Our Cars : Mike’s Xantia – Très bon or Les Misérables?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble:

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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.

New Mintex pads and discs have cured the vocal and juddering old ones.
New Mintex pads and discs have cured the vocal and juddering old ones.

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.

Cheap copy or poor quality? These Bendix branded pads were like new but featured a fatal and worrying deep crack in the material.
Cheap copy or poor quality? These Bendix branded pads were like new but featured a fatal and worrying deep crack in the material.

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!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

22 Comments

  1. Times I miss my Xantia, though they are getting old now with the youngest 10+ year old, wasn’t enamoured with the looks and complexity of the mk1 C5.

    Remember picking it up from London, driving it up the M6 back to Belfast, on the M6 and reach the end of a traffic queue. Dab the brakes and VOOM the nose dives and it nearly emergency stops. That taught me to be gentle on the brakes.

    Renewing the pads, with the handbrake on front winding the piston was a bit more complex than the usual G-clamp tighten, using a screwdriver blade to wind it back like a clockwork mechanism. Was there for about an hour.

    And I remember mucking about in a snowy car park with a pal, pulled the handbrake, and it just stopped the front wheels. I could imagine it with a gallic shrug saying “I do not like the snow.”

    With the handbrake on the front early models were subject to a recall, when it was found that when the front discs and pads cooled after a journey, they would loosen, effectively taking the handbrake off your Xantia to roll down the drive.

    Renewing the spheres wasn’t too bad, the front ones screwed and unscrewed, the rear ones underneath were a bit tighter but a bit of brute force and they were eventually freed.

    1.8 engine was reliable enough, it did seem to feel like cutting out once, but a new idle stepper motor and some air intake cleaner in the system and it never did it again. The revs were quite slow to come down though, which meant you had to take it easy changing gear unless you wanted to rev it up.

    How do you find LHD for overtaking tractors and the like? Can be difficult enough on some roads with RHD!

  2. That dark metallic green was a really popular colour for cars in the mid-late 90s, I remember so many cars of that era being that colour.

  3. Bendix pads are a name I havent heard of in ages! These days it’s usually Ferodo, Mintex, Unipart, Bosch etc. My Focus recently had its disc pads replaced with Motorcraft and as the last ones did over 23K miles, I would expect similar wear expectancy.

  4. “With the handbrake on the front early models were subject to a recall, when it was found that when the front discs and pads cooled after a journey, they would loosen, effectively taking the handbrake off your Xantia to roll down the drive.”

    Happened to my first BX too. It was 18 months old when I bought it, and I remember so well it rolling down the street to bump gently into a neighbour’s… Citroen BX. From that moment on, I always parked with the car in gear – a habit I’ve retained to this day.

  5. This is a great message to all the French Car haters….

    Your car is almost free to run…and when you come to sell it, I think you will easily as once youve fettled it would be ideal for the 2nd home owner in France. (Used cars are more money there!)

  6. These seem to be becoming rare now. It’s a shame in a way as these were the last of the classic Citroens and in diesel form an economical car with an engine that could do 200,000 miles if serviced every year.
    My neighbour, until he decided to change it due to a change in his finances, ran an N reg Citroen ZX until last week, and for all it was looking tatty and old, always started, returned 50 mpg, and was cheap as chips to run. I daresay the next owner will probably enjoy it as a kind of bangernomics.

  7. Hope your old man is better, oh, and have fun with the 19 year old dentist’s assistant!

    Open wide and say ‘aaaaaaaaaagh’.

  8. If you get bored, just shove it on Le bon coin. I know a couple of ex pats in Frogland who would probably take it off your hands

  9. @7, I have never hated french cars,speaking for myself of course,i just feel let down by them now,no quirkiness no flair-i do not rate the DS3 or 5.I love the Traction Avant though!

  10. I like Xantias, I’ve had 2 recently, a 1995 1.9D LX and a 1996 1.9TD SX estate. The 1.9D was a relaxing drive, but kept up with traffic surprisingly well. The TD estate is easier to drive quickly but still quite slow.
    I love the unflustered hydropneumatic ride and self levelling.

    C5s are unfairly maligned I think. My neighbour has owned his early one from nearly new, with no abnormal problems, my friend runs 2 of them and they’ve been reliable too.

  11. I had an XUD Xantia in 96. It was quite good solid and felt well build. It was a tad underpowered as the engine was only 85 bhp. However it must have had the most uncomfortable seats I have ever experiences. Always remember the front brakes constant squealed despite being regularly cleaned

  12. The late 1980s – early 1990s Citroens seem to be popular with the bangernomic crowd, especially the XUD engined examples.

  13. Pleased to here the Xantia is going well. My Dad had two after two BX’s. I appreciate their merits. However, you know what I’m going to say next, don’t you? On terms of a ‘specialness’ rating it’s your old 75, ten; this Citroen Xantia, five.

    Also, good that your Dad’s fine, Mike. I’m afraid my Dad’s downward decline continues…..

  14. I would say the Xantia is more exclusive than the 75 as they are becoming rare and were the last of the real Citroens( blandness beckoned with the C5 and the Xsara). I’d love a feature on that rare classic, the Citroen CX, a truly exciting car that was in production for 15 years.

  15. @ No18….in my yoof I had a scrap with a cossie along one of Londons main roads….in a CX25 turbo 2.

    It moved…

    It held the bends….

    There is a funny lever near the hand break (I think) that made it ride lower…

    The cossie chickened out first…

    awesome…

    Please ARONLINE….can we have an article about the CX

  16. Glenn @18

    Yes, I see your point about the Xantia being rarer than the 75. Somehow, though, I never found the Xantia that characterful. If the bland interior had been replaced with something more Citroen and the attractive shape given a few touches of distinctive trim I think I’d have liked it a lot more.

  17. @20 The Xantia is fairly attractive and has aged very well, a similar vintage Pug looks ancient in comparison and of course they do drive like Citroëns should – wonderfully supple and unfussed. A massively under-rated car, Xantias are pretty reliable, resist tinworm and drive very nicely indeed. Who wants “character” in the form of drum speedos and non-cancelling press button indicators? Not me. the Xantia is an excellent blend of what Citroën does well with what the rest of the industry does well.

  18. This makes me all the more furious that Citroen have pretty well abandoned hydraulic suspension. Only the very top of the C5 range still has it. French cars are great. I wish the French would make some, instead of trying to give us copies of the same old German rubbish.

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