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Cars, Guns and Money* June 17, 2011

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics.

*And if Cars, Guns & Money don’t push this up Google’s rankings, then my name isn’t Willy the Web-bot…

Now anyone who owns a car knows that ominous moment when the costs of continually repairing it suggests cutting one’s losses and flogging it. The days when I could afford to buy new cars whose value dropped 10-20% the moment you left the showroom are long gone and my strategy since has been to buy a reasonably contemporary 8–10 year-old car for under a grand and get rid of it when its worth has shrunk to £300-400, and/or it’s started to cost me more than that in repairs. That means a few years of agreeable and agreeably economic motoring and after 18 months that’s where I’ve got to with my latest daily driver – a term that prompts shrieks of mirth from certain female friends, all of whom naturally have weightier matters on their minds. (I’m obviously ignoring the automotive folly that is my beloved Lancia Gamma, but then that’s a ‘classic’ used only on  high days and holidays).

Normally this realisation would herald trawling the classifieds for another cheapo turbo-diesel estate but I recently had the misfortune to make a new friend who catapulted me back to 2006 when I briefly owned a Citroen XM. He and his wife both have one of these incredibly stylish, Bertone-designed machines with their highly sophisticated (i.e. complicated) hydropneumatic suspension and extensive (i.e. complicated) electrical systems which when working properly, endow the car with its legendary ‘magic carpet ride’ and gorgeous driving experience.

Unfortunately when Citroen launched the XM in the 1989 it was in the midst of a financial crisis and thus specified cheap, often flimsy electrical components that soon rendered much of its advanced technology prone to failure, which was expensive and tricky to fettle. And that’s why I got rid of mine. The value of used XMs duly fell off a cliff and sales of the somewhat improved Series 2 models introduced in 1993/4 never redeemed their tarnished reputation, so those that remain, and there are probably less than a thousand left on UK roads, usually cost peanuts but are a bit buggered.

My late, lamented but soon-to-be-replaced mobile money-pit, the Citruin XM

Nevertheless like meeting an old flame you wish you’d never deserted, when I saw my friend’s beautiful XM settled on its haunches in a Highgate street with all the subdued, elegant menace of a sleeping tiger – after starting their engines these cars rise sensually off the ground– I knew that nothing else could now replace a daily driver coming to the end of my wallet’s tolerance.

So these past few weeks I’ve been traveling the country to view XMs in various states of decline, their owners sheepishly trying to explain away lumpy suspension, knackered transmissions, stuck closed windows or stuck on warning lights as easy to fix when I know they’re not. This frustrating exercise is partly ameliorated by boisterous exchanges on the Club XM webforum where die-hard fans, most of whom seem to be retired engineers have the time and ability to repair a stable of weary cars so that at least one of them is always, ahem, a daily driver. As with most webfora, arcane and often incomprehensible references hinder the uninitiated from reaching informed decisions about cars with this or that fault in the hope that they might be cheap(ish)ly fixable by someone who isn’t a stellar mechanic (i.e. me) or lives near that increasingly scarce professional who understands these cars’ foibles (i.e. me again). But at least it’s a sufficiently entertaining diversion from what should be a pragmatic process of replacing one aging banger with a slightly younger model and indeed, the equally tedious business of day-to-day survival in the worst recession in living memory (although of course I am a victim of early onset Alzheimers).

Which brings me neatly to guns, or at least military expenditure, which according to the Commons Public Accounts Committee and taking into account cancelled projects and overspend on existing ones due to the MoD’s incompetence and possibly vested interests, is running some £36billion over-budget. Put into the context of the UK’s total budget deficit of £167billion, that mightn’t seem too much of a worry, but add on the cost of replacing our Trident nuclear submarines – currently estimated at up to £130billion – and suddenly all the political hand-wringing and subsequent public belt-tightening that we are told must follow in the wake of the bank bail-outs ought to make us very angry indeed.

That’s of course if you agree that threats of military Armageddon having diminished to the point of irrelevance (we can leave the yanks and the Israelis to bomb Iran if that country persists in its nuclear adventurism), replacing Trident is unnecessary. Indeed we would’ve been better off not scrapping the Ark Royal and the Harrier fleet which has resulted in, for example, the massively increased cost of our Libyan skirmishing by having to fly land-based fighter jets from Italy.

So as your heating, food, transport and education bills inexorably rise over the next few years, your public services close down and the pot-holed roads remain unrepaired because our government withdraws the financial support or increases the taxes that  would otherwise stay these very real threats to our living standards, ask your local political representatives why they refuses to address the elephant in the room that is military expenditure. As for me, well if I do manage to buy a Citroen XM that’s working properly, at least I’ll be floating over those pot-holes in comfort and style, possibly whilst playing my violin. And until then I shall persist in my insane pursuit of doomed Gallic romance.

