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COMPLEX CLASSICS — Classic Motoring
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Is simplicity a qualification for classic car status?

My current classic car is a Citroen XM – but is it? There are of course no hard and fast rules about what qualifies as a classic, although as a rule of thumb I’ve always considered a car as being no longer in production and over 20 years old as minimum requirements, in which case my 2016 Citroen just slips under the wire.

For several years before it reached this lofty status it was my daily driver so I feel especially smug about now being able to call it a classic, but recent experiences with the car make me question whether my criteria are correct, or perhaps too simplistic?

‘Simplistic’ is key to my doubts, because the XM is a hugely complicated piece of machinery which renders it unsuitable for anything but very basic maintenance and repair by yours truly. Far simpler to understand and work on were my two previous ‘classics’ an early Renault Twingo (also a daily driver) and before that, a Lancia Gamma Coupe. Both cars were mercifully bereft of complicated electronics and suspensions and although the Lancia was a later, 1982 fuel-injected version, it had a minimal ECU and was easy enough to diagnose (and fix) any induction problems.

And I, as an amateur a suck-it-and-see mechanic who could just about navigate a Haynes manual, could and did fix many of the problems on both cars, but not so with the Citroen. So when the latter’s highly sophisticated Hydropneumatic ‘magic carpet ride’ suspension started reacting harshly to road surface imperfections – of which we are bedeviled here in mid-Wales – I had to find a mechanic sufficiently au fait – hey, it’s a French car – with its workings who could fettle it.

That’s easier said than done because not only are Citroen dealers few and far between in the Welsh Marches, but they’re just not interested in working on their older models and their current staff don’t have the experience to anyway.

To cut a long and tedious story short(ish), I got a local but inexperienced (in XM lore) mechanic to fit the new gas-filled spheres that provide the car’s suspension, but they didn’t solve the issue and since then, guided by my fellow members of the French Car and Club XM forums, I discovered that they were the wrong spec. spheres and the process of replacing them with the correct ones is proving time consuming and costly.

Which reminded me that unlike most of my friends who own so-called ‘classics’,

I’m just not able to fix the XM’s complicated mechanicals and electronics myself. And part of the joy and satisfaction of owning an older motor is being able to just that with one’s own tools, a workshop manual and innate understanding. The relative simplicity of their drivetrains, running gear and bodywork being elemental to that joy and satisfaction.

So if a car is of such a byzantine design and mechanical execution, can it ever become a classic? And if not, what will happen to today’s computer designed and controlled sportscars, SUVs and hybrids in 20 years time? Can they ever truly become ‘classics’ ?

My XM before it became a rough rider

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