Then Came the Return, Back to England

With the end of the holiday coming up we knew the drill. Wake up, clean up, followed by your typical continental breakfast before starting on the final leg. Oh, and admiring the receptionist while you are at it. The routine will sound familiar to many of you. Of course, it would have been nice if this was the case. It would be a case of being so close but so far.

Before we left however, I did come across this rarity!  You have to love the old Renaults:

 

 

But there was no time to waste.  We had to get a move on!  The train would not wait for us after all!

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After travelling over 900 miles in the superb Citroen the stress of being dormant for so long was beginning to show. Yup, that clonking from the driveshafts off load was showing no signs of getting quieter. Although the car was actually fine at motorway speeds on the smooth French toll roads.   If you ask me you wonder if the car didn’t want to leave France! After all, this example had been imported to the UK in 2012 with it now being back on home soil.  However, it didn’t stop the car getting plenty of attention.

It certainly was getting a lot of attention in France! At petrol stations the car was a superstar. If people were not looking at it they were videoing the car! I was only hoping to go on a wine trip in an old French car, not to feel like some Z-list celebrity!  However, one bloke did admire our car quite a bit.  A Belgian.  It’s fair to say that we admired his motor too.  Seeing as it was a Jaguar Mk2 it’s not hard to see why.  With some great modifications made including better brakes and larger wheels it was lovely to admire the car.  With him speaking a little bit of English and us a little bit of French we somehow managed to chat for ages and ages.  I guess old cars do that, they have their own language!  It certainly was a great time!

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But we were not foolish.  With the car begging not to be coasted the return journey was going to be interesting.    Somehow we managed to make the boat back to the UK.  Hurrah, we could relax.

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Upon leaving Felixstowe and heading onto the M20 all was looking well. We could keep the speed up to motorway speeds and the traffic was minimal. Unsurprisingly this would all change as soon as we hit the M25, heading towards the Dartford tunnel. The traffic went from being minimal to being surrounded by slow cars everywhere! It’s not an ideal situation in a car that you can’t coast in. With the car knocking more than Katie Price’s assets on a binge fuelled night it was getting tense. We attempted to coast the car but as we failed more and more to do it in the traffic the knocking simply got worse and worse. Eventually we were driving so erratically that motorists behind us must have hated us.

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Despite stopping at two services the traffic showed no signs of slowing down. The car decided it would protest even more. Pulling into South Mimms we heard a metallic banging sound followed by the wheel trim overtaking us. As soon as it hit the kerb we heard a gong! While the car was trying to humour us we were far from impressed. The car was having enough, we were having enough and at this point an RAC truck was not yet an option ; with the traffic we would have been waiting hours for the truck to arrive.   Not what you want after a drive from Cambrai.

 

As the knocking got worse I soon had visions of us ending up in the Herts Tribune, with imagery of the wheel falling off and us going under a truck. Going past Daventry things got worse on the A-roads. The interior of the car got very hot, ideal in a car without a temperature gauge. What’s more, it looked like the Chinese Voltage regulator was having enough with the voltage slow dropping closer and closer to 12V.

 

By some miracle we arrived back home. A feeling of relief, joy and accomplishment all culminated into banter towards the car, towards us and towards future trips with such brilliant planning.  When we got back we soon had an idea of why the car was getting so hot.  The answer stared us in the face when we opened the bonnet:

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Yup, those belts were destroyed!  But let’s be honest, the breakdown was part of the trip!  It made it different, it made it tense.  Dare I say it the trip was possibly a bit more fun!  It’s something to talk about down the pub after all!

So, here is to the next trip!

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And so the Final Curtain ; the Last Leg of the Wine Tour

 

You have to love a bit of a cliffhanger eh? There are you folk eagerly awaiting the presence of wine and wine fields!  What have I been delivering?  Pictures of drunk folk in France as well as a questionable Citroen!  But I guess as they say “Whatever floats your boat”  But wait no more.  There is some wine involved I am glad to say. Vinyards too!

For the final leg of the trip we made it to Beaune, Burgundy.  In this quiet French town we had an Ace up our sleeve ; to book a wine tasting session on a bike!  Were we initially aprehensive?  You bet!  OK.  Most of us were.  I was secretly looking forward to it.  After all I love biking and I like the odd tipple now and again ;).

 

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And so we hit the bikes, provided as part of the wine tour.  This shot is of one of the wine enclosures in the region of Burgundy.  With a relaxed and banter loving French wine tour guide we lapped up the information he gave us.  I never thought I would know so much about wine!  The trick to getting a good bottle of wine besides looking at the punt of the bottle?  See if it originates from a town or an enclosure.  But most of all, use your taste.

