Tags: 2CV, check list, citroen, mechanic, repair
Fortunately, I have become the owner of my third 2CV at a point in my life when I can bear unexpected significant expense. However, so that others may avoid a similar journey and to help us, as a community, combat the rising tide of ‘bodgers’ here’s a story…
I bought my first 2CV to learn to drive. I was twenty and needed to finance it solely on a barman’s wage, so my primary consideration when choosing a car was the insurance cost. This left me a shortlist of Austin Mini (998cc) or 2CV (602cc).
I’m not a ‘petrol head’, I’ve never and still am not ‘into’ cars, they are tools to convey one from A to B. My choice was not emotional: I chose the 2CV because it was the cheapest option in every way.
However, 2CVs are different. Unlike other cars, when they break or get bashed, simply tossing it away doesn’t feel like an option. Even when I bought my first one there was a sense that owning a 2CV imposed a responsibility to preserve a piece of history actually worth preserving.
Why? For me, their balance of utility and design (function and form) are deeply pleasing and they are simply wonderful fun – for driver, passenger and bystander alike.
Over the years, I’ve observed reactions to other classics, and prestige motors but nothing elicits a smile or conversation like a 2CV. Whether it’s the Harley rider at the traffic-lights, Derek Jacobi slowing his E-type to indulge his eye while doing 70 on the A34, the smiles of children, or the beautiful lady whose attention was caught and then held.
In addition, they are great teachers of mechanics and driving skill. Their lack of power forces the driver to become expert at developing and preserving momentum: efficient use of gears, engine, brakes and, most important of all, anticipation (‘reading the road’). The latter not only makes for more efficient/faster/cheaper driving but also safer driving, for everyone. A parallel is the observation, by a WWII ace (Hans Ulrich Rudel), that the best pilots had learned to fly on gliders.
So, 2CVs are wonderful. It is shameful, then, when they become the victim of abuse that not only harms them but makes them dangerous.
In May of 2013 I went to view a 1986, 89,000 mile, long MOT Charleston I’d provisionally purchased via eBay for £2,500. I prepared my inspection list (from experience, online and talking to my old 2CV mechanic), took overalls and a torch. Having owned and tinkered on 2CVs before I felt confident I could spot a dud.
The paperwork had some gaps but I spotted nothing alarming and my 90min inspection revealed the sort of minor errors I’d expect in an old car where owners could be expected to have occasionally ‘had a go’. The only things that gave me genuine pause for thought were a riveted panel in the driver-side footwell and liberal use of thick black sealant. I conciliated myself with the knowledge that the former was a common problem area easily repaired by welding. The latter worried me more but I took a gamble that it indicated a previous owner determined to protect and preserve, rather than hide and cheat.
I handed over the cash, pleased to be a 2CVer again.
Within a week, I’d taken it for inspection to my old 2CV wizard (Jeff Colmer, near Winchester). He did a thorough visual inspection, fixed the minor things on my list, but gave it a general thumbs up. 30mins after leaving Jeff the engine spectacularly shattered as I was doing 70 up the A34.
It transpires that a previous owner (hereafter referred to as ‘bodger’) had replaced the barrels and pistons but had forced them in such a way as to crumple their ends.
Having run sweetly (at pace) from Essex to Rugby and Rugby to Winchester and being hidden within its metal heart, there was no hint, or way of knowing, this fault existed. Even the dummkopf that made this mistake probably had no idea what he’d done. Jeff’s theory was that by correcting the oil level we’d changed the pressure enough for it to finally fail.
Jeff put in three engines before finding one that worked (N.B. only charged for one and did not charge for the extra labour involved). I was nearly a grand lighter within a week of purchase and an irreplaceable 2CV engine had been lost forever.
In August I found a 2CV specialist more local to me (Michael Knighton, Wellingborough) and decided to test his qualities on some simple jobs (indicator-light, exhaust, minor steering wobble). As a matter of course, he always does a full inspection of every new car. The results were an alarming tale of corrosion, hints of fibreglass and an upside down Kingpin assembly (another amateur and hard-to-spot error).
Some consolation was that Michael passed my test with flying colours: his skill, passion, professionalism and integrity such that I felt happy to let him make a start addressing the items from his survey.
Michael stuck to his original quote despite this turning out to be the worst bodge he’d seen in his 25 years of working on 2CVs (he was a Citroen mechanic when these were still being sold new).
