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!

 

V8 Conundrum

If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know that in December, I bought a Land Rover 90 V8. A childhood dream realised at last!

Yet there’s a feeling of ‘don’t meet your heroes’ that has crept in of late. Don’t get me wrong, I love V8s, and this is my second car equipped with Rover’s ex-Buick engine – the first being a Rover P6B. But I don’t think it’s the right engine for a Land Rover.

To me, Land Rovers are agricultural – trucks with just about enough comfort to make them realistic as road transport, albeit nowhere near as competent as an actual car. I love them for that. But you don’t get many trucks with a V8 engine do you?

No, they employ diesels both for economy and because when it comes to low down dirty grunt, a heavy oil burner has it by the bucket load. Yes, the V8 has a remarkable amount of torque for a petrol engine, but having twin carburettors and an ignition system, it doesn’t have that serene pull of a diesel at lower revs.

But then, if I wanted a diesel Land Rover, I’d find there’s quite a premium to pay – especially if I got my hands on the one I really want. That’s the TD5. It’s an engine with a rather poor reputation, yet my neighbour’s Discovery has clocked up 225,000 without significant fault. It’s a great sounding engine too – a hint of five-cylinder warble and the growl of an engine that knows how to do its business.

Oh well. Can’t afford one anytime soon, so I s’pose I’ll have to make do for now. Or sell it and buy something completely different…

Van Damned

A press shot of an LDV Maxus because Ian's own shots are rubbish

Just closing the door told me all I needed to know about the potential of this machine. The clang instantly told me that yes, this vehicle was a pared down Korean design, nailed together using the thinnest metal possible in Washwood Heath, Birmingham.

The dashboard, with its many missing blanking plates ticked boxes in my head. Those boxes were cheap, nasty and beyond-basic. After being warned not to lean too hard on panels for fear of denting them, I was nervous as I reversed my steed out of a tight space, not helped by the warning that I should avoid using too much strength when changing gear for fear of ripping the delicate linkage apart. Well, yes, that might be nice but this gearchange has all the smoothness and ease of progress as that of an Austin-Healey 3000. At least I didn’t have to use two hands.

It didn’t seem a very good van, but then I guess it didn’t need to be. After all, in 2004, this model replaced both the Pilot and Convoy. The Convoy was a derivation and enlargement of the basic Sherpa theme, launched in the early 1980s as the Freight-Rover 300. The Pilot was effectively a Sherpa, first launched in 1974. The cutting edge these vehicles were not, despite a sporty engine line-up that included the MGB engine (Sherpa) and Rover’s V8 (optional on the 300).

I once owned a Leyland-Daf 400 (a tidied up 300) Beavertail, with the Peugeot turbo diesel engine, and it was a fine old beast – slogging on despite the exhaust falling off and a geyser-like oil leak. It didn’t have power steering, so was rather hard work, but you didn’t mind, as sticking to 70mph seemed like rather hard work for the poor truck. A few years later, I drove a Convoy (a tidied up 400 but with an even cheaper interior and a Transit engine) and it was dreadful, with such wear in the kingpins (yes, a vehicle built after 2000 with kingpins) that the steering wheel threatened to give me vibration white finger.

I digress. The point is, the Maxus didn’t have to be good. The thing is though, I was fast discovering that this failed Daewoo (well, technically, Daewoo failed the Maxus by going into receivership – the joint project with LDV was taken over fully by the British firm) was actually not a bad old thing. The Italian VM engine produced a wonderful wall of low-down torque that made acquiring a naughty amount of speed almost Merc Sprinter easy. It handled too, thanks to front-wheel drive.

Switchgear leaves a lot to be desired

I wasn’t the only one impressed either. The Maxus really didn’t sell too badly at all, with Royal Mail buying up hundreds of them. It even won awards! Sadly, it wasn’t enough for LDV, a troubled company dogged by funding issues from the very first Sherpa. In 2009, administration beckoned, though it’s likely that the Maxus will be reborn in China. Can then make it even more tinny?

Back to the drive. A 200 mile trip from Wales to Cambridgeshire to collect the last of our belongings beckoned. Yet, it was remarkably pleasurable. At motorway speeds, the van tears along quite happily. You might even call it refined. At least you don’t have to change gear much on motorways, so that’s one weakness temporarily banished from my mind.

Loaded up for the return trip the following day, the gutsy engine barely noticed the payload. Even in the ‘mild’ 95bhp form here, there’s a stonking 250Nm of torque available at a mere 2000rpm. Handling was still assured and I had to be careful not to destroy a completely unnecessary amount of flowerpots through the bends.

You know what? I was actually a bit sad to take the van back to the rental centre after our 400 miles together. It was very capable, sipped fuel like a child sipping mummy’s wine and despite a rather bland appearance, I think it actually had some character.

And that ties it in with all the other commercial vehicle products of Washwood Heath, Birmingham. It could very easily be argued that this factory didn’t build one good one. Yet there’s a willingness to deliver that shines through, just as the monotonous accent hides the willingness of Birmingham itself to please.