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Heroes and Villains January 23, 2012

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

Back in August last year, in my feckless petrol-headed way I celebrated the acquisition of a hugely complicated, willfully eccentric yet utterly gorgeous Citroën XM as my, ahem, daily driver. Until a couple of weeks ago the car had proved to be the unique and delightful, if ruinously thirsty driving experience that I’d anticipated and  returning to Leominster railway station where it’d sat during my seasonal hiatus points east I looked forward to it raising my spirits along with its clever hydropneumatic suspension at the turn of a key. Instead what I found was that some malevolent wretches had broken a window and in trying to drive it away, completely wrecked the ignition barrel, wiring and part of the dashboard. They’d also etched a particularly unpleasant  term for part of the female anatomy into the rear window, presumably because as its owner, I had the temerity to immobilise the car when I’d parked it.

Why they – and having been caught on CCTV later that evening wrecking then stealing another car I now know that there were three of them  – would choose such a rare vehicle that would’ve been impossible to sell without raising suspicion, I neither know nor care, but the consequences have been considerable and in some respects, illuminating.

Needless to say although ‘only’ 14 years-old, the XM was never a big seller for Citroën largely due to a reputation quickly tarnished by the unreliability of its complex electrics and hydraulics which, typical of its makers, had not been fully trouble-shot before its launch. Parts are therefore hard to source, very expensive and for that reason my insurance company initially threatened to write it off obliging me ultimately to withdraw my claim. But then via something called the Club-XM online forum I came across a retired engineer who has been collecting and breaking these cars with the noble intention of “keeping them going” until he himself no longer is. Not only did this prince amongst men offer to supply me with all the bits I needed, refused to take any payment for them, and delivered them to me on Waterloo Station where I spent a very agreeable hour being advised how they should be correctly fitted and certain infamous problems with these cars, remedied.

Recounting this to a friend, he correctly pointed out that this wonderful gentleman was of a dying breed and as with the grandly named Lancia Gamma Consortium, a rather more formal conflagration of chaps (and indeed, chapesses) of which I am a paid-up member, long may he and they continue their selfless efforts to ensure that these automotive eccentricities avoid extinction. One could argue that regardless of legal obligations, major manufacturers should actually want to see their cars running around decades after they’ve stopped building them, but that would be commercially naïve  – although it hasn’t harmed Porsche and Mercedes-Benz that you can still get most parts for cars they made 40, even 50 years ago.

The Gamma being laid-up, un-taxed for the winter (one sniff of a salted road and it’d dissolve into a pile of rust), I have unwillingly discovered the realities of rural public transport. So journeys that took me 30 or 40 minutes at the wheel have tripled or quadrupled in duration, often hanging around for hours in freezing termini to change buses, journeys tailored to timetables that seemed exultant in their lack of integration twixt buses, operating companies and railways or, indeed, my sleeping and eating habits. Perhaps no wonder then that despite being subsidised by public taxes, ticket prices were generally higher than comparative private transport costs, and most buses traveled virtually empty.  So should anyone excoriate me for justifying my need for a car here in the sticks, even one that I actually enjoy driving, then they can expect the shortest of shrifts.

And whilst I’m harrumphing, the nice lady cop who dealt with my case admitted that there’s no point claiming compensation from the culprits involved because they’re unemployed teenagers from what she coyly, if accurately described as “disadvantaged backgrounds”, who’ll probably just be fined… before going off and doing some more crimes, possibly some more of the archly acronymed TWOCs (Taking Without Owners Consent). Although I may be straying into Daily Mail territory here, I’d much prefer divine retribution: having something they loved and or needed rubbished, but that would probably involve slashing a pair of trainers or kicking an X-Box to bits which I doubt a judge would sanction. Nevertheless I intend to go to court and see what happens to them, if only to have my cynical prejudices confirmed. In the meantime I’m still without a working car, hugely out of pocket and pretty bloody angry.

