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In an earlier article I touched on road rage and then went on to discuss vehicle safety and the illusion of invulnerability created by the design of modern cars. Since far too many pundits have pontificated about road rage, I feel there is little need to reiterate the arguments, other than to observe that this particular manifestation of a lack of manners is reflected throughout our society. Self preservation however usually intercedes and we suppress our anger when someone elbows us out of the way. Encased in a steel safety cage, one feels one can behave in an aggressive or unmannerly manner with impunity. Likewise, the victim of such behaviour can retaliate. Can you imagine the reaction if someone steamed down the outside of the queue in a Post Office and cut in at the counter? What's the chance of your prodding the person in front of you and yelling, "Get a move on fatso!" merely because they fail to shuffle forward immediately the person in front moves? Yet we see examples of this sort of behaviour on our roads every day. Once upon a time the perpetrators of such behaviour were young tearaways in sports cars. As cars became safer and roads more congested, this rudeness and aggressiveness has become more widespread. Volvo drivers used to be the most guilty, perhaps because they believed they were utterly invulnerable. Perhaps the pundits would care to call this the Achilles Syndrome.

Well, what has all this to do with Citroëns? Unfortunately, quite a lot since modern Citroëns are, just like all the competition, designed to cosset and cocoon the occupants and protect them in the event of an accident. I use the word "modern" since self evidently older Citroëns are not as good as modern ones where passive safety is concerned - although there are some exceptions to this. I recently read a newspaper article (the Telegraph I think) that described a problem that afflicts most modern cars, namely the width of the "A" or windscreen pillars and the poor visibility such a design creates. DS aficionados will sit there with a smug smile on their face, knowing that the pillars are both thin and situated much further back than current designs. Citroën used to advertise this as a safety feature. Modern cars have thicker pillars in order to create a cage to protect the occupants in the event of a rollover. Here we have a solution that in itself creates a problem.

Another example of retrograde engineering that has an adverse effect on safety is the conventional location of the brake pedal on all modern Citroëns. The DS, SM, GS and CX all had the pedal located lower than the fully depressed accelerator pedal - thereby reducing reaction time and thus braking distance. The change to a conventionally located pedal was, presumably, brought about by fashion or the need to compete with mainstream manufacturers.

A further example is the disappearance of the single spoke steering wheel. Over the years the spoke has become bigger - just compare a Mk II BX with a Mk I - and now, in order to accommodate an airbag, it has become utterly conventional (i.e. multi-spoked). The single spoke wheel was aesthetically superior and did not obscure the instruments (although why one should wish to look at them while turning the wheel escapes me).

Side impact bars are yet another example of solutions creating problems; in this instance the problem is one of excess weight. The successor to the BX is heavier and thereby thirstier and slower. The latter may not be a problem but the former most certainly is. Given the finite nature of oil reserves and the ecological problems caused by burning fossil fuels, logic would suggest that cars should become lighter rather than heavier. An alien visitor from outer space, knowing nothing about the development of the Citroën range might conclude that the BX is the successor to the Xantia but such is the topsy turvy nature of mankind's love affair with the car that, as any fule kno, the Xantia, overweight, bloated, thirsty and slow is an "improvement" on the BX. This is not to say that all evolution is back to front; after all, my Turbo Diesel BX returns the same sort of mpg as a 2CV but is, shall we say, slightly more sprightly. Still, drivers of Xantias can rest happy in the knowledge that the doors don't sound like someone kicking a dustbin and that they can operate the stereo without having to let go of the (be-spoked) wheel.

Electric windows are another cause of extra weight - four electric motors weigh a heck of a lot. While it is true that I too enjoy the convenience factor of merely pressing on a button to open or close the windows, I wonder whether we might be better off without them since we continue to pay (at the filling station) for them throughout the life of the car. Furthermore, small children can't get trapped between the glass and the frame with manual winders. The solution to this safety problem usually results in additional (albeit minimal) weight in the form of a sensor to prevent the window closing if there is an obstruction present.

Yet another cause of flab is the sunroof. Glass is heavy. An electric sunroof has an electric motor (surprise! surprise!) and electric motors are heavy. I am six feet tall and bald and I don't particularly like sunroofs because:- a) they restrict headroom, and b) I don't wish to have a sunburnt scalp, and c) they are noisy whether open or closed, and d) I continue to pay for it every time I visit the filling station

Air-conditioning is no answer either since one pays a penalty in terms of the additional weight of the aircon unit itself plus the fact that use of the system increases fuel consumption. A fabric roof might be an answer except for the fact that there are those possessed of sharp knives and no intellect roaming the streets. Perhaps the answer is a lightweight, removable, plastic panel.

© Julian Marsh 1995

This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .