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Our Cars – Beaterland Returns: 1997 Citroën Xantia Athena Break

Antti Kautonen February 20, 2014 Finnish Line 25 Comments


Beaterland, as I call it, is not a country but the used car price range under 2000 euros. Most used cars will descend there, and it is especially treacherous to shop there as you might land a bargain or end up fixing things every month due to deferred maintenance. But by buying daily drivers cheaper than two grand, I attempt to get around without monthly car payments and still attain a certain amount of style and comfort that 15-20-year-old cars can easily offer if kept well.

In case you familiarized yourselves with the previous articles detailing the 1,5-year ownership of a white BMW E34 5-series bought for 1600 euros, you might be interested in hearing there’s a new contender I will write about. Here it is, freshly polished for you to see: a 1997 Citroën Xantia wagon. I bought it this Monday to replace the BMW, and so far it is doing that quite well.

After the BMW was sold, I didn’t really have anything useful to drive for a while. Then the 205 returned from a lengthy visit to the school auto shop, and with a fresh head gasket it’s been serving me very well. But, it soon became apparent I needed a hauler that could do longer journeys with comfort unattainable for the 205, transporting longer objects than could fit in the Peugeot and possibly to tow a trailer sometimes. The Saab 900S is too good to be beat on, too thirsty to be a town runabout, and too nice to bear the end-of-winter road salt in its door bottoms and CV tunnels. I needed to buy something – again.

So, I went through the motions and sampled a few cars within my reasonably low budget. The Felicia was too slight to do long drives, the Accord not fit for salty roads, and the Tempra too expensive for what it was. I again considered a Saab 9000, but the other one was blinged beyond recognition and the other was just too expensive for my taste. Originally, before buying the E34 I had thought of Xantias and seen some, but the rear flank rust had driven me away. And that was the case again – a white wagon I went to see looked horrible, with the acne really badly spread. Another, blue car had a bunch of electrical issues and a higher odo reading, along with a history of a small fire in the trunk. Those were cheap, but too beat.


Then this one came along, a one-owner car from Oulu. It had been traded in recently, in mid-December, and passed along to a Citroën guy in this town to sell on for a small profit. The car had an enormous stack of official dealer receipts depicting the work done in the last two years: new hydropneumatic suspension spheres, suspension central unit, cam belt, clutch, exhaust, brakes, ignition, hand brake cable… the list goes on and on for about 3000 euros. No-one is paying 3000 for a Xantia these days.


I didn’t either. I got it for 800, with an intact fog light thrown in. The car has two sets of tires and valid inspection until July, and only minor cracks in the bumper along with some small dents show its 212 000 km. There’s some wear in the Athena trim level Alcantara on the driver’s seat bolster, but the seat is still supportive. The windshield is cracked, but that won’t affect the yearly inspection as it’s not in direct line of sight.


Couple cracks.



When I got the car on Monday, it was quite dirty inside out. The paint was dull and super-swirly, the interior grubby and yucky with dog hair in the trunk. The car was originally a non-smoker vehicle, but the reseller had taken the liberty to smoke in it. I spent four-five hours washing it, claybaring and buffing the paint, hoovering the interior and treating the dashboard plastics so it would reach the photographed condition. The engine bay is still dirty, but powerwashing the engine and electronics of a relatively quirky French car is not something I’m keen to do, especially with the temperatures just about freezing.


This is what the hood looked like without a drop of wax in it. A buffing was sorely needed.


Engine bay still dirty.


Rear quarter displaying flawless paint. It’s healthy on the inside, as much as my fingers could tell.


Tow hitch is technically detachable.

So, what did I get for 800 euros, or half what I paid for the BMW? A comfortable, roomy, almost squeak-free and surprisingly solid wagon that will happily negotiate our rutted, cambery roads. The engine isn’t a ball of fire, as it’s not a V6 or a turbo, but just the slightly mediocre 112-hp 1.8-litre 16v gasoline four, and still with the manual gearshift it’ll move somewhat more eagerly than the heavier BMW did with its similar but 8-valve unit. Most importantly, the car is 99% rust free, with the rear flank malady not bothering it. The rockers are fine, the underbody too, and only some minor surface rust on a rear wheel arch lip and the rear axle can be seen. And yes, the trademark hydropneumatic suspension works, lifting the car sky high and dropping it down low on command. On daily driving, it disregards road imperfections without being overly floaty.

