Snow, yet again

I’ve only owned my BX TZD Turbo estate for a week, yet I’ve already driven it twice in the snow. Snow in March feels pretty odd, and it has proved annoyingly distruptive. For a start, the silver BX was meant to head to its new home today, but that’s been postponed for another day.

That’s because this morning, there was an awful lot of snow. This much in fact,

citroen bx snow drift

Snow time again

Yes, it was drifting windscreen-deep in places. Still, it gave me a chance to put the winter tyres through their paces. I wasn’t impressed to be honest. It wasn’t a scientific test, but on one steep uphill section, I was left with the wheels spinning and no forward movement at all. Turns out that the Goodride brand is a Chinese one, which may explain why the performance was a bit disappointing. Certainly, I feel that the Riken Snowtime tyres on my other BX performed better. I’ve also seen some disturbing comments about the performance when conditions are warmer or just wet – though I didn’t find too much awry when I collected the car last weekend, and it really was very wet at times on that journey!

Only the front tyres are winter tyres, which is far from ideal. I therefore plan to fit all-summer tyres when the weather finally picks up a bit, and will have a complete set of winter tyres for next season. Mixing and matching is a very bad idea, as it can seriously unsettle the car in some conditions. It’s a bit like having bald tyres on the rear – potentially quite scary and dangerous.

The BX TZD is making me smile though. We got off to a bit of a bumpy start together, but it’s really coming together now.

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!

 

 

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?

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.