Our Cars : Mike’s Xantia – Très bon or Les Misérables?
Well, it’s been a few weeks since the Rover 75 vanished into the darkness on that snowy Tuesday evening towards the Anglian parish of Colchester. I was half-expecting some withdrawal symptoms from losing the warm cosy deep-pile seats and the ember glow of the dials when driving at night. Yes, I miss the old girl of course but, boy, am I having fun with the replacement. The Citroën Xantia TD SX which Keith purchased from my neighbour’s father (which, for the record, Keith had lent me pretty much the whole time he had it) now resides on my driveway.
On face value the Xantia has little going for it – well, it’s dark green, old, a bit raggy around the gills and some kind soul fitted all the clocks and driving controls on the wrong side of the interior but, apart from that – what a machine. To be honest, I bonded with the damn thing even before my moniker was scratched onto the V5 but I wondered if the feeling would remain once I was in legal ownership and how well would it stack up as a daily hack. Would it be a classic French romance story or would it turn out to be a much-regretted purchase?
The original owner used to visit my neighbour travelling over from mainland Spain once or twice a year and, on each occasion, I would wield the odd spanner on her so I kind of knew she was okay. This was partly the reason it was snapped up following the owner finding no buyer here in Blighty with the exception of the scrap metal merchants. After my Father fell seriously ill over the festive period, the Xantia ended up being hammered to and fro between leafy Horsham and Northampton covering a few miles in a short space of time, so there was no margin for unreliability whatsoever.
Not only that, but it’s been thrapped down to southern Kent once or twice as well as my 50-mile round trip commute to work. Honestly, I have barely stopped moving since the back end of December but I am pleased to report that my dad, bless ‘im, and the Citroën are both doing fine. There has, of course, (in the French car tradition) been one or two items requiring some fettling and attention, but nothing stopping it in its tracks. A small piece of rubbing trim decided to fall of and I have managed to snap off a heater slider knob, but nowt a new trim clip and a dab of super glue failed to put right.
Driving on the wrong side was initially interesting too, especially at night when you are a touch fatigued from a solid day’s toil. Thankfully, fellow motorists are keen to put you on the straight and narrow with a blast of full beam and a friendly gesticulation as you meet on a blind bend with your offside tyres rattling over the cats eyes. With fuel consumption remaining on the right side of 45mpg regardless of whether you are wearing wearing slippers or Doc Martens and a ride comfort as relaxing as a candlelit bath while a Sacha Distel LP trills distantly on the stereogram – I’m impressed.
The only concern I had was the brakes or, more to the point, the lack of them. A small point I know, but I find a good set of anchors comes in handy. For those who don’t know, Citroëns with the Hydropneumatic set up can have alarmingly sharp brakes compared to conventional tin though no way as scary as on the DS or CX ranges of yore. The system was, to a degree, tamed with the BX and even more so with the Xantia yet it still requires a little acclimatisation – stamp on the middle peddle as you would in a Mondeo and you may just have to remove the following Fiesta from the boot with surgery.
When I last serviced the car for the original keeper I advised him of the badly worn discs on the front, fast forward to the present and the grumbling juddering front brakes confirmed they still needed attention. So imagine my surprise when, after removing the front wheels only this morning, I found new-looking discs and barely worn brake pads. It seems that the car had been fitted with new brakes but of seemingly poor quality or subjected to some monumental abuse, closer inspection showed the pads to be of Bendix origin though maybe from the maker of food mixers rather than of friction.
Stripping down the front callipers showed no sign of overheating or glazing but both offside pads featured a large crack in the lining which went right down to the backing plate – amazing considering less than 2mm of wear was present. The discs were also in a condition which you would find on a car at its first service with only the slightest surface wear being evident but use the brakes for more than two or three good pulls and the juddering was quite severe. Might these have been Chinese copy items or simply a poor quality set? I’ll never know but an hour later all was good again.
The opportunity was also taken to tickle the handbrake adjustment too (which operates on the front wheels) and get the car right up off the ground for a damn good look underneath. Obviously its a climate thing but all the brake/hydraulic lines are original and that also seems to apply to the exhaust. Spending the majority of time on the Mediterranean mainland has certainly made a difference in preservation – it’s almost like a new car underneath. The initial complexity is actually a clever disguise as most of the running gear is fairly easy to comprehend and tackle – just don’t snap a clutch cable!
On the ‘silly list’ of items to attend has been throwing away the juddering squeaking wiper blades, a new bulb in the instrument cluster, a new bulb in the heater panel and the slowing down of the idle speed from 950 to a more ideal 800rpm. The Bosch BVPE type fuel pump has had the vacuum demand setting altered slightly to provide a touch more turbo boost at very low revs while the occasional sky rocketing temperature needle that would read over 100 degrees proved to be nothing more than a dirty plug connector on the thermostat housing.
Going from a proper sorted Rover 75 to bashed and grazed green LHD Citroën took a little selling to ‘er in doors, of course. It didn’t take long for her to realise what made them popular as she initially commented on how smooth they feel and ride on our first public outing. She likes the feeling of space and remarks how useless the heater in her Golf feels compared the Citroën too but she’s far from enamoured by the slightly bruised exterior. With this I switched into full salesman mode with the quip ‘but madam, beauty is only but skin deep’. A slightly disapproving face was then pulled in acceptance – YES! Official approval.
I was a little worried at first at having a green crate sitting on the drive and most of the locals paid their respects to the passing of the 75 within days of her being sold. One jovial local asked if it was my own mid-life crisis which made me chuckle but that’s so true. Some men in their 40s ,after years of mundane Mondeo motoring, learn to ride and get a high-powered bike or even worse a Harley while others leave the wife and kids for a 19-year old dental assistant. However, on the other hand, I’ve opted to take the plunge with an old Citroën Xantia – oh, yeah baby, we know how to excess in Horsham!
Anyway, to conclude, the Xantia has quickly covered just over 2000 miles in my ownership with nothing more than wear and tear matters to put right. Fuel consumption is pretty good, the engine pulls from its boots and has seen off half a pint of oil – it’s all positive stuff so far. The ride and drive is so smooth that you really do have to keep one eye on the clocks on the motorway as there is very little feeling of speed when driving quickly – I just wish I had taken the plunge and bought a singing and dancing old-school, new-wave Citroën years ago: they really are that good!