But onto happier matters. Recent blogs bemoaning the grim fate of civilisation as we, or at least I know it prompted the same friend behind the ‘dying breed’ comment, to generously furnish me with a copy of The Rational Optimist by that well-known controversialist, Matt Ridley. Despite the occasional impression of reveling his own smartness, Ridley torpedoes many assumptions about what ails society and economic conventions and replaces them with some unassailable facts and well argued, if not always personally observed empiricisms. I must salute his thought-provoking alternatives to my own gloomy views of the future, although despite the munificence of my heroic engineer friend, I’m not entirely convinced of the innate goodness of mankind which underpins Ridley’s contention that optimism will triumph over pessimism.

Nevertheless I’ll try and give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the verdict handed out by the magistrates presiding over the case of my buggered-up car… if there’s a bus that’ll get me to the court on time.

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1. Trisha Takanawa - January 24, 2012

Why don’t you ask for the Death Penalty and tell the judge he can hang you too.

markswill - January 24, 2012

Great idea, Baz (for it is you again masquerading under an comedy pseudonym for reasons I cannot fathom). But magistrates don;t have the power to kill, sadly.

2. Paul Blezard - January 24, 2012

Mark, commiserations.
Solution to transport probs: Nice cheap superscooter, complete with muffs and lap cover, eg Burgman 400, preferably Mk3 on with FI.
55-70mpg depending on riding style, 90+mph genuine.
Vast underseat cavern for shopping at Tescos, Lidl etc.
Will get you to London quicker than the train……

Punishment for miscreants: To be tied down under a Citroen with dodgy suspension, so they can contemplate the meaning of life and death as it slowly descends upon them and squeezes them quietly to oblivion……
Good luck with fixing the XM!

markswill - January 24, 2012

Tried scooters Blez, but they kept getting stole and trashed.

3. Hed Maginnis - January 24, 2012

I ran a filthy Vaux Carlton for a while which screamed unmarked cop car. (A good look for here) but for no reason at all everything would pack up. Wait eight minutes and she would carry on, until it happened again. Friends were baffled.
Vauxhall diagnostics, nothing wrong there that soap and water wouldn’t fix. While blocking major thoroughfare, hazards on, waving people around me, a wee guy runs up with a starhead. ‘Open the bonnet’ ten seconds later he shows me a realigned black box on the fuel line. Refuses money, beer or firstborn and away he goes. Problem solved and worked a treat.
The guilty three, restorative justice have them kneecapped and tell them it will grow back. Failing that a 15/16 ringer to the back of each head.

And Paul suggests you ride a scooter in a skirt……….this chap is a friend?

4. markswill - January 24, 2012

How did you know I was a cross-dresser?

As for Vauxhall vs. Citruin’s control systems, it’s a bit like comparing a lawnmower to Concorde. But when you drive a fully working XM, it all makes hideous sense.

5. Stephen - January 24, 2012

All errant scrotes like the lads in Leominster (never liked Leominster aoart from the secondhand furniture place) should be put on a plane and sent to spend 3 months working on a school build or something in the 3rd world. Anyone who has travelled in the 3rd world knows that by some accident of birth we were born in such a wealthy country as the UK and that we are very very lucky. You can’t tell a “disadvantaged” yuuf such home truths they have to go and see for themselves what they are pissing up the wall. Sadly last time some imaginative probation service did this the Daily Mail got hold of it and proclaimed that you would get sent on holiday if you commited crime. Soon put an end to what was actually a good idea. Hey ho. Next time it might be worth parking further up the line at Ludlow as the parking there is less isolated.

I remember you getting rid of the TTr but I am surprised that you don’t have any sort of two wheeled transport. Yes scoots get nicked but some undesirable old thing that will still be the following morning ought to be able to find some space chez Williams. How about a nice old superdream. Got to be better than the bus.

