’s Resolution will be to calm down a bit on the whole car buying/selling thing, which will obviously be broken ASAP!)

2011 has certainly been a colourful and action packed year on the fleet front, and believe it or not (my wife certainly doesn’t believe it!) I’m hoping that the fleet will settle down in 2012. Changing cars all the time is fun on the one hand, but stressful on the other.

Anyway, I shall take this opportunity to wish you a healthy dose of festive merriment and wish you all the best for 2012.

Citroen BX Cambelt Change

Changing a timing belt or cambelt was a first time experience for me. I’ve owned and worked on 2CVs for years, but they don’t have timing belts, radiators, water pumps or a transverse-mounted engine. That latter factor makes changing a timing belt on pretty much any modern car a big challenge. The end of the engine is inevitably jammed up against the inner wing making access tricky. This job rates quite highly on the Knuckle-scrape score.


It's a poor pic, but it does show how tight the access is! That's the crankshaft pulley just visible

As you can see, there is about an inch of clearance between the end of the engine and the inner wing in the case of the BX. The timing belt runs through the top engine mount though, which means it has to be removed. That allows you to jack the engine up/down to get a little more clearance  – vital if, as in this case, you also need to replace the water pump.

The biggest challenge with this job is undoing the 22mm crankshaft pulley bolt. With a friend using a large stick to hold a knuckle bar onto the bolt, we wedged it in place by using a scaffold tube. Operating the starter motor then undid the bolt. It’s a tricky operation and dangerous if there’s a chance of anything sliding off. Be careful. A cordless impact driver might be a more sensible way to undo it. If you have access to one…

You then lock the engine using a hideously difficult-to-locate hole in the engine to lock the flywheel, and three 8mm bolts locking the camshaft and diesel pump (two bolts here). After that, removing the belt is fairly easy, though slackening the tensioner is very difficult. Access is poor and you can’t actually see the adjuster nut – you have to feel for it. I had to rope in a friend to push against the tensioner spring while I loosened then tightened the adjuster.

Old and new

Quite obvious which one is new!

With the belt off, the water pump could be replaced. This was simply a case of unbolting it and removing it, though you do need to take time to carefully scrape away any remnants of gasket from the engine. The impeller seemed slightly smaller on the new pump but asking around, this wasn’t thought to be a problem. It’s probably just a design change during the life of the vehicle.

The pump was fitted and I could set about getting the new belt on. This is a bit fiddly, but an extra pair of hands from that trusty friend helped again. Make sure you re-fit the crankshaft pulley BEFORE turning the engine over, and also make sure you remove all of the bolts that lock the pulleys and crankshaft in place.

We turned the engine over twice and attempted to refit all of the locking bolts. They all went in, suggesting everything was in the correct place. It was time to start the engine! Aside from a bit of smoke (the glow plugs are not healthy) she started up and ran smoothly. Excellent! We didn’t run her for long as I hadn’t yet added coolant. I was going to fit a new radiator fan switch but instead opted to use a coolant flush on the engine. I’ll change the fan switch when I drop this cleaning coolant later on. As you can see from the water pump picture, the waterways are clearly quite gunked up!

Use height

Using ramps to raise the radiator height

Bleeding the cooling system can be a challenge. The trick is to ensure the heater is on and use ramps to ensure that the radiator is the highest point in the cooling system. This will encourage air towards the radiator. Squeezing the coolant pipes also helps, including the heater pipes. You must be VERY careful doing this on a BX as your arm gets very close to the hydraulic pump belt. Make sure your sleeves are rolled up! By squeezing the pipe and letting air out via the bleed screws on the thermostat and radiator, you should be able to get a nice, toasty heater and remove any air leaks. Do keep an eye on the coolant level at all times, as it will drop as you remove air and release the bleed screws.

With the BX, you have rather a trust in faith as there is no temperature gauge. Where fitted, keep an eye on it during a test drive and hopefully that’s job done!

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.