Against All Oddities: State of the Citroën
Thank you for your attendance at this important meeting of Against all Oddities, Inc. As we know, the Anderson Family American Vehicle Consolidation Plan of 2022 was recently wrapped up, and the 2023 initiative is in effect as we make our way through Q1. Thus far, we are aligned with prior budgetary approval parameters.
Please open your file folders to Item 1: my well-weathered 1972 Citroën Ami 8. If you recall from my last article (linked above), the plan was to ready the Ami for relocation from Savannah, Georgia to Statesville, North Carolina. Seeing as the U-haul budget was running thin and I had forfeited my truck weeks ago, other transport options became necessary to explore. The thought of my Taurus with a 2-inch receiver welded to the trunk floor, plus my neighbor’s dolly, sounded like too much work. (Not to mention the smell of burnt trans fluid.) What else to do but hatch a hare-brained and high-risk road trip plot? And who better to map it out with than Dad?
With a little help from our black-labeled friend Evan Williams, we sorted a plan of attack. Naturally, it involved driving the Citroën the full distance.
The idea was as follows: The day after Christmas, my wife, cousin, Romanian street dog, and I would drive our Fiat camper the two hours from Raleigh back home to Statesville. My dad would follow two days later in his Civic Si. We would leave at 6:30 a.m. and book it down to Savannah together. Tacos would be eaten. We would hit the road in our respective cars as soon as any last-minute fixes were complete. Barring breakdowns, we would split at Orangeburg, South Carolina and go our separate ways. With tools, a jump battery, cables, a bin of spare parts, tow strap, and two like-minded individuals in separate cars, what could go wrong? Or, more precisely, what could go wrong that couldn’t be addressed with skinned knuckles, a tow truck, and a few favors?
As one would expect of a nearly new turbocharged Civic, the ride south down I-95 was quick and economical. By 11:23 a.m. we were in front of the organic tortilla factory which housed the Ami, along with a handful of other classics. I hadn’t driven the Ami in over three years, I suddenly realized. Had it truly been that long since I abandoned it with friends? Other than the driver’s side door wanting to fall off, and some hood damage from a hurricane-befallen live oak limb, it looked pretty much as I’d left it in the spring of 2020. The brakes were taut, aside from a no-longer-functioning handbrake, and it started and moved under its own power. And I was full on tacos and sweet tea. Good enough … vamos!
For investors on this call who are not in the know, Citroën introduced the first Ami—the Ami 6 sedan—in 1961. It was a very mildly modernized 2CV, with fresher styling that included a zany, Ford Anglia-like notchback rear roofline as well as split sliding rear windows. The 2CV’s basic underpinnings remained, albeit with a larger footprint and a bigger 602-cc flat-twin engine with air cooling. The Ami 8 was unveiled in 1969, simplifying the design quirks for both the sedan and wagon variants.
As I pulled off, both air-cooled jugs thumping down the highway and my dad in tow, I was forced to reacquaint myself with the myriad of avant-garde stalks and levers. Attempting to indicate, I instead honked the horn by inadvertently pressing a button mounted on the signal stalk. The next time I tried it, the wipers went off. Several times, I mixed up first gear and reverse on the rifle bolt-like column shifter. Zut alors!
The first miles were otherwise effortless. We continued through handful of towns with only one close call; being lit up by a town officer for coming in a little bit hot. Luckily, our stunning 32 horsepower limped rocketed us to edge of town before he could turn around and catch us. Or maybe he just foresaw the potential paperwork.
After a while, the old man popped up beside me in the Civic. We found a place to pull over, and he asked how it was going. “Practically boring!” I exclaimed with joy. We were both pleasantly surprised. It didn’t last long.
At about the 150 mark of the planned 305 miles, I stopped for a quick fuel refill near the aforementioned city of Orangeburg, South Carolina. There, I had a final chat with Dad before he headed off. At roughly 50 mpg I was getting 50 mpg in the Ami, so things were going splendidly and nothing had broken. We bid each other adieu and went in our respective cardinal directions.
Dusk was setting in. I was loving the cool air and the reverb of the 602-cc flat-twin against pine trees and white sand dunes. What could possibly hamper my mood? Being a faithful companion with good listening skills, the Ami got cheeky and thought it funny to shut off completely. The last time this happened, it was the day before my wedding Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge. The obstacle produced a rather large police response, and in the end my bride-to-be and her mother had to flat-tow me the rest of the way across in her Land Cruiser, amid an entourage of blue lights. So, where were we? Oh yes. A safe-looking work area appeared ahead as the dead Ami decelerated. I signaled (no honk or wipe) and dove in.
