1972 Citroën DS21
Ever since that old DS21 left my life, I dreamed of what it would be like to own another. Year after year went by and I drove quite a number of other French cars, but another opportunity never presented itself. When the Internet hit the fan, I started searching the World Wide Web for Citroëns. I discovered an early model CX for sale that I seriously considered. There were two problems. First, it was a bit out of my price range. In addition to this, the car was in Austin Texas. It was being sold at a shop that specialized in Citroëns and other French cars, and the owner said that he was willing to arrange delivery. This only put it further out of my price range.
While I was still contemplating the CX, other things were happening in my life. I found out that the company I had worked for in Syracuse years ago was now under investigation by the SEC. I went to a news shop in downtown Ithaca, where I lived, to see if I could find a Syracuse paper and read up on it. As I walked to the store, I went past a coffee shop and saw an old friend sitting at a table in the front window. I waved, but he was sitting with someone I didn't recognize and I didn't know if I should intrude on them or not.
The store was sold out of Syracuse newspapers, so I walked right back out again. I decided to stop in and say hi to my friend. He introduced me to his friend, and said that he was glad I stopped in. After he saw me he started telling his friend that I am interested in old cars, just his friend was.
"What kind of car do you drive?" I asked him.
"I drive a Citroën," he said.
Mimicking Brad's reaction 14 years ago, I said, "You've" got a Citroën?!?!?!?"
"Yeah," the guy said hesitantly. "But I'm selling it."
"Talk to me!" I immediately responded. He told me that he and his partner had recently bought it from a guy in Massacheusetts, who's parents had purchased it new in 1972 (click here to see the original bill of sale (pdf document)). After his father died, his mother continued to drive it for some time, but eventually gave it to him. He drove it for a short while, but then decided to get rid of it. How this guy in Ithaca came to buy it from him I do not know, but he and his partner had recently split up, and he needed the money a lot more than he needed the car.
I decided that if the car would run, get up on all fours, and we could take it for a drive right away that I would consider it. But if it needed any degree of restoration at all that I'd let this opportunity pass by. The three of us took a quick walk to his place to have a look at it. I was immediately struck by how much it looked like the one I owned years ago. It had a brown leather inerior instead of black leather, but other than that it was utterly identical.
The guy started it up and the suspension came up right away. We piled in and took it for a drive. The headliner was drooping down into the interior, the engine seemed to need a tune-up, and the suspension was very stiff, but other than that it seemed to be working fine. When we got on the outskirts of town I took the wheel. I was surprised how quickly the use of the kooky semi-automatic transmission came back to me. By the time we got back into town I told the guy that I'd meet him the next day with his full purchase price in cash. The next day it was mine.
I started driving the car immediately. Certain annoyances that I had forgotten about quickly came back to me. First of all, I had forgotten how much I abhored that cantankerous semi-automatic transmission. Every moment I drove the car, my mind was pervaded by the thought that the driving experience would be so much better if only I had a traditional clutch available to me. I also noticed other things, such as the fact that light reflected off the transmission selector and created a bright spot on the windshield right in my line of sight. But most of all, the stiff suspension was really getting on my nerves. The biggest thing about Citroëns, in my opinion, was that they made it feel like you were floating on air. The ride in this car was so bumpy that it was intolerable. I had driven pickup trucks with a smoother ride than this car had.
I immediately tapped into the expertise on the Internet. The first thing I learned was that the stiff suspension meant that all the spheres needed to be rebuilt. My younger brother, one of my few steadfast supporters during Phase I of my Citroën experience, was now living with his wife and family in Albany. He knew of a Citroën mechanic in the area named Dave Burnham. I found out on the Internet that this man's reputation was impeccable, and extended throughout the entire Northeast.
I made arrangements with Dave to bring the car in. I spent an entire day there, and forked out a full two-thirds of the purchase price of the car, but he went over it bumper to bumper and took care of all the immediate needs. The re-built suspension spheres made it ride like an entirely different car. Finally, that magical soft ride was back, and it was better than I had even remembered.
The car now performed perfectly well, but it was still a very old car and it needed constant attention. I realized that the first DS21 I had owned was ten years old when I bought it. That was more than ten years ago, meaning that this specimen at this time was more than twice as old as the previous. I've never been good with doing auto repairs myself, but with the aid of the people on the Internet, I was confident that I could make a go of it. While the hydraulic systems remain complicated even by today's standards, the rest of the car was strictly old technology and proved to be more or less within my level of expertise.
The first thing I wanted to tend to was the trunk. While the sides were still structurally sound, the bottom was pretty badly rusted out. I got some sheet metal, a pair of tin snips, and a pop-rivet gun. I knew that pop-rivetting was not the best solution in this case, but it was something I could handle myself, and it would do the trick at least for the time being. In the end, I was reasonably happy with the job I did. (click here for detail)
Another problem was that the engine ran very hot. Dave Burnham had put in a new water pump, so I knew that was not the problem. I pulled the thermostat right out, and it still ran hot. I decided to pull the radiator and have it looked at. It wound up being one Hell of a job to get that radiator out, but I was able to do it. I took it to a place that was able to re-core it for about half what I expected. Once I put it back in, I found that it worked a bit better, but still ran close to over-heating. Right now my theory is that there is a lot of sludge inside the block that is insulating it from the cooling properties of the water.
There are a number of factors that make this go 'round different from the last. First of all, this time the Citroën is not my primary means of transportation. If I need to run to the store for a loaf of bread, I have other more convenient vehicles. But most importantly, I'm a lot older and wiser now. I have a much better concept of the care and feeding necessary for a specimine of this ilk. I expect this car to be with me for a long, long time.