Sunday, September 24, 2017

Our New Baby

Road Trippin’
Steve McCarthy

Our Auld Crates are like our children. We love and cherish them and they frustrate the hell out of us. This comes into sharper focus if you have more than one. Cars OR Children. You get to love them all in different ways, but in no way diminishing the love of one for any of the others. 

Case in point: Our new baby. Yes, the Citroen ID21 Safari Wagon (or “Break,” for some of you) is on the road. Thanks to Wally, Garret, and Junior at Grand Central Citroen in Redlands. Yes, there is a shop that only works on these weirdly wonderful French cars. I got mine, through Wally, from a stash of Froggy Beasts out near Amboy. It was last registered in 1984, but has (according to Wally) “Good Bones.” It’s sat in my drive for some four years, getting a few tweaks here and there, but finally needed the serious attention that Wally and his crew could give it. As Garret says, “Citroens don’t have the problems other cars have. They DO have problems NO other cars have.” It takes more than a $.20 shift (see what I did there? Twenty cents is a pair of dimes? Think about it...I’ll wait...) in more ways than one. 

The engines in these beasts are remarkably stout. So are the gear boxes. With less than 80K on the clock, she’s not a candidate for a rebuild. WHEW! Most cars that sit for Thirty Plus Years have to be gone through. This one? Dump some Marvel Mystery Oil in the spark plug holes, change the oil, gently crank it over to get things circulating and Voila! She’ll run! Not well, but the internals are most likely good to go. 

It’s the external stuff that will need attending. Like the wiring. Dear Mr. Lucas: I humbly apologize for all the slings and arrows I’ve launched your way. Compared to SEV, Marchall, and Ducellier (and yes, I know that’s a French subsidiary of yours) you are a Master of Electrical Design. I mean, who in their right mind makes almost ALL the wires black? With little colored ends that fade to the point that blanc, gris, jaune, et mauve all look the same? And the insulation was made out of something that desert rats thrive on. So, after hours of work with a new harness, a test light and a battery charger for a source of power, I mostly got everything to work. 

The biggest hurdle has been the suspension. That marvelously complex spiderweb of tubes and spheres, and pumps, and magic that wowed the world in 1955 when the “Goddess” (the DS designation was a French pun, “déesse” is French for “goddess”, and ID is pronounce “idée” as in “idea”) was introduce. That took a good month of work by Garret. But now, sea shanties can be sung (WAAY HEY UP SHE RISES!) upon start up and the fluid stays where it’s supposed to. And since the suspension, brakes, and steering are all linked, this is a good thing! 

Driving the Citroen is also a whole new world. The ride is, Spectacular. As Garret commented, if a Citroen starts to ride like a Cadillac, it’s time wonder what’s wrong. The seats and carpet padding combined with the floating smoothness make it seem as if one is driving a Barcalounger! It is, without a doubt, THE most comfortable car ever made. And as a bonus, because the suspension is adjustable, you can set it to a higher ride height, which stiffens the suspension and makes it handle FAR better that it should. The DS didn’t win rally championships on its good looks alone! 

And that brings us to l'éléphant dans la pièce. In 1955, the Pininfarina styling of the DS shook the foundations of the automotive world. It was earth shattering. Look at ANY other car of the era (or for that matter, any other era!) and you know what I mean. Modern cars are only now beginning to catch up, mostly because aerodynamics have been so critical to increasing gas mileage and battery range. The DS STILL has the best coefficient of friction of any production car. Ever. As a result, it’s always been looked upon as “quirky” by the kindest, and down right ugly by most. It is indeed an attention grabber. A week doesn’t go by without someone asking about it. The most noticeable trait is the lack of an apparent radiator grill. The air intake is UNDER the front, taking advantage of the high pressure area to deliver cooling air to the radiator that is several feet back. More and more new cars are using this idée Citroen had back in ’55. And, if you look at the front of an early 911 and compare it to the DS, le voila! Porsche lovers HATE that. 

Then there are the safety features. Citroen was the first company to consider secondary impact as an area of concern. Primary is when the car hits something. Secondary is when YOU hit something. So, the steering wheel has one spoke so it won’t break your sternum, the steering column will collapse. The engine mounts will break and drop the engine UNDER the car instead of into your lap, and the front frame rails are thinner, giving energy eating crush space. When the US government was getting into the safety act, Citroen GAVE them reams of research. Free! It was of course ignored so “consultants” could charge the government to discover what Citroen already knew. sigh.

And all this brings us to our First Road Trip. 

Every year, Citroen-istas in California gather in the Central Coast area to meet, drink wine, and eat cheese and bread. We were excited to show off our new beast. Friday morning we headed out for breakfast in Ventura at the Busy Bee, stopped at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery in Los Alamitos for a baguette, then lunch and the Motel 6 in Atascadero. No need for a route, by now you should know. We cruised along in floating comfort, and only the Cuesta Grade made things get a bit toasty. Yeah, like their English counterparts, French cars are not built for 6% grades in 85 degree weather! Still, we got there, no harm, no foul. 

The group of Francophiles were a wonderfully quirky bunch, all oo la la’ed over our car and laughed at the small modifications I’ve made (the ’50 Caddy tail lights with the Eiffel Tower inserts, the Van Gough Starry Night headliner-complete with LED lights) and a good time was had by all. 

There was the obligatory Gala Dinner and Awards Saturday night, and if Garret and Junior hadn’t shown up the the infamous 24 Hours of Lemons Tour Goddess, we would have easily won the “I can’t believe it got here award.” sigh. 

Sunday was go home day, and after sneaking breakfast at the event hotel (tip-big hotels don’t really check to see if you are a guest at the free buffet breakfast, especially if you are part of a large group) we headed home. All was well until one of the fan belts began to shriek. MERDE! We dove off the 101 into a convenient In ‘n’ Out to assess the problem Good thing we were under 200 miles from home! 

Seems one of the bolts anchoring the hydraulic pump and backed out and was interfering with the alternator belt. We called Garret. He and Junior hadn’t left Atascadero yet and agreed to stop and help. Between the three of us, we got things set right. We thought. Just after Garret and Junior left, the belt began to squeal again. Yes, all the rest was a mere diversion. The alternator was seized. Merde. Again. the good part was that it runs on a separate belt, so, out came the knife, and we were off, driving back on battery power. Thank God for Optima batteries! We made it home, no real worries. 

This trip was the furthest the Citroen had driven since it was hauled out of the desert. It has some teething problems, but promises to be a good daily driver. And no, I haven’t shunned the TR3! Now that other car projects have been dealt with, The Blue Meanie will drive again. 

This is what I meant in the opening. I have the Blue Meanie to drive hard on backroads--nothing will replace it, ever, and the Citroen to be my cruiser. And naturally, the Citroen will be painted bright Ferrari Fly Yellow. After all the Blue Meanie needs a Yellow Submarine!