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A series of non sequiturs this month - discrete topics with no links between them. 

Chamber of Horrors 

The photo of the hideously mut(il)ated Xantia in the January 1997 issue led me to set up a Chamber of Horrors in my web site. If you have any pictures of such cars, I would be very grateful if you could send me a copy and I will scan and return it to you. Your name will be credited (!) and available for millions of people to see on the Internet. Alternatively, if you prefer, you may remain anonymous.

Please send your pictures to me but please, scan them at no more than 300 dpi and keep the size to no more than 400 pixels (largest dimension).

Citroëns in eastern Europe 

Imagine if you will, living in one of the former Communist countries of eastern Europe. You earn $200 per month as a research fellow but you haven't been paid since May 1996. To keep body and soul together, you decide to do some taxi driving and you decide to buy a new diesel Citroën for which you pay $30,000. Although you speak your own language plus Russian and have some English too, you don't speak French. Your new Citroën is delivered with the owner's manual written in French.

This may sound incredible. In fact, the anecdote above is a mixture of three true accounts. First of all a Polish Citroën owner e-mailed me asking for advice about obtaining a manual written in English for his XM which he had purchased in Germany. Understandably, the car came with a manual written in German - a language he did not understand. He contacted Citroën Polska who offered him a manual written in French - another incomprehensible tongue. I suggested he contact Citroën in France and translated his request for either a Polish or English language manual into French. Citroën France suggested he contact Citroën UK.

The second tale involved an Ukrainian who bought a second-hand BX. There was no manual. When he contacted the Ukrainian Citroën importer he was offered a manual in French. Again, Citroën France recommended he contact Citroën UK for an English language version.

The third case involved an Hungarian who had bought a new Xantia. The handbook was in French. Unfortunately his English is not very good so he asked for a manual in Magyar. The importer told him that French is the only language available unless he wanted to contact one of the Citroën subsidiaries in western Europe. Tough if you only speak Magyar and Russian.

He made the point that Citroëns are not cheap in Hungary, that there is no warranty provided with the car and that the service agents frequently do not stock parts and require the customer to pay for parts in advance. Six weeks later they arrive - if you are lucky.

All three of my correspondents told me that the Japanese manufacturers supply manuals in the language of the country in which the vehicles are sold.

What astonishes me however is that Citroën France are unable to provide English manuals and refer clients to Citroën UK who, presumably have to supply the manual free of charge. Looking at my BX manual, I notice firstly that it was printed in France (so why can't it be supplied from there?) and secondly that it is specific to the UK market, i.e. it only covers right hand drive models with options tailored for the UK. There are sometimes some quite significant differences between left hand drive and right hand drive models (leaving aside the self evident location of the steering wheel) so presumably the English manual will be of limited application.

I find myself wondering about the workshop manuals used by service agents in eastern Europe. What language are they written in? I am assured that the sales and marketing material is in the appropriate language.

The Saxo report on `Top Gear' 

I expect most of you saw Jeremy Clarkson's report on the hot hatch version of the Saxo where it was up against, amongst others, its Peugeot stablemate. He found little to fault with the car but, in the final analysis, preferred the Peugeot because of the question of image - "...and Citroën were responsible for... (dramatic pause) ...the 2CV."

With motoring journalists making comments like this, it's hardly surprising that Citroën UK wish to distance themselves from the past. Other motor manufacturers have been allowed to reinvent themselves (q.v. Volkswagen who managed to shed their reputation for building outdated cars like the Beetle - although interestingly they, unlike Citroën, are keen to remind people of their past - the current Sharan advertisement which shows the old Kombi, being a case in point) but not Citroën. The Citroën Car Club is probably not seen as helping the cause either. Okay, so we know that the 2CV was an amazing design and we know that the DS was way ahead of any of its rivals but as far as the general public are concerned, Citroëns of yore were `quirky' - this adjective is de rigeur when describing Citroëns, as far as motoring journalists are concerned. Far from helping the company sell cars, this reputation undoubtedly hinders them and Clarkson's comment was, I'm afraid, typical.

How many potential clients are put off by Citroën's reputation I wonder? Talking with a colleague who drives a Xantia, I asked her why she had chosen the car. "It's got an airbag, anti lock brakes and it's economical" was the reply. I asked her then about Citroën's image - she works in marketing - and she confirmed that prior to the Xantia she would never have considered a Citroën because they built that `primitive dustbin on wheels'. "What about the DS?" - "never heard of it" - so I showed her a picture - "oh, that car - was it a Citroën?"

Diurnal lights 

According to the Daily Telegraph, Brussels is considering imposing the fitting of Scandinavian style driving lights on all new vehicles sold in the European Union. This means that all new cars will be fitted with dim dip lights that cannot be extinguished while the engine is running. They are also contemplating a Directive which will compel all motorists to drive with their lights on, irrespective of weather conditions - the purpose of this being to ensure that owners of older cars are not unfairly exempted from the requirements. The excuse for this is safety. 

A conversation earlier this year with a French motoring journalist revealed that France was forced to abandon her yellow lights, yellow road markings and road signs with a yellow background on these self-same spurious safety grounds. This is the self same European Commission that agreed to lighting regulations that prevented the manufacture of vehicles with lights connected to the steering (the reason for the CX's fixed lights) and insisted that all the indicators on a car be the same colour. Once upon a time, most cars had white front indicators and amber or red ones at the rear. This meant that one could tell in which direction an overtaking vehicle was travelling. They have now "solved" the problem by insisting that the lights be switched on all the time.

How long before the Commission decides that our atavistic habit of driving on the left is dangerous, I wonder? Still, were they to do so, presumably we could enjoy cars which are not adapted for use on the wrong side of the road.

© 1997 Julian Marsh 

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