Stephen Dunne en France

markswill - January 24, 2012

Well Stephen (your name is familiar, but do we know each other?), you’re of course right about restorative justice as the Daily Mail would prefer to call it… although I’d settle for retribution. I also take your point about parking at Laidlow, but that costs money and the extra time of getting there, sadly. Craven Arms station still has free parking, but that’s further still.

And my attempts to get back on two wheels have been stymied by a combination of penury and sloth – always a winner in my world. Two kind souls have actually long term loaned me bikes in the past year: one was a non-runner which despite my best, if clearly cack-handed and quite costly efforts stubbornly remained that way, the other (a monstrous R1150-RS), which I am currently still ‘looking after’ whilst its owner is abroad, has a knackered though recently (badly?) installed clutch and rideable only at the risk of it completely disintegrating. i.e. very occasionally and for very short distances. What I really should do is flog the Gamma and buy a scooter for London and a proper machine for Wales, but I just can’t bring myself to do it and the running costs would actually be greater than my Italian dream machine. Or just earn some proper money like a real person, but that seems impossible.

6. Tom Stewart - January 24, 2012

I’m with Blez and Stephen. Anything’s better than the bus, especially in rural areas. Check your shed Mark, you might find an old enduro bike in there, or maybe an XS2. If not, then flog the superfluous Gamma to fund purchase of a 2-wheeler.

markswill - January 24, 2012

Yeah Tom, your point is well taken, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Must be getting old(er).

7. hed - January 24, 2012

I can see how a rural winter on two wheels would be really appealing. If it was me I’d be wondering what the point was in surviving previous wrecks only to end up terified and frozen on nylon tyres and dubious chinese build quality. (Nothing racist here, other pieces of dubious buld quality are available) It took me years to realise that no matter how cool it looks, if you get cold wet and uncomfortable it’s not worth it. I would like to point out I was never stupid enough to buy a Lancia. I’ve pushed enough crap home in my time.

8. andy tribble - January 24, 2012

There is a weird legal history behind TWOC or ‘Taking without consent’. I think it dates back to early motoring when some bright spark would borrow daddy’s Hispano and leave it wrapped around a tree, the coppers would charge him with theft and a smartass barrister would then claim that he only ‘borrowed’ it. It’s now a very stupid law.

I agree with Blez, a bike licence is hard enough to get these days, as you’ve already got a licence use it. An XS250 or better still an MZ250 will get you to the gym, the station or the shops, you can even use it to go and collect car parts. Modern waterproofs are actually waterproof, Belstaffs are the height of fashion (amazingly) and at our age insurance is cheap.

markswill - January 24, 2012

All good points Andy, except that you can’t really carry a driver’s window and half an XM dashboard aboard an XS250 (even if you could find one that’s still running properly these days!). M’chum Frank, who knows about these things, claims my life would be transformed into a rough facsimile of heaven if I overcame my aesthetic prejudices (and previous experience as a motorbike roadtester) and bought an MZ, but I somehow cannot bring myself to do it.

Not sure about your insurance claims (sic), either: even ancient as I now am, my last scooter – a shyte 8 year-old aulde Yam 125 – cost nigh on £200 to insure and with the loss of my NCB after it was stole, it’d now be far more for a ‘proper’ motorbyke. The Gamma, in comparison, costs me £130 on a classic policy… And it’s gotta roof.

jan buxton - January 27, 2012

….. and your Gamma is using very little fuel at the moment and most unlikely to be driven off by the aforementioned scrotes so it’s got a lot of advantages being a non-runner.

markswill - January 27, 2012

Wise beyond your years, Jan, wise beyond your years.

9. Stephen - January 24, 2012

I think we should run a poll on what motorcycle is least likely to be nicked yet reliably get one from a-b with little TLC. Apart from a superdream which although unlikely to get nicked is horrid, a MZ would be right up there. Especially the pug ugly one (ETX?). Cheap as a rude word (often coming with a spare non runner for bits) and tediously reliable. I would have also suggested certain old clunkers like a BSA B31 but these are now likely to get nicked by middle aged blokes looking for a resto project and are no longer cheap, in the MZ meaning of the word. A big BM would not be top choice as being undesirable to the scrote world, nor maintennace free (having two in my shed!).

