1961 Citroën ID19
While Monté didn't wind up staying with me long, Brad lingered on. The situation was good and bad. While I know the dangers of allowing long-term guests to stay with an open invitation, he was a God-send when it came to helping me with automotive projects and enabling my French car addiction.
For some time my Renault mechanic had been telling me about a Citroën that was for sale in a nearby village. Of course when one lives in the Finger Lakes, "nearby" is a relative term. While it was not far away as the crow flies, it was on the other side of Cayuga Lake. That meant I had to drive about 15 miles south to the bottom of the lake, around the end, and another 15 miles up the other side.
One time when I happened to be passing through I tried to locate the car at the place my mechanic said it was. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen. A year or so later, my mechanic told me he said he'd seen it advertised in the paper again. I was reluctant to go see it, because if I did I knew I'd be powerless but to buy it. I also made sure not to mention it to Brad, because I knew if I did he'd point out the lunacy of allowing this opportunity to pass me by.
Finally I gave in to my character flaws. I called the number my mechanic gave me and got directions to where the car lay. After a couple days I drove out to look at the car. Considering the age of the vehicle it was in remarkably good condition. The structure was very solid, especially considering how the DS/ID models tend to self-destruct. The dash board was intact and unmolested, except that some of it was covered in this horrid naugahyde material. That and the whole rest of the interior. I mean every damn square inch of the inside of this car was covered with this cheap, mohogany-colored vinyl material. The seats, the door panels, the rear shelf, the engine housing. It was weird.
The owner happened to be home and was willing to show me the car. The battery was dead, but I jumped it and it indeed fired up. The suspension wouldn't rise, but he ensured me that it had been driven under without trouble from the local dealership where it had been for sale (back when I failed to find it a year before). He left me to my devices and I shot a little video.
I went home, told Brad about it, and showed him the video. To put it mildly, he was enthused about it. We set up an afternoon when we were both available to take some time and check it out more thoroughly. My main concern, of course, was the fact that the suspension wasn't functioning properly. I'd told myself a long time before never to by a Citroën if it couldn't get up on all fours. I had a full compliment of tools with me when I picked Brad up from work and headed out.
We arrived with a lot of daylight left and full bellies of ambition. The first thing we did was get the engine fired up. The engine was purring, but the suspension wouldn't budge. We were now in the odd position that I had more knowledge of the car than Brad did. I had a rudimentary knowledge of the inner workings of the Citroën animal. Brad had thorough knowledge of conventional automobiles, but Cirtroë'ns are so entirely different from conventional automobiles that he had no idea how to proceed. We shut off the engine and pondered the situation.
The one thing we had working for us was that this was and ID. While DS models used the hydraulic systems to operate the brakes, steering, and clutch and gear change, the IDs used hydraulics for suspension alone and operated other subsystems in conventional manners. Yet, it was the suspension that was the problem. Brad was good at proposing hypotheses, but while I entertained them none survived scientific review.
Another way that this ID deviated from my DS experience was that it forsook the high-powered 7 piston, belt-driven pump for a simpler, 1 piston engaged pump. It was bolted directly to the block, and was driven not from a belt but directly from inner engine mechanisms. While conceptually this wasn't much of a change, but was easier to isolate and diagnose. We found the pump, and traced the source line from the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Unlike the hard-metal lines that snake throughout the vehicle, this was a flexible rubber hose. And we found large, conspicuous cracks down by where it met up with the pump. After some debate, we snipped off the bad part of the line, and after priming it with fluid we hooked it right back up to the pump.
We fired up the engine again, and in a minute or two the suspension pumped right up. Success! Glorious success! My one remaining criterion had been fulfilled. And the lag time was remarkably low. On way to judge the condition of a Citroën hydraulic system is the time it takes for the suspension system to power up. The longer it takes the more worn the system is. Yet this one sprung up quickly. Considerably more quickly than my '72 DS, even.
Now that the primary problem had been remedied, Brad and I tinkered with the car as if it had been a conventional automobile. We decided to rock it back an forth. The clutch peddle felt so limp neither of us thought it could possibly be connected. Yet it I engaged the column-mounted shifter into 1st, let the clutch out, and it started moving. After it went a yard or two, I put it in reverse, and brought it back to where it had stared from. Whaoh! The clutch was fine after all. The brakes felt a little squashy, but apparently the worked.
At any rate, any vestigial reason I may have had not to acquire this vehicle had been properly placated. Brad and I drove back home talking of nothing except the details of making the transaction and transporting the car to my place. The guy wanted $1500 for it. While it's in my nature to bargain the purchase price of such a car as low as absolutely possible, Brad was both pleased and proud to hear the my decision was to give the guy his asking price. A day or two later I went out and gave him his money.