It was joyous going around the vinyards.  So lovely that a friend of mine soon forgot he was a Brit and started acting like a Frenchman!

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Although it must be said at least he was cheerier than me!  I was pleased to be there, despite my facial expressions!

 

Before we knew it we had cycled quite a few miles, looked at quite a few vine stalks and crossed over some busy roads!  It was then time to relax.  What better scenery to relax in Burgundy other than the sacred wine fields?

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With the rest period in place it was finally time to cheer to some lovely white wine and to simply lap up the fantastic surroundings.

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It’s fair to say that I choose my place to drink carefully, even with inquisitive Americans about the shop.  But I must say they were great company for the wine tour!  But where was my glass.  And my comrades glasses?  Fear not, we all have a glass eventually!

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But there was no time like the present.  After a quick taste of some OKish “Application” wine we went on and hit the road.  Or rather the cycle path.  The next bit I did not get any photos of.  What the next path entailed was stopping at a winery.  My God the wine was good there and cheap!  Why can’t we get that stuff at similar prices over here?  If I knew I’d probably have started selling the stuff over here!  So good was the stuff that we all ended up bringing back a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir and a ‘Ville’ wine ; A Pommard for those wondering what bottle of Red I returned from France with.

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It was fair to say that the car was doing great! Not so fast!  The next day we drove from Beaune to Cambrai.  Even with no AC we were loving sitting in the old Citroen with the engine lapping up the miles with ease and the suspension absorbing every little bump.  Even a whiff of petrol now and again could not break that illusion!  That would all change when we came off the motorway when we decided to visit Laon, where the superb Laon Historique event is held (http://www.circuit-historique-laon.com/en/).  It seemed the car however was not too keen to go to Laon, or should I say to not leave France again.

Yup, as soon as I pulled off the motorway I heard clunk clunk clunk coming from the offside wheel while coasting.  Going slower and thus coasting more seemed to make it worse!  Bad enough for me to consider left foot braking while I wasn’t on the accelerator!  With the noise and feeling of it getting no there was nothing for it except to pull over.

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With this in mind we let the car rest for a bit and gingerly pushed onto Cambrai.  It was time for a well earned beer but also to see how we would make it back to the UK.

 

 

Another Step into France : The French Wine Tour Continued

A few of you have been wondering where all of the vinyards have been.  It has to be said that considering this was meant to be a wine tour there were not many vinyards until we hit Burgundy.  Then we were surrounded by them for as far as the eye could see.  But something else would also come to surround us for a few hours.

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It would be the wonderful Chateau de Sauvigny-Les Beaune ; more can be found out above this place from their website (https://www.chateau-savigny.com).  Upon first going through the gates it looked like an old and slightly collapsing Chateau with a few statues around the place.  This perception would soon go as we went towards the back of the place.

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Yup, there were planes about.  Quite admiral things too. However, there were more than just a few out.  The plane section was almost like a plane graveyard!  There were so many old planes to see!

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Sure, a few of them, well, many of them needed a like of paint but it was great to see so many about!  But truth be told we could have spent all day admiring the aircraft.  It was time to see the meat and potatoes of this place ; the cars.  You could see any car than you liked, as long as it was a Fiat.  Open Garage Sessions (75 of 106)

Yup, there were a few archetypal Fiat 500s present.  But it was not just about the smaller stuff.  A lot more Italian metal was present with quite a few cars having some racing heritage about them.  Some of the Italian cars I did not know even existed!

 

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Will you just look at that carpet?  Sure it was worn, well used and looking a little threadbare.  But I really wanted to take a piece of that back!  I mean, that would look superb in your house! But it was not to be.  As always it was great to see some engines in the mix.  In this case unsurprisingly the well renowned Fiat Twin-Cam amongst some of the more specialist exhibits:

 

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However, there was another element to which it seemed the Chateau’s owner was drawn to; Motorbikes.  How many?  Loads!  If you thought you saw enough planes the number of bikes overshadowed both of them!

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I will be honest, I have not been the biggest biker fan but I can appreciate decent bits of machinery.  And wow, it’s great see the development of the motorbike as time went on by.