Parking at Craven Arms might be free, and while not as bad as Leominster…….

Mark, my name may be familiar. I subscribed to your blog when I tripped over it one day as I have always enjoyed your ramblings in innumerable motorcycle journals with which I grew up . I do know Blez to say hello to and we have many mutual acquaintances (mostly TRF folk) but I don’t think we have actually met. I think I might have written to you in recent years when you sold your TTr about your decision ot give up mud plugging. Originally from radnorshire borders but now living in Central France where crime is almost unheard of.

markswill - January 24, 2012

Firstly, and to all those with more time on their hands that might be good for them that read them, I love the way my blogs meander from one subject to another for no good reason. Anyway, yes an MZ would be ideal as a non-nickable bike, but I have ridden them without much satisfaction and utilitarian-for-its-own-sake has never won me over. Plus as we agree, they do look horrid.

Otherwise perhaps a Honda CX, if you can still find a decent runner, or a Kawasaki ER5…?

And lucky old you living in central France, although why?

10. Stephen - January 24, 2012

Several reason for living out here in France. 1) Rural property is alot cheaper than Herefordshire. 2) We decided to torture my son and take him from a very expensive private school and put him into the French education system, (so far a good move). 3) Space, peace, superb biking both on and off road. It is is quite like Herefordshire/Radnor border area here but as it was 40 years ago when I was in short trousers.

There are negatives, French tax system being the main one, brings new meaning to the word complex. Missing my biker chums is another but one I have finished the houses here I am thinking of a biker based tourist business (B&B, tours etc) so that they can all come and visit and buy me beer.

On the MZ front, no I don’t actually own one, but am sure that the lack of satisfaction in the riding experience would be compensated for by not having to experince rural public transport.

11. Richard - January 24, 2012

Call me a pedant, and many often do, but I fail to see how the miscreants can be charged with Taking Without Owners Consent, seeing as the car went nowhere. I’m no lawyer, but from what you write criminal damage might be more appropriate, although I suspect that carries no greater a penalty than a slap on the wrist these days.

Sadly, having a car is the only practical solution to living in the sticks.

markswill - January 24, 2012

Hi Richard. As ever, I didn’t make myself clear: The TWOC-ing referred to the car they little buggers did manage to drive off that night, a crime they’ll doubtless repeat after their metaphorical wrist-slapping.

12. Jules Bywater-lees - January 24, 2012

I had my day yacht vandalised, the safety kit stabbed or smashed and for good measure the mooring cut whilst it was parked in the harbour. I could have spent £600 a year to keep it in the club but the damage was less and eventually someone throw a petrol bomb over the security fence and wiped out half a dozen boats in one go.
Of course the little bastards were caught, the sense of disempowerment quite overwhelming but the pleasure as they walked away with a fine was to tell them how sorry I felt for them in that their sad little lives would stay that way for life.

I can recommend the auction method, go to Kingsland with some loose change, buy a car with 6month mot, sell the car when it runs out, either at a scrap yard [£100] or at the auction. Total motoring cost including not buying mots £200 a year, excluding your start-up fee.

markswill - January 24, 2012

Yeah, well we are all cynics when it comes to so-called law’n’order, but I’m intrigued what their reactions were when you told them how sorry you were for your little wretches? Sneery, I imagine.

As for the pikey auction solution, well we’ve all been there Jules and most of us have had very bad experiences: last car I bought there cost me £400-odd and promptly shed its clutch (cost = £300+) and a hundred quids’s worth of tax shortly thereafter. Wouldn’t pass its MoT six months after that (CV joints, brakes = £275) and I sold it eventually for £325… at Kingsland auction!

