So who'd be daft enough to buy a ropey Citroen CX when you're short of cash and don't have the skills to fix stuff yourself? Yup, I would... look, I just really wanted a CX, OK? Especially a C-matic one. Which this was.
I always thought it was a bit of a strange old bus, this. Those amazing futuristic looks, the smooth ride, the brilliant interior, the semi-automatic gearbox (which really suited the car)... then you open the bonnet and there's a big old 4 cylinder lump from a Traction Avant hiding under there.
There was just so much wrong with this car but I never cared. Honestly, I could forgive it anything. It even charmed my dad.
It didn't seem too bad when I bought it... it was cheap and a bit frilly round the edges, but it mostly worked. Some electrical niggles because French, but it went and stopped as it should.
The work dried up again but this time I was ready for it and decided to bugger off to France for the winter. Unfortunately I realised that MoT would run out very soon after getting there, which would be bad, so packed it in for a test a couple of days before I was due to leave. It failed on... well, everything. And I had neither time nor money to fix it before having to leave.
I mentioned it had charmed my dad. He was willing to put the car up in his garage while I was away so I got on a Eurostar and forgot about it. That is, until Dad came to visit me in France and only bloody turned up in the CX! He'd had everything fixed for the MoT and even applied some filler and paint over the worst of the visible rust. It sounds like it didn't want to be fixed, as some vital (and expensive) component had failed while it was sitting in the garage and pissed LHM all over the floor. Believe me, that stuff stains concrete like nothing else.
Anyway, I had wheels in France - and far more suitable to the terrain than the P6 had been last time I was there. Fortunately the P6 had behaved itself, as I strongly doubt you'd find many '70s Rover parts over there, but the CX knew it would be well looked after so it showed no restraint in breaking down at every possible opportunity. I was genuinely impressed by French mechanics though. When the accumulator sphere went, they cross-referenced it in the book and discovered that it's basically the same part from the DS up to early Xantias and just charged me accordingly (the mechanic did drive into the lift post because he wasn't used to RHD cars, but he didn't damage anything so it doesn't really matter). Compare that to the £500 each that the Citroen dealer in Beckenham quoted me for wheel spheres after I'd got back to the UK...
Having said that, the worst FTP was caused by an idiotic French mechanic. The battery went so I popped into the nearest place (a Renault dealer/mechanic just opposite my flat) and they offered to fit it for free, as the car happened to be parked outside. Great, until a few days later when the car came to a spectacular halt. At the sight of smoke I pulled the key out of the ignition, which did not halt the engine. I popped the bonnet and pulled the earth lead off the battery, noticing in the process that it had slid across the engine bay and into all the spinny turny fanny alternatory bits on the engine that then ate the wiring. Granted, the restraining plate was a bit rusty and buggered but they could have made some effort to bolt the battery down, no? Anyway, despite a total lack of help from the Gendarme who turned up to tell me off, I pushed the car to the side of the road where some electricians were replacing a shop sign. They lent me some tools and a big roll of electrical tape, and I twisted all the broken wires back together. By some miracle it all worked! I took it to an auto-electrician for a proper repair but to their credit they didn't want to take my money - it would have been an enormous job, replacing large parts of the loom, so they advised me to leave my temporary repair alone for as long as it was working.
It also delighted in minor electrical annoyances and quality control issues, because French. One of the front indicators fell out, and when I sourced a replacement from a scrapyard I wasn't really surprised because they're held in by some really flimsy thin metal clips. The headlamp switch failed in a way which made smoke pour out of it when you put the main beams on (flashing them was OK though). I just stopped using the main beams, and honestly forgot all about it until the next MoT which led to a mildly amusing fail sheet.
Another good one was when I came back to France after a quick Eurostar visit home for Christmas. I'd left the car parked at the offices of one of the companies I was training in, and when I came back it was both covered in snow and also wouldn't start. Everywhere was still closed for Christmas and I hadn't seen a soul, but a couple of blokes - caretakers presumably - turned up at the sound of English swearing and swiftly made a diagnosis. A small air leak in a tiny hose that leads to the carb - electrical tape to the rescue again and all was well.
The journey home was quite entertaining. I'd been quite enjoying myself - as a long-distance cruiser the CX is truly unsurpassed, and with French autoroutes being so much quieter than British motorways it was a relaxing drive from Nancy back to Calais. Thanks to 18mpg thirst (remarkably consistent, no matter how I drove it) I found myself stopping for petrol sooner than I needed a rest or a pee. When I arrived at Calais I was waved straight onto the waiting ferry, which has never happened before, but I figured out why when the STOP lamp went on when I was half-way up the ramp and when I came to a halt I realised all the water was pissing out. Surprisingly you can't buy coolant on a car ferry, so I topped the rad up at the first petrol station in Dover and drove carefully home. Where I had to replace the radiator.
More comedy French luxobarge shenanigans after the break.