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But in the searing heat I had spent more than enough time in this outbuilding.  Or rather my friends had in the 30+ degrees Celsius temperatures.  With than in mind it was time to head over to the dilapidated, but charming Chateau itself.  What a picture.  What a masterpiece:

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But then it was time to venture into the castle.  There were a few rooms downstairs showing where the maids were and where people wined and dined.  It was great to see all of this, and to imagine what life might have been like back all those years ago:

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However, it was then time to look elsewhere.  As great as the brickwork was it was time to head upstairs to many more bikes and and to several modern aeroplanes.  The very same you would see in the airports for promoting the airlines:

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One of the bikes which caught my attention was this Wankel engined marvel.  In many ways you think a Wankel engine would have been the right combination for a bike.  After all, they are lightweight and have a high specific output if you go with the weight figure.  It’s fair to say that this idea did not take off

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That said it was enjoyable walking around the place.  Not all of the stuff was gleaming either.  Amongst the abundance of shiny metal there was plenty of metal requiring a bit of love.  But the tired old stuff did also have a tale of its own.  A tale of what it was subjected.  It had history embedded into bodywork.  It had take the worst of what France could throw and it and still just about live to tell the tale.  You have to love patina.

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Yup, I was smitten with this place!  But there was no time like the present.  As great as the scenery was we were best to follow the title of Queen “This Show Must Go On”.  So in the wonderful DS we left this wonderful place.

 

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Well, I say wonderful DS, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.  It did after all have a way of making itself known by smell.  How?  By spitting fuel out of the breather.  So what if you brimmed the tank to the top?  A splash came out of the vent pipe. But surely it would be fine if you took a right hand corner?  You wish!  The smell of choice what would be L’eau de Sans-Plomb, of the 98 octane flavour.  Somehow despite this the old girl still managed to get 24MPG.  Yes.  A 70s car with troublesome injection system and leaking all over the shop still managed 24MPG.  You can’t really complain eh?

So what would be the next step?  That’s easy.  More vineyards!  What do they say? Onwards and upwards.

 

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Further Into the Wine Region! Avec une DS!

I left the tale with my friends and I staying in Reims.  Honestly?  There is not alot to report.  Out we went for a meal and a couple of glasses of wine.  After a couple of glasses along with a few more and a few more beers the night became quite a long one!  Somehow I do remember getting back to the hotel.  The next morning however would prove to be interesting.  While I was not too hungover for reasons unknown my friends were in a horrendous state!  All I shall say is that it is the good job that the DS has bench seats up front!

 

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It is fair to say that Reims took its toll

That said I could not think of a comfier way to relax during midday in Reims!  But there was no time for napping!  After grabbing a few snacks and drinks it was time to venture into the rest of Reims.  The first thing to mark off the list was a bit of cathedral spotting.  Sad I know but somebody has to do it.  It’s also a nice way to pass the time on by.  However, like all cathedrals it was decorated with scaffolding.  What on earth is it with the eternal scaffolding in place?  Sure, I know they are larger buildings but could there not be one day when they are free of the dreaded poles and clamps?

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A Cathedral!

That said, the reason we had come to Reims was not just because of a cathedral.  Oh no.  It was a place we picked as a break for the Citroen.  The old girl would now have a chance to put its legs up after its longest journey in 3 years.  While the car put its legs up we could check out the great Museé de Reims Automobile, a stone’s throw away from the city centre.  However, we would need a rest in the museum as well ; it was like a greenhouse inside there.  It did not however spoil us from looking at a few rare French fancies.

I for one never realised a sporty Citroen BX was made.  OK, we all know about the GTI, but what about this 4×4?  It’s certainly one way to add alot of appeal to an 80s Citroen!

Citroen French Wine Tour (8 of 34)With its quad lights, bonnet bulge and quad driving lights up front complimented by the CX Prestige wheels it is certainly one way to imagine what a BX would look like on steriods.  That said, there was enough French metal there for everyone.  A CX Prestige had us all going weak at the knees as did the much coveted Renault Alpine A110.  It was a truly great place to wonder about in.

 

Before we knew it 5pm had arrived, and we had to press on to our next destination, Villeferry.  This very quite town is situated just outside of Dijon and until driving into it I would not have given it a second look.

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But with such stunning scenery surrounding us in addition to the great roads leading up to it just had us lapping up the scenery with ease.  The Citroen itself also proved to be the perfect car for such a trip.

That however was not all.  We all enjoyed a superb dinner with what must be one of the best bits of scenery I have ever enjoyed while eating in addition to a truly superb steak.  It literally fell apart in your knife and fork.  The Pistonklause in Nurburg? Take note.

But even in a place as picturesque and remote as this there was still some old tin to admire.  I managed to stumble across what only looked like an old wrecker’s yard.  Where cars were laid to rest, maybe to provide spares for other cars or to be revived one day in the distant future.  That said, there was still some unfamiliar tin present there.

 

After a great night’s sleep we noticed that there was a distinct lack of vinyards about.  But with all of the scenery as well as passing the Source of the River Seine we were simply soaking up the scenery like a sponge.