Breakdown subsection #1: Mile 204/305- Unknown Farm at Jenkins Hill Road, Lancaster, South Carolina
You can have confidence that I, Against All Oddities, Chief Executive Idiot, have been in worse scrapes. The scenery was quite pleasant for wrenching activities: winter wheat on one side and grazing land on the other. I was immediately approached by a friendly fellow in a Ford Ranger who offered to drive me home—until I told him how far home was. Sympathetic gestures aside, it was getting dark, and fast. My diagnosis didn’t take long: no fuel pressure! Two 11-mm bolts later and I had the pump in my hands. Everything seemed … ok? I could suck fuel in (can still taste as of this writing) as well as manually actuate it and soak the hot engine bay in carburant. The pushrod was in good shape, as were the phenolic spacer and gaskets. So I put all back together, and the car started right up. Off we chugged. Hmmm …
Breakdown subsection #2 – Mile 208/305, Buford Battleground, Buford, South Carolina
As you can see, same situation, in a Revolutionary War battleground this time. It was now dark and I was parked (mostly) in a ditch. With no hazard lights (thanks, France), the best move seemed to be to leave the lights on with my left turn signal blinking. My trusty phone flashlight in hand, I pulled the fuel line off. An initial crank yielded nothing while the second try burped lots of fuel. A haunted battlefield on a road with no shoulder isn’t the best place to find out why the fuel was coming only intermittently, so again it all went back together. And off we puttered.
Breakdown subsection #3 – Mile 209/305, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Buford, South Carolina
A mere one mile later, symptoms recurred. I coasted into the broad parking lot of Bethlehem Baptist and broke out my tools under the frantically changing luminescence of an LED church sign. Through the yellow glow of the January Potluck Luncheon reminder, I made great progress. With the long, day-glo notification that The Sewing Ladies Auxiliary had been rescheduled for January 3, I had a few Revelations of my own. It appeared that the plunger in the pump was sticking and could be freed with a knock from a crescent wrench. Now where’s that prayer request box? I’ve got some miles to cover.
Breakdown subsection #4 – Mile 218/305, Little Tom Starnes Road, Cane Creek, North Carolina
Apparently the jurisdiction for prayer requests ends at either ten miles or the state line. I was actually too scared to take a photo in this particular locale. Being stuck halfway in someone’s driveway, on a blind curve, with suddenly non-functional tail lights will do that to you. I popped the hood, smacked the fuel pump with the largest crescent wrench I had, and scrambled away.
Breakdown subsection #5 – Mile 220/305, Roughedge Trading Company and Marathon Gas Station, Roughedge, North Carolina
Despite the name, Roughedge is known for their friendly service and potato wedges (thanks Google reviews). I was at the town store and gas station to make use of its well-lit parking lot and aisles of items that might provide inspiration to improve my situation. Like mouse traps. Maybe I could Rube Goldberg one of those to thwack the pump when I pull a string? They didn’t have string, so I just bought some bulbs, oil, and carb cleaner after returning from the bathroom with impossibly greasy hands. The two young women at the register stared at my soiled and presumably unwashed digits (they had been, I promise), yet were otherwise cordial.
Under the halide lights, I tried two Hail Marys. First, I loosened the pump bolts, guessing wildly that the housing was distorting. Second: I put the factory winter grille blocker on, thinking maybe temperature had something to do with it. Who knows, right?
Breakdown (ok, not really) #6 – Mile 236/305, Auto Zone Highway 74, Monroe, North Carolina
Let’s consider the facts for a moment, my fellow Oddities stakeholders. I still had no idea what was going on. Sixteen trouble-free miles had passed since the last stop, and my best hypothesis was that the fuel pump got chilly and stiff. That’s not really a lot to go on. It was almost 8 p.m., which is closing time for most every auto parts store in this part of the country.
I figured it was best to stop in at Monroe and buy the ingredients to whatever dumb, last-ditch breakdown recipes I could conjure up. Namely an electric fuel pump. Fully expecting to get year-make-and-modeled while requesting a freestanding electric fuel pump, I was thrilled when they had the parts hanging on the wall. And the young dude at the counter lost his mind over the Ami. With pump, wire, 5/16-inch hose, clamps, and a new Instagram friend procured, I was back underway.
I’m convinced that buying unnecessary car parts is some kind of temporary appeasement to the all-powerful car gods, though I’d wager Bethlehem Baptist takes issue with this hypothesis. Dinner was on the stove at home, and I could only hope that my wild diagnostic swags and sacrificial protection from auto parts deities would bring me soon to hot stew. After all, the heat strangely quit working post grille-blocker installation. Freezing, I pressed on and pressed hard. A scant two hours later, through every possible agricultural smell, I ended up back at our Statesville homestead. The next morning, with the Ami in view in the driveway, I caught the old man up on what he missed. Which was a lot.
Well, that marks the end of this Q1 call. Thank you for your attention. As we move ahead into the Anderson Family American Vehicle Consolidation Plan of 2023, consider what we have all learned through these trying economic times: If it’s not working, hit it with a crescent wrench and hope for the best. Sometimes, that’s enough.