Now all that was left was to get it back to my place. This was a perfect example of the value Brad's presence was to me. He was all-too enthusiastic to tackle the logistical inconveniences of my French car addiction. It was decided that I would abuse my AAA privileges and have them flat-bed it home. I would call in the "emergency roadside assistance" request, and he would be there by the car waiting for the truck. I secured insurance coverage, got NY State plates, handed them off to Brad, and we set up the time when the car would be moved.
He called me when he was ready to head out to the car. As soon as I hung up I called AAA. Being the owner of another Citroën, I already had flat-bed service on my membership. I phoned the "emergency" number. A woman answered. I gave her the address, stated that I would need flat-bed service, and gave her the phone number from which I was calling. She asked what was wrong with the car. I would have expected myself to hesitate. I'm not one to break the rules. In an instant I thought of the one thing that prevented us from driving the car home under its own power. We weren't confident in the brakes. "Brake failure," I said.
"Okay," the operator said. "We'll be there soon."
I hung up the phone, thankful that Brad was the one who was waiting by the car. I just don't have the nerve to engage in shady operations. Not giving it a second thought, I just went back to my work. A half-hour or so later, my phone rang. It was the flat-bed driver. He was having trouble finding the car. Having been there a few times in the past few days, I gave him precise directions.
"What," he asked. "Are you on a cell phone?"
"Yes," I said, sitting at my desk working on my computer. "Yes I am."
"Okay..." he said.
Unbeknownst to me, Brad had arrived only minutes earlier. He had barely gotten the plates on the car when the flat-bed showed up. The guy got the flat-bed in position and Brad fired up the car. Brad pulled the car forward and the driver saw the pale, sun-deprived grass under the spot where the car had lain for God-knows-how-long.
"Uhh, I think you're abusing the system here," he said.
Brad didn't say a word. The guy asked what was wrong with the car. Either God looks over fools, drunkards, AND French car addicts, or the law of odds was working in our favor.
"Brake failure," Brad said.
"Okay," the guy said. "Let's get it up on here."
He started tugging on his hydraulic control levers. He got the flat bed positioned back and tilted up. He was about to hook a steel cable under the car to hoist it up when Brad protested. While Brad wasn't intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Citroën entity, he had a keen appreciation for the delicate nature of their construction. Knowing full well that a misplaced hook could cause irreparable damage, he would not allow the convention hoist maneuver to take place. He proceeded to drive this "disabled" car up onto the flat-bed ramp, under its own power, stopping it precisely at the proper point, until the driver could lower the flat-bed back to its horizontal position. This was quite a maneuver for a car that had suffered brake failure. All the way home Brad had to listen to the driver gripe about getting a free ride on my triple-a membership.
The car needed a lot of TLC, but after just basic fluids and tending to, it was a fine runner. It was tremendously underpowered, compared to the 72's that I was accustomed to, and very noisy in the cabin. But it worked.
Before it could be a real runner I had to pull the fuel tank to get it cleaned and coated. It was a bit of a job, but actually pretty well suited to a guy of my skill level. When the rear seat was removed the tank just pulled right out. But to get it back in required opening up the sills to access the fuel line. To my surprise, the cover plates on the underside of the rails of this forty year old French car came off like butter. I got the fuel line inserted back into the tank, but the rest of the fuel line had so many splices and patches in it that I finally yanked it all out and ran a new rubber fuel hose all the way from the tank up to the fuel pump under the hood.
Voilá. I had a runner. I started driving it around a lot. Except for the fact that it had way too little power, it was great to drive. It was cool to finally operate one of the saloons with a conventional clutch under my foot. I really missed the power brakes, however. I had to totally stand on the pedal to bring that hulk to a stop. The throttle return spring assembly had a tendency to dislodge itself from its mounting, which would cause the engine to suddenly race, but a little thread-lock took care of that.
Something was bothering me about the car, though. Even though it drove just fine, I found myself not wanting to drive it. I finally realized it was the seats. Not only was the naugahyde upholstery just horrid, but seats themselves were junk. I pulled the leather seats out of my old '72 DS and put them in the '62. They fit like a glove, and oh my God did they change the entire driving experience. Now I was stylin'.
The spheres were all in fine shape, but I had to get it to Dave Burnham to replace the front brake pads, though. He was very pessimistic when he got started, as these seemingly simple jobs always went badly. But as he got to work on her he found her to be as much of a sweetheart as I'd found her to be. He got the job done in record time, and cinched up the parking brake cable.
