Against All Oddities: Another day, another crapcan Citroën
Matthew Anderson is a North Carolina native, professional engineer, and devoted crapcan connoisseur. He owns a Holden, a Citroën, a Hobby 600 camper, a Moskvich, an Aussie Ford Falcon, a Studebaker, an Isuzu, and he thinks that’s it. We don’t ask him too many follow-up questions. –EW
I’ve been back from Germany for nearly a year. Am I happy to be back? You bet your language malapropisms I am. I got my dad’s truck running, reunited with one of my old Holdens, and have been enjoying my new engineering job. Alas, I still pine for European life now and again: six weeks of paid leave, decent espresso for cheap … and an endless supply of obscure and unloved cars.
One evening I was feeling especially nostalgic. I hungered for the warm embrace that is dragging a trash pile home from an adjacent European region. Maybe I could even spend a night in an unfamiliar place? Make some new friends? Endanger myself, or have a chat with the police? It could be just like old times.
As it turns out, my proclivity for patina is proving just as vibrant here in America as it was abroad. Thus, I have acquired a second Citroën Ami 8. Only six more to go!
Regular readers know that I have a thing for Citroëns. Ever since I started selling DS and SM parts—in ninth grade, on eBay 1.0, which I installed using a free AOL floppy disk—my bond with the French brand has only grown. Granted, my Chevron count of one was starting to feel like an unconvincing metric of brand loyalty. I passed on many good Deux Chevaux while I was living in Germany, but there was one car for which I found a listing—a 1970-ish Ami 8 for sale way back in America. Having cashed in on a lot of favors recently, I shuddered at the idea of asking anyone if they would check it out for me in Maryland.
I moved on. The car sat. Then it sold.
A few months ago, what started as a water leak at my place in North Carolina turned into a full kitchen renovation. It seemed like a great time to see whatever happened to that old Ami 8. I contacted the buyer, a truly worthy custodian who nonetheless informed me he wasn’t going to do anything with it. Would I take it for what he’s got in it—about $400? He’d even hold it for me until I could pick it up in Eastern Maryland, a scant seven hours away?
I’m only human, so I said yes.
Days and weeks ticked by, my non-kitchen projects looking on with jealousy and contempt. On the day that last tile was grouted and the kitchen was done, it was Ami time. After booking a one-way U-Haul and digging the $400 sold-Ford-Taurus money out of my sock drawer, I made plans to pick it up. And what a delight, I finally had something to tow with—my wife’s new 4Runner, barely broken in at 400 miles. Towing a trailer up the Appalachians seemed like the best way to seat the rings and bed those clutch packs. As always, my wife and Lukas the Romanian street dog joined me on the journey.
Apart from a missed turn and an unpleasant 5 p.m. detour through Washington D.C., the drive up to Annapolis was pretty breezy. The three of us checked into a historic hotel and hit the town for some food. Morning brought another ninety minutes of driving and a stop by U-haul for a trailer rental. We immediately loaded up the Ami upon arrival, my first in-the-metal look at the thing. Scattered parts in the trunk: check. Rampant corrosion: check. Complete lack of documentation: check. Exactly as described.
The Ami loaded up with a shove from three men; however, one would have done the trick. With no motor or gearbox, the car was about 850 pounds at most.
The seller, Andrew, also had a Trabant stashed away. He had previously tried to tempt me with it, but I am an adult with self-control and declined. Just kidding! Someone had purchased it before I arrived. They hadn’t come to get it yet, which gave me a few minutes to experience both jealousy and gratitude.
After a nice chat and walk around the Trabbi, we hit the road to Charlottesville to hang with some expat friends who recently moved back to America, too. Just like old times! Again!
I’ve bought a lot of cars, and one of my favorite traditions is the rest-area or welcome-center-strap-check and vehicle inspection. You know, for those of us so terrible at vetting new projects that the first real look-over takes place while it’s already leaking onto a rented trailer. In this case there was, however, nothing to leak: no gas tank, no drivetrain, and cut brake lines. Everything that should’ve been wet was dry. Everything that should’ve been dry had gotten wet until the water had corroded its way to freedom … and then became dry again. I’ve always heard that Citroëns rust from the inside out, and this example supported that theory.
My habitual check reassured me the straps were still tight.
This 1970 Citroën Ami 8 was originally Vert Iris, an absolutely wonderful metallic Kermit color. The fact that it was missing a motor meant it is an obvious candidate for a BMW R1100 bike motor swap, which would add about 60 horsepower from stock. Furthermore, the car is so rough that a restoration and full suite of bodywork would be absolutely mandatory for it to be usable; there could be no careful tiptoe-ing around preservation of patina.
My plan is to one day restore my blue Ami, which I absolutely can’t screw up for sentimental reasons. This shell of car is the sacrificial lamb.
In another sense, this new Ami is for fun. I have no garage space for the thing, so it’ll be an exercise in learning to restore a car outdoors. At the very least, I can’t make it any worse.