Dave Burnham is on the front line of preserving hydro-pneumatic motoring in the USA
Dave Burnham has been in the business of Citroën performance, maintenance and restoration long enough to witness their retreat from the U.S. market. He is now enjoying their resurgence as collector cars. Whether boosting factory performance through dyno-tuning in the 1970s, driving custom-built Citroën DS-based ice racers in the ‘80s or meticulous Citroën SM supercars restorations today, Dave Burnham Citroën in upstate New York is dedicated to preserving Citroën motoring in the USA and around the world.
After graduating from college in 1977, Burnham chose to get a job rather than an advanced engineering degree and landed in the Citroën dealership in Albany, N.Y. He was hired to man the dynamometer for tuning. Dyno tuning attracted him to the dealership and although he was unfamiliar with the French brand, he learned to appreciate the aerodynamic cars and the people who drove them. Burnham joined the club when he purchased his first Citroën.
“I saw all these weird cars. I didn’t know much about Citroëns at that point, but I found out that they had been a dealer and they had sold the cars from 1968 to 1972 until they stopped importing them. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1974.) I saw a Citroën come into the shop every once in a while and we stocked Citroën parts so within a month I bought one. That was the first one for me. I bought it from one of the other mechanics for a dollar!”
Burnham recalled that the rusted 1966 DS21 sedan “really wasn’t worth much more than a dollar.” Yet this standard DS would not only play a key role in the establishment of his company, Dave Burnham Citroën, but also undergo a transformation into a dedicated ice racer. It now resides at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn., with 26 inches cut out of its wheelbase and 16 consecutive race wins to its credit from the last year Burnham raced it in 1986. While the dyno-tuning dealership is no longer in business, Burnham’s talent for Citroën tuning and service continues.
As the dealership neared the end, Burnham inherited a collection of Citroën factory service tools, books and manuals, as well as an inventory of genuine Citroën parts. With a later, daily-driver Citroën DS wagon stuffed full of goods, Burnham slowly established his reputation as the go-to technician for Citroën repairs. What began with fixing Citroëns out of his Dad’s garage drove into a business called BBK restorations and then onto Dave Burnham Citroën – all built on a desire to please his customers.
“I absolutely did not plan it or try to make it happen. It just happened. If I would have tried it might not have worked. I was working on them at home. Next thing you know I got married and we bought a house and I started working on them at the house. The word starts getting around. I got published in the Citroën newsletter and people are calling me”, said Burnham.
Those somewhat dire post-Citroën pullout days of the mid-Eighties were different than the current Citroën situation. The first couple of decades of operation revolved around maintenance work that kept the remaining fleet driving with only one or two restorations per year. Dave said the majority of repairs fell into the maintenance category, which, combined with a shortage of spares, required colossal faith at times.
“It was really the doldrums for Citroën. You could not get parts. If you could they were wicked expensive. People were asking me to put used brake pads in because they couldn’t afford new brake pads. It was a terrible time. I’m amazed I made a living and stuck it out”.
Parts’ scarcity and improvisation shifted into enthusiasm 15 or 20 years after the last Citroën was officially imported into the U.S. market. Today the shop focuses on more comprehensive restorative and repair efforts with more Citroëns than ever coming in for overhauls, full restorations or both. Formerly driven-to-work Citroëns are now roaming into Dave Burnham Citroën to reverse the aging process and then onto shows and meets.
With this rekindled interest in all things Citroën came aftermarket support. Replacement and reproduction parts production ramped up in the mid-Nineties – two decades after the brand died in the United States. Burnham and Citroën fans welcome the shift.
“Before that you couldn’t get anything. We were relying on new-old stock and whatever we could make work, GM alternators and whatever we could come up with to keep the cars going. From 1995 until now the values are going up and the cars are really collectible. People are trying to do the right thing and most of the cars being sold for big money are really original and done up really right. This is completely the opposite of the ‘80s. Every car was a mess if you look at them now”
While the aftermarket has overlooked some of the specialized hydraulic suspension components that require specialized machine work, there is speculation that Citroën (and parent company PSA) might delve into the reproduction parts business. Until then, Burnham and his fellow specialists can keep every Citroën running via their collective knowledge and experience gleaned from decades of dedicated service, restorations and racing experience. “We haven’t run into anything we can’t fix. It’s sometimes challenging, but we always make it work somehow.”