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But eventually we could come to what we came looking for.  Vinyards.  Yup, we were finally in Burgundy.

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It’s time for Progress with the Wine Tour! Real Progress!

Before we knew it D-Day had arrived. After giving the car a wash the night prior to the big drive we had a couple of beers placing bets as to whether the car would even would make it to Dover before we retired to our beds. Just to prepare us for the trip we took plenty of LHM (about 5 litres worth!), some engine and gearbox oil, many many tools as well as ourselves and our baggage, obviously.

With an early start during the next morning we were surprised that it managed to make it to Watford Gap! With such a great outcome we decided to grab some breakfast. After all, we had pretty big sights in store for a car that had covered less than a 100 miles in 3 years! It’s about the small steps at times!

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Just Ignore the Wings!  It’s all fine!

It’s fair to say that it at least looked the part!  OK, the wings looked a little off colour and showed every single ripple with the filler now gone.  I call it the Cellulite look.  But there was no time to hang around.  With a coffee drank and breakfast consumed it was time to crack on.

On the road the car seemed to be performing fine.  The engine pulled very well, the suspension as a passenger seemed very comfortable and even the Chinese voltage regulator in place of the original points based setup held a constant 14 Volts!  Maybe we were worrying too much!

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This would be until we hit passport control at the Channel Tunnel.  The car died without any warning.  It’s fair to say it was not an ideal place to break down!  The car tried to cough back into life but eventually it was fine.  It was traced back to a faulty connection to the fuel pump relay!  The old girl was showing us some promise!  Without further ado there was nothing left to do short of boarding the train, as Ocean Colour Scene once said.  OK, it was something like that.

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With the sun out, the temperature being firmly in the high 20s and low 30s there was nothing else left to do but to hit the road and settle down to a 120km/h cruise down to our first destination.  With the car looking like it would be fine it’s fair to say that we were all fairly content with the situation!

 

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With that in mind we pushed on to our first destination with me taking the keys behind the wheel.  So, how was it?  The steering is certainly strange.  Maybe there is an issue with this car but the steering refused to self centre at all.  Do a tight right hander and the steering will stay there!  However, the car just glid down the autoroutes effortlessly at 120 and 130km/h without a problem.  The column gear change is a strange one to use but soon becomes OK to use after a bit of practice.  The body roll is comical but it’s forgiven with its frankly untouchable ride quality ; not much seems to ride like a Citroen DS!  It certainly felt like the right car for the trip!

But where would I stop the car?  That’s easy.  The one and only Reims!

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There may not be much left but there is something certainly quite special about this place!  The spirit of the place is still very much there.  May that be a local putting his foot down hard past the pit garages if it’s not a tourist.  There never appears to be a moment when there is no one about anyway!

While we were progressing nicely there were reminders still present that our car was an old girl and with the risk associated with it!  This gorgeous Maserati illustrated that point. Unfortunately his ride back home was on a low loader.

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With that in mind it was time to go to the hotel to retire and to give the car and us a rest.   It was now a test to see if we or the car would crack first.  After all, this was a wine tour.

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How to Get a Car Ready for a French Wine Tour!

I left the blog last time with a few hints as to what the Citroen needed in order to get it ready.  On paper at the start it looked easy.  Very much like a political party’s manifesto.  Back in 2014 it looked like all the car would need would be:

  • The handbrake sorting ; the springs were fitted incorrectly and the pads close to being fully worn
  • Suspension leaks sorting ; the car would lower itself quite quickly before and left a trail of LHM wherever it was parked!
  • Seatbelts fitting ; The static belts up front would go to make room for period themed inertia reel items.  Furthermore rear seatbelts would be fitted
  • Change the tyres ; It had 15 year old Vredesteins all round ; it wanted the correct but expensive Michelin XVS tyres on it ; the tyres designed for the car by Michelin.
  • Sort out the chromework.  In particular the interior door handles, and the Pallas spec boot hinges ; these were badly pitted with the former having zero chrome left on them.

It sounds easy eh?  With a car that looks this good on the floor you would think it would be:

 

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As the tinkerer and restorer of us know, even if the car does quite a few miles without the aforementioned issues life is not quite as easy as you think, especially when it is put into practice.

Remember the wonderful D-Jetronic system I mentioned?  With things being moved around and wiring only the French have the ability of understanding after being left the keys to the wine celler it was a source of mant headaches.  This ranged from the ECU (yes, it does have one!) not powering up or staying on the entire time!