The riveted panel in the foot-well hid horrors that were dangerous to me, my passengers and any member of the public that might have become a casualty of any accident.
Whoever the bodger was, his welding skills were so awful that he’d had to resort to riveting, glue, filler and fibre-glass. The net result was that the inner-plates and the steering column were the only metal elements joining the front and rear of the car.
By conclusion of work, Michael had had to fit new sills, floors, bulkhead, toe-board, suspension mountings and spring assemblies, steering-rack, track arm gaiters, and king-pin assembly. He’d also, discovered (as a result of my request for a heated rear-window) that the wiring was connected to one circuit which by-passed the fuse-box!
Michael’s communication throughout (supported with photos), and his consistent professionalism, strengthened my initial trust in him making it easier to commit to the expense. Not only did he fix the grand mal but, without exception, he completed every one of my 19 minor requests (window-catch, boot support, screenwash-jet, etc) – great attention to detail.
Several months and nearly three-grand later, I finally have a car that I can have confidence in, have saved a piece of history, and made safe a death-trap.
The meteoric increase in value of 2CVs over recent years has, no doubt, contributed to a growth in the number of bodgers out there – people with little understanding of the idiosyncrasies of 2CV engineering and willing to risk the lives of others for their own gain.
The former is unfortunate but forgivable. The latter certainly is not. Such callous selfishness is utterly reprehensible and, quite frankly, disgusting.
Does this constitute fraud? Without legal consultation, my feeling is that it must do. No high-street store would get away with selling something that was broken and life-threatening after having deliberately hidden the damage. This seems criminal to me.
Michael’s sense of the bodges was that they were no more than two-years old. Jeff had stated he was surprised it’d survived for long after the barrel/piston change. So, I know the bodger was a recent owner.
A forensic analysis of the receipts and certificates, has left me in little doubt that I’ve identified the bodger. I will be following-up the trail (expect more on this).
Most people owned this car for 4-6 years, the last two for only months. The person I purchased from was a woman who couldn’t get on with the gears and so rarely drove it. Prior to her was the chap who installed the barrels and pistons – the ‘Bodger’.
One lesson I’ll take from this experience is being more sensitive to such short tenures.
Another is to take more time to analyse the receipts irrespective of the volume and condition (which are going to be challenging with any old car) taking special note of items that indicate attempts at DIY mechanics.
A new mantra will be: if it’s hidden, there’s a reason, and probably a bad one. So, walk away.
Lastly, with old and eccentric cars such as 2CVs having good breakdown cover is important and knowing a very good mechanic, or two (Jeff and Michael), is utterly critical as even otherwise excellent and honest mechanics come unstuck on 2CVs (I have first-hand experience of this).
It’s wonderful that 2CVs are being appreciated and resources are being invested in their preservation but there are those who care neither for the cars nor for human life beyond their own. Unfortunately, the draw of quick/easy money is attracting these types to the world of 2CV.
We’re all going to need to be more careful. You can’t avoid a pitfall if you don’t see it, so awareness is key. I hope this story helps toward that end in some small way.
Appendix, my original purchase inspection checklist:
Wear overalls, take torch and cable-ties.
1. V5C in whose name?
2. New MOT box in middle show yearly mileage pattern
3. Registered keeper?
4. MOT and mileage add up?
5. MOT status 0870-3300444
6. Tyres 3mm and even wear (ECAS £89+VAT each Michelin)
7. Spare tyre
11. Wipers and wash
12. Brakes (emergency stop to check for pulling to one-side; leaks in rear)
14. Exhaust (white ok)
15. Clutch (noise/high biting point; esp 2/3 gear)
16. Oil cap clean?
17. Oil level ok?
19. Windows open/close/lock
20. Bounce centre of bumpers to check suspension best to check leaks from shocks
21. Battery rust-free?
22. Fan blades intact?
23. Oil leaks? (front and rear of engine)
24. Driveshaft play (open bonnet, handbrake on, rock car fore and back, observe movement in shaft)
25. Remove all floor rubbers
26. Look for welding underneath
27. Underside frames ok?
28. Box section of chassis, rectangle, corners are the bumper mounting points; how many welding plates or new galvanised (silver and exposed engine) (black exposed = citroen original replacement) Black rails and big steel plate = good job? If factory original will see A4-sized cooling fins and plates.
29. Door and boot hinges and vent for rust
30. Clamp on top of gear box should not be loose and black shaft vertical off gear box spins – shouldn’t work but easy to fix.
31. Performance uphill?