The car was now running fine, but it looked a mess. The hood was all fucked up, and gold just wasn't the color for that car. The International Citroën Car Club Rally (ICCCR) was coming up, and I wanted my new girl to look pretty for the party. The ICCCR was generally held somewhere in Europe. In fact it was a bit of a scandal to be held in the U.S., but here it was and I had a cool car to drive to it.
While attending a gymkhana in Ithaca I met a guy who offered to paint it for me cheap. I scored a new hood from Dave Burnham and left it with this guy to paint. A few weeks later I got the car back. She was a beautiful gloss black. She was absolutely gorgeous. Interestingly the horrid naugahyde door panels went strikingly well with the new black doors.
I pulled the rest of that fucking naugahyde out of the inside. The dash board cleaned up real nicely. The rest of the interior was pretty much a sight. I went to the fabric store and got this fleecy gold material, and simply duct taped it to the inside surfaces of the interior. I took out the old carpets, which looked like they were cut from the remnants from a cheap hotel, and simply wrapped them in this fleecy material. It was so not meant to be carpet, but it worked! It was about the cheesiest job I've ever seen, but it would hold together long enough to get me through the ICCCR.
The drive to the ICCCR was a bit unnerving. I'd never driven it out of my sphere of comfort at home. The rally was being held half-way out Massachusetts. Not a bad drive at all for a modern car, but a tad intimidating to a 40 year old French car. I decided buzz up to Syracuse and take the NYS Thruway and Mass Turnpike the whole way. It went fine, but the engine liked to run hot. I found that if I kept the speed around 50-55 that the temp came right back down. The problem was keeping this sleek sedan down to those speeds. The under-powered engine took a long, long time to get the car up to highway speeds, but once you were there the car cruised quite comfortably.
Once I got into Massachusetts I detected an odd knocking sound. The thing was it was totally random. Not only did it increase in frequency neither with the engine revs nor the speed, the knocking itself was not regular. I pulled off the highway and had them top off the gearbox oil, but that did nothing. I threw caution to the wind and continued the few more miles to the rally, where I would find no shortage of experts.
I did get some people to look at it, and even recreated it once for a trusted expert, but he was totally stumped. Finally, the following day, I figured it out. The pressure regulator and attached accumulator sphere had broken their mounting and were dangling by the hydraulic lines. The sound I heard was that of the sphere banging around the tight space into which that unit was located. Dave Burnham gave me some zip-strips to tie them down with and told me not to worry.
Beyond that the car was very well received at the rally. There were a couple others of the same vintage, but mine had an instrument cluster unlike anyone else's, making my car unique at this major gathering.
The day I drove home it was beastly hot. I was tired and hung over, and I just wanted to get home. When I got back on the Mass Turnpike I decided that if the engine ain't boiling over then it ain't overheating. I turned a blind eye to the temperature gauge and drove this car like it was intended to be driven. Man did she fly. It was such a sight, this antique collectible car you would expect to see putting along, living in the left lane and routinely whizzing past mundane traffic. I think I was running the engine hotter than would be advisable for something of its age, but it never did boil over. She got me home in record time.
After the ICCCR, those who had traditionally organized the northeast Citroën gathering in Massachusetts passed the torch to a some NYC gay guys who moved the location to Saratoga Springs, NY. That was a real improvement for me. First of all Saratoga Springs was a great location for any kind of gathering, but it cut out all that Mass driving. Not only were there a lot of hills that I would rather not have to contend with, but it added an awful lot of miles.
When the time came I packed up the old girl with tools and spare fluids and away we went. She was a real trooper once again. Traffic got really heavy above Albany on the Northway, and engine temperature was still a consideration, but the car performed wonderfully. While driving around town, though, I started to hear an odd sound under the hood. It was as if a feather was stuck in the radiator and was making a flicker sound on the fan. It didn't sound major, but it was vexing to hear something and not be able to find the source. In the end I just ignored it and drove home. The car performed fine.
After that big trip I started driving the car much less frequently. The car was still operating pretty well, but there were some things that needed tending too, and my job around that time was particularly demanding. I so didn't have the strength to take on any projects. The following year the car was on the road, but there was no way I was going to drive it to Saratoga Springs and back.
What the car really needed was just a good thorough going over by a professional. Everything under the hood should be taken apart, cleaned, replaced as needed, and put back together tight and solid. I decided to put her on ice. I cleared out the cleanest and driest corner of my barn, put her up on jacks and covered her up. There she'll sleep until the time is right.