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Yup, for reasons unknown to man the French decided to colour the connectors and not the wires?  Why?  Maybe they ran out of the coloured wires.  But maybe it is a hint to simply how cash strapped Citroen were during the development of the DS yet somehow keeping the dream of something out of the ordinary alive. Even getting a battery that did not short itself out on the battery clamp was a mission!

If only that had been the only issue.  The suspension would require more work.  Manydifferent spheres were fitted to the DS over its life.  This car however seemed to have spheres from all sorts of Citroens on it!  This would be yet more time and money put towards the correct parts. At least with a new steering rack, spheres, regulator and pipes fitted the car would stand a chance of performing well.

 

 

But this old Citroen had a bigger issue hiding beneath its skirt, or should I say the underseal.  Rust.

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Yup, beneath the carpets and underseal the car was not a pretty sight at all, despite being for the best part solid as the rear inner wing/chassis rail and rear panel shots show.  Worse still, the front wings after soda blasting looked more like they belonged in the team rooms rather than the car.  Some painstaking reconstructive surgery would soon have them being good once again along with a new panel and other metalwork carried out in 2017:

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Oooh, look, a new rear panel!

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In the words of a Magpie, SHINY!!!

With the Citroen slowly becoming less rotten it certainly looked like it was getting there.  OK, maybe that is an exxageration but you have to look at the positives at times!

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After a lick of paint once the suspension parts were replaced it was all beginning to come together:

 

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With the wings back in place, the boot tidied up and the wings back from the paintshop all was beginning to look well for now. With the Michelins now on the car and the tinwork being correctly painted what could possibly stop this resto?

Even the lights were working well!  The DS had its iconic eyes back.  Eyes so wonderful that they have been the trademark of the DS.  Not even them looking a little like Dame Edna’s glasses after she has had a hit of acid with the turning lights cannot shake their beauty.

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However, not even the darkness could hide the shoddiness of the paintjob on the wings. And man they were bad.  I guess when you are attempting to ready a car weeks before it hits a 1200 mile roadtrip compromises have to be made:

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Before we knew it it was a day before the 1200 mile trip.  How many road tests had the car had?  A few.  Up and down a dual carriageway nearby.  What could possibly go wrong?

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One Way To Do a French Wine Tour, DS Style

Now and again a number of ideas seem great when they are idly mentioned. Where a couple of beers are involved the ideas seemed to be freer flowing amongst friends. It was of little surprise in that case that the idea of touring a wine region of France seemed like a great idea. This would not be achieved by simply flying over either or driving whatever car for the trip. Oh no. A special trip would demand a special car. In this case it would be a friend’s recently acquired Citroen DS21 Pallas.

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It looked so good!

Yup, a friend of mine a few years ago decided to buy a rather lovely yet iconic Citroen.   Initially you wonder what the fuss is about. This would all change after a ride in the car, where the serene ride quality won us over by the spades. Speed bump up ahead? Not a problem. Even the engine which has a reputation for being legarghic seemed acceptable. That was thanks to this being a rare ‘Injectione Electronique’ model with Bosch D-Jetronic injection.

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Was that extra 30BHP worth getting a car with Injection for?

 

That said all of us were aware of the car’s issues. It had a couple of leaks from the suspension system, and like any old car it was temperamental. This would prove to be the case as the owner tackled many parts of it with some bits baffling him as well as a classic car repairers.  The steering rack for example was not like a normal item when it came to replacing it!  It seemed to be buried deep within the car with its share of fixtures shearing and so on!

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As we found out they seem to work best on the correct Michelin tyres ; this was shod on very old Vredesteins.

As time went on by the regions for visiting were also discussed. Burgundy seemed to fit the bill very nicely, with the reservations being put in place.

Towards 2016 things seemed to look up but the scale of what my friend was up against did start to dawn on us!

 

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You’re only meant to blow the bloody door off!

Even I ended up helping out.  That was me pretending to be a drunk French mechanic on the job.  As like anything French from that era everything was a little different.  Most drums I have seen only require adjustment from one place.  In the case of a DS that is 4 places per drum!

 

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Fast forward to 2017 and the car was still not quite ready! The injection system was playing up as was the charging system. If that was not enough there was Chromework of the car with specialists awaiting refurbishment. All of a sudden the scale of what lay ahead seemed to dawn on us!  With the wings still being in primer a month before we were due to leave it hardly filled us with confidence!

 

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We even wondered if our backup car would be a Ropey DS that we spotted in Amsterdam!  At least that was a runner!

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Little did we know my friend’s DS would end up getting the wings fitted after being repaired in addition to even getting an MOT.  Surely with a first time pass days before the trip all would be well?

 

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