Saving the unloved – Citroen BX Mk1

I have always found great joy in the cars that the wider public consider rubbish. I’ve been into Citroen 2CVs since long before they were accepted into the classic car world, and ‘desirable’ is a label that rarely attaches itself to one of my fleet. The reasons are simple – if people don’t like it, then it’ll be cheap. Best of all, a bit of bravery often leads you to discover that these ‘shite’ cars are often far better than anyone ever gives them credit for!

This is how I tried to justify my latest project –  a Citroen BX Mk1 estate, with 65bhp of throbbing diesel power. The cream on the cake of shiteness was the condition. There’s barely a straight panel on it and it had been languishing in a Bristol basement garage for over three years.

Citroen BX Mk1 estate project

You see a pile of scrap, Ian sees potential

First glance was certainly not promising. The paint is shambolic, the tyres were flat and cobwebs and dust abounded. However, it seemed solid in all the right places – if not all over – and had been in regular use prior to being parked up. That can make all the difference. Three years wasn’t too long to leave it.

A plan was hatched to collect it, using my Range Rover as a tow vehicle and a hired trailer. My biggest concern was about whether the BX would be prepared to start. Thankfully, the owner had stored the car on blocks – which meant we could get a jack under it if it refused to start. Trying to move a hydraulic Citroen with a dead engine can be a real challenge!

The owner’s Citroen Xantia was used to coax some electricity into the BX, and miraculously, it actually started! It took a few attempts, and it ran on three cylinders for quite a while, but nonetheless, the ran and the suspension began to pump up.

Getting the BX out of the garage proved a tight squeeze and once it was on the trailer, life didn’t get much easier. It really was a tight little street!

Range Rover in tight spot

Bristol proves a tight squeeze

Somehow we escaped, and the three hour journey home proved undramatic. The Range Rover proved itself an ideal tow vehicle – it’s Italian diesel engine slogging away quite happily without having to be revved hard. Agricultural but torquey!

Getting the BX off the trailer proved a surprisingly entertaining side show for the villagers where I live. The LHM level was a bit low, and the back end of the BX was failing to rise adequately. We overcame this by unhitching the trailer and raising the nose on the jockey wheel. Off she came! I then got to drive my new purchase for the first time, if only down the driveway.

The exhaust was blowing very badly – that much was obvious – but it seemed to go well enough. The brakes even worked – not bad after so long in storage! With the car in the garage, I was able to get the wheels off and check the brakes. Yup, a little rusty but working fine. I cleaned them up a bit and left it at that.

The radiator was clearly a right mess though, so a new one was ordered and fitted. I still think the fan switch also needs replacing, and the water pump has now also proved itself leaky. New items are on order, along with a timing belt kit.

With the new rad fitted though, I could focus on getting the BX road ready. I reckoned it was close to passing an MOT, so with a replacement driver’s door mirror fitted – thanks to Tim Leech of the BX Club, and a few replacement light bulbs, it was time to take her in. Would she pass?!

To be continued…

BX - it lives!

The BX lives!

 

The New Range Rover

Well, it’s new to me anyway!

Having decided that the Scimitar wasn’t really my kind of car, I went out and bought something that I thought might be closer to the mark. With the plastic fantastic from Tamworth sold, I stuck true to my Midlands roots and bought another Land Rover.

I owned a 90 County V8 last winter, but it didn’t take long for the ridiculous fuel economy – 15mpg – to get a bit much. So it had to go, turning in a handy profit. Rare for me. The 90 wasn’t very practical either – the loadspace is remarkably short.

But I wanted something else from the Solihull firm. It was time for my first Range Rover.

I had my school work experience at Land Rover, as a very lucky 15 year old, and I’ve long had an affinity for their products. The Range Rover has become just as much of an icon as the original Land Rover, though prices haven’t yet caught up. Not by a long way.

I went to view a Range Rover V8 on LPG, but it was an absolute dog that couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. It also had a really bad exhaust leak, on the manifold I think, an LPG tank taking up most of the boot space and some serious cosmetic issues. It was so bad that even I managed to walk away.

I then checked out a Range Rover diesel.

Ian's new buy

It was advertised as a Tdi but I got so distracted when I went to view it that I failed to notice that it was actually a VM diesel engine. Idiot! However, it drove very well indeed, so I still agreed to go ahead – albeit paying a few hundred pounds less. Still, it was a gamble. £1000 for a Range Rover on French plates (but with a British ID as well) with no MOT. With the much-derided Italian VM diesel. What could possibly go wrong?

The gamble does seem to have paid off though – I was rewarded with a total MOT bill of just £245 including two new tyres and number plates. That didn’t seem too bad to me.

And it really isn’t too bad. Sure, the engine is a bit laggy, it’s a bit scruffy and the previous owner left it filthy and smoked in, but it drives very nicely, seems remarkably solid in all the important places and should prove just the vehicle I need while we make some home improvements.

There are some niggles – only the driver’s electric window was working, though one of the rears is now playing ball after a fuse change. The headlining was sagging as well, so I’ve removed it while I decide whether to fit a new GRP one or to re-trim the original. There is a slight leak from one of the front hubs and the heater blower doesn’t operate – I’ve ordered a new resistor pack to cure this.

I love it though. The price paid doesn’t seem much for an absolute icon. Sure, an earlier one would have more appeal, but these later ones are much more refined – even when fitted with a rattly Italian diesel engine.

Brushes up alright on her British plates, don’t you t

Buying with plastic

Oh gawd. I’ve gone and bought a new car, BEFORE the Land Rover has sold. Well, I’ve left a deposit anyway. The balance needs to wait for a certain Land Rover to finish on Ebay – which it’s close to doing.

Scimitar SE5a rear

Another new purchase, will this Reliant Scimitar GTE prove reliable?

The new car? A 1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE SE5a in a bright shade of red. It seems to be a good one and I’m waiting for it to have a fresh MOT before collection – which hopefully leaves enough time for the Land Rover to sell and for the new owner to hand me a load of cash.

I felt I had to move quickly on this Scimitar. The owner may have just been pushing me into a sale, but it sounded like others had spotted what a good buy it could be – it’s had an enthusiastic club owner for the past 14 years, and isn’t wanting for very much at all. Even better – everything seems to work as it should! That’s not always the case with Scimitars. As values are traditionally low, neglect is sadly very much something Scimitars become used to.

I will be paying very slightly more than I paid for the Land Rover – and the Scimitar feels like much better value for money. Don’t forget that the Land Rover may have covered half the miles (78k v 153k for the Reliant) but it has no service history with it, and is a touch scruffy in places. It should still do well though – scruffiness is after all a look that suits the Land Rover rather well!

Scimitars continue to offer excellent value though. With every parts bin raided, the beauty is that you can still get a huge amount of parts – the drivetrain is Ford, the brakes Rover, the front suspension Triumph TR. The bodywork is rust-free glassfibre while the steel chassis is fairly easily repaired should rust strike – as long as you get on top of it before it eats everything.

Are they cheap for a reason though? I guess I’m going to find out…

Mini caliper rebuild – Part 2

Having received the new wheel stud, I could complete the left-hand side. It all went back together beautifully and with an attractive assistant (the wife) on pedal duty, it was soon bled and functioning correctly. Lovely.

New brake caliper and disc fitted to proper Mini

Hmmm. Sooo shiny. seems a shame to cover it up with a wheel. New disc and pads plus refurbished caliper

Now attention could turn to the opposite side. I lowered the car back to the ground as I needed to reposition it – space is tight in the garage. This time,  I remembered to undo the main driveshaft nut BEFORE jacking the car up. Having read the Haynes manual, I decided to remove the caliper complete with pads this time. That was stupid – I then couldn’t get the pistons out. So, I connected the caliper back up and with the handy assistant again, could use hydraulic pressure to force the pistons most of the way out – using a spanner to stop the first one from popping all the way out until the second one was also easing outwards. It was then an easy job to use pliers to pull the pistons out – you wouldn’t want to do this if you were planning to re-use the pistons, but I wasn’t. They were in a dreadful state.

The only seized bolt on the entire job caused some issues – I couldn’t get the caliper into its two main parts. Eventually, I managed to smash a slightly-too-small socket onto the corroded head, and out it came. There may have been some colourful language before this! I then had to locate another bolt, which involved a trip to see a Mini enthusiast in Aberystwyth. Thanks Dave!

This was the side that had seized the most ferociously, and getting the old seals out proved a real ‘bind.’ See what I did there? The new seal holder things are incredibly soft and easy to damage but on this caliper, I actually managed to get one of the new ones to fit – though had to resort to an old one for the second piston. Then it was a simple case of swapping the disc and then re-fitting the caliper. New pads completed the job and with another bleeding session, she was ready to go!

The difference on the road was marked. When you’ve only got 45bhp to play with, binding brakes can be a very noticeable drag. I’m still to bed the brakes in – only 8 miles covered so far – but look forward to seeing how they go.

Very rusty brake disc

Yup, that'll be scrap then. No point putting this back on.

Betsy the 'proper' Mini

With fixed brakes, Betsy the Mini is ready to go!

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…

 

An Oxford Six nearly kills me

To be a classic motoring journalist, you need driving skills like no-one else. You must be able to jump from one classic to the next and quickly adjust – well, you can’t go around pranging people’s lovely classics because you didn’t know where the brake was.

Ergonomics were yet to be discovered even as late as the 1950s. Take a Citroen DS, Ford Zodiac Mk2, Daimler Conquest and Austin Westminster A90 for example. All were in production in 1956 and the differences are staggering. Sure, the DS was quite unlike anything else at all, but let’s focus for the time being on gearchanges.

DS semi-automatic

Baffling controls an everyday challenge for the motoring journalist

On the DS, you move a small arm that sprouts from the top of the steering column in its own quadrant. The car looks after the gearchange and clutch operation for you – you just tell it what gear to be in. The Daimler uses a pre-select gearbox, so while there is a ‘clutch’ pedal, you don’t use it as one. To move away, just select first and raise the revs – the fluid flywheel transmit the power. Select  the next gear using the column change and operate the pedal when you want it to engage.

In theory, the Ford and Austin are much closer. Both have a column gearchange to a conventional gearbox – the Ford packs three cogs while the Austin manages four. But consider how you select first. On the Ford, you push the lever away and down, the Austin away and up. Second? Towards and up on the Zodiac, but straight down from first on the Westie.

It’s learning to adjust to these differences that enables us to do our jobs quickly and without breaking stuff. Yet there’s always one that nearly catches you out.

Austin Sevens I always find hard work. The clutch is a button with about an inch of travel, the steering is exceedingly vague and the brakes – especially on earlier uncoupled versions – are horrifically poor. I always return with a smile on my face though, even when one recalcitrant Ruby conked out on my test drive and only came back to life after vigorous hand-cranking. A journey in a Seven is never dull.

But it was a Morris Oxford Six, dating from 1933, in which I almost came a cropper.

1933 Morris Oxford Six

This 1933 Morris Oxford Six proved a challenge! A beautiful car however

For a start, the pedals are in the ‘wrong’ order. The throttle is in the middle, the brake where the throttle would normally be. The gearbox thankfully had synchromesh – I had driven an earlier Oxford without it and found coming down the gearbox a real challenge. What I didn’t know is that it had a freewheel! You can picture the scene as I come down a hill towards a red traffic light. I’m already focussing my mind on the pedals, so I don’t accidentally accelerate. My foot is right down and not a lot is happening  – brakes weren’t very good in the 1930s. To make matters worse, there is no engine braking as the car is now freewheeling down the hill!

My heart was truly in my mouth as I sailed just past the stop line. I’m very glad brakes have improved since then! While it may have scared me, it was a beautiful car. It had a top speed of barely 60 miles an hour, but sounded absolutely beautiful. While it came close to killing me, I still did rather like it!