13. Paul Blezard - January 24, 2012

MW: “Tried scooters Blez, but they kept getting stole and trashed”.
You’ve never tried a maxiscooter Mark, by which I mean a big’un over 300cc. The Burgmen, both 400 and 650, have a really neat anti-theft device in the form of a sliding metal shutter over the ignition keyhole. This is actually more effective against drongo low-lifes than, for example, the immobilisers built into other machines, because it stops them wrecking the ignition switch before they realise that the machine won’t start without the special key, no matter how many wires they cut and splice together.
Furthermore, Burgers are pretty low down the list of desirable machinery of bike or scoot thieves, especially if they are fitted with sensible items like top boxes, lap covers and muffs, yet they make mighty fine all-rounders. You’d have to be seriously well equipped and mob-handed to nick a Burgman 650, bearing in mind that, at 280kgs ready for the road but without any of the aforementioned accessories, it is heavier than a Hayabusa, yet remarkably well balanced at all speeds. (and I speak as one who raced mine for a week across France in the Moto Tour, including riding several miles of dirt road and wearing through the footboards (without falling off) at Le Mans and sundry other circuits and special stages).
Finally, in addition to the cavernous underseat space,there’s enough room on the pillion seat to carry two geisha girls or one sumo wrestler, whichever is your preference! PNB

markswill - January 25, 2012

There’s something about the aesthetics of feet-forward scoots that rankles with me Blez, but as a die-hard FF fan this probably won’t wash with you. I take all your other points about them though, but even if I could overcome my visual reservations, I couldn’t afford one.

Maybe you could donate one of your cast-offs to the deserving rural poor?!

14. Frank W - January 26, 2012

Mark! I have it. It was delivered in a big white van by a man from Rugby this very morning. It is so *you* that I am beside myself (my favourite position — name that joke) with smugness and delight. It’s cold and windy here in the grand fastness of Cornwall (much like rural France but with no Super U), so I was afeared of the chiil when I took it for a test ride (I only take test rides after the bike’s been paid for and delivered as a chap should; saves on disappointment and non-purchase). But no.
After only 7 or 8 minutes of ferocious if increasingly lame kick kick kicking, by which time I was sweating like a German sur la plage en juillet, off it ran. Perfect. Dragged on the helmet and screamed away down the lane. ‘Scream’ here being used in its least accurate sense.
Amazing. Why you bother with knackered old cars is a mystery. Electric start scooters?
Of course it’s a Norton. From 1950. Marvellous. Hideously rusty, so theft-proof, unstartable except by RealHeroes, so joyrider proof, and … blimey … it’s appreciated by £500 while I’ve been typing this … so inflation-proof.
Why should vehicle choice be sane?

markswill - January 26, 2012

What exactly “it” is that you now have one can only morbidly speculate, but as I am prone to exactly that, I suspect it’s a weird aulde Noton. Each to his own, as indeed I keep replying to El Blez and his insistence that I acquire a big, weird scooter.

Knackered aulde motorcars? Well if I could realistically afford an un-knackered new(er) motorcar, I might buy one. But a new(ish) Mouserati, Arfu or even a Flee-it are beyond my means, ‘specially the running costs. And weren’t you once the co-publisher of a mighty organ that celebrated the joy and common sense of owning an, erm, fine aulde jalopy? Leopards, spots etc., etc.?

15. Col.H - January 27, 2012

Speaking as a serial MZ owner I shall add my two penn’orth to their manifold virtues. However they too have found their market, a 250 Trophy I fancied re-living my distant teenagedom on went for fifteen hundred nicker last year, which I’m assured was an absolute steal.
MZs (and their owners) live in a parallel aesthetic universe where points are added for red oxide paint, peeling Craven panniers, home brewed leg shields and the rest. A fine example of the genre belonged to an Oxford don I happened to park next to one afternoon. His Supa 5 had a patina, nay encrustation, of road salt, gaffer tape, two stroke oil and brackets for extinct fittings, topped with a totally opaque screen of some indeterminate and possibly experimental material.

