Three guys, a teenager and a dog. That’s what the passenger manifest looked like as we pulled the SCM Citroën out of the garage.
A U.S. model 1971 DS21 Pallas, we bought it last year from SCMer Greg Long. A Citroën fanatic, he drove his DS21 cabriolet with us on our Caravan to Concorso a few years ago.
As part of my search for classic cars with automatic transmissions, Citroëns with BVH (Citromatic) gearboxes had popped onto my radar.
Greg had found this two-owner, always-serviced-by-one-mechanic car in Nevada. One of 600 U.S.-spec models sold in 1971, it was painted in the one-year-only color of Blue Platine and had a tobacco leather interior.
Bill Warner is the Hagerty Grand Marshal of this year’s SCM 1000. In addition to being the founder of the Amelia Island Concours (now “The Amelia”) Bill has raced and driven nearly every kind of car imaginable.
Except a Citroën.
Although he has never claimed that piloting a DS21 is on his bucket list, SCM decided we should make his visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest and the Columbia Gorge a memorable one. Hence, he and his wife Jane will be starting the tour — and hopefully finishing it — in the DS.
While its visual presentation is stunning, our first drive in it was not devoid of excitement.
The DS “failed to proceed” on a busy stretch of Interstate 84 at dusk. A quick-responding flatbed service got us back to Portland. Technician Chip Starr quickly diagnosed the problem as a clogged needle jet; the engine wasn’t getting any fuel.
One of the pleasures of analog engines is that if they are properly set up, using new ignition parts, they are usually extremely reliable. This is especially true with the light duty we subject them to.
Chip thought that today’s ethanol-infused fuel may have caused the blockage, and suggested we use only ethanol-free gas. We have followed his advice and the car has been reliable since then.
Indeed, the only way you can make a classic car reliable is by using it. So when a chance came up to make a 250-mile round trip to Eugene, OR, I jumped at it.
All Citroën DS and ID models have a tremendous amount of interior space. Like a Mini, the wheels are pushed to the extreme corners of the chassis.
The ostensible reason for our mad dash was to view the Maserati 4.2-liter 4-cam V8 that SCMer Chris Bright is having rebuilt for his tribute 350S. In addition, we would tour Vintage Underground, a restoration shop in Eugene that is providing the mechanical support for the SCM 1000. As an added bonus, we would also get to see part of SCMer Alex Haugland’s collection of 170 or so cars.
Chris agreed to drive the DS, being intrigued by the chance to master the BVH gearbox. Bradley came with us, along with his Scottie dog, Bella. We picked up Cisitalia-, Amilcar-, Bugatti- and belly-tanker-enthusiast Ed Godshalk along the way.
All four us remarked how comfortable and spacious the interior was. In addition, the superior aerodynamics of the DS meant there was little wind noise. Bella settled into her happy place on the parcel shelf under the rear window.
While the speedometer was 10 mph optimistic, the Speedbox app confirmed an actual cruising speed of 80 mph at 4,000 rpm.
The passenger rear door on the DS was not closing properly. I texted ahead to Kyia Friesen, Director of Logistics and Customer Care at Vintage Underground. He confirmed they would take a quick look at it when we arrived.
Owner Joe Potter gave us a tour of one part of the facilities. They do everything from basic service to ground-up restorations, as well as electric conversions of classic cars.
The team then gave the door latch a little vintage car love and it now works perfectly
Alex talked about the variety of his collection. He and I have similar tastes in cars. Rather than a predictable lineup of F40s, F50s, Enzos, Veyrons and SWBs, Alex has collected and restored cars that have driving characteristics that appeal to him. That includes everything from Triumph Stags to Volvo 122s and 544s, Renault Turbos, Lancia Scorpions and Appia sedans.
It was an invigorating afternoon. After the tour, all four of us, along with the dog, piled back into the car.
We found a “clear gas” station and filled the tank. While watching Chris learn his way around the gearbox, I commented to him that the best way to understand it was to abandon any preconceived notion you might have about how an automatic gearbox feels. There is no such thing as a “quick shift.”
When in first, you lift off the gas, and then move the “wand” into second. Chris calculated that if you waited about four seconds, you would feel second gear engage, and then you could give it gas again.
I could visualize the interior of the BVH being filled with French hamsters wearing berets, all waving and squeaking to each other as they got their various hamster wheels to line up.
By the end of the day, Chris had become a BVH “supremo.”
No doubt, Bill Warner will achieve the same level of skill, and have yet another accomplishment to add to his record.
We are pleased that the DS, when fueled with clear gas, has been reliable and predictable. Between now and July 17, when the SCM Tour starts, we will continue to drive and enjoy it.
It has Bill’s name written all over it.
Love the Citroens! Had a 63 DS in college. Paid $200. Had Citromatic and it always worked fine. Particularly handy when the battery pooped out was the ability to crank start the car. Hydraulic leaks were the death of it—when brake fluid was $20 for 5 gal! This was the ‘60s.