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1. Pete - June 17, 2011

I’m pretty much in agreement with you on Trident, Mark, although I’m not sure we’re totally out of the arms-race woods yet. I believe the Russians have resumed their fighter baiting reconnaissance missions over the seas to our north west and defensive vulnerabilities are being tested continuously. However, the real threat is probably cyber warfare where governments attempt to bring down the burgeoning internet and electronic data systems to ruin a rival.

Meantime, I thought replacing one ageing banger with a slightly (no, considerably, in his case) younger model was Hugh Hefner’s province, but good luck in your quest for the XM grail.

markswill - June 17, 2011

Yeah Pete, but Hugh Hefner’s latest younger model never actually tied the knot… a fate that will hopefully not elude me in my quest for a French fancy.

Pete - June 17, 2011

As long as those knots aren’t in the undersized cables in the wiring loom. I had a similar love affair with a MkII Renault Espace – beautifully capable in many areas but in hindsight plagued with problems, many of them electrical. Zut alors, how the French tease us with their chic models and modern stylings….

And to underscore my previous point re cyber stuff – the Guardian has just posted this article –

2. john dickinson - June 17, 2011

Williams you really are a glutton for punishment.
Not content with the ongoing folly of trying to keep such an automotive disaster as a Lancia Gamma on four wheels – you succumb to the inbuilt mechanical and electrical eccentricities of a Citroen bloody XM.
What’s worse you KNOW this to be a case of rose tinted goggles when what you should really be looking for is a nice simple turbo-diesel VW Passat..just like mine!.

3. markswill - June 17, 2011

Trouble is John, the Hun never did it for me: too cold, precise and incapable of stirring the soul.

john dickinson - June 17, 2011

Ah! When my soul requires a bit of stirring and my insides a bit of shaking I fire-up the Suzuki TL1000S…my equivalent of your Lancia I guess!

4. xmoron - June 17, 2011

Just think: if the money saved on nuclear rearmament was reinvested in my hydractive suspension… Alternatively, why not just foist XMs on bad civil servants as a punishment.

Mark Williams - June 18, 2011

Love your pseudonym, Jamie, and your line of thinking. Of course Chirac used to be driven around in an XM, and look what happened to him!

5. Richard - June 17, 2011

If I remember correctly, which I suspect I do not, the great advantage of the XM and its hydropneumatic suspension was that it couldn’t be clamped. A useful benefit in these cash strapped times when the cost of parking has gone stratospheric. Of course this may have been an urban myth. Either that or my memory really has gone, and it’s time to get on that flight to Zurich.

markswill - June 4, 2014

It’s never too late to get that flight to Zurich, Richard. Never too late.

6. Martin Harrison - June 17, 2011

It’s the funny smell first – you get to recognise it after a while. But you carry on, and get home, or wherever. It’s LHM. It’s an unfamiliar looking pool of green stuff you don’t remember parking over. Good for entertaining those lucky enough to still be walking though, I’ve found. The self-levelling suspension is amazing. I’ve driven an XM with only one rear wheel – it sags a bit when you stop at traffic lights.

markswill - June 18, 2011

Does this mean you actually OWN an one of the sublime mobile follies yourself, Martin? If so – RESPECT. And if you’re still living in East Angle-iron, maybe you could join me on a jaunt to Wolesley House Motors in Diss who are just about the only purveyors of ludicrously overpriced but allegedly fully operational XMs left? What’s your, BTW?

7. jan buxton - June 17, 2011

Surely the problem with the XM is not the financial climate in which it was built but the fact that it is a Citroen? Citroen have, over the years, showed that they have some of the best and innovative engineering in the automotive world – the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS Pallas for example – but also that they are complete muppets when putting the things together, using cheap plastic in inappropriate places and brilliant but impractical gizmos. But never mind Citroen, how about an update on the state of the Gamma?

markswill - June 18, 2011

As ever Jan, you are correct, well at least in your dismissal of Citroen’s inability to productionise great engineering innovations. Such a shame. As for the Gamma, well with tightly crossed fingers, it’s going very well at the moment: been flying backwards and forwards to Mr Dennis’s archive in Warks this past month or two and giving the trolls in their Mondeos and Merivas the odd scary moment.

8. andy tribble - June 17, 2011

I had one of those XMs once, or at least my wife did, as a matter of pride I have never owned a car in my life so far, I only own motorcycles, all the four wheelers belong to wives, and during a phase as a divorced parent, I ran a sidecar.