Marvellous bikes if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t own a mirror.

markswill - January 27, 2012

On the basis of your gilded prose, I’m already starting to overcome my prejudices Col…

16. Roger B. - February 1, 2012

I’ve borrowed (with permission) a 650 Burgman. I was impressed. It goes, stops and handles pretty well, and is also economical. I want a matt black one. Be careful when doing very tight, slow turns if you don’t want to land on your ear.

MZs do get nicked, a friend had his MZ outfit taken. Surprised? Well, so were we. We got it back.

When lowlifes tried to steal my old Z400 and found it locked, they punished me for my cheek by torching it.

The above theft and attempted theft were both in Milton Keynes, but could have been in a lot of places in the UK.

markswill - February 2, 2012

Well I’m afraid to say, ‘What did you expect?’ Milton Keynes is the bike crime capital of the world, and Z400s…? Well they’re like gold-dust.

17. Roger B. - February 5, 2012

What did I expect? Nothing else, really. If I remember right, when the MZ outfit was stolen the theft was reported but the bike recovered by the owner the next day. A couple of days later the police turned up and wanted to tick the box marked “crime solved” Perhaps their sterling efforts are why Milton Keynes is the bike crime capital of the world.

In closing I must say that it was a rare privilege to ride such a modern classic as the Z400. : ]

18. andie - February 11, 2012

i came close to buying a 2.1 xm a year or so back. the owner (a photographer down near rye) had owned it for 10 years or so and proudly produced a phonebook sized wodge of history. as the car gently lifted and reversed back out of the garage i fell in love – it was near immaculate, but i thought i’d better take a look through the history just to get an idea of what was involved in running one.

money pit doesn’t even begin to describe it, i counted invoices totaling 12 grand over 100k miles, and that’s not including the 2 grand or so that had been spent fitting a new engine just before he’d bought it. every mot was 7 or 800, (and there were plenty of bills inbetween those). ok he only wanted 1400 for it, but given that there was every chance the auto gearbox would shit the bed (soon and without warning)i had to pass. but i hope whoever did buy it was in a position to give it the attention it would most likely need.

markswill - February 12, 2012

It is quite amazing that people are prepared, even keen to put up with the many failings of these cars and one wonders what on earth Citroen’s corporate thinking was when they launched an underdeveloped, highly complex, poorly built car: did they really expect the motoring public to put up with its manifest problems and weaknesses in numbers sufficient to make it a commercial success? Especially when many if not most of their dealers at the time, and certainly nowadays, can’t be doing with them.

Having said which, when they’re running properly, they are quite wonderful to drive. And that’s presumably why the online fora that exist are attended by helpful enthusiasts determined to try and keep them that way, although there is a strong tinge of exclusivity amongst many of those who talk in part numbers and arcane procedures the less informed of us owners can easily feel intimidated by.

Since my car was vandalised over a month ago it’s finally back on the road but bedevilled by electrical faults that’ve required it too return to the garage twice and it’s still not right. I am therefore myself coming to the end of my tether and may well have to off-load the car as I do not have pocket deep enough to carry on like this. Boo-hoo-hoo.

19. andie - February 12, 2012

that’s a cryin’ shame – i’d have hoped there was at least one XM out there that didn’t require constant affection. by-the-by have you seen how quickly C6 values are dropping? i reckon they’ve come down 3 grand in about a year. give it another year or two and they’ll be within the reach of anyone stupid enough to want one (me)

markswill - February 13, 2012

Well Andie, I more than you had hoped that “there was at least one XM out there that didn’t require constant attention”… and indeed the reason I paid over the odds for mine was in the hope, nay expectation, that this wouldn’t be the case. But then I hadn’t bargained for vandalisation and its consequences which, I’m afraid to say, continue apace.

As for the C6, well from reading the club mag (the excellent ‘Citroenean’) it seems the car is as underdeveloped, inconsistently built and thus flawed as the XM was. What IS it with Citroen and their flagship models – persistent death wish? That said, I’d love one!

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