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!

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…

The first long journey

Well, after just under two months of ownership, a lot of hard graft had the BX prepared for its first long journey. It now had MOT, replacement second-hand tyres, a new battery, radiator, water pump, cambelt, oil and filter. Test drives and local journeys had allowed me to clock up about 80 miles since returning it to the road. I was now going to undertake a 250 mile road-trip to Anglesey and back in a bid to locate some much-needed parts.

A drive the day before revealed a sudden drop in coolant level, but this seems largely to have been down to trapped air in the system. I carefully bled the system again, raising the front of the car by driving it onto ramps. Time was running out though, so I could do little else than keep my fingers crossed!

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Ian's BX meets a few friends on its first long drive in years

After about 30 miles, I was really settling into the groove. I had some concerns about a slight looseness in the steering. I suspect a tired strut top and wishbone bushes. There was an occasional scraping from the rear too, which I suspect is flakes of rust resting on the brake disc. I’ll get that checked out. Being a normally aspirated diesel, and the earlier 65bhp incarnation of this engine (later BXs had 71bhp), she was struggling on the hills a bit, and perhaps more than I remember from my last BX. There was no doubt that she was barreling along quite merrily though, especially on the flatter sections. The engine settles down to a gentle hum on the move.

A quick stop at my mate’s house to fit a new accumulator sphere didn’t hold us up for long before we headed out onto the road once more, discovering just how bad the wind noise is. There are many broken window seals, and a massive hole in the boot floor! The tailgate still doesn’t fit very well either.

With parts collected – including a new tailgate – we could return home, with only the rhythmic THUMP of the windscreen wiper detracting from an otherwise easy first trip. I guess that needs some work as well as it’s going off the bottom of the windscreen…

So, still lots to do, but at least the BX seems happy to be used while the work continues. Now it’s just a case of finding the time…

BX – assessing the cost

A quick trip to my ‘local’ garage saw the somewhat iffy exhaust downpipe replaced on the BX. How pleasant it is to have  car which sounds so very different! £78 well spent, especially as replacing it was a fiddly pain in the backside – how nice it was to pay for someone else to struggle with it! In fact,  I was very glad I hadn’t had a go at the job myself – if it was this much of a struggle for two people with it on a ramp, I wouldn’t have fancied my chances with it sitting on axle stands and me lying on my back underneath. A good decision!

BX and Range Rover

New BX project causes some sacrifice on the fleet

A restoration can be a costly business and indeed, I reckon the total expenditure on the BX (including taxing it and collecting it from Bristol) is somewhere around £700. This is why I’m so glad to have sold the Saab – this project needs funding! The Saab isn’t the only casualty on the fleet though – the Range Rover is also going to have to depart. At least I got in while values are still low. Give it another few years and I doubt there will be such thing as a cheap Range Rover Classic…

To get the BX back to nice condition is going to cost a lot more though, which makes for some tricky decisions. This is one of the rarest cars in the UK, yet I don’t expect that putting it on the market would result in a flurry of interest from people with lots of cash. I reckon that just getting it straight and rust free could take my expenditure up to £1500, but it’ll really need a complete stripdown and rebuild to look anyway decent. That could get very expensive indeed, especially when you consider that a BX topping a grand is rare indeed.

There’s also the small matter of not having endless stocks of cash. My wife and I have chosen a low-income lifestyle and cars do seem a very expensive hobby! It will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

 

The BX hits the road

With the BX home, I could crack on with the most important jobs. The new radiator was fitted and I managed to free off the reluctant rear seat belts. Other than that, I thought she stood a pretty good chance of passing an MOT, though not being a tester myself, you never know what might be discovered…

As she sat on the ramp and I got my first proper look at the underside, it was pleasing to see how solid she was. There was a touch of softness in the sill – not near anything critical thankfully – but it’s the nearside sill, which has a ruddy great dent in it anyway. It will be replaced at some point. However, the tester spotted what looks like a serious leak from the water pump. I’d spotted this myself at home and had hoped it was something else.

BX is on the road!

It may be battered and bruised, but the BX is now road legal!

That’s not a real biggy – if you’re changing the timing belt, it’s sensible to fit a new water pump at the same time anyway. If the pump seizes, the belt will rip and the valves of the engine will meet the pistons. Bad news indeed. Parts are on order so look forward to a report on how the change went.

Amazingly though, I got my MOT pass! Or rather the car did. Yes, she looks dreadful but as I thought, she’s actually a good, solid car beneath all the dents. As she’d been in regular use before being stored (and stored pretty well) she feels ready to go.

I’m under no illusion that this project is a long way from over. There is considerable expenditure on bodywork to occur at some point, and the to do list remains sizeable. The priority, as ever, is to get her in regular use and hopefully tackle some of the major bodywork projects next year.