Thanks for explaining things to me, I never worked out why that wonderful car was so cheap to buy given its extraordinary level of comfort. And yes, the electric window motors both failed, not hard to repair, just expensive. And I blew the seals on the hydropneumatics, due to ignoring speed humps and just driving fast over them to enjoy that extraordinary hovering ride. (The mechanic told me that the brakes and suspension share the same (large) hydraulic fluid tank, so if your seals go it’s only a matter of time before the brakes go too.) And then there’s the party trick of pulling the lever back to raise the car to max height; I used to like going to country fairs just so I could drive across the parking field on stilts, then lower it to the ground.

Don’t get the connection with military spending though. Was amused by some admiral moaning that messing about off the coast of Libya was going to pull ships away from ‘defending home waters’. What, are we expecting the French to invade any minute?

9. markswill - June 18, 2011

The connection with military (over)spending? Well tenuous I’ll admit, but like my quest for a reliable, properly working and affordable Citruin XM, it’s a monstrous folly. Not quite sure how you “had” and XM when in the same breath you claim never to’ve owned a car, Andy?

10. WTK - June 18, 2011

I don’t know where to begin so I will forge ahead to a specific point: military spending. Usually, government theft (expenditures) in their wasteful 13% spending efficiency ways (commerce runs about 81% efficiency) at least result in a product or service (repaired potholes and postal service). Whereas military spending has a 1.4 ‘turn ratio’ (econ impact ratio), commerce approaches 3.0, i.e.; you get more than twice the economic “bang for the buck”. Military has little economic impact on the masses. Mr. Obama has spent over 1.1 trillion dollars on economic stimuli, largely in the public sector, escalated two wars and started a third, and the result is an additional 1.9 million jobs lost in just over 2 years. Doesn’t work, Knucklehead.

Now consider an alternative. Take the paltry $200 billion spent on 1.4 ratio military spending and provide 0% 5 year loans to existing small businesses, or start-ups, whether they be book stores, plumbers, or garden hoe manufacturers. Employment grows, commerce is more competitive, the banks don’t profit on the loans, and money is spent at twice the ‘turn’ level in local economies. A cure-all? No. But considering the trillion(s) dollar gov budget it seems they could sequester that paltry sum without much loss in efficiency (ha-ha).

Two more issues. I HATE Frog cars of all sorts except the deux chevooooo. And, the real unemployment percentage (the U6 economic number for you macro fans) in the US is NOT 9.6%, but it is 22.94% To put that in historical terms the 1929 depression never topped 25.2% U6 indicator.

I have more to say but I am aware of the boredom factor…

markswill - June 21, 2011

I ain’t bored, Mr T, and I very much like your ‘alternative’ economic fix. but could it lower the unemployment rate in a post-industrial society (as opposed to an industrial society, like China, India or Brazil, all of which are doing fine. QED) ? Citruin 2DVs Didn’t Tony E. have one of those, once? And look where it got him!

11. Linda Stokes - June 21, 2011

Dunno anything about Frog cars in Texas,but it sounds like you want this XM.
Well, why not…just apply your usual equation … still, iffin it stirs yer soul,probably way cheaper than a girlfriend…Xx

markswill - June 21, 2011

Cheaper than a girlfriend? Not the ones I pursue. And I seem to recall you love your Honda, so what’s the diff?

misstokes - June 22, 2011

Oh my!…hmmm…well…im getting rid of it anyway..and,um ,i thort you were done with things,um,really costin ya…..
yer free yank gf

12. Eddie Marrian - January 2, 2012

HI Mark……I would have thought you would have gone Japanese by now!……I know, dreadful, dull grey plastic trimmed UJC’s , but on a budget, and for total reliability, then a 10 year old Honda ticks all the boxes…..I recently sold a “decent” 5 year old 4WD turbo nutter estate (my first new car in my life…I had to have just the one) to get some mortgage payments in the bank as the job is shaky, and just googled “leather / sunroof / under a grand” into a search of various Honda / Toyota / Suzuki / Mitsubishi etc., basically all the Japanese marques.

Result…..A Honda 5 door 1600 saloon about the size of an Escort, dull as ditch-water but solid as a rock and economic and reliable.

As someone who ran round on various H1 / H2’/ A7 Kawi’s in the 70’s I never thought I would end up like this, but there is something satisfying about having a car that will get 40+ mpg, yet cruise with the reps at naughty speeds in the outside lane when called upon, but you just park and walk away from without a backward glance or care in the world, instead on constantly worrying about.

Sad aren’t I!

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