With the car at least semi-decently detailed and the engine oil and filter changed, I’m extremely happy to take it for a long road trip east this weekend. You’ll get regular reports this year on how the Xantia will be doing, just like with the BMW. Yesterday, I plugged the iPhone in the AUX jack provided by the car’s original stereo, put on some Grace Jones and accelerated the car to a comfortable 100 km/h. At last, for the first time I had a Citroën of my own. Granted, not a CX, but I had been wanting a Citroën all my life. And here, in a Rouge Pivoire wagon I found mine.

[Images: Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

  • dukeisduke

    My dogs want me to buy that. They'll spend hours sniffing to figure out what other dog was in there.

  • dukeisduke

    What's with the walkie-talkie looking thing by the driver's seat?

    • That's the seat height adjustment lever, manual.

    • TurboBrick

      Seat heigh adjuster lever. It's telescoping too, just grab that little nubby and pull before you move it.

  • skitter

    You got a hydropneumatic,
    For 800 euros.

    Curse you DOT.
    Curse you NHTSA.
    Curse you American dealers and buying public.

  • Ed Kim

    An aux-in jack on a 1997 car? How forward thinking. MP3 players didn't even exist back then!

    I would LOVE this car. I echo Skitter's sentiments. DAMN YOU DOT AND NHTSA.

    • dean bigglesworth

      Sure they did, you could buy a 32MB Rio for 300$ and it would store at least a dozen songs!

  • For a moment, I thought there was a cigarette lighter in the bumper.

    • Jay_Ramey

      ::shrugs:: a lot of people in France smoke, that was a 500 Franc option on that car when it was new.

  • Rover1

    Welcome to the Citroen owner/driver association.Looking forward to your adventures.(BX,CX owner)

  • "…a relatively quirky French car…."

    You and I have very different standards in this matter.

    Nonetheless, speaking as perhaps the only member of the Northwest Citroën Owners Club who has never owned, driven, or indeed ridden in a Citroën, welcome! I applaud your purchase.

  • quattrovalvole

    In your usual fashion, you managed to score a very interesting car for very little money, and by the time you finished your work, it's looking almost as good as new. I'd be interested to know what kind of products/method you use when you clean up a new purchase at the very first time.

  • TurboBrick

    Holy smokes, my folks had the seda…. err… 5dr….no… hatchback? Non-wagon version of that car, same color, same interior, same engine. These are sneaky because the engine is a gutless wonder down low and it will stall out on you without mercy, and you can't hear or feel that it's out because it's so damn smooth and quiet when it does run. At least that's the way they were new.

    Does this also have the stamp on the fan shroud that basically says "This thing is absolutely not even remotely DOT compliant and we will not honor any warranty claims coming in from USA". Also, allen head bolts EVERYWHERE just for the sake of being weird.

    • HSA❄

      Allen head is weird? Is this some USA/Europe dichotomy, or why have I never thought that Allen head would be something non-standard in cars? Yet I wonder why the door panels in my car are attached using two Torx head bolts plus one Allen.

      • TurboBrick

        Never ran into them with my American or Japanese cars. The only time I use my Allen sockets is on a) Volvo brake caliper brackets, b) that Pierburg CBV on a B230FT w/ T3 and c) flat-pack furniture.

        • HSA❄

          I know, I know, this picture has gone round the web so many times that it entitles to 256 downvotes, but… you know what is the inevitable consequence of mentioning Volvo and flat-pack furniture in a single sentence? It's like a thunderstorm or a bass solo: you know it's coming, but you can't do anything about it.
          <img src="http://www.broerse.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/volvo_ikea.jpg&quot; width="300">

          • TurboBrick

            And that's a really silly picture because I don't think the K-Jet turbo engines have a CBV mounted like that and the Allen key is too small for the brake caliper brackets which are 10mm. But that's probably irrelevant.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Not so wild about the interior, but the engine bay looks honest, and that exterior is Ooh la La.

  • Sjalabais

    I have always had a place in my heart for the Xantia wagon. When it came out, it was among the most pleasant and beautiful designs on the road. A friend of mine had one a couple of years ago, replacing a Volvo 850. It was a nice car that I got to borrow for occasional roadtrips. But you sure have a knack for finding unbelievably cheap cars….wow! I would have paid that beaterland-borderline-amount of 2k € with confidence.

  • Rover1
  • RoryF

    Whats that on the bumper? It looks like a 12v outlet .

    • 993cc

      Only guessing: Block Heater plug-in?

      • Perc

        Yes, electric pre-heater. All cars have them here.

  • Maybe the success of the Fiat 500 will start a new attitude towards more European imports…

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I've been a long-time resident of Luxury Car Beaterland, and I'm not leaving any time soon.

    Probably never, actually.

    I welcome you…it's interesting, and can be a very rewarding place to live.